All the Lonely People: Burning Coal’s Rendition of “Shining City” Is Riveting But Ultimately Unsatisfying

Laura Tratnik as Neasa and James Anderson as Ian (photo by Right Image Photography, Inc.)

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.

John Allore (left) as John and James Anderson as ian meet as patient and psychotherapist in Burning Coal’s production of “Shining City” (photo by Right Image Photography, Inc.)

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):; Nov. 2nd Raleigh, NC CVNC review by Kate Dobbs Ariail:; and Nov. 2nd Raleigh, NC News & Observer review by Roy C. Dicks: (Note: To read Triangle Arts & Entertainment’s online version of the Triangle Theater Review’s Nov. 1st preview by Robert W. McDowell, click

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








The Play: (Wikipedia).

The Script: (Google Books).

The Playwright: (Wikipedia).

The Director: (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.

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By Robert W. McDowell

Robert W. McDowell is a Raleigh, NC-based freelance writer, editor, and critic. He has written theater, film, book, and music previews and reviews for The News & Observer, The Raleigh Times, Spectator Magazine, and Classical Voice of North Carolina, all based in Raleigh. In 1980-91, he covered business, industry, government, and education for (We the People of) North Carolina magazine, published monthly by N.C. Citizens for Business and Industry. In April 2001, McDowell started Robert's Reviews, a FREE weekly e-mail newsletter that provides comprehensive, in-depth coverage of the performing arts in the Research Triangle area of North Carolina, which includes Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill, and Carrboro. Triangle Review is the latest-and-greatest version of McDowell's original newsletter. (To start your FREE subscription, e-mail robertm748[at] and type SUBSCRIBE TR in the Subject: line.) From December 1980 until September 2017, McDowell served on the board of directors of The Cinema, Inc., a Raleigh-based nonprofit film society formed in 1966. He currently publishes a weekly list of FREE advance screenings of movies in the Triangle area. (To have your e-mail address added to this FREE list, e-mail robertm748[at] and type SUBSCRIBE FFL FREE in the Subject: line.) McDowell also co-edited and supervised the production of Jim Valvano's Guide to Great Eating (JTV Enterprises, 1984), a 224-page sports celebrity cookbook; and he served as a fact checker for Valvano: They Gave Me a Lifetime Contract, and Then They Declared Me Dead (Pocket Books, 1991).