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Minneapolis by Ed Huyck

Shining City and Anton in Show Business

Also see Elizabeth's review of Pen

The Jungle Theater Shining City

Shining City
Patrick Bailey and J.C. Cutler
It's more than a bit of a cliché to say that a play featuring a ghost is "haunting," but that's absolutely true of Conor McPherson's much-lauded recent play. Anchored by a terrific cast and a brilliant staging from director Joel Sass, Shining City puts a striking cap on the Jungle Theater's 2007 season.

Set in a squalid Dublin office/apartment, Shining City explores the reaches of grief and guilt through two characters - Ian, an ex-priest-turned-therapist who questions the very foundation of his former existence and wonders if he has made the right decisions since; and John, a middle-class salesmen who is haunted - literally - by the specter of his late wife.

From this foundation, the play travels in two directions. Through John's sessions with Ian, we learn of his deep guilt over the last years of his marriage, when he and his wife barely communicated. And in moments where Ian interacts with the mother of his young child, and then with a young man he picks up for sex, we learn of his own confusion and need to find the right direction for his own life.

It's a testament to McPherson's writing and the acting talents of J.C. Cutler (John) and Patrick Bailey (Ian) that scenes where the two actors sit and talk are absolutely spellbinding. The work by the other actors - Cheryl Willis as Ian's fiancée Neasa and Nathan Christopher as Laurence, the young man Ian picks up one night for companionship - is also solid, but they don't have the space or time to really round out the characters the way Cutler and Bailey do.

Sass' direction is superb, and the set he crafted for Shining City is the latest in a long line of amazing Jungle creations. Here, Ian's office is recreated to the smallest detail - including a roof that leaks when it rains and a view of the Dublin skyline that changes with the time of day, or just disappears into the nighttime rain.

Shining City runs through December 23 at the Jungle Theater, 2951 Lyndale Ave., Minneapolis. For tickets and information, call 612-822-7063 or visit www.jungletheater.com.

Photo: Michal Daniel


Starting Gate Productions Anton in Show Business

Anton in Show Business
Zoe Benston, Emma Gochberg and Bethany Ford
Prolific and enigmatic playwright Jane Martin has tackled many a personal, social and political issue during her (his? their?) long career, but there is an extra level of sharp venom in Anton in Show Business, a deconstruction of the modern American theater world. Starting Gate Productions delivers a strong reading of the play - one that not only finds the laughs on the surface of the play, but gets into the heart of the characters and what the theater means, to the actors and the audience.

The theater jokes come fast and furious, such as the stage manager's early description of New York City, where she describes the Actor's Equity Office as the place that "makes sure no more than 80 percent of its members are out of work at any one time." The characters aren't spared either. Set against a doomed production of The Three Sisters at Theater Express, a San-Antonio-based company, the play introduces three generic "types" for the leads: a fame-driven Hollywood actress looking to get into movies; a bitter New York City performer who has appeared in 200 shows without getting paid; and a naïve young Texan getting her first break in show business. They interact with a bevy of familiar types, from over-educated artistic director to handsome leading man to an insane group of directors. There's also a theater critic in the audience who interrupts the proceedings from time to time, to the consternation of the actors on stage.

If it remained a show-biz parody, Anton in Show Business would be a fairly entertaining piece that eventually wears out its welcome. Yet the script has more depth, and the actors mine that for all it's worth, crafting a number of characters that live well beyond their clichés.

The all-woman cast includes a number of standout performances, including Zoe Benston as the bitter New York actor Casey, Emma Gochberg as Hollywood refugee Holly, and Bethany Ford as Texan Lisabette. The three truly become "sisters" through the play, ending with a beautiful reading of the final scene from Chekhov's play. In multiple roles, Muriel Bonertz, Tamala Kendrick and Mo Perry do good work, while Leigha Horton gives critic Joby lots of nervous energy, but also generates sympathy for her own position in the world.

Leah Cooper does a solid job directing, though the show does have a few rough edges (awkward scene changes, a few dropped lines) that should have been smoothed over before the show opened. Still, Anton in Show Business is a fine production that gets to the heart of the why of theater in a way other insider plays have not been able to do.

Anton in Show Business runs through December 2 at the Mounds Theatre, 1029 Hudson Road, St. Paul. For tickets and more information, call 651-645-3503 or visit www.startinggate.org.

Photo: John Autey


- Ed Huyck



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