Conor McPherson's new play about discontented Dubliners is oddly mesmerizing.
This phraseology might stem from the playwright's determination to write dialogue reflecting how people in general speak nowadays. Alternatively, he may be making a point about this specific quartet of malcontents: that they're more or less interchangeable. Though McPherson's troubled Dubliners face disparate, serious problems, they share the same underlying problem: Society has disoriented them so radically that they've lost the ability to be articulate.
I'm inclined to take the latter position and forgive McPherson the repetition, because I like the situation and the lost folks he's scrutinizing too much to dismiss this work out of hand. I also like that he's toying with a ghost story, something we don't see much of any more. In Shining City, we meet John (Oliver Platt), a Dublin businessman who claims to have seen the ghost of his wife, Mari, behind the doors of the house they shared before she was killed in a car crash. For counsel, he's come to therapist Ian (Brian F. O-Byrne), a former priest. Santo Loquasto has designed Ian's office/flat so that the high walls don't meet, and lighting designer Christopher Akerlind keeps a threatening storm brewing outside the upstage window.
John, whose mental health shows signs of improvement over the months during which the action of the 90-minute play takes place, doesn't know that Ian has his own demons. He's separating from the mother of his child, Neasa (Martha Plimpton), for reasons that are not established initially but become clearer when he brings home a troubled young man, Laurence (Peter Scanavino). As time goes by, the sense of guilt plaguing John because he wasn't communicating with Mari and had been slipping around with someone named Vivien has the effect of exacerbating the pain felt by Ian, who's also dealing with his wavering Catholicism. Meanwhile, McPherson keeps in the back of the audience's collective mind the ghost that John insists he's seen but Ian doesn't believe in.
As Shining City unfolds, you stick with it because Ian's equilibrium is so precarious and John's worries are so intense. Neasa's one-scene appearance, in which she tries to discuss the reasons for the end of her relationship with Ian, is also a fine piece of writing, as is the rather ominous yet tender scene between Ian and Laurence. You hang in even though all those "you know"s undermine a play that, you know, could make its point sooner than it does.