Love him or hate him, you know what you’re in for when you see a Steve Yockey play.
He has dedicated his career to exploring what you might call dark magic realism — stick a hyphen in either one of those spaces — that introduces ordinary characters and then shatters their mundane worlds with a Lovecraftian supernatural sledgehammer. It’s sort of an adults-only “Stranger Things,” but without all the pseudoscience and pop-culture in-jokes.
Or the happy ending.
Stray Cat Theatre’s artistic director, Ron May, obviously falls into the “love” category when it comes to Yockey, producing four of his works over the past six years.
In “Octopus,” a young couple’s venture into group sex unleashed a literal flood of regret (a technical triumph for the low-budget theater). “Wolves” rewrote “Little Red Riding Hood” as a bloody metatheatrical creep show, while “Pluto” transformed a suburban kitchen into a surreal limbo.
Now comes “Mercury,” produced by Stray Cat as a co-world premiere (Salt Lake Acting Company got first crack).
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The plot involves two couples in crisis, a nosy neighbor, and a friendly shopkeeper whose “specialty items” are something out of “Harry Potter’s” Knockturn Alley.
How much more to reveal? Like Stray Cat’s most recent offering, Guillermo Calderón’s “Kiss,” “Mercury” is a tough play to review without getting into spoiler territory. Let’s just say that it pushes Yockey’s dark magic realism even further into the cosmic/mythic twilight zone, and that actor Michael Peck gets not one but two entrances that are thrillingly horrifying.
Also, if you are thoughtless enough to bring a child to this show, be prepared for her love of stuffed animals to come to an abrupt end.
Ostensibly, “Mercury” is a modern take on the old morality play. Indeed, the audience is invited to pass judgment on the various characters’ misdeeds and decide who most deserves a comeuppance. Is it the straying spouse (Samantha Hanna), or is it her spurned lover (Laura Anne Kenney) who takes a terrible revenge?
Then there are the squabbling boyfriends, Nick and Brian (Cole Brackney Wandelear and Ian M. White), and their suspiciously sweet neighbor (Shari Watts), who takes an unhealthy interest in the state of their relationship.
The cast is excellent, including Heather Lee Harper, as a hipster shopkeeper who’s just barely keeping a lid on her neuroses, and Peck as … well, you can decide that for yourself.
Same goes for your verdict on the Yockeyverse as a whole. “Mercury” is absolutely an entertaining ride, at least for folks who love the sight of stage blood and enjoy a little schadenfreude on the side. Yet despite his mythic ambitions, Yockey’s plays put on a pretense of postmodern parable, but they don’t quite deliver the deeper meaning he aspires to.
He can keep you on the edge your seat, but his dark fantasies are perhaps too clever to really get under your skin.
Reach the reviewer at firstname.lastname@example.org or 602-444-4896. Follow him at facebook.com/LengelOnTheater and twitter.com/KerryLengel.
Stray Cat Theatre: ‘Mercury’
Reviewed Saturday, Nov. 25. Continues through Saturday, Dec. 9. Tempe Center for the Arts, 700 W. Rio Salado Parkway. $15-$30. 480-227-1766, straycattheatre.org.
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