Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

Opera, music, theater, and art in Los Angeles and beyond

Night And The City

November 16, 2009

Morlan Higgins and William Dennis Hurley
Photo: Ed Krieger/Fountain Theater 2009

The plays of Conor McPherson are fragile things. They are filled with characters living everyday lives under the shadow of the most common kinds of traumas and infidelities. They often reach out to one another, telling their stories, in an earnest attempt to connect to one another. The otherwise unassuming scenarios are often filled with magical elements including such creatures as ghosts or the devil. It’s a combination that can spell deadly boring sentimentality in the wrong hands. Los Angeles has seen its fair share of that with a dreadful production of The Seafarer earlier this year at the Geffen Playhouse. But when it’s done with a more sobering eye, like McPherson’s own, these plays can be devastatingly touching. Currently, Los Angeles’ Fountain Theater is mounting just such a good production of Shining City, McPherson’s 2004 ghost story set in a therapist’s office where the personal revelations of a bereaved middle-aged man, John, mimic the unspoken upheavals in the therapist’s own life. I don't mean to be too vague, but this is a play that benefits from not knowing too much about it going in so I'll leave it at that.

The good news is that director Stephen Sachs gets it mostly right. The production remains uncluttered with a focus on the personal monologues that make up the majority of the play’s text. The supernatural elements are a little botched with too much obvious suspenseful lighting and music diminishing their power to integrate with the more pedestrian nature of the character’s lives. But at the center of the show is a great performance from Fountain favorite Morlan Higgins as the patient John seeking help in the wake of his wife’s death. Higgins delivers John’s lengthy third scene monologue with such hand-wringing anxiety and honesty that time seems to telescope. Everyone in the audience is hanging on his every word by the finish of his tale. It’s a masterful piece of acting and worth seeing regardless of the play’s other strength and weaknesses. The rest of the cast is solid with William Dennis Hurley creating a very believable therapist. Shining City runs through December 19 in Hollywood and, if you're not familiar with McPherson's work, this would be a great place to start.


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