Ghosts Of The Past And Present Haunt In Upstream Theatre’s “Shining City”

Shining City presented by Upstream Theatre at Kranzberg Arts Center in St. Louis, MO on Jan 28, 2016.Shining City presented by Upstream Theatre at Kranzberg Arts Center in St. Louis, MO on Jan 28, 2016.

Jerry Vogel as John and Christopher Harris as Ian in Upstream Theatre’s “Shining City.” Photo: Peter Wochniak

Lives are peeled open as therapist and patient both have secrets to reveal in the latest at Upstream Theatre- Conor McPherson’s “Shining City.” Confession is good for the soul they say and with a therapist who is an ex-priest, one profession is much the same as the other. Before this one’s over, however, we get to see into both men’s past and present and begin to wonder who needs therapy the most.

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Christopher Harris tries to console Em Piro during the production of “Shining City” at Upstream Theatre. Photo: Peter Wochniak

Christopher Harris plays Ian, the therapist, with a bit of nervousness as the play opens as he is obviously new to this but his years in the confessional prove invaluable as he gives John, played by Jerry Vogel, what he really needs- an ear to bend. Although Harris goes through a series of expressions and meaningful body language, he does what a good therapist should- he listens. With a few key words and starts of sentences that he leaves hanging, he manages to draw the story out of John.

Meanwhile, Vogel shows why he is one of the premiere actors on our local stages. His hesitation and broken sentences build a story that is scary and sometimes borders on the creepy. His wife was killed in a car accident some time ago and he is still blaming himself and even reveals that he has seen her- plain as day- in their house. He tells a bizarre tale and mixes pacing- both in speech and movement- to an art. Quite a powerful performance.

Shining City presented by Upstream Theatre at Kranzberg Arts Center in St. Louis, MO on Jan 28, 2016.Shining City presented by Upstream Theatre at Kranzberg Arts Center in St. Louis, MO on Jan 28, 2016.

Pete Winfrey as Laurence agrees to some wine from Christopher Harris as Ian in “Shining City” at Upstream Theatre. Photo: Peter Wochniak

We also meet Ian’s girlfriend, Neasa, played with frustration and angst by Em Piro. When she learns of his plans for their future, she becomes unhinged. Then the secrets of the therapist unravel even further when we find he has brought a young male prostitute to his office claiming this is the first time he’s done anything like this. Pete Winfrey plays Laurence with a hesitation that belies his experience in such matters.

All of the characters in some way are looking for love and redemption, but the real story centers on Ian and John. Their relationship is a strange one and, once we’ve learned of Ian’s peccadilloes, we can see how alike they may really be. In fact, when John claims he’s cured and even brings Ian a gift to thank him, we eventually see in the final, chilling sequence how the sins and guilt of one may have been transferred to the other.

Shining City presented by Upstream Theatre at Kranzberg Arts Center in St. Louis, MO on Jan 28, 2016.Shining City presented by Upstream Theatre at Kranzberg Arts Center in St. Louis, MO on Jan 28, 2016.

Jerry Vogel as John tries to express his feelings to Christopher Harris as Ian during Upstream Theatre’s “Shining City.” Photo: Peter Wochniak

Toni Dorfman has directed with a keen eye for character development and the actors have picked up on these traits as well. Set in the small office of the therapist in Dublin during several months in the early 2000’s, we get the gritty feel of both place and persons thanks to the Michael Heil set design and the costumes of Bonnie Kruger. The Steve Carmichael lights add to the mood as well. As always, the musical accompaniment of Farshid Soltanshahi enhances the onstage action.

This often enigmatic but always fascinating play, “Shining City,” plays at Upstream Theatre through February 14th.

 

 

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