The Beatles’ famously reclusive song subject Eleanor Rigby has nothing on the motley quartet of characters that people Burning Coal Theatre Company’s often riveting but ultimately unsatisfying production of Conor McPherson’s Irish ghost story, Shining City, which is set in a psychiatrist’s office in a newly gentrified section of modern-day Dublin, Ireland.
Eleanor Rigby was the poster girl for loneliness; but the distraught and, perhaps, hallucinating widower John (John Allore), his father confessor priest-turned-shrink Ian (James Anderson), Ian’s estranged blue-collar girlfriend Neasa (Laura Tratnik), and the young unemployed working-class husband and father Laurence (Nic Carter), who is forced to work as a “rent boy” to feed his family are all lonely and haunted. Plus, all of them are wrestling their own personal demons for control of their souls.
John becomes Ian’s first patient, because he is tormented by guilt and haunted by the ghost of his wife, who died in a horrific traffic accident in which a stolen car ploughed into the cab in which she was riding — uncharacteristically venturing out at night, on her way to who knows where. Neasa comes to Ian, arriving with a brittle smile and a bottle of good wine, in hopes that they can smooth out the bumps in their rocky romantic relationship and reconcile for the sake of her wee baby. Laurence’s role in this confessional setting is also important, but it is something best left for Burning Coal patrons to discover for themselves.
Burning Coal Theatre Company artistic director Jerome Davis skillfully guides his talented cast through the emotional minefields that each of these four characters must navigate as the tension builds. John Allore initially plays John as a big hot mess, consumed by guilt that his frequent absences from home while he was philandering made his wife lonely enough to leave their house in search of who knows what.
The icy exterior demeanor that James Anderson affects to play the former priest can only partially conceal his turbulent inner life while he works out his sexual identity. Compared to John and Ian, Laura Tratnik’s Neasa and Nic Carter’s Laurence are simpler souls; but Carter and Tratnik give them unexpected depth.
What’s missing in Burning Coal’s otherwise excellent presentation of Shining City is an intimate — indeed, somewhat claustrophobic — setting where four characters can collide literally and figuratively while the script ratchets up suspense for a slam-bang surprise ending that will make the audience gasp. Scenic designer C. Murdock Lucas has give Ian too big an office for a fledgling psychiatrist seeing his first clients. Indeed, spreading the action over the sprawling Burning Coal Theatre stage dissipates tensions that ought to be boiling up. So, the surprise ending — when it comes — is nowhere near as shocking as it would be if it occurred closer to the audience.
SECOND OPINION: Nov. 7th Durham, NC Independent Weekly review by Byron Woods (who awarded the show 3.5 of 5 stars): http://www.indyweek.com/indyweek/shining-city-a-ghost-story-at-burning-coal/Content?oid=3186393; Nov. 2nd Raleigh, NC CVNC review by Kate Dobbs Ariail: http://cvnc.org/article.cfm?articleId=5816; and Nov. 2nd Raleigh, NC News & Observer review by Roy C. Dicks: http://www.newsobserver.com/2012/11/02/2457106/burning-coals-shining-city-falls.html. (Note: To read Triangle Arts & Entertainment’s online version of the Triangle Theater Review’s Nov. 1st preview by Robert W. McDowell, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/2012/11/conor-mcphersons-irish-ghost-story-shining-city-will-scare-the-daylights-out-of-burning-coal-patrons/.)
Burning Coal Theatre Company presents SHINING CITY at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 9 and 10, 2 p.m. Nov. 11, 7:30 p.m. Nov. 15-17, and 2 p.m. Nov. 18 in the Burning Coal Theatre at the Murphey School Auditorium, 224 Polk St., Raleigh, North Carolina 27604.
TICKETS: $20 ($15 students, seniors 65+, and active-duty military personnel), except $10 per person onThursday; $12 per person for groups of 10 or more; and $5 Student Rush Tickets (door sales only, 5 minutes before curtain).
BOX OFFICE: 919-834-4001 or http://www.etix.com/.
VIDEO PREVIEW: http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=Zpb4rTcf2PI#!.
STUDY GUIDE: http://burningcoal.org/wp-content/uploads/Shining-City-Study-Guide.pdf.
The Play: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shining_City (Wikipedia).
The Script: http://books.google.com/ (Google Books).
The Playwright: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Conor_McPherson (Wikipedia).
The Director: https://www.facebook.com/jerome.davis.5686 (Facebook).
Robert W. McDowell is editor and publisher of Triangle Theater Review, a FREE weekly e-mail theatrical newsletter that provides more comprehensive, in-depth coverage of Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill theater than all of the other news media combined. This review is reprinted with permission from Triangle Theater Review.
To start your FREE subscription to this newsletter, e-mail RobertM748@aol.com and type SUBSCRIBE TTR in the Subject: line.
To read all of Robert W. McDowell’s Triangle Theater Review previews and reviews online at Triangle Arts & Entertainment, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/author/robert-w-mcdowell/.