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Life and death close season at Ledges

By |2010-08-09T09:00:00-04:00August 9th, 2010|Entertainment|

A young woman, sitting in her bleak New York apartment, is watching television when the door buzzer sounds. To her surprise, it’s her deceased husband’s identical twin brother with whom she’s been out of contact since Craig’s death in Iraq one year and one day earlier. She quickly tidies the unkempt room – and in particular, puts her wedding albums back in the bookcase – and opens the door. It’s an awkward and uncomfortable greeting Kelly and Peter share, rarely looking into one another’s eyes as they obviously avoid the big questions hanging over their heads.
While the set up might sound a little cheesy or like something out of a daytime soap, Christopher Shinn’s “Dying City” is anything but. Rather, it’s a psychological drama wrapped with political overtones that asks many questions, but answers few. And wisely, that’s just how director Marianne J. Bacon staged it for Capital TheaterWorks at The Ledges Playhouse in Grand Ledge.
Shinn’s script, which first premiered off-Broadway in 2007, tackles George W. Bush’s Iraq War from the perspective of a dutiful soldier who goes off to a war he initially believes in; his therapist wife (and later, widow) who says she does but later claims she doesn’t; and his identical twin, a handsome and popular gay actor. It’s clear Shinn is not a Bush fan, but that doesn’t permeate his work. Instead, he uses that to explore how differences in our backgrounds, experiences and where we grew up influence our perspectives on violence, Bush and the war. (The brothers grew up in the Midwest with a Vietnam vet for a dad; Kelly comes from a wealthy, East Coast family.)
Not having read the script, it’s unknown how much instruction he gives directors regarding the complicated emotions each character should have at any given moment during the play. But the temptation for some directors might be to allow the tension between Kelly and Peter to slowly simmer and build until a critical scene late in the show. Or to invent “answers” through facial expressions or body movements. But not Bacon. Instead, the trepidation storms into the room with Peter’s arrival, and Bacon allows it to affect and infect every action and reaction thereafter.
As such, neither character is particularly likable. Kayla DeWitt’s Kelly, for example, is cold and unresponsive to her husband’s emotional needs on the night before he reports for active duty – which is an odd reaction for a therapist. Meanwhile, Dax Spanogle’s Peter can barely hide the fact that there’s something sinister behind his sudden and unexpected appearance. (He also plays Craig.) As they toy with one another and avoid the truth, two things become apparent: Each is a complicated character with motivations that aren’t always made clear. And what the actors reveal are the follies and flaws of human nature.
So as I left the theater and drove home, I wondered why Peter chose this particular day to visit his sister-in-law? (He had been in town for approximately five months.) And what was the true motive for his behavior? Also, why did Kelly immediately change her phone number after the funeral and drop all contact with Peter?
But then there’s this: What was the TRUE cause of Craig’s death? (The Army’s investigation said it was an accident.)
We’ll never know. But thanks to a thought-provoking script, insightful direction and two fine performances, we’ve been left with plenty to think about. (However, be forewarned: Strong, adult language and themes seemed to take several couples by surprise on opening night, which prompted them to walk out at various points throughout the performance.)
Although enjoyable and a fine ending to a successful season, Capital TheaterWorks’ production isn’t perfect. The actors occasionally walked into dark spots on stage, and a couple of transitions between the past and present (or vice versa) were a little clunky. (And Spanogle and anyone else hiding backstage need to be quiet as church mice, as action on the stage was occasionally interrupted by noises of various types behind the set.)

‘Dying City’
Capital TheaterWorks at The Ledges Playhouse, 133 Fitzgerald Park Dr., Grand Ledge. Friday-Sunday through Sept. 12. Free; suggested donation $10. 517-944-0221.

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