First Nighter: Philip Ridley's Mercury Fur Has a Dyspeptic Future

Fiction set in the future never seems to have nailed it right when the actual future rolls around. Maybe Jules Verne hit on a few things that came to pass, but how accurate is, say, something like the 1927 Metropolis or the Flash Gordon series or the Star Wars predictions or too many other movies (Blade Runner?), plays and books? Or are we still adopting a wait-and-see attitude?

One set of predictions we can rely on not eventuating -- if only because they're so ludicrous -- pops up in Mercury Fur, the 2005 Philip Ridley scarer that played a couple London venues then and now, a decade later, shows up in a New Group production, directed muscularly by Scott Elliott, at the Pershing Square Signature Center, but not so muscularly that it overcomes its irritatingly preposterous suppositions.

Sometime in increasingly dumbed-down days to come -- but in not so many days that smartphones have been superseded -- brothers Elliot (Zane Pais as the clever, well-read one) and Darren (Jack DiFalco as the dimwitted one) break into an abandoned Manhattan apartment (phenomenally dingy set by Derek McLane) and go about sort of cleaning it up for a party that's apparently been organized by a tough fellow called Spinx (Sea McHale), who has yet to appear.

Also attending the party either eagerly or under duress are Naz (Tony Revolori), who's squatting down the hall and wants in on whatever action he thinks will occur, Elliot's kinda cross-dressing boyfriend Lola (Paul iacono, in halter outfit by costumer Susan Hilferty), Duchess (Emily Cass McDonnell, in Hilferty's tatty ball gown with white fur stole), who may have a curious relationship to the brothers by virtue of a few matching head wounds, Party Guest (Peter Mark Kendall), a Wall Streeter with a certain deviant hankering and Party Piece (Bradley Fong), a drugged kid.

If the monikers Party Guest and Party Piece are baffling, Ridley wants it that way. He's after slowly revealing that the parties Spinx arranges and Elliot and Darren facilitate are snuff events -- the one at hand unfolding under a short deadline that annoys the battling bros. At this one, Party Guest gets to assassinate Party Piece, who'll be attired as a child Elvis Presley. Don't ask. That's already spoiler enough.

Anyway, throwing bashes for financiers with enough money to expend on this type of unnatural high is what the world has (will?) become in Ridley's busy mind. And it's what he and New Group artistic director Elliott are asking an audience -- many of whom are seated on upholstered Goodwill-like chairs also decorating the adaptable Romulus Linney playing area -- to watch. Presumably, we'll find in it a horrifying warning of what's will inevitably develop if we don't straighten up and fly right.

The Mercury Fur promotional material terms Ridley's view a "dystopian nightmare." What's actually dystopian about the work is how it's written. It's what's being flaunted in the name of engaging, enraging theater. Before the final black-out on the guns partially hidden at the belt line of dirty jeans or in a drawer or on free-flowing blood or on the threat of various-sized conflagrations -- not to mention constantly repeated epithets intended to sound like the way people talk now and still will then -- the audience progresses from laughing at an occasional genuine joke to laughing at the entire ridiculous enterprise.

Speaking of genuine jokes, there is one witty sequence. Darren, far from the brightest bulb in the broken chandelier, takes it on himself to explain a bit of 20th century history to the even dimmer but attentive Naz. It concerns a President Kennedy and a consort named Marilyn Monroe as well as an orgy-like Dallas, Texas event. Throughout the monologue, Ridley may be getting at something close to the truth of how history is regarded in schoolrooms nowadays and how much worse it might get.

Another odd historical reference crops up. It's to 1965 Oscar-winning movie The Sound of Music(!). Early on in an attempt to defuse Elliot's abuse, Darren recalls a family viewing of the flick. Later, Duchess, who at least twice gets yuks by declaring "I feel a song coming on," plunges haltingly into "Climb Ev'ry Mountain" before collapsing -- but not this time soiling herself, which Spinx reports she often does.

By the way, why Ridley calls the play Mercury Fur beats me. I can only guess -- unless I missed an explanation while tuning out on the rampantly perverse silliness -- that the title refers to a type of butterfly. Over and over, butterflies come in for mentions. According to the history sketched in here, butterflies were wiped out for a time before resurfacing. When they did, they produced various emotions and sensations in anyone eating them. Darren ingests one and becomes giddy. Later, Elliot talks about a black one that causes suicides. I'm not sure, though, whether the butterflies are meant to be real or a dealer-dispensed confection. Does it matter? Probably not.

As actors almost always do when committed to questionable material, those here go at it as if they're playing Hamlet or Volpone or Long Day's Journey Into Night or Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? They flinch at none of the ignominies they're required to undergo. Sitting or lying on furniture that's been subjected to who knows what or doused in stage blood or, in the case of Fong, pushed and pulled around, they're gallant in response. As Spinx, McHale is asked to swipe DiFalco upside the head again and again. McHale pulls no swipe, and DiFalco takes it like a trouper.

With Elliott cracking the whip -- surely, not literally -- they're a rum ensemble. The enterprise, however, into which they, lighting designer Jeff Croiter, sound designer M.L. Dogg, special effects designer Jeremy Chernick, fight designer UnkleDave's Fight-House and props supervisor Matthew Frew have poured their efforts is hardly worth it.