As Mercy of a Storm opens, an elegantly dressed middle-aged man is moving about a nautical-looking and rather cluttered place that turns out to be the pool house of a country club. Snow falls outside the window. It's New Year's Eve 1945, and the man is apparently preparing for a romantic tryst. He smooths down his clothes, sets a bottle and two champagne glasses on a low table, removes his wedding ring. Oddly, he also stows something that looks like a suitcase under a chaise longue.
Tupper Cullum and Rhonda Brown in Mercy of a
Presented through February 15,
Aurora Fox Arts Center, 9900 East
Colfax Avenue, Aurora
Pretty soon a woman enters, blond and glamorous in a long evening dress. She's quite a bit younger than he is, and for a while we have trouble figuring out their relationship. Eventually we discover that they are George and Zanovia, and they're married. She was the daughter of his family's maid, and they fell in love while she was still in her teens. After George's wife died of cancer, they wed. "Why is a man with a dying wife so romantic?" Zanovia asks at one point.
But their class differences were difficult to overcome, and the daughter of George's first marriage resented her father's new wife. Now the couple is in the process of getting a divorce, though they remain highly conflicted about it. She inquires if he's asked her to the pool house to seduce her; he says no, he just wants to discuss financial arrangements. What of the champagne, then, we wonder, and the fact that he's brought a phonograph recording of Rodgers and Hart's "There's a Small Hotel" because the song is a favorite of hers?
Mercy of a Stormexplores a marriage riven by issues of age and class. It's a gentle play with a patina of sophistication and moments of humor. There are little puzzles throughout and some surprising answers to those puzzles. Playwright Jeffrey Hatcher's dialogue is craftsmanlike, and both characters are likable, even if they're not deep or sharply delineated and the class differences they embody aren't very specific. We do feel for them. Tupper Cullum is an enigmatic and worldly George; he wants very much to be reunited with Zanovia, whom he still clearly loves. But he has lived too long in the repressed and snobbish world of the moneyed upper class to respond to her with any spontaneity. We know there's a problem when he discreetly wipes his lips on a folded white handkerchief after kissing her. Zanovia is a far more direct and emotional character, and Rhonda Brown plays her with charm, vigor and feeling.
As directed by Bev Newcomb-Madden and performed by these skilled actors, Mercy of a Stormprovides a pleasant, often absorbing evening of theater. As you watch, you find yourself rooting quite sincerely for the characters -- but you don't think about their predicament once you've left the theater.