LaBute books N.Y. ‘Seat’

Helmer taking reins of post-9/11 legiter

NEW YORK — Neil LaBute’s “The Mercy Seat,” which takes place the day after the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, will have its world preem in December at the Manhattan Class Co., with LaBute directing.

Set on Sept. 12, the two-hander chronicles the relationship between an older woman and an adulterous younger man. LaBute said the play has not been cast.

MCC artistic directors Bernard Telsey and Robert LuPone had originally planned to stage LaBute’s “The Distance From Here” this season, but have pushed that production back to 2003-04 to make way for “Mercy Seat.”

“This play seems time-sensitive,” LaBute said. “Now is the time to put it up.”

Contributing to the switch is director David Leveaux’s busy work sked, which prevented him from helming “The Distance From Here” this season in New York City.

“If we do it right, we can accommodate David down the road,” said LaBute. Leveaux directed the world premiere of “The Distance From Here” at London’s Almeida Theater in May.

MCC recently lost its lease at its West 28th Street venue and will present its 2002-03 season, including “Mercy Seat,” at the new six-theater complex on West 42nd Street.

Reluctant to discuss the plot of “Mercy Seat,” LaBute did say it differed from his more recent plays in that there’s less sexual gamesmanship, “although most relationships end up being games,” he added. The theme of male beauty, however, continues to be a preoccupation for the writer-director.

“The man in ‘Mercy Seat’ gets a lot of mileage from the way he looks,” LaBute said. “People aren’t what they seem. He is someone who has tried to skirt issues and has come to a crossroads.”

“The Mercy Seat” is a co-production of MCC and LaBute and Gail Mutrux’s Pretty Pictures. The director’s next movie, “Possession,” opens in August, with the film version of “The Shape of Things” skedded to open early next year.

Beyond LaBute

Other productions in MCC’s 2002-03 season include “Scattergood” by first-time playwright Anto Howard, with Brian Murray in the title role of a professor whose protege attempts to achieve modern-day knighthood through his teachings. Doug Hughes, formerly of Long Wharf, directs. The production’s opening date is to be announced.

MCC rounds out the season with Kate Robin’s “Intrigue With Faye,” in which a young couple videotape each other’s every move. Robin also wrote “The Light Outside” and is a writer-producer for the HBO series “Six Feet Under.” Jim Simpson of the Flea Theater directs. Previews begin in May.

“Scattergood” and “Faye” will play the Beckett Theater at the new West 42nd Street complex.

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