Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Albuquerque/Santa Fe

Shining City

Mother Road Theatre Company
Review by Rob Spiegel

Also see Dean's review of The Glass Menagerie and Carole's review of Doubt: A Parable

Design by Vicki Marie Singer
John is seeing a ghost: his dead wife keeps appearing in his home. She's wearing the red coat he bought her out of guilt. She died in a car accident, and now her ghost has pushed him over the top. As Shining City by Conor McPherson opens, John (Brian Haney) has come to see a therapist, Ian (Colin Jones). Ian has his own troubles. He recently left the priesthood and hasn't quite found his sea legs in relationships and sexuality.

All the action of the play takes place in Ian's office. This is John's first time visiting a therapist, and he is awkward and desperate. Ian tries to keep him calm, but John is a bouncy mess. In between sessions with John, Ian receives two visits: one from Neasa (Teresa Jones), the mother of his new child; and one from Laurence (Quinn Scicluna), a male prostitute. These dramatic scenes offer a look into the conflicts in Ian's life. Ian and John are each going through a prolonged crisis.

The story focuses on the isolation and loneliness that can occur within a relationship. It explores how chance meetings can change our lives, and it looks at the insidious nature of grief and the healing that follows in fits and false starts. While this isn't a traditional ghost story, both men are haunted by confusing feelings.

Conor McPherson is one of Ireland's most prolific playwrights and screenwriters. His Girl from the North Country, which is built around the songs of Bob Dylan, is currently running on Broadway, having premiered at the Old Vic in London in 2017. Albuquerque audiences have seen his plays The Weir and The Seafarer at The Mother Road Theatre Company, as well as The Night Alive at Fusion.

Shining City debuted in London during 2004 and opened on Broadway in 2006, where it received Tony nominations for Best Play and Best Actor in a Play (Oliver Platt as John). Matthew Broderick played John in a 2016 Off-Broadway production.

McPherson, in the handful of plays I've seen, shows a remarkable range in storytelling. He is known for his supernatural leanings and, although Shining City does involve a ghost, the supernatural does not figure prominently in the play. This is a simple tale, compared to The Seafarer or The Night Alive, which feature complicated plots and multiple competing characters. The center of Shining City is John's loneliness and grief. Ian's personal troubles are a big part of the play's emotional environment, but the center of the story is John's unresolved guilt mixed with his grief.

Direction by Vic Browder is clear and straightforward, the casting solid. Each of the four actors does a commendable job, but Brian Haney delivers John's tortuous emotions exquisitely. John isn't an exceptional man; he's pedestrian, even boring. Yet the power of his emotions overwhelms, making him interesting. McPherson has created a normal bloke to show extraordinary depths of feeling. John's crisis is the tent pole of this story, and Haney delivers a mighty performance to hold it all up.

Mother Road's production is clean and crisp, with a wonderfully simple set created by Browder. He is well regarded in Albuquerque for his hardy yet finely detailed sets. Outside Ian's window is a cityscape, presumably produced by scenic painter Albert Rosales. It's absolutely delightful. Rarely does a painted scene in the background offer such resonance: a shining city indeed.

Shining City, produced by Mother Road Theatre Company, runs through March 15, 2020 at the MTS Black Box, 6320 Domingo Rd NE, Albuquerque NM. Performances are Friday and Saturday evenings at 7:30 p.m., and Sundays at 2:00 p.m. General admission is $24; $18 for students; $22 for ATG members. For tickets and information, please visit or call 505-243-0596.