By Conor McPherson
Directed Jeff Christian
Produced by Irish Theatre of Chicago
Brad Armacost Leads Excellent Cast
Conor McPherson’s Shining City is a subdued, but deeply emotional work that leaves actors with very little besides their story-telling abilities to guide them. Fortunately, it is in good hands with Irish Theatre of Chicago, formerly known as Seanachaí Theatre Company. The four ensemble members take a play that is mostly told through a series of confessional monologues, and make it entrancingly immediate.
Ian (Coburn Goss) is an ex-priest who has recently gone into practice as a psychotherapist. It’s a time of ugly upheaval in his life; he and his girlfriend Neasa (Carolyn Kruse) have a baby and are living with Ian’s brother and sister-in-law, who disapprove of her. Ian and Neasa are also going through a trial separation. His first patient, John (Brad Armacost), recently lost his wife to a car accident, and has been struggling with grief, guilt, and loss of sleep due to seeing her ghost. It turns out John and the dead woman had relationship problems of their own, and Ian must help John while navigating confusing, new territory himself.
The centerpiece of the play is a lengthy monologue from John about what exactly was the cause of his marital strife. Armacost was amazing in this scene; he told the story as if he were reliving it. At every step I understood exactly what John was feeling, even as he acknowledged behaving wrong or foolishly. Goss is a very good listener, which is a more difficult skill than you might think even during a performance as strong as Armacost’s. He always had a sharp reaction when most people would have been lulled into passivity. In the scenes he drives, Goss displays a wide range of emotion, but stays rooted in an internal, contemplative characterization. Carolyn Kruse and Shane Kenyon each only get a single scene, but make the most of roles that were written mostly to support Ian. They help to flesh him out, but also populate Shining City’s world with other people who are struggling to find or give love.
Jeff Christian’s directing keeps the story moving without ever sacrificing the impact of the lengthy monologues, and allows the actors to move comfortably while delivering narratives. Barbara Zahora did one of the better jobs of dialect coaching I’ve seen so far; the characters are all Dubliners, but clearly understandable and can vocally express complex tones. The play is naturalistic (almost), but set designers Ira Amyx and John Peplinski came up with an interesting solution to the script’s requirement that a church be visible through the window by making a miniature model of a skyline. It looks a little strange, but I got used to it, and decided it heightened the characters’ feeling of alienation.
This is the sort of play where the running time could vary depending on the moods of the actors, so leave some time at the end when working it into your schedule. All four of them have strong instincts and will surely do what best services their stories, which McPherson crafted with great care. John’s visions of the ghost appears amid problems that are so ordinary, yet are so calamitous to the people involved. When watching this play the audience joins the characters in not understanding everything about the world, but making sense of their own emotions.
Reviewed November 28, 2014
For more information, see Shining City’s page at Theatre in Chicago.
Playing at The Den Theatre, 1333 North Milwaukee Ave, Chicago. For tickets, call 773-878-3727 or visit www.irishtheatreofchicago.org. Tickets are $26-30, less $5 for seniors and students. Runs through January 4. Plays Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays at 7:30 pm and Sundays at 3:00 pm, except Christmas and New Year’s Day; added performances December 22 and December 29 at 7:30 pm. Running time is one hundred minutes without an intermission.