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‘Shining City’ at Scena Theatre

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Conor McPherson loves the supernatural. His plays exude an otherworldliness that seeps into the dialogue and infects the players. But, his plays aren’t about the supernatural. They seem to highlight the underpinning passion and intricacy of the lives that spin around the ghosts and the visions that his characters perceive. And, there is always the idea that what they see may or may not be real. How much is perception, and how much is reality, and how much of reality is perception?

Lee Ordeman and Ellie Nicoll. Photo by Jae Yi Photography.

Lee Ordeman and Ellie Nicoll. Photo by Jae Yi Photography.

Scena Theatre’s production of Shining City, directed by Artistic Director Robert McNamara, explores all of these questions. There were are several beautiful performances, but let’s begin with the tech. The play takes place in the office of Ian (Lee Ordeman), who has recently become a psychologist. His new office is in a walk up that is, apparently, in need of some refurbishment. The first thing that you notice about the set by ProScenia Design and Elizabeth McFadden are the spaces on the walls that used to hold pictures – dark spots on the walls, just slightly lighter than the rest of the wallpaper. Across the stage from these is another spot in the shape of a crucifix. This simple aspect of the set really sets the tone of the entire show. How does a loss stain a life? What kind of mark do we bear when a parent dies or a relationship ends? And is it so obvious to the world at large, or does it only appear to those we let into our inner sanctums?

The sound design by Denise R. Rose is fun and jaunty, which was necessary for a show with so much drama. My favorite sound cue was the broken door buzzer that yelled indistinctly at Ian every time he had a visitor. Regarding the lighting design by Daniel Schrader, I wasn’t quite sure why the end of every scene was lit with a spotlight on the faces of the characters, and it distracted me from what was happening emotionally on the stage.

Now the actors! Ellie Nicoll, who played Neasa (Ian’s fiancée and baby-mama). Her portrayal of the put-upon, almost wife is provocative. She moves from angry to supplicant and back again with a mania that perfectly illustrates the attenuated emotional state of a recent mother who’s man has essentially abandoned her. We wonder about the lack of physical intimacy or chemistry until we meet Laurence (Kevin O’Reilly).

Laurence is a man who knows what he needs and know that, in this day and age, you do whatever it takes to get that need fulfilled If that means a little prostitution, so be it. His bravado onstage seemed to stem from a deep seated insecurity which vibed beautifully with Ian’s desperate need for and consequent fear of intimate relationships. But, finding what he needs in Laurence’s arms gives a new perspective to his relationships with Neasa.

Lee Ordeman plays a man on the verge of a breakdown quite well. His record-screeching reactions to Ellie’s attempts at confrontation exposes his raw nerves to the audience. And, his futile attempts to explain anything he is thinking to anyone in the play illustrate his character’s inability to function within the strictures set by society at large. His neurosis is relatable and never overblown. His restraint gave so much power to his outbursts that there were occasions you wanted to pop out of your seat a few feet.

And finally, we get to Ron Litman (John), who plays the first client of this fledgling healer. Ron was amazing. I would watch him read the dictionary, and be happy to do so. His ability to turn a line into a story is what made this play shine for me. And I must applaud his ability to maintain energy and excitement for the entirety of his 30-minute monologue. Yes, there is a 30 minute monologue (Conor McPherson obviously hates actors). And he does it beautifully. Kudos!!

Ron Litman. Photo: Jae Yi Photography.

Ron Litman. Photo: Jae Yi Photography.

Overall, this well-acted production is worth seeing. I walked away with several questions about the themes and the ideas behind them, which means I was engaged enough to contemplate them. Your questions may not be all answered and there will be no easy conclusions, but in Scena Theatre’s production of Shining City – there will be a lovely ride.

Running Time: One hour and 45 minutes, with no intermission.

Shining City plays through September 21, 2014 at Scena Theatre performing at Atlas Performing Arts Center-1333 H Street, NE, in Washington, DC. For tickets, purchase them online.

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