Striking a delicate balance between sweet and bland, heartbreaking and overwrought is something playwrights have struggled with since the beginning especially when you're writing about love, secrets, and death. Johnna Adams play, SANS MERCI (currently being staged by Flux Theatre Ensemble in rep with the "companion piece" Honey Fist) tackles all three of these and handles them with poetic beauty, skillfully bringing you into the wonderful courtship of two young women and the devastating tragedy that befalls them.  Rachael Hip-Flores stars as Kelly, a young college student with dreams of saving the world.  One rainy evening a woman shows up on her doorstep.  Her name is Elizabeth (Susan Ferrara) and she's there to ask Kelly about her daughter Tracy (Alisha Spielmann), Kelly’s best friend.  Elizabeth wants answers, and Kelly struggles to answer them.  We flash back and forth between the present and the past, America and Columbia, learning about Tracy and her relationship with Kelly.  We learn of the day Kelly helps Tracy through a panic attack and Tracy regains her confidence.  We learn of the moment they started to fall in love.  And eventually we learn of the moment that Elizabeth has come for.  The moment unknown to her and the secret that will hopefully start to piece together her life.  Saying anymore would spoil the turns this intense play unfolds around you but know that you’re in for quite a ride once it gets going.




Without question, Sans Merci is a powerful and moving piece of theatre.  Sometimes whispering, sometimes screaming, playwright Johnna Adams has crafted a stirring and emotional journey of three women’s love, and the search to find it once it seems to have gone away.  Director Heather Cohn has expertly directed the piece, crafting the intimate moments sweet and small, but still large enough to invite us in (with a wonderful set design by Charles Murdock Lucas).  Then she lets the larger moments explode with fire, sometimes devastating you with their raw emotions.  She allows the cast to breathe and explore, to great effect.  Each actress has their own shining moments to be proud of.  Rachael Hip-Flores and Alisha Spielmann’s relationship is tender and real, romantic and powerful.  Their initial meeting and their meet cute sequence is tender and wonderful.  Susan Ferrara seems to be teaching a masters class in emotion onstage, as she shows up with her emotions tightly buttoned up and brilliantly goes from stranger on the doorstep to angry mother to a woman in deep pain.  It’s a truly remarkable performance.  One fairly long sequence that Ferrara shares with Hip-Flores involving a backpack is almost entirely wordless and will crumble you to tears.  Last but certainly not least, Spielmann emerges with the sharpest character arc and expertly lands all of it powerfully.  Her performance is sweet and touching at first, exploding near the end in a raw, stunning, and brave burst of emotion.  I literally shook watching the young actress tear apart the stage.  These are indeed roles to sink your teeth into.


Yet with all of the love I have for this piece, and I do have a lot of it, it runs about a half hour too long, often repeating itself when it doesn’t need to.  This production would have been done itself a real service by slicing a bit here and a few words there (perhaps they will before it closes).  Not that it’s badly written; it’s just too much.  I would go from being fully glued into a wonderful moment and then twitching because the moment was being lost inside a scene going on too long.  Especially near the end, where there's a bit a few too many speeches before the final, haunting images (silence, instead of more dialogue, until the end of the pay immediately following Spielmann's powerful ending speech would have rocked my world).  Small quips aside aside, Sans Merci is not an easy play to get through emotionally, but it is most definitely worth it.  It's an emotional journey you should be taking.

Photo Credit Titus Winters

Written by Johnna Adams  Directed by Heather Cohn Starring Susan Ferrara, Rachael Hip-Flores, Alisha Spielmann  Content Warning: (Adult Situations, Adult Language, Images of Violence, Nudity) Playing at: Shubert Theatre (4th Street Theatre, 83 East 4th Street, NYC) For more information or to buy tickets: https://web.ovationtix.com/trs/cal/3012

Mateo’s GradeA-

Bottom Line: Powerful and tragic, moving and affecting, Flux Theatre Ensemble has quite a show on it's hands here.

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