by Wanda Sabir
When a person dies, the living find it hard sometimes to carry on. The loss of a loved one is something one never gets over, and when the death is violent and the victim young, the bitterness is that much harder to swallow. In Patricia Milton’s new play, “Without Mercy,” closing this weekend, Thursday-Saturday, March 23 and 25, 8 p.m., at the Off Broadway West Theatre Company, we meet a grieving mother and daughter, Joanna Parks and Bethany Matthews.
Death is personal, yet the grieving family’s sorrows become ours in the intimate space on the sixth floor, 414 Mason Street at San Francisco’s Phoenix Theatre. While Bethany walks to the kitchen past the seated audience to get water for tea, I almost reach out and ask for a cup, my tea of choice, Celestial Seasonings.
Sylvia Kratin’s Joanna Parks hasn’t handled her baby’s death and disappearance well. It has been six years when we meet the family and finally they have a killer and a confession. The wait has taken its toll on everyone. Tempers are short and the tension between the survivors is thick.
Actor Niki Yapo-Held’s Bethany is brisk and harsh toward her mother. We wonder at her unstated sympathy. The women do not hug or show any affection towards one another. It is as if they are strangers. Mom’s been drinking steadily, trying to cope with the emptiness, which gives Bethany another reason to dismiss her.
When we meet Sylvia Kratins’s Joanna Parks, she has escaped from rehab. Bethany comes home to find her there with a suitcase and questions. It seems the immediately combative Bethany hasn’t kept mom up on the latest around Mercy’s case, so Joanna shows up to find out for herself. A new roommate saw something on the news and told her.
The loss of a loved one is something one never gets over, and when the death is violent and the victim young, the bitterness is that much harder to swallow.
Mr. Sam Sibley (Ian Walker) is the court appointed mediator. He arrives just when the women, especially Joanna, whom Kratin portrays with compassion, is about to collapse – her body, limp with exhaustion, the kind of tired that comes from sleepless nights. Mercy’s memory haunts her.
Sam helps the women listen to each other. His presence and advocacy for Joanna allows Bethany room to consider her mother’s plea. His task is to present the prosecutor’s recommendation and return to the court with their decision – it is obvious who he works for. Ian Walker, veteran actor, is stunning in this role. The range of emotions he allows his character to experience reflects the pain in the room. There are no winners here.
Ian Walker, veteran actor, is stunning in this role. The range of emotions he allows his character to experience reflects the pain in the room. There are no winners here.
The playwright says, though the work is from her imagination, the case of Sierra LaMar, 14, from Morgan Hill that is on trial now has uncanny familiarity. Add to this California’s passage of the Prop. 66, which speeds up the death penalty for those convicted of capital crimes, and well, “Without Mercy” has a face: 728 men and 21 women as of December 2016.
When Mr. Sibley knocks on the door and steps into a literal ring, the bell seems to have gone off and the two women are swinging. How do Bethany and her mom find within their rage a place to forgive? Is forgiveness necessary? Bethany tells her mother “no.” She means the killer, that to spare his life with an indeterminate sentence does not require the victims’ forgiveness, yet what does a parent or a big sister do with the guilt that comes with such loss?
How do Bethany and her mom find within their rage a place to forgive? Is forgiveness necessary? Bethany tells her mother “no.”
There are no right answers to the questions the women raise and with Richard Harder’s excellent direction, the characters are allowed to trust one another enough to unpeel the multiple layers that separate their weeping hearts. It is quite moving, the conclusion both unexpected and heartrending.
For tickets and information, call 510-835-4205 or email offbroadwaywest.org.
Bay View Arts Editor Wanda Sabir can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit her website at www.wandaspicks.com throughout the month for updates to Wanda’s Picks, her blog, photos and Wanda’s Picks Radio. Her shows are streamed live Wednesdays at 7 a.m. and Fridays at 8 a.m., can be heard by phone at 347-237-4610 and are archived at http://www.blogtalkradio.com/wandas-picks.