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Shining City: Theater review by David Cote
Anyone who attends Conor McPherson’s Shining City a second time won’t be surprised by a certain coup de théâtre at the very end. Those who saw it at Manhattan Theatre Club in 2006 know what I mean. However, what may come as a shock at the Irish Rep’s fine revival is how effective Matthew Broderick can be with a good script and an intimate space. After earning critical drubbings for lifeless, robotic work on Broadway in recent seasons, Broderick turns in a delicate, credible performance as John, a widower who has started seeing his wife’s ghost around the house.
To help him dispel the specter, or understand what it means, John turns to Ian (Billy Carter), a priest turned psychologist. Ian is haunted by his own problems, namely a girlfriend (Lisa Dwan), who bore their baby out of wedlock, and a male hustler (James Russell) he picks up one night. Each of Shining City’s five scenes leads us deeper into John’s guilt over his wife’s death (for which he blames himself) or raises questions about Ian’s past and motives. The narrative tracks seem to mirror and amplify each other but in an oblique, unconscious way.
Director Ciarán O’Reilly’s production on the Irish Rep’s impressively remodeled space (balcony seats!) is lucid, tight and fluid, with Carter quietly terrific in a tricky role (Ian does a lot of listening and guarded reacting). As for Broderick, his Dublin accent is strong (thanks to the great dialect coach Stephen Gabis), and he finds little moments of rue and amusement to give relief from the hideous misery John finds himself in. In their single scenes, Dwan and Russell are strong, and O’Reilly stages simple but evocative business for Carter to do in the transitions. A rich, unforgettable piece about projection and transference—both in the psychoanalytic and metaphysical sense—Shining City still casts a brilliant light.—David Cote
Irish Repertory Theatre (Off Broadway). By Conor McPherson. Directed by Ciarán O’Reilly. With Matthew Broderick, Billy Carter, Lisa Dwan, James Russell. Running time: 1hr 40mins. No intermission.