The Burning Coal Theatre Company in downtown Raleigh is currently featuring Conor McPherson's Shining City. The show follows Ian, a priest-turned-therapist, and three others: John, his client who recently lost his wife; Neasa, his fiancée and mother of his daughter; and Laurence, an apparent prostitute. It's a fascinating premise – you never really know anything about the private life of your shrink, and this gives an interesting insight into this particular, rather exceptional, case.
The show, aside from any evaluation of whether or not it is "good," (I happen to believe it's very good, but that's a different point) is challenging – in the best way possible. McPherson assumes a level of intelligence from the audience, and the direction by Jerome Davis follows suit. The work challenges the audience to really evaluate what they are seeing, and requires the audience to make their own conclusions about a number of themes in the play. The plot, while present, is loosely structured, and in a way, the play feels more organic because of it.
I would generally advise against a character sitting on a couch and just talking for long periods of time, but somehow the absence of complex blocking works in this show. It's natural, I suppose, for a therapist and his client to sit for awhile, and the dialogue is engaging. Major kudos are due to John Allore for some insanely long monologues – not just for memorizing them, but for keeping them lively and engaging. Also impressive was James Anderson as Ian, who, while acting opposite these long monologues, is phenomenal, even when speaking very little. His nonverbal acting fills in conversational gaps.
Right down to the perfectly choreographed scene changes, the set and creative elements are quite apt for this show. The theater space is small, but this set makes it feel open (I would, however, avoid sitting behind the couch). The subtle and sophisticated lighting indicates changes in time of day and the passage of time. The elements come together nicely to suit the show.
Shining City runs through November 18. For tickets and more information, visit www.burningcoal.org.