A young man’s unannounced arrival at the New York apartment of his deceased twin brother’s widow triggers the gradual revelation of three lifetimes’ worth of secrets and lies in Christopher Shinn’s Dying City, now getting a compelling, beautifully acted and directed Los Angeles premiere at Rogue Machine.

dyingcity-22    Burt Grinstead, the action-hero handsome star of last year’s Deathtrap, plays both twins—actor Peter and soldier Craig, and Laurie Okin is Kelly, for whom the last year has been one of grief, anger, and seclusion.

If Peter has not warned Kelly of his impending arrival on her doorstep, it’s not for lack of wanting to. In the year since Peter’s 2004 death, Kelly has switched to an unlisted number, signaling a seemingly deliberate desire to sever ties with Peter’s twin, who has come by tonight for reasons that will eventually become clear, or at least more or less so.

There are some things we either learn or surmise fairly quickly—that Kelly spends hours watching reality TV with a vacant stare; that she may be about to move, hence the boxes she’s been filling with books; that Peter has in the past year become an overnight movie star; that tonight he has walked out mid-intermission of the production of Long Day’s Journey he’s currently starring in; that his latest relationship has ended; and perhaps most significantly, that he and his now ex-boyfriend had spent the evening before Craig’s second deployment to Iraq at Craig and Kelly’s place.

dyingcity-25 Flashbacks to the night in question alternate with Peter’s unexpected visit tonight, as we flies on the fourth wall of Kelly’s apartment remain transfixed throughout Dying City’s ninety-minute running time, aware of how little we know about Kelly, Peter, and Craig and alert to clues that will help explain their complex and even twisted interrelations.

That the answers to these riddles end up somewhat of a letdown (and leave unanswered questions) does not detract from Dying City’s many pleasures, not the least of which is watching two superb actors bring three very different characters to vivid, indelible life under Michael Peretzian’s incisive direction.

dyingcity-29 Grinstead gets the flashier assignment, since what actor doesn’t relish the chance to play twins, and he is dazzling as both, a feat made even more unexpected as his Nordic features and personal trainer physique might lead one to expect Dolph Lundgren rather than the young blond Brando he turns out to be. Ginstead’s Peter is so believably gay (without exaggerated stereotyping) that his macho Craig ends up all the more astonishing a creation. Deathtrap introduced L.A. audiences to a dynamic, sexy leading man. Dying City reveals an actor to be reckoned with.

dyingcity-27 Okin’s work ends up equally memorable, a performance that builds slowly and subtly to the anger and tears of the play’s climactic scenes, she too in effect playing two characters, the first a concerned yet somehow still hopeful wife, the second a grief-numbed widow with more than enough buried anger to erupt under tonight’s combustible combination of time and circumstances.

Tom Buderwitz’s finely detailed New York apartment set (properties by Sharon Shayne) once again reveals why the six-time Scenie-winning Scenic Designer Of The Year’s talents remain unsurpassed in our city. Leigh Allen’s superb lighting design clues us inconspicuously as to whether we are in the “now” or in the “then.” Christopher Moscatiello’s sound design ups the dramatic tension at every turn. Dianne K. Graebner’s costumes, though few, cue us in to whom we are seeing and just who each of these characters is.

Dying City is produced by Rogue Machine Artistic Director John Perrin Flynn, Co-Artistic Director Elina de Santos, and Managing Director Laura Hill. Video design is by Corwin Evans. Dana Lynn Baron and Alec Tomkiw are assistant directors.  Amanda Mauer and Ramon Valdez are stage managers.

The complexities of our post-9/11 world become personal in Shinn’s gripping, fascinating, if ultimately somewhat frustrating drama. His words, Peretzian’s direction, Grinstead’s and Okin’s performances, and an outstanding design package add up to intimate Los Angeles theater at its best.

Rogue Machine at Theatre/Theater, 5041 Pico Blvd., Los Angeles.

–Steven Stanley
June 3, 2013
Photos: John Flynn

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