All four characters are somehow displaced at the start of Conor McPherson’s eerie and effective “Shining City,” now reappearing in New York—after a gangbusters Broadway run a decade ago—as the inaugural production in the Irish Repertory Theatre’s renovated Chelsea home.
Middle-aged businessman John (Matthew Broderick) is avoiding his house, because there he sees the ghost of his dead wife. For much of the 90-minute play, he discusses the problem with Ian (Billy Carter), a therapist hesitatingly setting up a practice in a rough part of Dublin.
Ian’s estranged fiancee (Lisa Dwan) is residing, uncomfortably, with Ian’s brother. Finally, there’s a mangy young dad (James Russell), who ought to be staying with his cousin, but there’s been a misunderstanding about money, so he’s homeless and picking up cash any way he can.
“Shining City” is distinctly Irish, in its preoccupation with death and Catholic guilt, as well as its lyrical ruminations on sex, liquor and fidelity. There is little action to speak of in McPherson’s 2004 story, directed here by company co-founder Ciarán O’Reilly, yet the sense of isolation and rootlessness it conveys is profound.
Broderick, as John, employs a thick brogue. John had grown distant from his loving wife Mari, and was cheating on her—in spirit, if not in body—around the time she was killed in what’s characterized during therapy as a grotesque car accident.
Broderick is noticeably easeful on this small stage, coming off at times as affable and engaging, or shambling and shuffling.
I enjoyed the contemplative performance by Carter (“The Weir”), whose obligations include the precise movement of furniture in and out of the temporary office, suggesting the passage of time. In his workplace, Ian can explore elements of his personality he was unable to as a young man aspiring to the priesthood.
As Neasa, Dwan, of the “Beckett Trilogy,” has one scene, and it’s powerful. Neasa has done everything “correctly” to nurture a new family, including making financial contributions to Ian’s academic work, but she’s left with little to show for her patience and commitments.
“Shining City” had its Broadway run in 2006, shortly after a West End debut. With a cast led by Brían F. O’Byrne and Oliver Platt, it was among the most impactful plays of that season. This production distinguishes itself with perhaps an added emphasis on the guilt experienced by both leads.
We believe dearly that John and Ian are uncertain men following uncertain paths. And by play's end, we recognize that it doesn’t matter if you’re the patient or the therapist—anyone can be haunted by the past.
“Shining City,” through July 3 at the Irish Repertory Theatre, 132 W. 22nd St. Tickets: $50-$70. Call 212-727-2737 or visit irishrep.org.
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