Monday, October 10, 2016

No Debate: Lively, Mostly Civil, Interaction Makes 'Dying City' a Worthwhile Way to Spend an Evening -- Chicago Theater Review

Theater Review

Dying City
by Christopher Shinn
Directed by Elizabeth Lovelady
The Comrades
at Heartland Studio, Chicago
Thru October 30

Sunday night, rather than tune into the lunacy of the second presidential debate, I attended a 2-person play that undoubtedly--especially from what I gleaned of the debate afterwards--involved much more worthwhile dialogue, from both individuals.

Actually, that would be three individuals, as Dying City--a 2006 play by Christopher Shinn that was a finalist for the 2008 Pulitzer Prize for Drama--chronicles a visit by Peter (Mickey O'Sullivan) to Kelly (Laura Matthews), the wife of his late identical brother, Craig, who O'Sullivan also plays in flashback scenes. Craig had died within the past year while serving in Iraq.

Within an impressive yet static set design (by Elyse Balogh) of a New York City apartment, O'Sullivan does a fine job in making Peter and Craig feel distinct, abetted by some nice nuances by Matthews in helping to clearly denote the separate time frames and relationships.

Yet while the need for several quick costume changes back & forth is clearly understandable and handled fluidly, the breaks between scenes did somewhat deflate the tension within and between the dual scenarios, and only late in the 85-minute play did things start to become emotionally searing.

There are some twists I certainly won't share, but early on as Peter--a successful actor currently onstage in New York--engages with Kelly, a therapist (but not one treating him), I couldn't readily discern either's motivations and noted a somewhat odd absence of obvious grief.

That the two characters didn't seem particularly comfortable with each other--Peter being particularly  skittish--is perfectly apt per what reality would dictate, and how the narrative unfolds, but perhaps as a result, for much of the play I found myself observing rather than emotionally embracing the happenings onstage.

Near the beginning, Peter states that he is gay--which Kelly would  already know but the audience doesn't--and while realizing the folly of my picking at a Pulitzer-nominated script and acclaimed playwright, I'm not sure why we weren't left to wonder a bit longer if the discomfitting interaction involved romantic feelings.

Under the direction of Elizabeth Lovelady, Dying City--the second play staged by Chicago's fledgling theater company, The Comrades--is well paced, and at the very least makes for an engaging night of theater (especially for just $15 or even less if HotTix are offered).

But I was left uncertain of what Shinn was ultimately trying to say, even with its title, and I wasn't much clearer about who Peter and Kelly were--and what each wanted and needed--at the end of the play than I was when it began.

Still, especially for those who value live theater at value-packed prices--in an intimate, comfortable setting around the corner from the Heartland Cafe--Dying City is worth your time and attention.

Even on nights when the harrumphs of Mr. Trump aren't the primary alternative.

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