In many ways, the small, intimate space that Theatre Inconnu calls home is the perfect setting for a play like Conor MacPherson’s Shining City. The proximity of the audience to the modestly appointed stage adds extra emphasis to the intensely personal parallel narratives that play out upon it, and one can’t help but be drawn into this simple, yet thought-provoking story.
Graham MacDonald’s direction seems to nod to this esthetic, too. Though the characters don’t move around the stage a lot, when they do, they often find themselves in each other’s way — as much at odds with their surroundings as they are with their own problems.
But the bulk of Shining City is told from a seated perspective, and with good reason. Ian, played by Michael Shewchuk, is a reformed priest who has left the church to pursue a career as a therapist. The stage serves as his office-cum-residence; a spartan space on the second floor of a Dublin building. It is here that John, Ian’s first — and possibly only — patient, unburdens himself of the guilt and remorse he’s been feeling since his wife’s tragic death in a car accident. John tells Ian that he’s seen his wife’s ghost in their home, and it’s unsettled him to the point that he can no longer stay there, having retreated to a nearby bed and breakfast.
As Ian helps John work through his emotional troubles, we learn more about Ian’s own situation. He’s recently fathered a child with a woman named Neasa, who’s currently living at Ian’s brother’s house while Ian “figures things out.” It quickly becomes clear that Ian is perhaps more damaged and confused than his own patient, and as he gets to know John better it’s hard to tell who’s helping whom.
A dialogue-heavy play like this would fall flat in the hands of many actors; thankfully that’s not the case here. Each of the four cast members makes excellent work of MacPherson’s nuanced script, and it shouldn’t be overlooked that all four manage to pull off serviceable, if not completely authentic Irish accents.
However, as with most casts, this one has its standout. Dustin Finerty, as John, is saddled with the vast majority of the dialogue in Shining City, and he delivers it with a subtlety that has the audience truly caring about his plight. This is especially noteworthy during a lengthy monologue in which John tells Ian about a brief dalliance he had with another woman while his wife was still alive. John’s tale of woe feels that much more believable in Finerty’s hands.
Of course, as in many works by Irish playwrights, there is a certain amount of religious subtext to the plot of Shining City. But somehow MacPherson has managed to craft a script that discusses those themes without doing so in an overt way; God is only referred to in this sense on one occasion, yet the topics of faith and spirituality (not to mention spirits of the physical variety) are never far from the surface.
And when the plot takes an abrupt turn at its conclusion, Shining City becomes that rare play that one wants to watch all over again, to see how all the pieces fit together. M
Sept. 28, 29, Oct. 1, 5-8 at 8pm; and Oct. 1, 2 and 8 at 2pm.
Tickets available at 250-590-6291 and ticketrocket.org