Theater Info for the Washington DC region

Elden Street Players Shining City

By • Feb 9th, 2009 • Category: Reviews
Shining City
Elden Street Players
Industrial Strength Theatre, Herndon, VA
$19/$16 Seniors and Students
Playing through February 14th
Reviewed February 6, 2009

Elden Street Players has chosen a marvelous Irish play to produce this season, Shining City. They were successful with another McPherson play, The Weir, a few years ago…and they’ve scored another hit with this haunting gem. “Shining City” is Irish slang for “heaven”…an appropriate title for the subject matter.

McPherson’s language is superb, Mamet-esque in its natural, overlapping style of delivery. Every moment of the play is genuine.

The action revolves around Ian, a Dublin therapist, who focuses on his patients but not nearly as well on his own life. Ian is played by ESP veteran (and artistic director) Todd C. Huse. Huse has a tough job here…in the lengthy scenes dominated by a particular patient, he has few lines and must find a concentration and presence that is constantly engaged and yet never interfering. He accomplishes his task well. In the places where he does have lines, he is alternately strong and in control, and then just as conflicted and fallible as the patients he treats. It’s an excellent portrayal, creating dislike for his character and then sympathy where it’s due.

Neasa (Susan Talbott) is angry with Ian for leaving her alone with their baby and his self-satisfied brother and sister in law. In the beginning of their scene together, Talbott is not quite as forceful and coarse as Neasa’s character could be, but as it progresses, she reaches a very deep emotional place within herself, and the audience aches right along with her. It’s here that Huse is not calm, not sure-footed. He is fragile, almost childlike as Neasa puts him in his place.

Ian’s key patient (who represents a huge parallel to his own life) is John, a man who is tormented by his wife’s ghost following her death in an auto accident. Michael Kharfen plays this role to unbelievable perfection. His John is affable, embodying the middle aged “average” Irishman who spins his life with the storytelling yarn that’s second nature to the culture. He creates the ultimate aura of joy and pain, the audience in his palm as he brings them to riotous laughter, and then shocks them into complete silence with a quavering voice and weeping that breaks their heart. He commanded absolute attention with every sentence, every expression.

It’s the type of finely nuanced and beautifully crafted performance that one rarely gets to see, and it’s absolutely stunning. It can only be compared to standing on a bluff overlooking the Irish sea with all of its depth, darkness and luminosity, never knowing when it will swell and crest and when it will be calm, wholly absorbing.

Laurence (Ian Brown) adds a sensitive and unique dimension to what others might perceive as a stereotypical character. His interactions with Ian are perceptive and edgy, and performed with a deft and meticulous hand.

It’s a thoroughly Irish play, and the required accents, which could ring the death knoll for most productions, are done fairly well. Even when not perfectly done, they never hinder the style of the show nor the crucial lines. There are a lot of layers to the plot, and relationships created, strengthened, lost and then found. It’s a thought-provoking script that leaves the audience with an open mouth and many unanswered questions. How divine.

The direction (Angie Anderson) is flawless. She allows the actors their freedom and yet keeps a watchful eye on the movement and pacing. The set (Tod Kerr) is very well done, giving the feel of a true therapist’s office, and adding a beautiful backdrop of the Irish city outside the window.

Shining City is presented for 105 minutes without intermission yet never drags. Time stands still as you hold your breath in anticipation of what comes next.

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