Everybody in "Shining City" has a problem. But that makes for good drama, and author Conor McPherson's work, now on display at Upstream Theater, takes full advantage of the human condition. Set in a small and obviously low-budget - beware the door - office in Dublin, a newly-minted therapist has begun to see patients. So there are the problems, right? In this case, not as easy as that. There's only one patient in the whole play. But trust McPherson, who's a master storyteller; we'll have plenty of tales in the evening.
Christopher Harris is Ian, the not-quite-young neophite therapist, trying to conceal his anxiety. Sometimes he succeeds. His personal life is none too tidy, either, having moved out from his girlfriend and their child while they were living at his brother's house. The patient, Jerry Vogel, lost his wife a few months previously and is having serious trouble dealing with it. Ian's girlfriend, played by Em Piro, isn't handling his moving out much better - she's completely unable to process what's occurring. And then there's Pete Winfrey, who's Laurence, a young man Ian meets and brings to his office; he's merely out of work and trying to pick up a few Euros on the side.
Harris' Ian is the character around whom the play revolves, but we learn as much about him through what he's doing physically as what he says, perhaps more. He moves near his patient, moving a chair from behind his desk to be in proximity. Watch his silent responses to Vogel, transient facial expressions, movements - or lack of them - with his hands, as he processes what he's hearing and sometimes seems to restrain himself from responding. Vogel, as John, the patient, is a completely different sort. His anxiety drives him to pace the office like a leopard in a cage, hands clenched or grabbing at things as he passes by them. When he finally is able to tell his story, the floodgates open, and boy, do they ever. As the words come spilling out, Vogel mesmerizes.
Piro, deeply distraught over his departure and having to remain an unwelcome guest with his brother's family, keeps repeating, "I don't understand you," almost literally deaf to his explanations. She wears the grief like a shroud.
Sometimes stories with so many problematic characters can be off-putting, or worse. That's not the case here. McPherson's story keeps the audience at just the right spot. Director Toni Dorfman has put together a crackerjack evening and brought out fine work from all concerned. It's a great start to 2016 for Upstream, and a don't-miss ticket for everyone who likes fine theatre.
through February 14
Kranzberg Arts Center
501 N. Grand Ave.