The Lincoln Center Theater production of Dying City, a new play by Christopher Shinn directed by James Macdonald is an engaging 90 minute journey into the troubled souls of three people impacted by the war in Iraq. The little play with much to say was originally produced in London last spring at the Royal Court Theatre and has been beautifully staged here at the Mitzi E. Newhouse.
The story set in July 2005 begins with Kelly (Rebecca Brooksher), a young therapist, alone at home watching television and packing her possessions. Her husband died under questionable circumstances while on military duty in Iraq the previous year. There is a loud knock on the door and Peter (Pablo Schreiber); her husband’s identical twin gay brother enters. He has just walked off stage in the middle of a performance of Long Day’s Journey into Night, because his co-star made an anti-gay remark at him while onstage. He has been trying to re-establish contact with Kelly, ever since his brother’s death, but her phone has been disconnected and she has not returned his letters. At first she even behaves as if she didn’t know Peter was in town.
In the middle of the first scene Peter leaves the room, and returns as his bother Craig, Kelly’s husband, played by Pablo Schreiber as well, and Schreiber adopts different qualities and wears a different article of clothing. The time shifts to a year earlier on the night before Craig departs for Fort Bening. As the action evolves the scenes alternate between 2004 and 2005, between Kelly and Craig, and between Kelly and Peter. This feels a bit confusing at first, but you do get used to it quickly. With each scene more is revealed increasing the emotional stakes. We learn not only of the complexities between Kelly and her brother in law Peter, but of her husband’s deeply troubled nature.
James MacDonald helmed the London production, as well as several other plays at the Royal Court Theatre. In New York he guided a well received production of Caryl Churchill’s A Number at the NY Theater Workshop, and his direction here on Dying City conveys an emotional seesaw of ups and downs. He has drawn strong understated performances from the two leads giving a layered nuance to the evening.
Although he has handled the tricky structure of the play skillfully, it still feels like a gimmick every time Mr. Schreiber leaves the set as one brother and returns as the other. You always see it coming and it feels like a contrivance that unfortunately is jarring.
The evening is enhanced by Anthony Ward’s understated set that consists of a bare living room on a raised platform that revolves turning the Mitzi Newhouse into a real theater- in-the-round and putting the emphasis on the actors. Pat Collins’s simple lighting compliments the setting and the starkness highlights the actor’s emotional life.
The accumulation of the events and the revelations, although most interesting, don’t quite add up. You never quite understand what happened or why, but hey that’s life. Perhaps it may not matter as long as you get involved and take the ride.
…gordin & christiano
Originally Published in Dan's Papers
Dying City opened on March 4, 2007 at Lincoln Center’s Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater, 150 West 65th Street, and will play a limited run through April 29. Tickets are available at 212-239-6200, or at the Lincoln Center box office.