Monday, March 05, 2007

Dying City

Well I guess Scott Walters can rest assured that we bloggers don't always write nice things about shows we've seen...

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Dying City, written by Christopher Shinn and directed by James Macdonald, is set in a New York apartment in July 2005 and January 2004. Kelly (played by Rebecca Brooksher) is a psychiatrist mourning the death of her husband Craig (Pablo Schreiber), a solider who died in Iraq (the dying city in the title is a reference to Iraq). Craig's gay identical twin brother Peter (also Mr. Schreiber) makes an unannounced visit to Kelly's apartment so they can share in their grief and remember their lost husband and brother. Peter's visit reminds Kelly of the last night she was with Craig before he went to Iraq, which we see in flashbacks.

Dying City is an awkward, boring, heavy-handed, meandering mess of a play. You know you're in trouble when you're more interested in watching the stage rotate. You know you're in more trouble when you zone out for long chunks of time and realize you haven't missed anything when you snap out of it. You know you're in even more trouble still when you find yourself more interested in watching the reruns of The Daily Show that play on the TV set at the midway and end points of the play.

The script's humorlessness is a big problem. In fact, this is one of the most humorless plays I've seen in years. Now, I'm not against serious plays by any means. But there's a difference between watching a work take on serious issues and being forced to listen to two (three) miserable and unlikable people wallow in their own misery and self-loathing for 90 minutes. It's very obvious early on that there is no love between Kelly and Craig and equally obvious that Kelly has no interest in Peter's company, but Kelly is too stiff and tight-lipped to admit this. For the most part, all three characters have only two modes of expression: catatonic and angry.

Also, the device of having Mr. Schreiber play both Peter and Craig does not work. Throughout, Peter exits the stage, usually to take a phone call, there's a pause, a change in the lights, then the actor re-enters in a different shirt as Craig. Yes, it plays as silly and awkward as it sounds (as well as confusing; it took me a few minutes to catch on we were watching a flashback with the brother the first time this device was used). Having the same actor play identical twin brothers treaded into "Patty Duke" territory. Again, this device is not played for comic effect.

Unfortunately, blame can be passed around equally to the script, the direction (the actors often stand motionless while delivering their lines for sometimes up to 20 minutes and the rare scenes that display emotion - such as a bizarre preempted sex scene and the scene where Kelly and Craig fight - are staged too awkwardly and implausibly to take seriously) and the acting (although to be fair, Mr. Schreiber does a decent job playing both straight and gay characters).

I can't help but think that this play may have worked better as a 20- or 30-minute one-act. As it stands now, it has a pretty thin premise that's stretched out for 90 minutes, leeching out any sense of dramatic tension or interest.

Am I being too harsh on Mr. Shinn's play and the LCT's production? Perhaps. I don't mean to be. Contrary to what people may think, I'm not a sadist and do not get pleasure in hurting people. From what I've heard Mr. Shinn is a very nice person and a very talented writer deserving of the attention and accolades he's received. (Full disclosure: I am unfamiliar with his work and this production of Dying City is my introduction to it.)

However, I'm not picking on an amateur production of an amateur first-time playwright, which is why I'm so perplexed at seeing such an amateurish production of such an amateurish script. Maybe Mr. Shinn just had an "off" day (we all have more than our fair shares of those). I will be fair and borrow a few earlier scripts by Mr. Shinn from one of my fellow NYC blogger friends, because he does have a very good reputation and I'm willing to buy that it's deserved. With this play, however, I was underwhelmed.

Dying City is playing at Lincoln Center Theater at the Mitzi E. Newhouse. For tickets go here.

A downer,

James "Sourpuss" Comtois

Ps. To read what other bloggers thought/felt about the show, click on their names below to read their assessments.

Mark "Mr. Excitement" Armstrong

George Hunka

Matthew Johnston

Jamie "Surplus" G.

Adam Szymkowicz

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

I mentioned this on Matt Freeman's blog but I think it bears repeating.

Christopher Shinn is quite a prolific playwright . But his plays don't really have much dramatic action. Any in every single of them, without someone says "Do you want to see my c#ck?" or "Can I see your c#ck?" or "Would you like to watch me wack off?". Seriously. Check it out. I'm not joking. I've read them all except for "Dying City", so I'm not sure if there are any penis exposing offers in it.

Those are the only themes that I could gleen from his plays. Someone whipping out their c#ck or requesting to have someone whip it out and plots that I never really understood where they went or what the event of the play was.

It's good to see young playwrights getting done, but I don't really see what the big deal is.

4:10 PM  
Blogger Goose said...

I decided to read the NY Times review, then read yours. I knew your opinion. :)

I found it interesting that they, pretty much, opened with the mention of the revolving stage. NYT stated that the play did not need it to make your head spin.

I always worry about a piece when the first thing mentioned in a review is the set. Or some special effect. Don't get me wrong - being a backstage girl, I do get a jolly that that is the first thing mentioned. But, that means, it was the most piviotal part of a piece. And, hey, I know my place - set, costume, etc. - unless it is the name of the piece or a prop that leads you from one place to another - it is the spices and the seasoning.

I also believe that the actors did a pretty great job. Both of your reviews, especially the NYT, praises the acting (well, you mention the twin, I am sure the girl didn't totally suck).

But, and maybe it is just me, the NYT article feels like a someone who got really excited over their first soda or drink with sugar in it. The taste and then the sugar rush. But once I got to the end of the review, I hit sugar crash. The review, much like the play it seems, stated the obvious.

Sorry for the long comment and thanks for an honest opinion!

10:14 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Given the largely positive (raving) responses of your fellow bloggers, and given the (understandable) generosity extended to other playwrights on other blogger nights, I must say that you're a brave man for posting this. Is the theater world big enough for there not be some form of payback? I would hope so, but I wouldn't bet on it.

You are also not alone in your assessment regarding the play. And it's not just the blue hairs in the subscription audience who think so.

3:47 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Read FOUR.

12:24 PM  
Blogger Aaron Riccio said...

Glad to see someone else out there disagreeing about the raves for "Dying City." Didn't get the call for Blogger's Night, but I was there the same time as all of you. A free ticket doesn't make a bad show any better, it just makes it cheaper. Allow me to add a line to your review?

"You know you're in trouble when the set moves faster than the script."

12:52 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This play has received great reviews across the board. I have been going to theater for 25 years and this play was BY FAR ,THE WORST PLAY I have ever seen. Something is definitely wrong here... This play is from the NEW, HOT AND CHIC American Playwright? God help us! BAD ACTING, bad writing! The woman actress has this gross, unnatural Americanized accent that is just awful. Horrible actress. Her reviews are great, SHE SUCKS! She is so fake and boring, ineffective and untalented... The guy actor, "my brother is famous" was okay, just okay. The writing was sophomoric, young idealist, cheesy, unintelligent and boring. The writer, Christopher Shinn, has no concept of drama, politics, OR LOVE, LOVE, LOVE. I felt like I was watching a very bad Freshman Play in College. I spent 75 dollars for this ticket and its been a week and I am still angry. When the play ended, I sat in the dark and I thought I was nuts considering the GREAT reviews. However, as I was leaving, the audience members were pretty upset they spent money on the show too, one lady kept saying "that stunk". Tonight went out with friends AND THANK GOD THEY SAID THE same thing, worst show ever! THEY Hated it... So good to see someone at EW knows how to review a play. Lincoln Center should be ashamed for even considering putting up such a horrible piece of writing and acting. The playwright states that writing a play is more difficult than writing a novel, Oh really Mr. Shin...can't find his novel anywhere... arrogant young and smug... There was no heart in this play.... Obviously, someone is paying someone off or someone is sleeping with someone, or the reviewers don't want to give a bad review to a play that mentions 9/11. Dumb. --Oh, yes, bad metaphors, use of dialogue, boring concept, just so bad! I want my money back! Do I sound bitter? YES! WANT MY MONEY BACK I WORK HARD FOR IT!

4:52 AM  

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