“I met a lady in the meads. Full beautiful–a faery’s child; her hair was long, her foot was light, and her eyes were wild,” reads the fourth stanza in John Keats’ La Belle Dame Sans Merci, a tale of a knight’s love scorned by a beautiful woman. Or, perhaps, a metaphor for the way the beauties of the Earth mask the death and tragedy that come along with it.
This quintessential Keats piece, in both its literal and metaphorical interpretations, serves as the lifeblood and backbone of Johnna Adams’ intense three-woman play, Sans Merci.
Sans Merci tells the story of two polar opposite women dealing with grief and loss in the wake of a horrible tragedy.
Kelly, a passionate human rights activist and political science major, meets Tracy Bird, a wide-eyed literature major with a penchant for anxiety attacks, while attending UC Irvine, and ignites a romantic relationship that would ultimately lead to Tracy’s tragic death.
After learning of Tracy and Kelly’s relationship, Tracy’s mother, Elizabeth Bird, travels to California to confront her daughter’s former lover and the person whom she feels is responsible for her death.
The play opens on Kelly, played by the enthusiastic Cassie Vail Yeager, being disturbed by a knock on her apartment door on an unusually stormy Los Angeles afternoon. A rain-soaked Elizabeth Bird, played convincingly by Paige Polcene, enters and the two women begin to unravel the story of Tracy’s death on a humanitarian mission, the truth behind Kelly and Tracy’s relationship and the tragic bond the two women now share.
The dialogue between Kelly and Elizabeth is sporadically interrupted by flashback scenes that play out downstage of the present scene, in which Kelly and Tracy’s relationship is shown blossoming. Eventually Tracy decides to accompany Kelly on a trip to Colombia to help save the sacred land of the U’wa tribe from an oil drilling.
While on the trip, the two girls are beaten and raped by rebel soldiers, with only Kelly surviving the attack with a crippling leg injury.
In her final scene Ashley Elizabeth Allen, the actress that plays Tracy, gives an outstanding performance, which far exceeds the content of the written material.
Naked, bloodied and beaten Tracy wails a vow to tell the world of the soldiers’ horrific deeds before being shot in the head.
While the tone and subject of this story are exceedingly somber, the odd couple-esque pairing of Elizabeth and Kelly provide the narrative with some much needed laughs. In addition, Yeager and Allen have great chemistry as captivated lovers.
This performance also benefits greatly from excellent stage production, particularly in the aforementioned flashbacks and death scene. The crew was able to perfectly use the intimate space of the small theatre to the story’s advantage.
Sans Merci is directed by Katie Chidester and runs Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. from April 4-26 at The Garage Theatre in Long Beach.
Tickets may be purchased online at TheGarageTheatre.org or at the theater’s box office 30 minutes prior to each night’s performance. Tickets are $18 for general admission and $15 for seniors, students and teachers.