Theater Info for the Washington DC region

Capital City Players Shining City

By • Mar 18th, 2012 • Category: Reviews
Shining City by Conor McPherson
Capital City Players
Capitol Hill Arts Workshop, Washington DC
Through March 24th
2:00 without intermission
$20/$18 Students and Seniors
Reviewed March 15th, 2012

Capitol City Players’ production of Conor McPherson’s Shining City is a respectable effort in tackling a tricky play with tricky text. McPherson’s Shining City is set in Dublin, Ireland. It focuses on Ian, an ex-priest, recently turned therapist, who is counseling John, a recent widower. John admits to Ian that he is haunted by what appears to be the ghost of his deceased wife. Further counseling sessions reveal that John was unhappy in his marriage and feels guilty about his wife’s accident. Ian, while in a position to counsel others, is a mess himself. He is torn between the loyalty to Neasa, his fiancée and mother of his child, and the feeling that the relationship is not something he really wants.

The cast is adept with the passable (but not perfect) Irish dialect. Conor Mcpherson’s Beckett-meets-Pinter-meets-Mamet style is a challenge for the cast, at times, though some moments are excellent. Most notable is a scene between Ian (James Raby) and a male prostitute, Laurence (played by theatre newcomer and surprising standout Robert Burden in his debut). Here, both actors are successful in using the breaks and interjections to enhance the situation they find themselves in. At other moments during the play, however, the “ums,” “you knows,” and pauses are not as successfully integrated, and seem to almost stand out as the “style” overshadowing the substance of the scenes.

Director David Dieudonne has a difficult task in Shining City. The piece is quiet and character-driven, and it is important that a directorial concept is not overstated. Dieudonne is successful in this aspect; it is clear the focus was on the scene work. However, even more attention was needed. Two of the five scenes feature Ian’s therapy sessions with his patient, John. In both, Ian and John spend the length of these scenes sitting. Because of this, it felt like both of these scenes lacked the drive and clarity in relationship that the other scenes had, which muddied the final (and most important) scene between the men. In contrast, the other “on-the-feet” scenes were much better in clarity. While it was probably necessary for the therapy sessions to contain at least some sitting, it seemed that sitting for this length of time caused the actors to feel the need to push in order to maintain interest instead of staying in the world of the scene.

The set design (Mary Macfarlane) is adequate in creating the feel of an old, shoddy office space, though the execution of the set seems unfinished in some way. Peter Caress’s lighting design functions efficiently in creating the time of day and overall feel. While the sound design (Jamie Coupar) contained a good effect in creating a sense of isolation, the execution during the performance I saw was off, with late cues and odd cutoffs.

While it is a good attempt at a difficult piece of work, Capitol City Players’ Shining City still needs polish. The Capitol City Players are knocking on all the right doors here, but some of those doors have yet to open. It seems that the overall understanding of the piece is present; however the execution is not quite there yet.

Director’s Note

To call this play a ghost story would imply that it provides some explanation of 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. Even when an apparition is in plain sight, its significance, meaning, and reality is just painfully out of reach.

At some point in our lives–mercifully, we’ve no idea when–the day-to-day grind of guilt, insecurity, and personal imperfection will give way to the raw existential terror caused by either death of a loved one or a sudden awareness of our own impending demise. Some of us come out the other side as deeper people; some of us get stuck for life in its morass. In the case of our central characters, Ian and John, the journey through their respective tunnels of guilt and grief have intersected unexpectedly with each other. Both are wounded souls, victims of their own bad choices. Both suffer, both long for a connection that eludes them, both are hiding something: the lives that they long for, the conversations that they should be having, the fears they don’t know how to conquer. John has no clue who he is, so he cannot lead his own life. Rather, he seems led entirely by it. And Ian doesn’t know if he loves his fiancée or if he believe in God. Ian is a healer, who, like many of them, needs a healer himself.

After you’ve seen the show, you might ponder whether you’ve really watched two different men or merely two sides of the same man. Both are inarticulate, bewildered, and frightened. And yet, unaware to even themselves, a powerful connection is forged in the emotional chaos that they are each experiencing, and ultimately the man on the couch forces the man in the chair to face his own problems. But, as McPherson suggests, if God had gone missing, then the Devil is very much about. The tunnels for Ian and John are long and dark. And whether or not they come through whole, one thing is known all too well: you can never put your demons fully to rest, for they are always hovering, ready to drag you down from that shining city of the soul back into hell.


  • Ian: James Raby
  • John: Ted Schneider
  • Neasa: Ashley Kelly
  • Laurence: Robert Burden

Creative Team

  • Director/Producer: David Dieudonne
  • Assistant Director/Stage Manager/Light Board Operation: David Jung
  • Assistant Stage Manager: Mary Macfarlane
  • Set Design: Mary Macfarlane
  • Master Carpenter: Steve Leshin
  • Lighting Design: Peter Caress
  • Sound Design/ Sound Board Operation: Jamie Coupar
  • Properties Design/ Set Dressing: Mary Macfarlane
  • Makeup Design: Negin Pahlavan
  • Makeup Assistant: Jeanine Rees
  • Costumes: The Cast
  • Dialect Coach: Mary Macfarlane
  • Original Music Composed by: John Lanou and Emily Chimiak
  • Lyrics Written by: John Lanou
  • Lyrics Translated by: Tyler Travillian
  • Graphic Design: Jeanine Rees
  • Running Crew: Robert Burden, Peter Caress, Ashley Kelley, Mary Macfarlane
  • Publicity/Marketing: Katie McManus
  • Artistic Liaison: Chris Tully

Disclaimer: Capital City Players provided two complimentary media tickets to ShowBizRadio for this review.

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is an actor, director, and teaching artist. She is a Virginia Tech alumnus with a Bachelor's of Arts in English and Theatre Arts. A relative newcomer to the DC Metro area, Rachael has participated as both an actor and director in a variety of projects at Virginia Tech and has worked as a teaching artist with Capital Repertory Theatre in Albany, New York.

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