Paper Dolls

The most astonishing moment in Mercy (Vineyard Theatre) occurs midway in Act 2, when a new arrival during the play's Upper West Side dinner party alludes to Sarah's career as a documentary filmmaker and Isobel's work as a writer. Yet for nearly an hour these young women had been trading platitudes with the moronic vapidity and poverty of vocabulary you'd expect from valley girls at a mall. It felt as if playwright Laura Cahill had just snipped out paper career outfits and folded the tabs over the shoulders of her little cardboard figures.

Here's the story. Sarah and Isobel, bored and depressed twentysomethings, languish on Sarah's sofa one Saturday, both insisting that they're not going to call the men who recently dumped them. Trying to rouse themselves from their immobility, Sarah invites Bo, a sometime actor with cowboy pretensions, to dinner, and Bo casually invites Stu, Isobel's ex. Before Stu arrives, chirpy Sarah thrusts her breasts (the only bounce in this limp production) in Bo's face and reads aloud from her grindingly boring diary: this is meant to be funny. When Stu finally shows up, Isobel— no, don't!— says something she shouldn't.

While sitting around doing nothing, the people in Mercy engage in a series of empty debates: whether to go to the park, whether to get gelato. Imagine Waiting for Godot crossed with Marty as penned by an eighth grader. The characters are vague stereotypes without history or individuality. Director Loretta Greco does her best to enliven the proceedings with rock music and the flicker of candlelight. But the quartet of actors are left hopelessly marooned in clichéland repeating the same unfunny gags, proof of the equation that four times zero equals zero.

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