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NY Theater Reviews

Shining City at the Biltmore

The Talking Cure

By Robert Cashill

The end of the 2005-2006 season was a St. Patrick’s Day parade of openings, as Broadway rolled...

The end of the 2005-2006 season was a St. Patrick’s Day parade of openings, as Broadway rolled out the green carpet for a trio of imports: Martin McDonagh’s The Lieutenant Of Inishmore, a revival of Brian Friel’s Faith Healer, and, for the Manhattan Theatre Club, Conor McPherson’s Shining City. The last, from the young playwright of The Weir, continues in part in that production’s vein, with meaty monologues about things that go bump in the night. The big talker is John (the expansive Oliver Platt), who, two months after the death of his wife in a car accident, consults a therapist, Ian (Brian F. O’Byrne) about the loss; and the unexpected appearance of her ghost, which reminds him of past infidelities during their marriage.

In segments that parallel John’s reminiscences, Ian, an ex-priest carrying guilt of his own, tries to shuck off his relationship with his girlfriend, the volatile Neasa (Martha Plimpton, rather overqualified for her one-scene appearance), and their baby. In a painfully tentative embrace of his own secret self, Ian picks up a rent boy, Laurence (Peter Scanavino). The strands of the show come together for a final session between analyst, patient…and the mild coup de theatre that closes the production, which is more like an old William Castle picture such as "The Tingler," where buzz boxes zap you beneath your seat, than anything weighty or profound.

The jolts are best left to McDonagh. Where McPherson, who this time has relocated his stories from the boggy countryside to a seedy section of Dublin, excels is in hopping aboard a train of thought and following it to its terminus. It’s never a straight-ahead destination (a typical passage, as John struggles to make sense of his visitations, goes something like, "you know, you know, I mean, d’ya fookin’ know?"), and the traveling proves more compelling than the arrival. But his arias of despondency give an actor like Platt, in his Broadway debut, something substantial to sink his teeth into. Where the playwright has grown is in his comfort with silence, with O’Byrne’s almost infuriating reserve an effective counterpoint to Platt’s compulsive outpourings. The director, Robert Falls, deftly calibrates the shifts in mood, and in contrast to his performer-swallowing set for the soggy Three Days Of Rain, Santo Loquasto’s work is, appropriately, on the threadbare side, as thunder and lightning suited to dark and stormy nights of the soul rumble outside Ian’s window.

Shining City is a fair representation of what McPherson can do, but as always it feels as insubstantial as one of his spectres, evaporating once the story is told. The playwright wants (or seems to want) to rise above the clichés of the ghost and gangster stories that are the basis of much of his work, but to do that the foundation will have to change. Characters and chat he has to spare; what he needs are situations that audiences will want to give more of a fook about.

Robert Cashill blogs about entertainment at Between Productions (www.robertcashill.blogspot.com).