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Shining City Theatre Review - Superior Acting and Conor McPherson's Riviting Dialogue Enhance Shining City

By Peter A. Balaskas

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Neasa (Kerrie Blaisdell) confronts her boyfriend, Ian (William Dennis Hurley)

(Los Angeles, CA) September 20, 2009 – While studying English and philosophy at University College, Dublin, Irish playwright Conor McPherson was introduced to the works of his greatest influence: David Mamet. When he first read Glengarry Glen Ross, McPherson finally discovered his creative path. And in 1995, after an agent saw potential in this young new playwright, Irish Theatre would never be the same again as McPherson’s plays transcended to the New York and London stage, ultimately winning an Olivier Award for his 1999 production of The Weir.

Mamet’s influence on McPherson is extremely evident in his plays, specifically his craftily written monologues. In The Weir, five people in a pub share their own experiences regarding the supernatural. With the exception of the characters spinning their yarns about ghosts, nothing else happens on stage. But what made The Weir magical is McPherson’s ability to capture the audience’s attention without letting go until the curtain goes down. The lyricism of the dialogue and the complexity of the characters reinforced McPherson’s ability as a talented storyteller.

John (Morlan Higgins) confesses his guilt to his therapist (William Dennis Hurley)

And this can also be said for his Tony nominated play, Shining City. This story of how two men heal from the wounds of their respective pasts has indeed found a quaint little home at The Fountain Theatre. And even after five years since its debut, its message is still timeless. The Los Angeles Premiere of Conor McPherson's Shining City carefully examines natural and supernatural ghosts and their relation to the human connection.

One of these haunted men is Ian ( William Dennis Hurley), who lost his faith and left the priesthood. But his situation is made worst when he leaves his girlfriend, Neasa (an emotionally effective Kerrie Blaisdell, although her Irish dialect does slip) and newborn child out of petrified fear. He becomes a therapist and moves into a seedy apartment (where the entire play takes place), which also serves as his office. His first patient, John ( Morlan Higgins), is also haunted by his past. Instead of fear, John is tormented by the guilt of his wife’s death, the events preceding his loss, and the possibility of him actually seeing her spirit after the fact. As time goes on, the play alternates between the therapy sessions and the events that occur during Ian’s life when he is visited by Neasa and a male prostitute (a sympathetic Benjamin Keepers). The therapy sessions are composed of long monologues by John as he shares his frustrations, anxieties, hopes, failures, and rage. And the scenes regarding Ian’s life are supposed to parallel John’s confessions.

But unfortunately, McPherson fails in establishing that connection between the two men. The therapy sessions are brilliantly written, but the scenes involving Ian’s life doesn’t really parallel what John is going through, especially when Ian encounters the male prostitute. And that connection between the two men must be established in order for the resolution towards the very end of the play to make sense.

Ian (William Dennis Hurley) shares his doubts regarding his relationship to Neasa (Kerrie Blaisdell)

But this inconsistency doesn’t overshadow the wonderful dialogue and especially the superior acting by the two leads. Hurley’s Ian is laced with compassion and with some much needed humor to break the tense-filled scenes with Neasa. He also effectively layers subtle guilt regarding his past and present failings, constantly wondering if he has what it takes to help his patient. But Higgins captivates from beginning to end as the haunted (figuratively and literally) John. His monologues are extremely long, and in lesser hands, would have dragged the play. Higgins' portrayal is dynamic, humorous, and heart wrenching. Although mainly sitting on the sofa, his mannerisms are so naturalistic, especially with subtle physical touches like wiping his brow at certain key parts of his story. He deftly brings McPherson’s storytelling ability to life, making Shining City a pleasure to see and experience.

John (Morlan Higgins) is relunctant to share about his past to Ian (William Dennis Hurley)

Shining City opened September 19 (Saturday night) and runs to December 19 (Saturday night)

The Fountain Theatre
5060 Fountain Ave.
Los Angeles CA 90029
(Fountain at Normandie)

(323) 663-1525 or www.FountainTheatre.com

Opening Night (September 19): $30.00
All other performances: $25 (Thursdays and Fridays) & $28 (Saturdays and Sundays)
Seniors over 62 (Thursdays and Sundays only): $23.00
Students (with ID): $18.00
Previews: $15.00

Secure, on-site parking: $5.00

Photos by: Ed Krieger

Published on Dec 31, 1969

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