Review: ‘Sans Merci’ another Knockout from Local Black Ice Theatre Company

Jamie Orr & Troy Matthews

There is theater, there is poetry and then there is “Sans Merci.”

There is sequence about one hour into the play Sans Merci — playing at the Duke Theater at Lake Tahoe Community College — that breathlessly and perfectly encapsulates the beauty of live theater, and it does so in shear silence.

It is easy for a play to make you cry with dramatic dialogue. I have never had a play break me down to my core without a single word uttered on stage for several minutes as happens in “Sans Merci.”

There is something very special happening in Tahoe in the world of arts and theater. Black Ice Theatre Co. is leading the way in the realm of performing arts with yet another incandescent offering of compelling modern drama.

The latest from Black Ice Producing Artistic Director Richard S. Sargent, “Sans Merci,” kicks off the second season for the burgeoning local theater company featuring daring and controversial plays with unbelievably gifted performers.

“Sans Merci” is a story from Johnna Adams about the consequences of what happens when pure optimistic idealism is brutally pushed off a cliff into the reality of a cruel world.

Kelly, played by Briana Biller, is a broken woman in every way. Haunted by a singular event in her past where she followed her idealism and simple desire to help in a world without mercy, Kelly is confronted one evening in her Los Angeles apartment by Elizabeth, played by Andrea Rogers.

It is clear from the first moment they encounter one another that, though these women do not know each other, they share a bond rooted in pure love and grief. Through flashback vignettes, we are shown the story of Kelly and her relationship with Elizabeth’s daughter Tracy, played by Kalayna Miller. A bond of friendship and emotional support between Kelly and Tracy quickly blossoms into love.

Tracy is a woman of intellect and passion, but limited self-confidence, who is discovered by Kelly in the most vulnerable of moments.

Kelly introduces Tracy to the world of activism through her upcoming mission to organize a pacifistic indigenous tribe in Central America. The tribe is non-violently resisting the construction of an oil pipeline on their sacred land, with the somewhat dubious assistance from armed rebel militias. Though Tracy can sense the mission is dangerous, Kelly is determined to go.

Later, Kelly is forced to face her grief in a cathartic showdown with Elizabeth, a conservative woman. She simply wants to know why her daughter Tracy went on this mission with Kelly, what the nature of their relationship was, and why Tracy is dead.

This is a play that everyone with a daughter must see. This is a play that everyone who is passionate about a cause greater than themselves must see.

The performance of Biller is stellar as we have come to expect from her as a seasoned veteran of the Tahoe stage. Rogers and Miller, as comparative newcomers, are an absolute revelation. You can sense the courage it took for these women to even stand on a stage and tell this story in the first place.

If artistic expression has a place in Tahoe, plays like “Sans Merci” will drive it forward. Emotional, beautiful, equal parts funny and gripping, “Sans Merci” is the reason why we go to the theater. It is art in its purest expression.

You will leave with more than tears. You will leave changed.

Sans Merci is playing at the Duke Theater at LTCC until Sept. 1. Tickets are available at the door and here.

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