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THEATER REVIEW ‌ Shining City

Shining Moments: PURE's subtle slice of Irish theatre electrifies

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Shining City
PURE Theatre
Sept. 6-8, 13-15, 19-22 at 7.30 p.m.
Sept. 9 at 2 p.m.
$25-$27 (pay what you can Sept. 19)
PURE Theatre at the Cigar Factory
701 E. Bay St.
(843) 723-4444

Dublin is a boomtown with cranes stretching across the skyline, an unmistakable sign that the city's enjoying vast economic growth. Aside from construction and gentrification, there are new financial centers, legal firms, and computer manufacturers. Ireland as a whole has enjoyed an East Asia-sized upturn.

But another side to Dublin lurks in the background — its superstitious one. In this quaint, unorthodox world, it's believed that a boy born after his father's death has power over fevers and that fairies who hear a Dubliner speak ill of them on a Friday will work some evil.

Playwright Conor McPherson likes to take these two sides of Ireland and contrast them through subtle character development and Gaelic quirks. In Shining City, which had a successful run on Broadway last year, none of his painfully human creations have permanent abodes. They're all struggling to deal with life in a bustling metropolis. PURE Theatre manages to capture all this perfectly on a small set with four minimal scene changes.

R.W. Smith plays Ian, a therapist who's just moved into a pokey apartment and sees his patients there. The place is drab, with brown walls and stacks of cardboard boxes. Ian is camouflaged in a brown T-shirt, desperate to blend in. During the eight months in which this play is set, he never unpacks all his boxes. Sometimes he listens to other characters with the passivity of an audience member. At others, he makes active, hard choices that change his life. Smith handles both aspects of the character with sensitivity and naturalism, adding appropriate doses of humor when he can.

Adding to the sense of everyday realism is John, Ian's patient, who lives in a world of boring social events, home-cooked meals, and shopping expeditions. But something weird has happened to this average guy. His dead wife is haunting him, exposing his feelings of guilt and insecurity. Thus the old world of superstitious beliefs meets a new world of urban loneliness.

As John, Mark Landis is hard to hear in his first scene. It's as if he's having a hushed conversation with his fellow actor and the audience has to strain a little to hear. He gets louder as his character gets bolder in later scenes, perfectly capturing a dull-as-dishwater mindset; for example, he feels an emotional connection with a woman when she takes an interest in his sinus problems.

Ian has problems of his own, struggling through a difficult relationship with Neasa (Kara O'Neil). They've had a baby together and she's living in close quarters with his family. Now that she's a mother she's changed. Ian is torn between his responsibilities as a dad and his lack of a connection with Neasa.

O'Neil has one of the toughest jobs in the play as the tired, annoyed, and confrontational Neasa. Sadly, a couple of her lines are hard to decipher and she spends time with her back to the bulk of the audience so we can't see her either. But later, she completely redeems herself with a powerful breakdown as she confesses her sins to Ian.

Matt Bivins livens up the production as the streetwalking Lawrence, who brings out other shades of Smith's character. Bivins injects his outwardly cheery role with a sad streak, broadening his background with a few concise lines. In this show, Smith and Bivins give the finest performances we've seen from them at PURE.

The whole play demonstrates McPherson's ability to build a complete world view in a succinct fashion. Director Dana Friedman facilitates this: the cold weather outside is suggested with winter coats, Ian's nervousness is hinted at by the way he gingerly sets his therapeutic "props."

Shining City includes images that stay with you — the kind that you wake up with the morning after you've seen the play to find that they still make your hair stand on end. The most memorable of all comes at the conclusion of the play, which the New York Times called "the most shocking ending on Broadway."

Thanks to the imagery, the carefully considered performances and the restrained direction, PURE has created an electrifying piece of theatre.

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