"Sans Merci" at the Bloomington Playwrights Project opens with the sounds of a heavy rain storm and the insistent knock on a San Francisco apartment door by Elizabeth, a drenched and aggrieved, conservatively dressed middle aged woman played by Francesca Sobrer. It's answered by the apartment's resident, a casually dressed cane wielding, limping, young woman, Kelly played by Margot Morgan.
The first scene of the play is incredibly difficult to watch. The visiting Elizabeth has none of the grace or patter that we expect from the woman we see. She gripes with more anger than seems appropriate about the weather, the temperature and the rain. Kelly is equally out of any area of comfort, she doesn't know who this person is and has no appropriate social responses. Both characters are awkward and gawky in the extreme. It's only when Elizabeth looks critically around and remarks that she's never seen a lesbian apartment before and Kelly tartly responds that the apartment isn't lesbian, she is, that we have a bit of levity and it dies quickly.
In flashbacks we learn that Kelly and Elizabeth's daughter, Tracy played by Molly Kruse, met as Kelly helped her through a panic attack during a college literary class presentation. It's a very insightful piece on the Keats poem from which "Sans Merci" takes its title. As they get to know one another and share confidences life is breathed into the play, love develops and culminates in a lovely nude scene.
The tragic action at the center of "Sans Merci" is the rape of both Kelly and Tracy and the killing of Tracy during a trip they made in support of a peaceful Indian group's battle with a big oil company in an area of Columbia that's also a battle ground for rebel groups. The play is tough to watch. I've mentioned the discomfort of the opening scene, but it's more than matched in a final scene as Kelly plays Tracy's last words, the things she said between being raped and being shot, to Elizabeth. Tracy had always been afraid of simply opening her mouth and having things just spew out of it and spew they did in a repetitive adolescent cursing that led inevitably to her death.
The bleakest part of the "Sans Merci," and its theatrical miracle of understanding is that although Kelly the lover and Elizabeth the mother are such radically different characters, people who pretty much are incapably of understanding one another, they're sisters in grief. Each has decided to actively preserve the sense of the devastating loss at the center of their life. They are very unwillingly and only momentarily connected. They'll go their separate ways, Elizabeth back into the rain and Kelly to curl up on the courch, but each knows that they are inextricably yoked.
Throughout the play, director Bruce Burgun's guiding hand is very much in evidence. The actors must have incredible confidence in him to be able to pull off this kind of demanding piece. Molly Kruse was a delight as the fresh Tracy. She's said that she loves playing her and it shows. Margot Morgan did a fine job in the most challenging role that I've had the pleasure of seeing her in. Francesca Sobrer, playing a woman so different from her usual self that it was a continual surprise was a marvel. She can get more out of the slight curling her lip than most actors get with their whole bodies.
The Bloomington Playwrights Project's production of "Sans Merci" continues with performances on Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings at eight and Sunday matinees at two through November 8th.