Sept. 8 2010 12:00 AM

A pair of potent performances bolster a provocative drama at Capital TheatreWorks



The fifth season of Capital TheaterWorks closes on an emotional down note. Still, it is an interesting choice for a September production, as complex, dark and ambiguous as an overcast fall day.

“Dying City” is the story of three deeply damaged people and the wounds they inflict upon each other. Kelly, played with guarded brittleness by Kayla DeWitt, is a widowed therapist who wiles her evenings away watching “Law and Order.” Her somnambulism is disturbed by an unannounced visit from her dead husband’s identical twin, a gay actor named Peter, almost a year to the day of Craig’s death.

The play fluctuates between the present and the night before Craig’s deployment to Iraq. The twins are played by Dax Spanogle, who is tasked with creating two unique yet linked characters. Both brothers are champions at hiding secrets, covering their inadequacies and manipulating others. The difference is that Peter is disarmingly passive while Craig is remote and edgy.

DeWitt, too, must create two characters. Predeployment Kelly is alive with emotion, passionate and strong-willed. The widowed Kelly is a spent shell, retreating from life emotionally and physically. While Kelly already has her own baggage, the brothers turn her into an unwitting pack mule as they dump their many needs and inadequacies on her.

This is the first play I’ve seen at the Ledges Playhouse which takes place in a contemporary setting, a small apartment in New York City. I have previously noted that one of Capital TheatreWorks’ strengths has been in selecting pieces that take advantage of the rustic character of the Playhouse itself, so I was dubious that a contemporary set would be as effective in the venue.

In fact, the set is excellent. Designed by Jo Nathan Hatman and director Marianne J. Bacon, the apartment is an actual-sized one-bedroom New York apartment minus the fourth wall. Richard Barnes’ outstanding lighting design clinches the tone and makes the transitions between scenes obvious, which is nice, since little else in the play is obvious.

Playwright Christopher Shinn harnesses ambiguity effectively. This is one of those plays that will frustrate audiences who want all of the answers at the end.

Singular or vague references and inferences are made with no follow-up. Bombshells are not so much dropped as carefully placed, with the messenger then making a hasty retreat.

To mention particular examples would ruin key plot points, but audiences may be asking themselves “Was she or wasn’t she?” and “Was it an accident?” at the end of the play. One thing is clear in "City" as in life: There are no accidents.