Union actors carry ‘Shining City’

Nevada Conservatory Theatre’s “Shining City” is an intriguing Irish drama about spiritual loss. Conor McPherson doesn’t always explain what’s bugging his characters. In the end, it really doesn’t matter. These people feel they’ve lost God, and, in director Robert Brewer’s production, it’s at times remarkably touching to see them trying to find their way back into meaning.

The plot puts us in a Dublin therapist’s office (beautifully designed by Shoko Kambara). Former priest, current therapist Ian (Clarence Gilyard) is nervously dealing with his first patient: a middle-aged businessman, John (Richard Leighton), whose wife recently perished in a horrific accident. To make matters worse, John has just seen her ghost and is tormented by what the woman may have been trying to say to him.

The reasonableness in Ian as a therapist disappears when he’s dealing with his private life. He’s in agony as he tries to break up with girlfriend Neasa (Katie Mazzola), and when he attempts intimacy with a male hustler (Eddie Mullaney), Ian’s anxiety appears to be way out of proportion to his circumstances. When the prostitute finally works up the steam to hug Ian, it’s as if he’s doing it not as a prelude to sex, but as an act of kindness to help Ian exorcise his demons.

Gilyard projects the professionalism of a therapist, yet communicates crippling emotional weakness. He’s a wonderfully effortless, charismatic actor. Leighton brings such authority to the role of the businessman, that it’s horrifying to see him made so helpless by his situation. It’s marvelous to observe the gradations in the men’s relationship. You believe the changes that the script tells us take place between them.

Mullaney makes a major impression in his brief scene as the hustler. He moves with seductiveness, while projecting the soul of a man who has lived through too many nightmares.

Brewer’s direction runs into trouble due to a lack of modulation. There’s too much same-level screaming, too many super-imposed rhythms. John has a lot of monologues, and Brewer often handles them by having Leighton deliver them to the audience. You half-expect the therapist to ask, “Who are you talking to?” This compromises a hunk of the script’s subtlety.

But the weighty presence of union actors Gilyard and Leighton carry the day. I left the theater with a heightened sense of the importance of my own spirituality.

Anthony Del Valle can be reached at DelValle@aol.com. You can write him c/o Las Vegas Review-Journal, P.O. Box 70, Las Vegas, NV 89125.

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