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Paulanne Simmons

The Quality of Mercy

"Mercy on the Doorstep"

"Mercy on the Doorstep"
Directed by Jim Simpson
The Flea Theater
41 White St. between Broadway and Church streets
Opened March 14, 2006
Schedule varies.
$35 (212) 352-3101or www.TheaterMania.com
Closes May 6, 2006
Reviewed by Paulanne Simmons April 4, 2006

For the first fifteen minutes or so of "Mercy on the Doorstep," it seems as if the back story is far more interesting than anything that is going to happen onstage. There are only three characters in the play, but their pasts are so juicy it takes that long for them to get out all the details.

Rena (Jann Harris), who in the past led a desolate life filled with drunken orgies, has been rehabilitated by Mark (Mark Rosenthal) an Evangelist who got her off the bottle and into Jesus. Her recently deceased father was so impressed with his daughter's about-face that he left his house and his porno business to his son-in-law and daughter. This means that Rena's stepmother, Corrine (Laura Esterman), an aging but still feisty alcoholic, must follow Mark and Rena's prescription for a good life (give up the booze and come to Jesus) or be kicked out of her home.

Then it turns out that Rena still likes a little dirty dancing, Mark can't resist the temptation of porno movies while he "goes solo" as Corrine (who surprises him in the act) calls it, and Mark and Rena's marriage in not exactly what it at first seemed to be.

Despite their own problems, Rena and Mark are determined to turn Corrine into a good Christian woman and the former porn shop into a church where Mark can preach the good word. Corrine, who is fifty years old and doesn't believe she needs a Sunday school teacher, is less than compliant.

"Stop treating me like someone who's out of favor with God," Corrine tells Mark during one of her lessons. But he and Rena are convinced "tough love" will help Corrine learn to "accept the Lord Jesus Christ."

However, when Corrine finally gets the chance to rid herself of this irksome couple, remarkably, she chooses the high ground of compassion and dignity.

Gip Hoppe's new play is much too contrived and overwrought to carry its simple message of peaceful coexistence between people with different moral perspectives. But thanks to Jim Simpson's direction, which only occasionally gets carried away with by Hoppe's histrionic tone, and the excellent work of the three actors, "Mercy on the Doorstep," never loses its sense of humor or bounce.

Most particularly, Esterman's performance is a true tour-de-force that effortlessly and effectively blends drunken self-pity, mature wisdom, cynicism and genuine concern. It is this textured performance that turns a play filled with predictable characters in an improbable story into a parable of the human condition.

At the core of "Mercy at the Doorstep" lie several questions: What is mercy? Is it bestowed by God or man? Can it be forced on someone who doesn't want it? Does it sometimes cloak something more sinister?

Mercifully, this play supplies no pat answers.

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