‘Mercy and the Firefly’ inspired by life in Homestead

Written By Nicole Chynoweth

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Even though Cassidi Parker was not cast in the Pittsburgh Playhouse premiere of “Mercy and the Firefly,” she had developed such a connection with the play that she stuck around as assistant director in case something opened during production. Parker’s intuition proved correct when she was cast as an added character, Aisha, a week before tech rehearsal, placing her at the right place at the right time during the play about a nun saving a student from the violence of gang warfare. “It’s an uncomfortable play because the show is not hiding anything,” Parker, a sophomore musical theater major at Point Park, said in a telephone interview last Wednesday. “The audience should go in with a clean slate, willing to accept something that is not like what they have seen before.” Parker will join The REP, Point Park’s professional theater company, in performing the play, written by Amy Hartman and directed by Melissa Martin, at the Pittsburgh Playhouse throughout the month of April. “Students should go see the play because they need to be aware of what is going on around us outside of Point Park’s walls,” Parker said. “The issues in the play are not even that far away from us.” The play tells the story of a nun named Lucy who teaches at an East Los Angeles Catholic school, an area plagued by gang warfare. Lucy witnesses and prevents a student’s attempt to murder a fellow student, Aisha. After getting arrested for going into hiding with Aisha, Lucy learns the following day that Aisha has been murdered. In desperation, Lucy kidnaps Mercy, the murderer, and they flee to Homestead, Pa. in order to extract Mercy from becoming a gang’s soldier within the violence. “The audience will see the characters struggle to do what’s right even when it is the hardest thing to do,” Parker said. Hartman wrote the play during the Bricolage Urban Scrawl, a theater event which challenges artists to write and stage a new play within 24 hours. After several rewrites, Hartman asked Ronald Allan-Lindblom, the artistic director of the Conservatory of Performing Arts (COPA) at Point Park University, to attend a reading of the play in Pittsburgh a little over a year ago. Lindblom liked it so much he announced at the reading that the Playhouse would produce it. The story plays off of Homestead’s economic and societal climates. “I think the poverty in Homestead inspired me,” Hartman said. “It used to be this working class town, and then the steel mills moved and all these generations lost their jobs, homes and neighborhoods. The factories were bulldozed, and now you see stores like J. Crew and L.L. Bean there. That dichotomy is alarming to me.” The set, designed by COPA’s Head of Design Stephanie Mayer-Staley, will depict Homestead’s depressed state. “The entire set is floating so that it appears not real,” said Penelope Lindblom, associate professor of theater arts, who plays Vivian Clark, Lucy’s mother who takes in Lucy and Mercy when they move to Homestead. “It is a little bubble in time, and as the play progresses the set recedes so that ultimately there is only trash and an empty backyard, and the house the cast lives in disappears.” Staley traveled straight to the setting for inspiration. “[Staley] went to Homestead and took all these interesting pictures, and one was of this house that was repaired with doors, which made up all of the walls,” Lindblom said. “The house on the set is made up of all these mismatched doors, which symbolically might represent every door as an opportunity. Which way will the characters go?” The play tackles a number of tragic problems within the characters’ lives. “There are some huge issues in the play,” Lindblom said. “We are talking about suicide, rape and murder, but it is still funny at the same time.” Lindblom describes the play as a dark yet poignant modern tragedy. “The main characters are sad, damaged people who live on the fringe of society,” Lindbolm said in an interview last Tuesday in the COPA office. “Lucy is in the heights of spiritual enlightenment as a nun and falls out of God’s arms because she cannot force herself to forgive Mercy for who she is and what she has done.” According to COPA Marketing Director Chris Hays, the audience will witness an emotionally charged production. “The audience will leave feeling troubled and emotionally invested in a chilling tale and tasking journey,” Hays said. “It is a dark comedy that will make you laugh until you cry.” And yet, theme of forgiveness is depicted in the play. “One of my lines says it all: to forgive the unforgiveable is as close to God as you’re ever going to get,” Lindblom said. “Everybody in this play has issues with forgiveness. It shows the only way you can heal yourself is to forgive others. It does not have to be religious or spiritual; it can be moral and ethical. That is my interpretation.” Sharon McCune, who plays Mercy and has been involved with the play since its conception, thinks students should see the show because of that theme. “There are adults, a student, a mother and a daughter all asking for forgiveness,” McCune said in an interview at the Playhouse last Tuesday. “There’s some stuff about drug abuse, and that is periphery to how people relate to one another and how it affects how you grow up and the choices you make. The play shows it is never too late to be forgiven or ask for forgiveness.”

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