Some of the underlying topics in our upcoming winter production of Christopher Shinn's drama, "Dying City," made the front page of the New York Times yesterday in this story of the Army missing (or ignoring?) signs of potential suicide among its overburdened corps.
Shinn's taught, three-character play takes audience members into the rippling sea of violence which runs through and impacts all of our lives--whether we are privileged, Harvard-educated New Yorkers, hard-working fishermen (or fishermen's wives), or working-class suburban California boys who sign up for the Army Reserves. We don't know exactly how one of the protagonists, Craig, died while on his second tour of duty in Iraq; but the play suggests he may have been one of the record number of military personnel since 2004 who, like Craig, are "mentally exhausted and traumatized from repeated deployments to combat zones" and have committed suicide.
But Craig is only one-third of this play. The impact of subtle and not so-subtle family and cultural violence on him, his brother Peter, and his wife Kelly is what leaves audience members, at the end of 90 minutes with no intermission, gripping the arms of our seats and asking ourselves some important questions. Who do we become in coping with the everyday violence in our own lives? Can we see and touch the fear which underlies so many of our interactions? How do we prevent it from eating us up?
"Dying City" is constructed on the metaphor of Craig's understanding of his company's mission in Baghdad: "ordered to protect themselves from violence by actively doing violence, which leads to more violence to protect themselves against: no sane person could survive these tasks." Baghdad is dying, yes, but its not the only city that is, whether in reality (see recent news reports from Ciudad Juarez, Mexico) or in this play, in which each individual is his or her own "city."
Shinn prefaces his play with by an epigram from Aeschylus--"A lie sweet in the mouth/is sour in the stomach"--but more to the point for why we're producing it at the Opera House is this statement which comes about two thirds of the way through the play: "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 . . . People who may not be like you but that you still have--something in common with. A basic humanity."
"Dying City" by Christopher Shinn, February 3-13, 2011. Directed by Peter Richards. Starring Juri Henley-Cohn and Therese Plaehn. An Opera House Arts' Actors Equity production at the Stonington Opera House. Click here for tickets and additional information.