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Shining City

by Elizabeth Ahlfors

Shining City

Billy Carter, James Russell, Lisa Dwan. Matthew Broderick.  (Photo Joseph Marzullo/WENN)

Reviewed by Elizabeth Ahlfors

Conor McPherson’s Shining City is more somber than shining, reflecting the loneliness, yearning and guilt of four characters, communicating and suffering yet never really connecting. The immediacy of their stories is emotional, each one enveloped in his own anguish and the world he cannot understand.

At the renovated Irish Reparatory Theatre, McPherson explores these problems through storytelling between two men in a series of short scenes and the playwright's trademark broken dialogue that vibrates with authenticity.

Matthew Broderick delivers a compelling performance as John, a middle-aged man who recently lost his wife, Mari, in a car accident and now sees her ghost at home. Despite his usual disbelief in the spectral reality, John is fearful that his wife's ghost is actually haunting him. The couple had problems before her death and John, shaken by grief and guilt, is unable to sleep and rcently moved to a bed and breakfast. Finally, he decides to seek therapy.

He makes an appointment with Ian (Billy Carter), an ex-priest turned therapist who is living in his office. Ian has temporarily broken up with his girlfriend Neasa (Lisa Dawn) who lives with their infant daughter with Ian's brother's family. John is his first patient and while Ian is a good listener as John painstakingly relives his problems, the situation is somewhat like the blind leading the blind. Both are troubled men and yet somehow each serves the other over eight months of interaction.

They have more in common than they realize. Ian, can't accept the reality of John's late wife's ghost but as a the former priest, he remains influenced by a higher spirit. Meanwhile, both men are trying to gain some control over their lives and neither lives in his actual home. John lives in the B&B and Ian lives in his office.

Broderick authentically delivers his monologues with the hint and cadence of dialect, admitting his failings and anxiety, pleading his case in a subdued way. He has been lost and lonely for so long and he fears his recent ventures into new sexual directions may have somehow led to the car accident that killed his wife. Over the eight months of therapy, however, we see Broderick brighten and straighten up physically, proving that John has come to accept that he does not bear responsibility for Mari's death. In a play with no action and only words, Broderick portrays the guilt-ridden, confused, lonely John with solidity.

Carter plumbs the various facets of Ian. As he listens to John, he interacts with murmurs of punctuation for John's confession and at the same time, Ian has his own internal turmoil. In separate scenes, Carter shows facets of his personality through two additional interactions. First we see his fiancée, Neasa, plead with him to come home, and Ian explodes, revealing his anger, frustration and avoidance of commitment. In another scene, Ian brings to his office a homeless young man, Scanavino (James Russell), at first feeling inexperienced and frightened but then gamely delving into new sexual possibilities. Lisa Dawn and James Russell as the supportive Neasa and Scanavino serve well to bring out Ian's complexity as well as the urban contemporary loneliness.

Directed by Ciarán O’Reilly (The Weir), the cast is superb and the story moves smoothly despite Ian's busy set-moving between scenes.  Charlie Corcoran (Port Authority) designed a somber set that spells low-market Dublin with a drab sofa, chair, and therapist's table with requisite tissues. Whenever the doorbell rings, the front door fails to open and Ian has to run downstairs to let in the visitor. Lighting by Michael Gottlieb (Lysistrata Jones) adds to the grim look. Martha Halley dresses everyone casually but spruces up Broderick a bit by the end. Sound design is by Ryan Rumery.

These are people we can empathize with and a surprising ending adds something more to ponder about.

Shining City premiered at London's Royal Court Theatre in 2004. It opened two years later on Broadway at the Biltmore Theatre and the current revival is the first in New York since 2006.

Shining City
Irish Reparatory Theatre
132 -East 22nd Street
Previews: May 17, 2016. Opened: June 9, 2016. Closes: July 3, 2016
100 minutes. No intermission
Playwright: Conor McPherson
Directed by Ciarán O’Reilly
Reviewed by Elizabeth Ahlfors