Hollywood, California – A troubled man enters the “office” of a therapist. “Office” is a bit of a stretch because the room is a recently rented Dublin flat, unopened boxes everywhere. John, a middle-aged businessman, sits uneasily and tries to explain his predicament. In fact, his house is haunted by the ghost of his dead wife. She’s there, staring at him. Unnerving. He’s afraid to go home.
The therapist listens, trying to make sense of the apparition. And here begins an intriguing and verbally amazing, long one-act by the Irish playwright Conor McPherson. But how to describe this first scene… John’s monologue is tour-de-force, a style difficult to describe and one of the charms of this remarkable play. John speaks in (I suppose you’d call it) broken phrases, each hardly finished as he struggles to find words to explain…a sort of short-hand language of a man trying to skirt the surface of a deeply troubling story. Starts and stops which…unpeel, like an onion of a story, little bits and pieces until suddenly the truth is finally uncovered.
First we learn that his wife, with whom he has not been in good communication, has been killed in an accident. Why she even went out that day when she was such a stay-at-home, he can’t explain. Ian merely listens. Now she’s standing there, staring at John. And then, stumbling, bit by broken-phrased bit, the true story unravels, going deeper and deeper until we finally come to the heart of the truth.
In the next scene, a woman comes to confront Ian, who has left the priesthood, got her pregnant, and has left her alone with the baby. She she has no place to stay except with his family whom she dislikes. In the third scene, a rent-boy arrives — Ian’s stumbling attempt to explore his sexuality. None of them has a home. John is living in a B & B, the young mother with people she hates, Ian in this rented, temporary flat, the rent-boy almost homeless.
Two men trying to find some connection or understanding of their predicament, each telling his story of search and failure in trying to make human connection: John with a prostitute, only to be beaten by a pimp who ends up offering him sympathy, and once in an aborted affair which ends in total embarrassment. And Ian, sexually, with a woman and a man since he has recently severed his relationship with God.
Shining City is a search for meaning and for love which becomes entangled and raveled, as two men, like all of us, get caught in a maze of misunderstood feelings.
Fast-paced with that unusual, quite remarkable monologue, we watch as the four characters rework their lives into something manageable, just as another ghost appears, and that surprising ghost is for the audience to try to unravel.
The incredible monologues comes from Morlan Higgins — absolutely amazing. Ian is William Dennis Hurley — excellent performance. Neasa, who has a child by the ex-priest — a strong, angry, well-delivered scene by Kerrie Blaisdell. The short, effective scene with the rent-boy by Benjamin Keepers.
One gentle warning: Don’t drink too much at dinner before the play. No intermission, and once out, you can’t get back in. Worth missing that second iced-tea or the refill on the glass of wine.
The play came out in New York to top reviews, but count on the Fountain Theater, which always solidly delivers, to match the New York success. Play runs until December 19th: Fountain at Normandy. A must see.