'Dying City' opens tonight

'Dying City' opens tonight

Posted: Friday, January 30, 2009

In addition to acting as a lead in Thunder Mountain Theatre Project's "Shakespeare's R&J," Ryan Conarro directs the theater's production of "Dying City," which opens tonight.

Michael Penn / Juneau Empire
Michael Penn / Juneau Empire

"It's not a play that you can really peg with a genre very well, but it has elements of a mystery, elements of a reunion play," Conarro said.

Written by Christopher Shinn, the play is set in 2004-05 New York City. Kelly (Jennifer Lagundino), a therapist, and Craig (Enrique Bravo), a soldier, are a young married couple. After serving in Iraq, Craig dies, and one year later, Craig's gay identical twin brother, Peter, visits Kelly unannounced.

"There is a lot of tension in that relationship, between Peter and Kelly," Conarro said. "And so the play flip-flops between that one-year period, Peter's visit and back to Craig's last night before he went to Iraq."

Conarro said he was drawn to the play's formal conventions, its mystery-like quality and the use of flashbacks.

"It's a play that is really interesting for a lot of different reasons," he said. "The fact that we've got one actor playing both roles, bouncing back and forth between time periods and how you handle that is interesting."

Conarro said the way the story unfolds also is engrossing.

"You're sort of learning about what happened to Craig," he said, "why Peter and Kelly are not getting along, what really happened on Kelly and Craig's last night."

And the fact that "Dying City" is performed in the round really helps illustrate such shifting perspectives, Conarro. Conarro even suggests the audience come multiple times, to get a comprehensive view.

"It gives the audience a different experience in the space," he said. "The play is all about these three characters' different perspectives and angles, so I like that the audience, depending on where you sit, will actually get a whole different story."

In the play, Peter reads Kelly an e-mail Craig had sent him before he died.

"A lot is revealed in that," Conarro said. "It's kind of an old-fashioned playwriting convention - the letter that reveals something - but there's a lot of stuff like that in the play like that I think is really interesting."

The play was named one of the ten best plays of 2007 by The New York Times and was a finalist for the 2008 Pulitzer Prize for drama. Ultimately, "Dying City" examines the cost of war on the loved ones left behind, a concept still fresh in our nation's mind.

"For me, it's about the tragedy of loss from the Iraq war," said Lagundino, who chose the play for the theater. "This woman is left with no husband. This brother is left with no brother. And you're left with the broken pieces. ... It's like weighing in on what is the human cost of war and looking at that and understanding that it's not just all these platitudes we say. It's also that these people are dealing with the loss of a life, and I think that's important to look at, to humanize the war for the audience."

Although Conarro called the play "heavy," he understands the value in discussing and contemplating such melancholy life situations. To explain, he loosely quoted the writer in an interview, in which Shinn said that such tragic plays help us scrutinize the parts of ourselves that are more difficult to look at and "maybe help us come out better in some ways."

"That was nice to read that a couple weeks ago," Conarro said of the interview, "because, for the three of us who are rehearsing, plus the stage manager, we're spending every evening going to these dark places, and we're asking the audience to go there. So why? And I think that it's a really good way to look at it."

In all, Conarro said the play is challenging for them all, but he really hopes it makes people think.

"I hope people come away with questions - good questions," Conarro said. "Questions about the characters, questions about themselves, how we all act and react in today's world with this war going on and with the forces that are at play in our society. ... Hopefully, it'll provoke some of those discussions among people."

Lagundino also hopes the audience comes away with the larger picture in mind.

"The war could be interpreted as a backdrop," he said. "We see them without a husband, without a brother, but it's not really clear to me all the time that the war did it, which is good because it kind of is a reflection for us, like how does the war fit into our world - everybody? We are all Americans. Our country is at war. So even though it's not necessarily directly affecting us, how is it affecting us?"

• Contact Neighbors editor Kim Andree at 523-2272 or kimberly.andree@juneauempire.com.

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