San Diego, CA---It is said that the ghost of Kate Morgan haunts room #302 at the famous Hotel Del Coronado. According to legend she checked into room #302 in November of 1892 and never checked out. The Hotel is known to have housed Presidents, Charles Lindbergh, and Marilyn Monroe and, according to rumors was the meeting place of King Edward VIII and Wallace Simpson. Spirits roam the rooms; tourists come from near and far just to glimpse and those who believe will swear that they too feel the presence.
In a somewhat haunting production of Conor Mc Pherson’s “Shining City” at ION Theatre through Sept. 28th, John (Claudio Raygoza) is also disturbed by ghosts, in particular the ghost of his late wife Mari who was killed in a horrific car accident. McPherson’s “Shining City”, is a ghost of a different ilk than the ones roaming the Hotel.
John is haunted to the core of his being after seeing his wife’s injuries and the condition of her remains shortly after the accident. (The car went up in flames.) The blame game is always an option when a spouse dies under these circumstances especially when the marriage has gone south and there is no one else to blame even though it was an accident.
It seems that a few months later, he sees her vision (dressed in a particular red coat that he had given her in a moment of tenderness) in the family house, in corners and doorways, looking out from behind doors mouth open and about to say something. These sightings terrify him so that he is compelled to flee his house to a nearby B&B where he has practically taken up residence.
We know this because we find him with Ian (Francis Gercke) in Ian’s rather sparsely furnished top floor (Claudio Raygoza designed the set) Dublin apartment in this his first therapy session with the young man. Not only is it John’s first time session with Ian, a former priest turned therapist, but Ian’s first time first patient. Both have a story to tell that on one level might sound like two different tales but that, in reality, parallel each other intersect and join forces. Such is the way of McPherson’s story and Raygoza’s story telling.
Storyteller McPherson (“The Weir” and “the Seafarer”) writes like David Mamet and Harold Pinter; fragmented, staccato-talk, stops, pauses, talk: John. “I’m em…recently bereaved… “My wife passed away a few months ago. And em…(pause) She… died in em, horrible circumstances: Ian. “I can em… only imagine what…” John. “And no one else was injured. And I’ve no… idea…wh…” (Pause) “But, em, I’ve seen her. I’ve em…” “I’ve seen her in the house. She’s been in the house”. Ian. “You’ve”… John. “Yeah”. Ian. “This is…” John. “Yeah.” Ian. “Since….” John. “Yeah, since…” Ian. “Since she…” John. “Yeah since she…” And Raygoza adapts beautifully.
In fact Raygoza gives one of the most compelling cases as to why he should be on stage more often. As John, the widower, his every nuance, um, pause, brush of his brow, wrinkle of his brow, pain in his eyes, tears, articulation with his hands, fingers, arms, not to mention his convincing and eloquent storytelling in sing song voice is worth the price of admission. His monologues take up most of the more than one hour intermission-less play.
Ian on the other hand is living alone since his breakup up with his girlfriend, Neasa (Jessica John) leaving her and their new daughter to fend alone at his brother’s house. His guilt builds slowly over the course of the therapy sessions with John.
When Neasa comes calling to check up on Ian she learns that he is about to throw in the towel and call the relationship off, something John never had the courage to do with his wife even though we find out that he managed a few affairs while married to Mari. That said they never really had good communication skills and John’s sightings might be the left over guilt from that.
John’s confession happens over a period of several meetings where more and more of his life is exposed to Ian as Ian tries to reconcile his own lonely and solitary life both as a priest and now a new absent parent. So lonesome is he that he picks up a male pimp, Laurence (Zack Bonin) and brings him back to his flat where, who knows if this was or was not a practice of his in his past life or a new adventure now on his own.
In a parallel universe we hear of John’s sexual encounters with several women, one in a brothel that scared the living daylights out of him and where he was almost beaten to death. I would be inclined to think that Ian’s recent sexual encounter, now no longer a priest, with Laurence had the same profound effect but we never get to see the end result of that except that he decides to go back to Neasa. That might be another short story altogether.
Perhaps guilt, something Ian must have been carrying around like a heavy burden, especially after leaving the Church, leaving his girlfriend (who worked overtime to put him through school) and then bringing a male prostitute back to his place was what prompted him to make that decision to get back with Neasa. Stranger things have happened and McPherson’s play is anything but ordinary.
Gercke, with his fussiness manages to be a good listener as a counselor but oft times his quirkiness and facial grimaces are a distraction and get in his way. Zack Bonin’s Laurence is like a gentle giant, easy going, anxious to get started and willing to take his time with Ian. It is a rather awkward moment, this encounter.
Jessica John is strikingly effective as the jilted lover who cannot believe what’s happening. And of course, Raygoza is perfectly on target as John’s journey takes him from one nervous guilty mess and wreck of a man to reconciliation and perhaps liberation. Me thinks Ian might not be as lucky.
Raygoza’s set is quite natural looking with desk, floor lamp, teakettle, leather sofa, a few bookcases, door to the kitchen and or bedroom and front door with a buzzer to let guests in. The best look is the loft like look with a painted scape of the cities housetops (Ron Logan). John’s (Jessica) costume design notes the cold climate outside the Dublin apartment and Karin Filijan’s lighting design is subtle, setting the mood.
Director Glenn Paris’ outstanding direction and his more than convincing four member cast is able to draw the audience into a world dealing with loneliness and lonesomeness, isolation and sorrow, ghosts and visions without really pushing any sort of supernatural or paranormal agenda. That he allows his actors the time to pause, to be silent to gather thoughts and give them adequate space needed to tell the story, is commendable.
I must confess that shortly after my husband passed away, I could have sworn I saw his image in various rooms in my house and even once on my walk in my neighborhood. So there ya go! Ghosts happen. This particular ghost story makes a very interesting case in a more than gripping way; it’s like an echo chamber. Pay attention to the ending. It might even make a case for a good ghost story in a tent or under the stars.
See you at the theatre.
Dates: Through Sept. 28th
Organization: ION Theatre
Production Type: Drama
Where: 3704 Sixth Avenue, San Diego, Ca 92103