Saturday, April 24, 2010

Theater review: Mosaic's 'Dying City' a gripping, vital two-hander

Erin Joy Schmidt and Ricky Waugh in Dying City.
(Photo by George Schiavone)


By Hap Erstein‭

Talk about switching gears.‭ ‬After planning to produce the entertaining,‭ ‬but empty British farce‭ ‬Boeing-Boeing,‭ ‬Plantation’s Mosaic Theatre abruptly changed course to present instead Christopher Shinn’s shifting,‭ ‬shifty contemporary drama,‭ ‬Dying City.‭

It was a smart move for artistic director Richard Jay Simon,‭ ‬who traded up to a powerful play by an important emerging writer.‭ ‬Shinn understands the art of withholding information‭ ‬--‭ ‬from his characters,‭ ‬as well as his audience‭ ‬--‭ ‬and releasing it slowly and deliberately for maximum effect.‭ ‬Never doubt that he is in control of his storytelling,‭ ‬which seems not to add up.‭ ‬Until it does.‭

Like Tom Stoppard’s‭ ‬Rock‭ ’‬n‭’ ‬Roll,‭ ‬which began the season at Mosaic,‭ ‬Dying City contains more characters than actors.‭ ‬In this case,‭ ‬there is a pair of identical twins,‭ ‬who could not be more different in every way but looks,‭ ‬played deftly by Ricky Waugh.‭

When we first see him,‭ ‬he is Peter,‭ ‬a gay movie star biding his time between film projects in a Broadway production of‭ ‬Long Day’s Journey‭ ‬Into Night.‭ ‬He arrives at the New York loft apartment of Kelly‭ (‬an apprehensive Erin Joy Schmidt‭)‬,‭ ‬the therapist widow of his Harvard-educated twin brother,‭ ‬Craig,‭ ‬who felt compelled to join the army and go to Iraq,‭ ‬where he died in an armament mishap.‭ ‬Or was it suicide‭? ‬And why is Kelly acting so uncomfortably around Peter,‭ ‬whom she has avoided seeing since her husband’s death‭?

There are enough unanswered by questions in‭ ‬Dying City to keep us leaning in,‭ ‬straining to crack its code,‭ ‬to solve its enigmas.‭ ‬And at Mosaic,‭ ‬it is performed so ably that watching the two actors is often satisfying enough.‭ ‬Schmidt is the anchor of the production,‭ ‬the character through whose eyes we experience events unfolding,‭ ‬in its back-and-forth chronology‭ ‬--‭ ‬from Peter’s arrival and then back a year earlier to the eve of Craig’s going off to war.‭

Schmidt only plays one character,‭ ‬but the divergent moods she conveys on those two fateful days offer her the opportunity to show quite an emotional range.‭ ‬As for Waugh,‭ ‬his delineation of the two brothers is quite crafty.‭ ‬He draws differences with subtlety,‭ ‬as well as sibling connections and similarities.‭ ‬Shinn can be a bit clunky with his structure,‭ ‬so that we soon know that when Peter ducks into a side room,‭ ‬it will be Craig who reemerges,‭ ‬and the play will have taken a time shift.‭ ‬Waugh’s performance goes a long way towards making it work.

The same could be said for Simon’s well-modulated direction and the lighting transitions by Dan Gelbmann.‭ ‬Shinn is only in his early‭ ‬30s,‭ ‬so he may be providing us with edgy dramas for a long time to come.‭ ‬If they can be as affecting as‭ ‬Dying City,‭ ‬he may bring some new life to the theater.

DYING CITY,‭ ‬Mosaic Theatre,‭ ‬American Heritage School,‭ ‬12200‭ ‬W.‭ ‬Broward Blvd.,‭ ‬Plantation.‭ ‬Continuing through May‭ ‬9.‭ ‬Tickets:‭ ‬$37.‭ ‬Call:‭ (‬954‭) ‬577-8243.

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