In essence, Shining City (last seen here on Broadway in 2006), is another of playwright Conor McPherson’s ghost stories. This one, however, alludes not only an “actual” spirit, but city lives lived, despite liaisons, without roots or attachments, adrift in limbo.
Still living with unopened cartons, fledgling therapist Ian (Billy Carter) welcomes his first patient with professionalism that covers insecurity. John (Matthew Broderick) evidently tried to get an appointment with a psychiatrist recommended by his doctor, but waiting time was four months. We never learn how he found Ian. John’s problem, emerging in the fits and starts of an otherwise, one suspects, taciturn man, is that his wife Mari is appearing in the house weeks after she died in a particularly grisly car crash. The patient is so badly shaken, he’s moved into a B & B.
Lisa Dwan, Billy Carter
John and Mari barely communicated when she was alive. He had no idea she was out the night she died or where she was going. If they’d only communicated. If they’d only been able to have children. Is she now trying to punish her husband or to tell him something?
Ian is –surprise!- visited by Neasa (Lisa Dwan) the mother of his baby. Despite an argument, oblivious to exit statements, she expected him home days ago. Stuck in his brother’s house, life’s become ostracized hell. We learn some of Ian’s backstory, viable reasons for his feeling troubled. He will, he promises, be responsible.
Next we look in on the therapist one night when he’s picked up Laurence (James Russell) in a park. Homeless, in debt, and also a father, the man is reduced to selling himself in order to be able to go back to temporary digs. This is Ian’s awkward first time with a man. It doesn’t turn out as planned.
Billy Carter and James Russell; Billy Carter
Furniture is moved, cartons packed. Ian is once again moving. John returns for a last visit. Both his and Ian’s lives have radically changed. Or have they?
McPherson’s episodic piece is fatalistic. These are four characters without real homes, in search of connection, who “affiliate” but seem not to bond. Loneliness in a crowd. Less poignant than numb. Uncomfortably familiar. Even the building’s door buzzer never gets fixed.
Director Ciaran O’Reilly makes us feel like voyeurs. Even the playwright’s signature, fragmented dialogue arrives authentic. Each actor wears anxiety and disassociation a bit differently; the sum may make you squirm. Raised voices are never gratuitous. In fact, tensions often show themselves in small ways like John’s hand upon the couch arm, a single finger twitching or Laurence’s sudden, yet ambivalent move towards John. Ian’s unwitting smiles at some of what John tells him are priceless.
Billy Carter (Ian) is an onstage natural. The actor uses his character’s feelings to color every word and move or lack thereof rather than demonstrate them. He is here, palpably, a man shut off from himself as well as the world.
Matthew Broderick (John) begins a victim of our familiarity. It takes awhile to accept his pronounced Irish accent. Drawn sympathetically to the turbulence that drives him, however, we become as accustomed to it as we do to his self-flagellating guilt. Broderick is a master of hesitant, confused delivery. His everyman persona serves the role. John could be your friend, your neighbor.
An unnerving play.
Charlie Corcoran’s Set is appropriately utilitarian and minimal with details reflecting an old building.
The newly renovated Irish Repertory Theater is more comfortable, more accessible, and more spacious. A venerable and worthy institution begins another act like a phoenix rising from plaster and sawdust.
Photos by Carol Rosegg
Opening: Matthew Broderick, Billy Carter
Shining City by Conor McPherson
Directed by Ciaran O’Reilly
Irish Repertory Theatre
132 West 22nd Street
Through July 3, 2016