“You always hurt the ones you love”
Cliché that it is, it brilliantly epitomized by the two actor, three character play Dying City.
Kelly (Laurie Okin) is trying to pack. But she is distracted, Distracted by melancholy and memories and an endless stream of Law and Order episodes that she can’t seem to stop TiVoing. She has languished in her New York apartment for a year and she knows she has run out of time when the buzzer for the building door sounds. Her letter writing, self-loathing brother-in-law has paid her a surprise visit, one year after the lost of her husband Craig.
Peter (Burt Grinstead), who also happens to be Craig’s identical twin, is an up-and-coming actor of film and stage. He has taken on a play in New York, in hopes of reconnecting with his reclusive sister in law, and perhaps to gain some validation for his suspicions about his brother’s death. Neither he nor Kelly fully accepted the Army’s explanation, accidental death by self- inflicted gunshot wound.
Peter confesses his play isn’t going well and he only moved to New York for the chance to reconnect with her. Kelly admits to never having answered his letter on purpose and that she has no desire to recount the days and conversations of old, when Craig was there to be he buffer and the antagonist between them. But Kelly changes her mind when she finds out about the emails. Craig’s emails to Peter; she torn as to whether or not she wants to hear them. Kelly want to know if there is some clue with the text of those email that would explain the strange circumstances under which she and Craig last spoke. But Peter is needy and tight-fisted about them – waving them like a carrot that Kelly cannot decide if she wants to reach for.
What answers, what secrets, what validations lie within; if any.
The play teeters back and forth through time, signified by an exquisitely subtle lighting change. We journey back to the night before Craig leaves for his second tour in Iraq. It was a night when Peter, true to form, brought his new boyfriend and new histrionics to Kelly and Craig’s otherwise quiet home. Craig (also played by Grinstead) is confident and stern but clearly harbors a deep affection for his “lost” little brother. But it is also clear that this marriage has tensions of its own, which Peter’s presence only exasperates.
I am deeply intrigued by this piece. Typically I want to know why: why entitled Dying City? What was the playwright’s motivation for writing it, what is he or she trying to say? Is the writer taking a position or is the piece explicitly provocative, neatly leaving all answers in the lap of the audience to decipher? I have all those questions now, but with this play, I’m not bothered that I don’t have the answers.
This production of Dying City truly feels like a character study. There are only moment when you glean motivation and pure intention. But for the most part, these characters are doing battle from the moment they see each other. They both want their own family on their own terms. They are both selfish in the way they horde the memories of their shared lost loved one, yet each needs the other to fill the void of what completes them. In Craig’s death, just like in his life, neither person wants to share him, and they both want to please him. It’s a tangled web of rare emotions that makes the question “What would Craig really want” impossible to answer.
I love how complicated and messing this story is. Even in its poetic repetition, there is a spontaneity and rawness that rings organic. The audience is invited into the actual guts of the characters, as well as the story. There were a few moments when the play felt a bit long, but the actors were ever-engaging, rendering characters that were fascinating to watch. Exceptional work by Grinstead and Okin, each in their respective dual roles.
Dying City has been extended through August 5th. Don’t miss it.
Now playing @
5041 W Pico Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90019