Dying City

Silo Theatre, Auckland

08/02/2007 - 03/03/2007

Production Details

by Christopher Shinn
directed by Shane Bosher

The war lies within.

Craig and Kelly sat in their apartment on September 11 and watched the toxic clouds of dust spread like an infection across the city.

Four years later, called-up reservist Craig is dead in what may – or may not – have been an accident in Iraq. Frozen in grief, Kelly is preparing to move on.

But the past catches up with the arrival of Craig’s identical twin brother Peter – a self-obsessed, emotionally voracious actor – who turns up at the apartment bearing unexploded bombs.

Intricately calculated and quietly moving, DYING CITY investigates the scars of war, the politics of interventionism, and the close alignment between heartlessness and compassion.

Speak the unspoken. Face the truth.

Explore a triumph of alternating encounters.

Edwin Wright
Dena Kennedy

Theatre ,

Enthralling performances

Review by Michael Wray 16th Feb 2007

The promotional blurb claims that Dying City is about "the scars of war, the politics of interventionism, and the close alignment between heartlessness and compassion." The war is inevitably present given that one character has been killed in Iraq in "what may – or may not – have been an accident", but the play is about relationships. Heartlessness and compassion are integral to that as they pose the question, just how well do you ever truly know someone.

This is a good thing. It is the human drama that engages and absorbs our attention. The war is a circumstance through which the bounds of that humanity can be examined, but this is a play about people.

Kelly is a New York therapist whose husband, Craig, has been killed in Iraq. As she packs things away in preparation to move house, Craig’s identical twin Peter comes calling out of the blue. The format of the play is to alternate between Kelly’s present day interaction with Peter and flashbacks to Kelly’s final evening with Craig.

Peter is a struggling actor, gay and passive-aggressive with a manner that suggests he is not being entirely honest about his motives. On entering he declares the recent anniversary of his twin’s death passed without his notice and apologises for not realising. At first, I was concerned that this was poor characterisation – I am a lone (identical) twin myself, have known many like myself through the Lone Twin Network; I have never known a lone twin to be anything other than acutely aware of that date. As the play progresses and we learn more about the nature of Peter, the more likely idea seems to be that Peter is lying. His presence is not entirely welcome to Kelly, but it offers the two of them an opportunity to talk about Craig. They are both, in their own way, desperately in need of some form of catharsis.

In flashbacks, we learn that Craig was affected by 9/11 to a greater extent than his wife and twin. The "cloud of death" that he witnessed on that day dulled his desire to have children. His pro-war stance was consolidated, which put him in opposition to his wife’s and brother’s more liberal views – though the veracity of Peter’s opinions on this topic, then and now, may be questionable. Craig would regularly bait Kelly with regard to her therapy patients and took a strangely ferocious dislike to one in particular, whose declared abusive treatment of women he saw as false. Quite why Kelly was discussing confidential client matters with her husband is never examined.

It’s a powerful text-driven play that raises its intensity level with each successive act. We see Craig’s personae develop as new information is delivered and we start to question who he really was. Accompanying us on this journey is Kelly. Their marriage may not have been as strong as we believe, but the truth might be darker than she imagines.

I have only one complaint. The cause of Kelly’s antipathy towards Peter is never properly explored. We receive hints, with references to an upsetting letter that should never have been written. There is mention of a baby, in the context of something Peter thinks Kelly should do or have done. This intriguing information is used to fuel the tension between them, but never materialises into anything. There was enough fuel without it, so when this tantalising new possibility draws me in, only to be abandoned as though it never was, I feel cheated.Perhaps I missed something or misinterpreted a throw-away-line in the heat of battle, in which case someone please correct me.

Both actors deliver enthralling performances. Edwin Wright copes with separating Peter from Craig and even without the change of shirt, we can feel which one of the two is present without really knowing why. I was glad to see that a Twelfth Night style of ignoring the identical twin factor was not used and that Edwin played both roles. While having one actor depict both roles rules out the possibility of direct interaction between them, it allows us to experience the subconscious confusion with which Kelly must cope. Peter looks like her dead husband. She would never confuse the two, but Peter looks like Craig. That creates a discomfort with which Kelly must cope and using two different actors (identical twins aside) would dissipate our ability to empathise.

Dena Kennedy is particularly mesmerising. As she stores the pain throughout the evening and we wait for her character to break. The emotional outpouring when it does come is movingly authentic.


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Post 9/11 theatre of cruelty

Review by Kathryn van Beek 12th Feb 2007

Inside the airless Silo Theatre audience members fold their programmes into fans to fend off the heat, and a quiet drama unfolds.

We are introduced to Kelly as she packs up her belongings a year after the death of her husband Craig, and her actor brother-in-law Peter as he flees a theatre fall-out.  From the start, it is apparent that we are in the company of two very fine actors.  Dena Kennedy is spellbinding as Kelly, and Edwin Wright makes a superb job of playing identical twins: loveable jerk Peter and (through flashback) Kelly’s aloof husband Craig.  Several tender moments in the play cause the audience to lower their fans – quite a compliment in this heat.

The set and lighting serve and enhance the play, the music choices are inspired, and seamless direction ensures that the play goes without a stylistic hitch.

There are interesting ideas in Dying City: Post Twin Towers relationships, the effect of war, the loss of intimacy in marriage, love that can transcend turmoil and love that cannot.  The personal is political, the war at home… Playwright Christopher Shinn has created a work that is almost deeply affecting, but slightly misses the mark.

Part of the problem is the pantomime feeling of the play.  Wright dashes on and off stage in a variety of costumes as the identical twins, and I half expect him to enter dressed as a French Maid or a butler.  Using one actor to play two characters is an interesting and economical idea, but I’m not convinced that it serves this play.  Likewise, backstory is often revealed through expositional dialogue which, though clever, at times detracts from the drama.

Both brothers inflict all manner of intentional and unintentional cruelty on Kelly, who suffers it all with stiff upper lip.  Ultimately however it is Shinn who is cruellest to Kelly by not allowing her to be redeemed.  After an hour and a half in a hot room watching her suffer at the hands of two self-consciously post-September 11 brothers, I would have liked her to have experienced some kind of personal revolution.

Despite short-changing the audience of genuine catharsis, Dying City is an interesting and worthwhile play.  This is largely because of the production of the play: the skilled direction, classy design, engaging acting, and Dena Kennedy’s big sad eyes.


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