Theatre Review: Shining City by Conor McPherson

Reviewed by Arlene Weiner

Shining City. By Conor McPherson. Directed by John Shepherd. With Dennis Schebetta, F.J. Hartland, Karen Baum, and James Maschiovecchio. Off the Wall Productions. 147 N. Main Street, Washington, PA.

How come Shakespeare wasn’t Irish? So many of the classical English-language playwrights were: Congreve (though born English), Sheridan, Wilde, Shaw—not to mention those who took Ireland and her people for their subject, Synge, Yeats, O’Casey. And in our day Irish playwrights flourish: Brian Friel, Martin McDonagh, Conor McPherson. Perhaps it’s the relation of plays to, well, relations. Not just relationships but relating, storytelling. Not all modern Irish drama, but some, rejects the divide between presentation and representation—it shows by telling. In Friel’s play The Faith Healer, for example, the three characters never interact, they only narrate alternately, until their narratives become a braid, a noose that exacts a gasp.

So it is, in part, with Shining City. The two main characters are a therapist and his patient. How convenient, we think: for a therapist can be the confidant, that theatrical device into whose ear exposition is poured. But that’s not McPherson’s game, or not entirely. For the patient isn’t the main character and the therapist a sock puppet. There’s a kind of rhyme between the two. Each has female trouble. Each has his anguish.

Nevertheless a good swatch of this play is the tale told, in pieces, by the unhappy patient.

The patient’s wife has died, violently, and he has seen her since her death. He’s terrorized and at wit’s end. And the marvel is that in the telling, this story, its fractions, both these stories, move us to pity and terror. In intervening scenes we learn about the therapist’s past and present and doubtful future, and are moved by them as well.

The marvel is due in large part to the wonderful acting of F.J. Hartland and Dennis Schebetta, which must mean marvelous direction by John Shepherd. Karen Baum and James Maschiovecchio are also very effective. (All but Maschiovecchio are Equity actors.)

The night my companion and I went to Shining City we drove I-79 through thunder, lightning, and torrents of rain. We ascended to the theater (it unfortunately is not, unless I’m mistaken, handicap-accessible). I think it was worth the trip.

Shining City runs May 6-7, 13-14, 19-21 at 8pm, 5/15 at 3pm.

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