Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

January 16, 2009

Dying City

Hartford Stage, Hartford
through February 8, 2009
Donna Bailey-Thompson

A spirited discussion among strangers following the play demonstrated that the advance publicity description of "Dying City" remained accurate even after the play had ended: the "mystery drama" generated more questions than it answered. From the tension-filled disjointed dialog of the opening scenes through switchbacks in time and attitude, the story line resembled the stop and go rewinding of a ball of yarn. Unlike the unfolding of a linear plot, "Dying City" demands unbroken attention while it parries, thrusts, twists and dodges. If playwright Christopher Shinn’s intent was to mimic dysfunctional behavior spawned by the family of origin, this Pulitzer Prize-nominated play scores.

Simply stated, Peter (Ryan King) is a self-absorbed actor chasing love while his twin brother, Craig (Ryan King), a soldier bound for Iraq, can’t accept the love given to him by his wife, Kelly (Diane Davis), a psychotherapist whose compassionate beliefs are ridiculed. Their interlocking personal dramas are played out within a setting, designed by Wilson Chin, that reflects their circumscribed characters – a boxy greatroom (perhaps a loft) that contains utilitarian kitchen counters and a living area dominated by a massive, multi-paned cantilevered window that frames the silhouetted cityscape of New York. The decor is stark, almost sterile, appropriate for the walking wounded.

Director Maxwell Williams keeps the brothers’ flawed emotional development teetering on the edge of awakening while simultaneously maintaining Kelly awhirl within bewilderment. Alejo Vietti’s clever costume designs double as calendar clocks which help the audience keep track of time and year.

Actors Davis and King (and King) are well cast. As twenty-somethings, they contend with ongoing international instability personified by the Iraq debacle. While macho Craig champions a shooting war, his gay twin’s mouth unleashes supposedly innocuous words that give new meaning to dying by a thousand cuts. Davis, as their verbal punching bag, strives to discover the origin of the brothers’ anger.

Perhaps the best way to "get" the allegorical "Dying City" is to see it twice.