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Washington DC by Susan Berlin

Dying City

Dying City
Thomas Keegan and Rachel Zampelli
Rachel Zampelli and especially Thomas Keegan give engaging performances, Matthew Gardiner's direction is fluid and straightforward, and the entire production conveys a fascinating stillness broken by flashes of high emotion. For all that, though, Dying City is a less than fully satisfying theatrical experience: it's an appetizer rather than a meal.

Christopher Shinn's play is a good fit in the intimate ARK Theatre at Signature Theatre in Arlington, Virginia. Keegan gives two sharply delineated performances, portraying both Craig, a graduate student who died while serving in Iraq, and his twin brother Peter, an actor; Zampelli is Kelly, Craig's widow and a therapist trying to rebuild her life in the year after his death. The problem is that, while the script provides a lot of food for thought, at times it's too low-key and ambiguous for its own good.

The play runs just over an hour, but feels longer because the action is primarily in the dialogue. The setting is Kelly's New York apartment, and Craig's unexpected (and unwanted) arrival at her door sets up the dramatic conflict. While both of them are still processing the questions surrounding Peter's death (was it friendly fire or even suicide?), they also have more immediate concerns: her therapy practice and his professional and relationship difficulties. When Keegan goes offstage as Craig, he may appear moments later as Peter in Kelly's memory of their last night before his deployment—but he uses different postures, facial expressions, and tones of voice to make clear who's who.

Some of Shinn's dramatic hot buttons are a bit facile: Kelly and Peter could see the smoke rise over the World Trade Center site on September 11, 2011, from their living room, and Peter was deployed to Abu Ghraib. The more immediate moments are the personal ones, specifically Craig recounting the erratic behavior of his father, a Vietnam veteran with post-traumatic stress disorder, and his revelation of family secrets that Kelly never suspected.

As designed by Daniel Conway and lit by Colin K. Bills, Kelly's apartment is so detailed and appealing as to make audience members want to move in. (Those floor-to-ceiling windows! That compact but elegant kitchen!) Matt Rowe's sound design helps the audience determine where the present ends and the past begins.

Signature Theatre
Dying City
October 2nd - November 25th
By Christopher Shinn
Kelly: Rachel Zampelli
Peter/Craig: Thomas Keegan
Directed by Matthew Gardiner
ARK Theatre, 4200 Campbell Ave.
Arlington, VA 22206
Ticket Information: 703-820-9771 or 1-800-955-5566 or www.signature-theatre.org


Photo: Scott Suchman


-- Susan Berlin


Also see the Current Theatre Season Calendar for D.C.



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