Dying City

In this brief, dense hour of misery and mystery, Kelly (Rachel Zampelli) salts herself in grief over the death of her husband Craig (Thomas Keegan) while Craig’s identical twin brother Peter (Keegan, again) haunts her living room, reeling out complaints about his life and job as he stutters his way to a revelation.  

The nature of that revelation is, of course, the business of Dying City, and Thomas Shinn’s story, given somber voice by director Matthew Gardiner and Signature Theatre, plays it out like an expert fisher landing a marlin. There is no question but that the form has art. But does it have substance?

Rachel Zampelli as Kelly and Thomas Keegan as Peter (Photo: Scott Suchman)

We skateboard between past (in which Kelly, a psychotherapist, and Craig, a nascent literary scholar about to discharge what he sees is his debt to country in Iraq, ruminate about life and job and family) and the present (in which Peter, a successful  actor with a fabulous ability to rationalize his failings, tells his troubles to Kelly). Peter, standing in Kelly’s classy New York living room (nice set by Dan Conway) will get a phone call from his director or agent and will step inside the bedroom to take it; the lights will dim; and Craig will emerge, catapulting us back in time. And vice versa.

Keegan is good at this transition. He is a large, muscular man and as Craig he has the bearing and attentiveness of a linebacker two seconds before the snap. When he transforms back to Peter his body relaxes; his voice goes up half an octave; and his stance is softer, more open. It is a subtle performance, and a fine one. The first time he appears as Craig may be a little disorienting, but after that things should be fine for you.

Somewhat Recommended
Dying City
Closes November 25, 2012
Signature Theatre
4200 Cambell Avenue
Arlington, VA 22206
1 hour, 2 minutes with no intermission
Tickets: $39 – $70
Tuesdays thru Sundays
Details
Tickets or call 703-573-7328

For her part, Zampelli is at every moment authentic both as a young married woman and as a widow. With Craig, her Kelly is immersed in family and job, sweet, but tentative in her effort to establish her own voice and territory while still accommodating her husband. With Peter, she wears her widow’s weeds with a cautious dignity, keeping her own counsel, and her own secrets.

The acting is good, and the production moves with a sort of melancholy gravity which approaches grandeur. Why don’t I like it more, then? There are some plot holes, to be sure, but that’s not it; there are plot holes in Hamlet. Perhaps Dying City suffers from a lack of consequence: as the story opens Craig is dead, and when it closes he is just as dead. What we learn in the sixty-two minutes’ traffic on our stage about how he felt about Peter, or about Kelly, or about how they felt about him does not change, as Rumsfeld used to call it, the facts on the ground.

Dying City is, at bottom, a requiem, which allows us to change the way we feel about a dead man, but not the way we feel about ourselves. Its considerable theatricality allows us to suspend disbelief, but does not give us a reason to overcome indifference. The name itself is deceptive; there may have been a time when this city was dying, but by the time we enter it, it is already the City of the Dead.

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Dying City by Thomas Shinn, directed by Matthew Gardiner. Features Thomas Keegan and Rachel Zampelli. Scenic design by Daniel Conway, costume design by Frank Labovitz, lighting design by Colin K. Bills and sound design by Matt Rowe. Michael D. Curry was the director of production and Julie Meyer was production stage manager. The play featured original music by Peter Lerman. Produced by Signature Theatre. Reviewed by Tim Treanor.

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