Soulstice puts you in (someone else’s) therapy
Fear, guilt, loss and a few tears. These emotions open a strained psychotherapy session in Shining City, on the intimate stage at Soulstice Theatre. At the premiere Friday night, approximately 35 patrons (from a maximum of 50) immersed themselves in Irish playwright Conor McPherson’s script. The audience sits on stage, within 20 feet of the actors. Every line of McPherson’s emotional dialogue may be internalized. It’s like hearing a friend confide dark secrets while staring into their eyes.
This action unfolds in the run-down, industrial office of Ian (Josh Perkins), a therapist. A troubled middle-aged man, John (David Ferrie), knocks on his door, seeking help in adjusting to the tragic death of his wife, Mary.
Over the next two hours, Ian and John tell their stories of unmet expectations, struggles with the ensuing disappointments and the decisions involved in resolving the difficulties. The two men’s lives express the disconnect from meaningful existence that occurs when individuals hide behind day-to-day routines. Both Ian and John lived that way, but ultimately had to confront their lives. Eventually, we learn Ian recently left the priesthood in confusion, while John’s barren and childless marriage caused resentment. Ghosts from the past literally haunt the two men.
Ferrie’s broken, disturbed John moves slowly in the first act, as he attempts to relate to his therapist. In the second, the actor’s deep and honest monologues grab the audience, even as he interjects some raw humor to keep the evening from becoming too discouraging. In this demanding role, Ferrie gradually embodies John’s ambiguous attitudes to marriage and grief and the stress causes unspoken emotions to erupt.
Perkins shines in a scene with his significant other, Neasa (Jillian Smith), and in then a romantic encounter with Laurence (Jordan Gwiazdowski). Although in cameo roles, Smith and Gwiazdowski add interesting dimension to McPherson’s play. Ian’s character remains fairly static in his scenes with John, which director Matthew Michaelis paces evenly and without physical movement.
The characters’ past and present bedevil their lives in Shining City, which provides few conclusive answers to contemplate after an evening that requires complete concentration on the actors. Note that you’ll be front and center for these disquieting stage conversations, and any noise or move will be obvious to everyone. This staging, while extremely effective, allows no escape from McPherson’s drama and Soulstice’s admirable and intense production.
Soulstice Theatre presents Conor McPherson’s Shining City at the Marian Center for Non-Profits, in Saint Francis, through Feb. 26. Only 50 patrons will be allowed for each performance. For ticket and schedule information, visit the Soulstice website or call 414 431-3187.