Sacramento, CA 95816
Holy crap! What a play!
Christopher Shinn’s Dying City, which opened Saturday at Capital Stage, is a provocative psychological drama of secrets, self-sabotage, anguish and anger. Set in New York in July 2005, with flashbacks to January 2004, the play layers the fears and traumas of childhood with the emotional aftermath of 9/11, and the psychic assault of the Iraq War.
Scenic designer Steve Decker houses the piece in an impersonal setting of chrome and glass, a sofa, a television and little else. A metalwork cityscape backdrop firmly grounds the action.
When the play opens, therapist Kelly (Lyndsy Kail) is packing up her Manhattan apartment for a move. She is interrupted by the arrival of Peter (Chad Deverman), an actor and the twin brother of her husband Craig, who died in Iraq. His unbidden appearance is a devastating reminder of the day more than a year ago when military men rang her doorbell to tell her of Craig’s death.
Set entirely within Kelly’s apartment, the play shifts back and forth in time between the present-day confrontation between Kelly and Peter and the emotional exchanges between the husband and wife the night before he shipped out. Deverman plays both brothers, using slight wardrobe variations and glasses to delineate the change.
Director Jonathan Williams achieves unrelenting tension even as Shinn’s play, running less than 90 minutes, takes its time in revealing the personal histories, anxieties and entanglements of these walking wounded. Kail and Deverman deliver superlative performances, unraveling as they strip away pretense and get to the awful, honest truth.
In its wrenching revelations, its vitriol and unsettling conclusion, Dying City packs the sort of emotional wallop we ascribe to works like Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? The truth hurts, and grief comes at different times and in different guises. We survive, sometimes tenuously—and not always happily.