Conor McPherson’s Irish Ghost Story, “Shining City,” Will Scare the Daylights Out of Burning Coal Patrons

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

“When I got home, there was nothing untoward. Only, I remember now, because I heard it again, there was the sound, the tune of an ice cream van. But there couldn’t have been. Because they don’t go ’round at night.”

On Nov. 1-4, 8-11, and 15-18, Burning Coal Theatre Company’s will present a professional production of Shining City, a nail-biting Irish ghost story written in 2004 by Conor McPherson (St. Nicholas, The Weir, and The Seafarer), in the Burning Coal Theatre at the Murphey School Auditorium, near the Historic Oakwood Section of downtown Raleigh, NC. Burning Coal artistic director Jerome Davis claims, “[Shining City] will scare the daylights out of you!”

After premiering in June 2004 at the Royal Court Theatre in London’s West End, Shining City made its Broadway debut on May 9, 2006 at Biltmore Theatre, where it played for 80 performances before closing on July 16, 2006. The play earned for two 2006 Tony Award® nominations, including a nomination for Best Play.

Jerry Davis, who will direct what he thinks is the North Carolina premiere of Shining City, confesses, “As soon as I can get my hands on a Conor McPherson play, I read it — several times…. I’ve worked on so many big, epic theater pieces in the last few years, I really wanted to do something intimate — dare I say ‘delicate’? [Shining City] is Pinteresque.”

When the curtain rises on Shining City, director Jerry Davis says, “Ian (James Anderson), a man who has left the priesthood to begin working as a psychotherapist, welcomes his first patient, a middle-aged man named John (John Allore). John has recently suffered a devastating loss, and he reveals something in their first session that Ian is almost completely unable to address — and that harkens back to his training as a priest.

“Later, we meet Ian’s estranged girlfriend, Neasa (Laura Tratnik), who is attempting to convince Ian that their relationship is worth saving,” Davis explains. “The other character in the play, Laurence (Nic Carter), is a ‘rent boy’ who pays a visit to Ian one night.

“Over the course of their sessions, Ian is able to help John come to terms with his loss, but at what cost?” Davis asks.

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.)
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.)

In addition to director Jerry Davis, the Burning Coal Theatre Company creative team for Shining City includes assistant director Trey Morehouse, technical director Barry Jaked, set designer C. Murdock Lucas, lighting designer Matthew Adelson, costume designer Alyssa Breeden, properties manager Tim Domack, sound designer Loren Watson, and stage manager Kim DiPiano.

Director Jerry Davis says the show’s set is “an old warehouse, recently gentrified into mixed-use space — in this case, an office”; its lighting is “eerie”; and its costumes are normal Dublin street clothes.”

He adds, “Our lead actress, Laura Tratnik, was a member of the Berliner Ensemble (!). That’s not a sentence I ever thought I’d have the pleasure of speaking! She is brilliant, and fits right in with our magnificent male leads.”

Jerry Davis also notes, “There are only ever two characters on stage at one time, which takes away the director’s friend, the triangle, as a staging tool. Also, [Shining City] is [Conor] McPherson, the storyteller, at his best. Finding ways to keep the story visually interesting is quite a challenge.”

In reviewing the original Broadway production of the play, New York Times critic Ben Brantley characterized Shining City as a “quiet, haunting and absolutely glorious new play” and added:

“In terms of construction, ‘Shining City’ is as close to perfection as contemporary playwriting gets. As elliptical as the conversation is, there’s not a word or pause that doesn’t feed the work’s theme or its interconnected, disconnected stories. The same is true of even small physical details, like the malfunctioning downstairs buzzer in Ian’s office building, and what turns out to be the most shocking ending on Broadway. And, no, I won’t say anything more about it except that Mr. McPherson has found an inspired alternative to those inadequate tools of communication called words.”

Burning Coal Theatre Company presents SHINING CITY at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 1-3, 2 p.m. Nov. 4, 7:30 p.m. Nov. 8-10, 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 pay-what-you-can performance on Sunday, Nov. 4th; $10 per person on Thursday; $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







NOTE: Arts Access, Inc. of Raleigh ( will audio describe the 2 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 4th, performance.


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 preview 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).