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Jeff
trib
★★★ "it's a corker"
CTB
★★★½ "captivating"
timeout
★★★

around
Around the Town Chicago
★★★
talkin
Highly Recomended

critic
Recommended

timeout ★★★
Bruising and honest play
reviewed by Ryan Dolley, February 3, 2010


Contemporary Irish playwrights demand productions that fearlessly dispense with the tentative emotional measures of many American plays. Redtwist is clearly not afraid: McPherson’s study of the compelling reasons we do despicable things is given a treatment that attacks full-bore the stutters and missteps of choosing between happiness and doing what’s right. The result is a bruising and honest play, from the first moments to its truly shocking conclusion.

Neophyte therapist Ian (Lewis) is thrust into a hellish ambiguity when he leaves the priesthood. He contends with his girlfriend and child, his nascent homosexuality and guilt-wracked client John (Parry), who feels responsible for the death of his wife. McPherson imbues his characters with brutal vulnerability and then exploits it by putting them in an impossible moral framework; rationalizations for adultery or the abandonment of a family seem both objectionable and inevitable.

The care put into this production is palpable. Schultz’s direction surrounds the story with meticulous detail: the sound of tea brewing, the careful play of color and shadow in the transitions. Her feel for the psychology of the stage is evident in the fine performances she elicits. [Brian] Parry has John perched on the edge of a dark eruption, and plays it with remarkable restraint. His masterful interactions with a pensive [John Arthur] Lewis prove how vital small-stage realism can be.

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trib ★★★
Intimate 'Shining City' puts you right there in therapy
By Nina Metz, Posted February 3, 2011

There are never more than two people on stage at any given moment in Conor McPherson's "Shining City," but the ghosts of former lives are forever hovering at the edges, both literally and figuratively.

Ghost stories — real and metaphorical — are a specialty of McPherson's, and though he has acquired the kind of stature that sees his work produced on Broadway and at Chicago's major theater companies, I find his plays are more suited to the tiny confines of off-Loop venues. Something gets lost when actors speak McPherson's dialogue on sets that soar to the rafters. Low ceilings and tight quarters are much preferable. That was the case last fall with the stellar Seanachai production of McPherson's "The Weir" and it is most assuredly the case here.

Set in the Dublin office of therapist named Ian (John Arthur Lewis) — fresh out of training and in need of some therapy of his own — "Shining City" was first seen locally at the Goodman in 2008. The Redtwist version, directed by Joanie Schultz, takes you much further into the play — it's right there just a few feet away — which somehow only intensifies McPherson's depiction of the many ways we all live isolated lives.

Much like the shrink in the HBO series "In Treatment," the role of Ian is largely reactive. He must sit quietly for long stretches at a time, absorbing what's being said. It's not easy to keep that sort of thing interesting, and perhaps the one misstep in Schultz's production is the blocking, which tends to put Lewis in profile. You can't see his face as he listens to his patient, and the scenes lose some of their potency. It's a minor quibble in an otherwise very strong production — one that especially gets to the heart of matters with a shattering performance by Cheryl Lynn Golemo as Ian's rebuffed fiancé. And even though I knew the final moment was coming — it's a corker, that's all I'll say — it worked nonetheless.

It is worth noting that Redtwist significantly upped its design aesthetic a year ago, and artistic director Michael Colucci seems committed to sustaining that quality. With its hunter green walls, wood flooring and worn leather furniture, the set (from Nick Sieben and props designer Emily Guthrie) captures the right mood, as does Christopher Kriz's sound design that uses pop songs to fill the transitions between scenes, including Todd Rundgren's "Hello It's Me" and Elton John's "Someone Saved My Life Tonight." These are careful selections that manage to work even when they are a tad too on the nose.

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CTB★★★½
God is elusive in Redtwist’s captivating ‘Shining City’
Reviewed by Dan Jakes, 1/31/11

[Spoiler alert: click here to read complete review, otherwise, read on...]

... To call Conor McPherson’s play a “ghost story” would imply it provides some answer to the nature and existence of another world or its inhabitants. But in the streets and isolated dwellings of McPherson’s Dublin, there is no such certainty....

This play is rather, for all its melancholy and despair, a love story.

Set in an upstairs therapist’s office, Shining City chronicles the sessions of middle-aged widower John (the superb Brian Parry), and his ex-priest doctor, Ian (John Arthur Lewis). After the sudden death of his wife, John has begun to see visions of his spouse, moving him out of his home and into a local inn. Ian, wrestling with his own losses, has just left the woman he abandoned the Church for. The mother of Ian’s child, Neasa (Cheryl Lynn Golemo) struggles to exist separated in the unwelcoming company of Ian’s family. Two months flash between each scene, and as time goes on, the three slip further away from any assurance of who they are or the morality of the decisions they’ve made.

Each of these characters are, in one way or another, in limbo. They are all lost between homes, identities, loves, or sexualities, and seek escape in all the wrong ways. Director Joanie Schultz comments in her program note that she calls upon her own experience living out of a suitcase to relate an ambience of no refuge, which she accomplishes brilliantly in this production. Redtwist’s nearly claustrophobic performance space serves to amplify the overtones of each character’s underlying fear and wanting. Much of the action is relayed through long, patient storytelling, and just as John cannot escape his guilt and anxiety, we as the audience are seated almost in the hyper-realistic office right there with him, his deep-gravel, hypnotic voice only feet away. These characters are richly drawn, and this ensemble does great justice to them, supplying flaws and sympathies to their humanity.

In the intimate setting, no detail goes unnoticed, and play’s production team has created a scrupulously complete environment, from the window’s view of a cathedral to the ideal selection of transitional music.

McPherson doesn’t appear to relish the hell he puts his characters through, making their struggle all the more real and painful to watch. It also makes their redemption that much more believable and satisfying....

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around★★★★
reviewed by Al Bresloff, 1/29/11

Redtwist Theatre, one of our quality storefronts located up on Bryn Mawr in Edgewater, keeps giving us stories that make us think. Currently they are presenting Conor McPherson’s “Shining City”, in reality a two person play (although there are two other characters) dealing with fear of the unknown and guilt for what each has done in his life. John (Brian Parry, who always brings his characters to the stage with a very real feeling) is visiting a therapist , Ian (deftly handled by John Arthur Lewis) to help him understand what is going on in his life. This all takes place in Dublin, and each actor does a splendid job of using authentic accents while being understood. John’s wife has recently died in a car accident and he is faced with her ghost in his home. As he opens up his heart and soul, we learn more about his past and their childless relationship as well as some of the turns in his life.

On the other hand, Ian, who has just left the church to open up his practice, has another life, a “fiance” and a child, who he has left behind as well. But Ian has his own fears- a fear of who he is and what type of life he is meant to live. He, like John, is a member of the “walking wounded”, lost souls who have chosen paths that are not what they had hoped they would have chosen, and must find out who they are before they can shake these “ghosts” that haunt them.  Directed by Joanie Schultz, this is a pressure filled 90 minutes for these two characters and she manages to make it all seem real. There are 7 scenes, each representing a passage of two months. During these scenes, most of which are with Ian and John, we also meet Neasa (Cheryl Lynn Golemo), Ian’s estranged and Laurence (Kaelan Strouse) a young man that Ian meets in the park as he searches for his true self.

Nick Sieben’s set, depicting an office in a somewhat old walk-up is very realistic and shows how much can be done in a storefront theater with creative juices flowing and Christopher Burpee’s lighting sets the tone along with some marvelous music (sound by Christopher Kriz). The props, of which there are many (Emily Guthrie) and the costumes by Joelle Beranek, complete the total picture. Schultz sets the tone from the very onset and keeps us glued to the characters waiting to see what will happen to each. As we watch the stories unfold (the stories being the mindset of our two main characters), we begin to think about what might happen to each and at the end, while it appears that John has indeed overcome his fears and guilt, we are not altogether sure about the path that Ian might be taking.

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talkin
by John Olson, Talkin' Broadway, Chicago

Shining City has a rather strong connection to Chicago, as it was first directed on Broadway by the Goodman's Robert Falls, who two years later, in 2008, remounted that production at that Chicago theater. Though I didn't see the play in either of those productions, I suspect it's fair to say that Redtwist has done Chicago theater audiences a service in putting it up on stage again. One reason, certainly, is simply providing a chance to see this much heralded play by the lauded young Irish playwright Conor McPherson. His story of Ian, a former priest turned psychologist, and the first client Ian treats is a haunting study of fear—of change and death in particular (and what could be a greater change than death?).

It requires the audience's patience and attention as McPherson unfolds his story and premise quite slowly and deliberately. John (Brian Parry), a man in his middle fifties, arrives for treatment and explains that he has seen ghostly visions of his wife, who died in a freak auto accident shortly after John cruelly expressed to her his unhappiness in their marriage. In a later scene, through a 20-minute monologue (McPherson is known for his monologues), John describes in excruciating detail the pain he felt in their relationship. He says little about his wife's feelings—it's likely he had no sensitivity to them. He says very little to criticize her at all, so we get the sense she was rather blameless in their relationship, and can imagine just how hurtful he must have been to her. In separate scenes, we learn that Ian has serious issues of his own. He has left his pregnant fiancée to live alone in the home of his brother and sister-in-law. They won't even talk to her, so she's desperately lonely and feeling deserted. Still later, Ian's return to his office with a young rent boy gives some insight into Ian's confusion. The parallel stories of John and Ian run on separate tracks until the very end of the play, when their connection is made clear in its final moments.

Redtwist's non-Equity cast, directed by Joanie Schultz, gives the sort of performances one might expect to find in Chicago only at the large Equity non-profit theaters. Parry has a presence and gravitas that would make him right at home on one of those stages. His John has several faces—the outgoing, friendly demeanor of the salesman he is, admitting the shame of his indiscretions in his marriage, and displaying the guilt he assumes for the events that led to her death. His character seems to do the bulk of the speaking in this play, including that 20-minute monologue, and Parry has more than enough chops to keep us focused on his character. As Ian, John Arthur Lewis has the opposite challenge: he must tell us much about his character in few words and even with restrained body language. True to the standards of his profession, Ian reveals little of himself to his client, and his opacity carries through to his interactions with his fiancée, Neasa, and the young man, Laurence, who visits him. Lewis shows us Ian's anguish even as Ian is trying to hide it from the others. Cheryl Lynn Golemo touchingly communicates Neasa's pain. Kaelan Strouse adeptly balances Laurence's professionalism in trying to be relaxed and friendly with Ian, while revealing the desperate straits of his own circumstances.

The other gift of this production is the opportunity to experience the story in such an intimate, realistic setting that we might feel like a ghost in the room ourselves, observing the characters, yet unseen by them. Redtwist's space is like a shoe box—with the audience at one end and the playing area—of three completely dressed walls (there are no wings) and a ceiling at the other. For Shining City, it's a particularly effective space as it seems believably the same size as the tiny, grim office Ian uses for his practice. In Nick Sieben's set design, the office is believably plain and low rent. Christopher Burpee's lighting design gives an additional feeling of the various times of day and months of year in which the action occurs, through his clever back lighting of the office's small window. This realism of the setting and performances, together with the physical intimacy of the space (the theater holds fewer than 50 seats, I believe) allows the audience to experience the play in a way that's surely not the same in a large proscenium theater. It's a good reason for any of the play's many admirers to give it another look and for those new to the play to see it here.

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criticRecommended
Tom Williams, chicagocritic.com

Riveting contemporary Irish  ghost story is an actor’s treat


Brian Parry  (John) is in his usual good form as the middle aged guilt-ridden Irishman who blames himself for the death of his wife despite her being killed in an auto accident. He seeks help from Ian (John Arthur Lewis) a understanding therapist who has himself issues to deal with.

This riveting, superbly written, and expertly performed 90 minute drama is a showcase for the talented actor Brian Parry.  Parry’s performance as the man collapsing under the weight of his lifeless marriage is brilliant and complete. He experiences rising rage toward his tender wife. Parry deftly tells his story in a series of long monologues to t he patient therapist. Guilt and a haunting sense of his life being out of his control rules John’s life after his wife’s death.

We see that Ian has issues with is girlfriend who had his baby girl. Neasa (Cheryl Lynn Golemo) arrives to nag Ian about the couple living with Ian’s brother. Ian answers her by announcing that he is leaving her since he no longer loves her. We learn that Ian was a priest and that he sinned by having sex with Neasa. Ian tells her that he has more personal issues to deal with that doesn’t involve her. Later, we see Ian as he brings a male hustler, Laurence (Kaelan Strouse) to his drab olive-green office (nice set designed by Nick Sieben).

Ian’s patience and listening skills allow John to vent his daemons. From his early story of how he saw and heard the ghost of his dead wife, we empathize with John’s guilt and imagination.

McPherson’s lyrical dialogue richly allows his characters to explore their inter anguish. Brian Parry is magnificent as the haunted soul struggling to find order in his life.  This drama requires your attention but once tuned in, it pays off. There is terror and a nice dose of compassion here that satisfies. John Arthur Lewis has several powerful moments. This is a engrossing 90 minutes of theatre. Redtwist Theatre continues to offer excellent shows.

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