In The Departed, Vera Fermiga’s police psychologist asks Matt Damon’s dirty cop, “You know what Freud said about the Irish?”
“ ’Course I do,” Damon’s character answers. “What Freud said about the Irish is we’re the only people impervious to psychoanalysis.”
Shining City, the new Conor McPherson play at the Jungle, is about an Irish shrink. Like most Jungle productions, it’s a small, one-room play. The room is the setting for a series of conversations between two people: The shrink, Ian, played with a wan nervousness by Patrick Bailey, and a crass but surprisingly articulate fifty-something businessman, played by J. C. Cutler, who feels guilty because his wife was killed in a car accident. The room is Ian’s office-slash-studio apartment—he’s moved out of his brother’s place, leaving his pregnant girlfriend in the lurch.
You can find a bunch of articles on the net that try to get at some of the modern medical reasons why Freud found the Gaelic race so difficult to figure out (brain chemistry, hormones, etc.), but the situation is pretty clear to me: The Catholic Church got there first.
So you would expect a play about Irish psychoanalysis to contrast the relationship between patient-analyst to layperson-priest, and McPherson doesn’t waste any time. In the second scene, it’s revealed that Ian gave up his collar to be with his girlfriend. And now, it seems, he’s breaking it off with her. He’s sorry—so sorry—it’s just that he didn’t realize at the time that leaving the priesthood wasn’t quite the end of his journey. His pregnant girlfriend sits on the couch, confused, hurt, angrily listening to his confession, before confessing that she cheated on him before he knocked her up.
These back-and-forth confessions run through the entire play. McPherson’s characters stutter through their guilt, not . . . quite knowing what they feel.. . . . and trying to figure out . . . exactly . . . how to explain . . . what they did. The actors do a nice job of convincing us that these constipated thoughts and feelings are being labored over in real time. Each character sifts through his or her own heartbreaks, trying to find an elusive peace that we used to call “God.” These are some of the most realistic fight scenes I’ve witnessed outside of that R. Kelly clip on YouTube and my own apartment.
Shining City runs through December 23 at the Jungle Theater.