Shining City, Conor McPherson's story of real and metaphorical ghosts in contemporary Dublin, is a touching play with two strong central roles, but for some reason the production at the Studio Theatre in Washington never goes beyond the serviceable. Although the situations depicted are intense, the play as directed by Joy Zinoman does not communicate its emotional punch to the audience; it lacks the moments that could provoke gasps of shock or recognition at the conclusion.
McPherson's play brings John (Edward Gero), who keeps seeing the ghost of his recently deceased wife, to meet with Ian (Donald Carrier), a therapist and former priest dealing with his own problems. In some ways, the men are mirror images of each other: John and his late wife were unable to have children (she was unable, John emphasizes); Ian has a child with his girlfriend, Neasa (Laoisa Sexton), but can't figure out how to be a father. More to the point, both men are trying desperately, and not too successfully, to forge a connection with another person.
Gero gets the show-off role, including an extended monologue that commands the audience's attention, and he succeeds beautifully in portraying a man who carries his emotions on the surface. He manages to convey all of John's conflicting and overlapping feelings: grief, guilt, frustration, relief, anxiety are all visible on his face. Ian seems impassive at first, but Carrier conveys the character's unplumbed depths as he interacts with Neasa and, later, a stranger he meets (Chris Genebach).
Russell Metheny's evocative, vertigo-inducing scenic design shows Ian's office in a Dublin building that obviously was once grand – large windows, high ceilings, steep stairs – but has fallen into disrepair. (The front-door intercom is broken when Ian moves in, and has not been repaired when he leaves months later.) The most striking thing about the scene visible through the window is the radiant array of twilight colors of the sky, from orange through pink to deep blue, placing the skyline in shadow.