Review: Dying City (en(LIVE)n)

On an evening of sweltering heat that led to at least one theatre company in Toronto closing up shop, en(LIVE)n persevered with its production of Dying City. Performances run through Sunday – July 24th – at Jare’s Place Bed & Breakfast.

I couldn’t help smiling when I saw the hand-lettered sign in front of the venue.

It was simple – on one line, the title of the play; and, below it, the playwright’s name, Christopher Shinn – but, not modestly. The color of the poster board was neon yellow.

Just from the sign, I got this good vibe about the producers; as though they were proud of the show, but unpretentious.

The action of Dying City picks up with a man arriving at a woman’s apartment door, unexpected.

We find out that a year earlier, his brother – her husband – died while serving in Iraq as a part of America’s ongoing occupation there.

But the grim anniversary of Craig’s death, is almost secondary – at least, at first – to the man’s immediate crisis, which involves something he’s done that night while performing in a play.

Both characters seem extremely tense. And it all seems so awkward, too. The man seems needy – just showing-up in the first place is one indication of that. While the woman seems exactly the opposite, trying to maintain distance from others. She has, for example, recently changed her phone number.

She’s sympathetic to him though.

And just as the two seem to arrive at a tentative truce – a shared calm while talking – the action leaps back a year.

We are in the same apartment, and now the action is between the woman and Craig, just as he’s about to be deployed.

Again, there seems to be an enormous amount of strain between the characters.

The immediate source of tension between them is his brother – the first man we met, named Peter.

So there’s a lot in the air when the play jumps again, this time ahead one year.

As the action in Dying City moves on, employing this structure – moving back and forth in time – the characters go beyond the immediate sources of tension to get at the root causes of their distress.

So, while it runs not much more than an hour, Dying City has enough going on to fill a play that is many, many times longer. Easily.

Mr. Shinn has what I consider an enviable gift for compressing things down into a fast-moving plot, and yet expanding and expanding and expanding on what’s going on inside the characters.

Because there ends up being what seems like next to nothing separating us from these characters, and the intimacy of Jare’s Place, an ordinary house tucked away on a quiet residential street in Riverdale, was particularly apt. Just a handful of us fit in its back room.

With such rich material, I can’t overstate how much I admire the actors in this production. Janice Peters plays the woman (her character’s name is Kelly), and Jan-Michael Weir plays both male parts (Peter and Craig). Not only are the performances totally engrossing, but – as a slightly more technical note – the syntax of Dying City is, I imagine, pretty demanding.

It reminded me of the way characters talk in David Mamet’s Oleanna, in which there’s a lot of talking-over one another, rapid transitions in thought, and sentence fragments.

This is a production very worth seeing if you have a chance.


Dying City is playing at Jare’s Place Bed & Breakfast (47 Bain Street, just a couple blocks east of Broadview)

– Tickets cost between $17 and $20

– The show begins at 8:00 PM, and there are matinees at 2:oo PM on Saturday and Sunday