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A CurtainUp Review
Dying City
If you really care about the truth, you can't just speak to your own tiny group, you have to figure out how to speak to the community. — Peter
Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Colin Woodell star (Photo Joan Marcus)
The 2006 Pulitzer Prize-nominated Dying City was produced by Lincoln Center's Mitzi Newhouse Theater in 2007 where its complex and often confounding structure had many scratching their heads. While its pretensions often managed to obscure its postures with regard to the war in Iraq and the fall of the twin towers, the strange story it focused on also conspired for many, including thiswriter) to obliterate its message. The revival by Second Stage Theatre does nothing to change my original feelings.

Those feelings of deja vu all over again (respectfully applying that saying famously attributed to baseball legend Yogi Berra) occurred not because of slowly being able to recall the plot in which a lot of intimate, political and social issues are raised, but about the previous set that rotated on a turntable so slowly that it took most of the play for me to realize that it had made a complete orbit.

No such experience with this staging under the direction of Shinn, the play's author. Apparently he took the reins when originally assigned director Lila Neugebauer took off to direct a movie. Smart move for her. With all due respect to Shinn, his personal connection to the text doesn't eliminate its problems. Now that set designer Dane Laffrey keeps the interior of a minimally furnished New York City apartment stationary, we only have the experience of watching Elizabeth Winstead and Colin Woodell rotate around each other for ninety minutes.

Following the action is still problemantic. The many abrupt entrances and exits made by Woodell during his confrontations with Winstead that allow for him to assume the role of his twin brother, who was killed during his first year of duty in the Iraq War, remain a rather confusing device for the viewer.

It is no surprise to see an actor play twins. Bette Davis of filmdom did it many times. However, it is perplexing when the plot becomes so densely shrouded by psychological underpinnings that we are challenged to know who is who and what their motives may be. That said, one has to admit that having one actor playing twins is expedient, even if not necessarily in the best interest of the audience. The action, such as it is, covers 2004 and 2005, and the title refers to both Baghdad and New York City after 9/11.

Kelly (Windstead), a therapist, has, for reasons to be incrementally unveiled made an effort to avoid Peter, her dead husband's twin brother, an actor. On the other hand Peter has been unsuccessfully attempting to contact Kelly since the funeral. Though she's made herself sparse, Peter does finally locate her after he has walked out midway in a performance of Eugene O'Neil's Long Day's Journey Into Night because an actor whispered some homophobic remark in his ear. Heavens, that's a first.

Peter not only has things he wants to tell Kelly but also has presumably incriminating and revelatory emails from Craig that he wants her to read. You can be sure they don't contain news to make her feel better about being widowed. Attention must be paid as each brother exits and enters to have his say. So we find out that Craig was a Harvard graduate and Peter is a gay actor with insecurities but a determination to reveal to Kelly some buried truths about her marriage, morality and the state of their relationship.

Even if you guess the parallels that exist in O'Neill's play and what is revealed about the twins' unhappy family history, it won't really help you to fully grasp either the reasons why Kelly's marriage may have been on the rocks and why Peter is so obsessed with a reunion.

Blackouts and a pause allow for Woodell to make his transitions that are not exactly Dr. Jekyll into Mr. Hyde so that it takes a while to easily identify who in fact came back in the room and who just go out for a cigarette or a bathroom break. Whatever the revelations, youre likely to have heard them before — maybe even in other plays. Both Winstead, who is making her stage debut and Woodell, who actually last appeared onstage in Long Day's Journey Into Night in L.A, capably comply to the play's demands. But they can't keep many viewers from remaining puzzled for much of the 90 minutes.

To read Curtainup editor Elyse Sommer's review of the 2007 production of this play go here

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Dying City
Written and directed by Christopher Shinn
Cast Mary Elizabeth Winstead as Kelly, Colin Woodell as Peter and Craig.
Scenic design by Dane Lafrey
Costume design by Kye Voyce
Lighting design by Tyler Micoleau
Sound design by ray Poorb Cast: Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Colin Woodell
Running Time: 1 hr. and 30 min.
Stage Manager: Bethany Weinstein Stewert
Second Stage Theater/Tony Kiser Theater
From 5/14/19; opening 6/03/19/closing 6/30/19.
Reviewed by Simon Saltzman

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