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Theater review: ‘Shining City’ at Fountain Theatre

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We’re all haunted by our pasts. But in Conor McPherson’s “Shining City,” now receiving its Los Angeles premiere at the Fountain Theatre, the emotional baggage is literally paranormal.

John (Morlan Higgins), a middle-aged Dublin businessman, recently lost his estranged wife in a grisly automobile accident. But she has returned from the dead, in visits so uncanny John can’t even set foot in their house. Is she really there? Or is John going mad from the guilt of having treated her so badly when she was still alive? Meanwhile, his earnest therapist, Ian (William Dennis Hurley), has problems of his own. His girlfriend (Kerrie Blaisdell) is struggling to deal with their new child while Ian fights certain uncomfortable desires (in the form of hustler Benjamin Keepers).

“Shining City” doesn’t exactly break new ground; this is garden-variety Irish Catholic angst. The novelty lies in the play’s central irony: John needs to get rid of a ghost, while Ian, an ex-priest, is deeply disappointed that he never felt the presence of the holy spirit.

This small story, played out in Ian’s shabby office (courtesy of set designer Shaun L. Motley), relies heavily on monologues and doesn’t always generate enough dramatic momentum to sustain its wordiness. But the sense of mysterious forces at work, suggested by Ken Booth’s restless, moody lighting, keeps you intrigued. And the ending turns the whole play on its head.

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Director Stephen Sachs works his dependable magic in the Fountain’s intimate space. Higgins, all sweaty palms and stutters, vividly conveys John’s journey from nervous wreck to rebirth. Hurley slightly overdoes Ian’s anxiety — his most powerful moments come in silence — but both leads will likely settle into a more fluid groove as this absorbing show continues its run.

A good tale for fall’s slide into winter darkness, “Shining City” casts an eerie light on the human heart, caught between connection and loneliness.

-- Charlotte Stoudt

“Shining City,” the Fountain Theatre, 5060 Fountain Ave, Los Angeles. 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays. Ends Dec 19. Dark Nov. 26. $18-$28. Contact: (323) 663-1525. Running time: 1 hour, 50 minutes.


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