Friday, July 10, 2015

Happy Medium Theatre Presents "Dying City" by Christopher Shinn - Brilliant Home-Grown Theatre

It is always a delight to discover when a dark cloud has a silver lining. The dark cloud of which I speak is the fact that Happy Medium Theatre was among the handful of small theatre companies that lost their performance home when  The Factory Theatre closed to be re-purposed into a fitness center.  Happy Medium had to scramble to figure out how and where to continue offering great theatre to its loyal audiences.  For the presentation of "Dying City," they came up with a brilliant solution.  Husband and wife acting team Kiki Samko and Michael Underhill offered the use of their home in the Jackson Square neighborhood of Jamaica Plain as the intimate setting for Christopher Shinn's provocative play, "Dying City."  The setting proved to be perfect.  I am convinced that the moving evening of theatre I experienced yesterday would not have had the same punch if it had been staged in the former performance space at The Factory.The choice to offer "Home-grown theatre" is indeed a silver lining that shimmers.

The dying city referred to in the title of the play is Baghdad during the early days of Operation Enduring Freedom.  The title more broadly serves as a metaphor for the fact that the world that each of the play's characters inhabits is dying in some fashion.  This is a riveting drama about things collapsing into dust - The World Trade Center, the war in Iraq, the marriage between Kelly and Craig, the career of Craig's identical twin Peter. Ms. Samko plays Kelly, and Mr. Underhill plays both Craig and Peter.  Each of these actors has been singled out by the Elliot Norton and the IRNE committees for their previous work, yet this play represents the best work I have seen each of them do.  Their mastery of character and dramatic arc in this play is that of consummate professionals. I literally was perched on the edge of my seat in anticipation of what they might say or do next.

The structure of the play, for which the playwright was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 2008, is  a bit complicated and difficult to stage.  Half of the action is presented in real time, while the other half is in flashbacks to the evening before Craig is to leave for his deployment to Iraq.  Deftly directed by Cameron Cronin, the two actors made it very clear which of the two scenarios we we watching.  Kelly suggested subtle changes between present and past by rolling up her sleeves and clutching a tea cup when we were watching present action between her and Peter, and a different configuration of her costume to indicate her scenes with Craig.  Michael Underhill's ability to differentiate between Peter and Craig  demonstrated tremendous subtlety.  The  twins were identical in facial feature, but at polar opposites in terms of speech patterns, gestures, physical presence. and overall  demeanor.  Kelly goes through a dramatic shift in emotions during the course of the play, and Ms. Samko portrayed them in a fashion that was convincing and heart-rending.  It would be hard to find better acting on any Boston stage than that which was demonstrated by this tandem.

Kiki Samko as Kelly
Michael Underhill as Craig
"Dying City"
by Christopher Shinn
Happy Medium Theater
Through July 11th

In archictecting this play, Mr. Shinn has woven together several interlocking themes - the impact of war on those who fight it and those who are left behind, the collapse of the World Trade Center as a metaphor for destruction and decay, the search for intimacy in marriage that could match the intimacy shared between twins, the impact of PTSD both on the battlefield and beyond,  The action unfolds as Peter drops in on Kelly on the anniversary of Craig's mysterious death in a "training accident."  As the narrative unfolds, we learn that Craig and Kelly had not been communicating during his deployment to Iraq, but that he had been sending detailed e-mails to his twin brother.  The sharing of  those personal e-mails with Kelly proved to be as explosive as an IED buried beneath the surface of a road in Baghdad.  As written, each of the characters is walking a solitary path, but their paths intertwine with each other in sometimes surprising ways.  At some point, we see each of the three characters walking off of the stage upon which they are living their lives. Peter literally walks off the stage in the midst of a performance of "A Long Day's Journey Into Night." Craig walks off the stage of his marriage to Kelly, and Kelly walks off the stage of her career as a therapist.  The resulting play is a complex psychological study of three fascinating characters..

There remain only two more performances of this production.  There may be a ticket or two available.  To inquire, contact Mikey DiLoreto at 



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