May 1, 2013

Iraq Flashback

I just learned that Christopher Shinn's extraordinary three-character two-hander Dying City will get its L.A. premiere in the capable hands of Rogue Machine Theatre—a troupe whose existence postdates my time in L.A. but whose stellar rep has nevertheless reached my earshot: They did the L.A. premiere of David Harrower's Blackbird, Joshua Conkel's MilkMilkLemonade, Cormac McCarthy's The Sunset Limited, Sam Hunter's A Bright New Boise, etc., and one play they premiered, John Pollono's Small Engine Repair, was slated for this past season at New York's MCC Theater (but has been pushed to next fall).

The years since the play's 2007 premiere at Lincoln Center have been rocky for Shinn, with triumphs alternating with setbacks, including his most recent bout with cancer (this lovely, sympathetic profile from February should catch you up to date). But I look back fondly on that stark in-the-round production, starring Rebecca Brooksher and Pablo Schreiber (pictured above), and reprint below my thoughts on it from the time:
I was very worried that Christopher Shinn's Dying City had been overrated. I shouldn't have fretted; I loved it, and in a particularly immediate way I haven't loved, let alone responded to, a play in many a moon. The climactic moment, which turns on one manipulative but needy character reading aloud an email from a U.S. soldier serving in Iraq to another damaged, somewhat compromised character, felt like someone was opening a wound I didn't know I had and pouring...not salt on it, exactly, but not comfort either. It was a mind- and soul-bending squirm of self-recognition that immediately made me think of the thesis of Walter Davis' tendentious book Art & Politics (which I've had some trouble getting through, truth be told): that theater is uniquely suited to this sort of skin-crawlingly intimate communion, that it can expose and transform our shared pain in ways no other medium can. I remain skeptical that only theater can do this, but Dying City makes as strong a case as anything I've seen in a long time that art can speak to us where we live now without shouting, preaching, or cheating.
Rogue Machine's production opens May 18

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