Friday, June 10, 2016

23. Review: SHINING CITY (seen June 1, 2016)

"His Wild Irish Ghost"
Stars range from 5-1.
After a two-year renovation during which it kept active in temporary quarters across town at Union Square, the Irish Repertory Theatre has proudly moved back into its W. 22nd Street home with a generally excellent revival of Conor McPherson’s Shining City. The attractively upgraded space retains the same layout as before although the stage has been widened (at least for its current production) to eliminate the former seating area at stage right. A small balcony has been added and the well-cushioned seats are very comfortable but the auditorium incline remains insufficiently steep to prevent large heads from blocking your view. Nothing could be done to remove the supporting beam down right so designers will continue to find ways of incorporating it into their sets, as Charlie Corcoran does for the loft-like Dublin office he’s created for Shining City. 
Billy Carter, Matthew Broderick. Photo: Carol Rosegg.
The play, first produced in London and Dublin in 2004, and shown locally in a lauded 2006 Manhattan Theatre Club staging (two Tony nominations) starring Oliver Platt as John and Brían F. O’Byrne as Ian (roles now played by Matthew Broderick and Billy Carter), is an absorbing, 100-minute examination of lonely, confused, and guilt-racked modern Dubliners who have trouble communicating. McPherson (The Seafarer, The Weir), a master of David Mamet-like, disconnected, everyday language, offers a five-scene plot with little action but fertile chatter that twines itself inside and around your ears and won’t let go.
Billy Carter, Lisa Dwan. Photo: Carol Rosegg.
As is frequent in McPherson’s work, the supernatural creeps like the Dublin fog into the most natural circumstances when John, an ordinary man in his mid-50s, tells his new therapist, Ian, that he’s certain he’s seen the ghost of his late wife, Mari—who recently died in a car crash—at their home. He’s so frightened that he’s moved into a B&B. Ian, whose very first patient this is, doesn’t believe in ghosts and struggles to respond sympathetically. Soon his own soul-crushing problems with Neasa (Lisa Dwan), the vulnerable fiancée he got pregnant and for whom he abandoned the priesthood, emerge. Ian’s left her and the baby and, to her confusion, wants to end the relationship; she, forced to live with his brother and nasty sister-in-law, is upset enough to reveal a one-time fling she had with someone else; this only gives him an excuse to shift his guilt to her.
Lisa Dwan, Billy Carter. Photo: Carol Rosegg.
In another of John’s sessions, he offers a brilliant extended monologue, only briefly interrupted by Ian, covering the guilt he felt from his marital and extramarital experiences, and the painful result of an attempt to find solace at a brothel. Ian’s sex life is also problematic, as revealed when he brings home Laurence (James Russell), who has his own issues. In the final scene, John and Ian seem to be moving on with their lives, with Ian’s taking a surprising turn when McPherson closes with a lovely shocker.
Billy Carter, James Russell. Photo: Carol Rosegg.
Corcoran's design for Ian’s office (including that beam) seems a bit spacious for a beginning therapist but it's got the right ambience, especially under Michael Gottlieb’s meticulously crafted lighting, while Martha Hally’s casual clothes look fine on everyone. M. Florian Staub’s sound design and Ryan Rumery’s original music are their artistic best. The play itself requires direction that can control the dialogue the way a conductor does his score; Ciarán O’Reilly succeeds for the most part in being Shining City’s James Levine. 

The chief hindrance is Broderick’s reliance on that single tone of friendly, boyish appeal and touch of physical stiffness that pervades much of his work (and has helped make him a star). His Dublin accent (Stephen Gabis is the dialect coach) is consistent, if not quite as authentic as those of his all-Irish costars, and he handles the difficult, choppy locutions well, but he’s unable to capture the role’s darker, emotionally painful colors. Carter, far more nervously compelling, seems very much a real person in uncomfortable circumstances. Dwan has just the right sense of bafflement and anger for Neasa while Russell brings an interestingly honest sensitivity to the hustler.

The Irish Rep has put a fine foot forward for the premiere production at its refurbished West Side home. In commemoration, I offer this Irish toast: "May your home always be too small to hold all your friends!" 

OTHER VIEWPOINTS:
Irish Repertory Theatre
132 W. 22nd Street, NYC
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