Burning Coal Theatre Company has championed Irish playwright Conor McPherson with three fine productions over the last decade. Now it’s staging one of McPherson’s subtlest works, “Shining City.” But the production only scratches the surface of this introspective look at loneliness.
Ian, a young ex-priest, has retrained as a therapist with support from his girlfriend Neasa, mother to their newborn child. Ian’s first client is John, a widower troubled by visions of his dead wife. Although she was killed in a car wreck, he feels guilty because he began pursuing extra-martial encounters right before the crash.
Ian, too, feels guilty, having declared his relationship with Neasa over, to her great distress. McPherson draws a parallel between the two men’s lives, each searching for a more satisfying existence, and each haunted by disturbances in his relationships. (Ian’s is revealed in an encounter with Laurence, an unemployed father whom he meets in a park.)
McPherson’s style is akin to Pinter and Mamet, with half-formed sentences and pregnant pauses peppered among the mundane lines, masking what the characters are really trying to say. The 90-minute one-act is mostly talk with little action, putting a special burden on the director and the cast to fill in the blanks.
Two well-established actors seem wrong for their roles. James Anderson exhibits little of Ian’s youthful anxiety and nervousness, and his reactions to John’s evolving story are placid rather than discomforted. John Allore is too young and too quirky for the middle-age, average-guy John, and he speaks his monologs at too fast a clip and with a limited vocal range.
Laura Tratnik supplies Neasa with depth and range in her brief appearance, and Nic Carter makes a mysterious but sympathetic Laurence in his short scene. All four actors have varying success with their Irish accents.
Director Jerome Davis finds the inherent humor in these dark situations but doesn’t fully explore the underlying pain and soul-searching that the script indicates. A greater problem is the almost perverse staging that often puts characters angled away from the majority of the three-quarter-round audience, something that could be corrected by judicious furniture rearrangement.
Audiences likely will relate to the characters’ unrealistic expectations and bad decisions, but they may find it hard to keep engaged without the script’s necessary subtext.