Shining City: A Guy Walks Into a Therapist's Office
Remember the days when people would hide the fact that they were in therapy? I know it sounds crazy, especially in this city where the practice hasn't been out of style since Dr. Freud bought his first chaise lounge, but somewhere between the closing of Lady in the Dark and the premiere of The Bob Newhart Show lurked a period where such things were generally discussed in those annoyingly hushed whispers.
Nowadays we just assume that nobody out there is flying solo, and those who chose to deal with personal issues on their own are not only looked upon with suspicion, but in some districts on the Upper West Side I understand they're not allowed to vote in major elections. Which is why storytelling playwright Conor McPherson's Shining City, though it takes place in Dublin, should seem a natural choice to interest Gotham playgoers.
If John (Oliver Platt) looks like he's just seen a ghost, it's because he claims an ectoplasmic vision of his wife came for a visit after she died in a car accident. John has had a wandering eye, which he believes is somehow connected to his spouse's death. His therapist, Ian (Brian F. O'Byrne), is a former priest with female trouble of his own. Ian wants to end his relationship with Neasa (Martha Plimpton), with whom he's fathered a child. Why? Maybe it has something to do with Laurence (Peter Scanavino), the rent-a-boy he brings home.
Through several months of sessions, John makes noticeable improvements (terrific work by Platt in making a gradual and complete transformation), but it seems that once we're relieved of our burdens they must make a home elsewhere. As subtly played by O'Byrne, Ian is open and vulnerable, perhaps still conflicted or feeling guilt over his reasons for leaving the priesthood. (Like many major points in the play, we have to guess at that one.)
Plimpton is very memorable in her one scene where she confronts Ian for his leaving her, and Scanavino makes the most of his small, functional role.
Santo Loquasto's set, Ian's home office, is a comfy sanctuary from the outside world, where Christopher Akerlind's lights keep us continually reminded of the storms that must be dealt with on the outside.
Primarily set during John's sessions with Ian, Shining City is, quite necessarily, talky. Director Robert Falls opts for naturalism in their scenes, which means both actors are seated most of the time. And though
McPherson may be a fine storyteller, his character John isn't there to entertain anyone. Realism just might get in the way of holding your attention at times.
But it's a well-acted evening and a sufficiently interesting tale that no doubt will provoke some lively post-theatre cocktail discussions.