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Culture Lust by Angela Carone

On Cygnet Theater's Dying City and Uncivilized Audience Behavior

Sean Cox and Christy Yael in Dying City.  Photo Credit:  Randy Rovang

This past weekend, Saturday night to be exact, I went to see playwright Christopher Shinn's Dying City at Cygnet Theater .  A third of the way into the play, I had one of those horrifying audience experiences.  You know the kind, similar to when a cell phone goes off in a theater.  Or, when someone decides to bring their chatty, in-need-of-a-nap three year old to a movie like...I don't know... The Matrix .  It's wrong on so many levels.  

Saturday night's little episode starred an in-need-of-a-nap older gentleman who sat in front of me.  And let me just say, this is not an easy play.  It's a three character drama with two actors (one plays identical twins) and tells the story of a widow and her brother-in-law as they reunite a year after her husband's death in the Iraq war.  It's a story about grief, violence and emotional cruelty and it requires a lot from its actors.  And before I reveal the behavoir of Sir Grumps A Lot, let me also mention that the play was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. 

So, back to our scene. The play's relationship between the two main characters is slowly unfolding and I'm in its dramatic clutches, trying to process the depths of Kelly's (Christy Yael) depression and amused and simultaneously irritated by Peter's (Sean Cox, who also plays identical twin Craig) self-absorption.

The tempo of the scene shifts and in that transitional moment, Mr. Manners leans over to his companion and loudly whispers, "It's like watching grass grow." CHARMING.  Now, Cygnet (the El Cajon locale) is a small theater.  The size means that if you aren't careful, everyone in your immediate surroundings can hear you and, let me tell you people, Captain Philistine wasn't careful.  I am worried the actors heard him because he was in the third row and I assume they can hear a lot in that space.   Here's the question...why?  Why couldn't he just be more discreet?  Or, how hard is it just to wait until you are in private to criticize the play?  I silently imagined rolling up my program and whacking him over the head. 

The important thing you should know is that Fussy McFusserson is wrong.  Dying City is not at all like watching grass grow.  It's sad and unsettling and it can be squirm-inducing, and it can also be funny in parts.  Sean Cox gives a very restrained and finely-tuned performance as identical twin brothers Peter and Craig.  He shifts characters skillfully, relying on subtle changes in delivery and physicality. Christy Yael has some shifting to do as well, between the vacant stare of one numbed by grief, to the crying and despair of new revelations.   Which gets to another important point about this play.  You go into it thinking it's about one thing, but with new information, it becomes about so much more.  

Go see for yourself... but hurry... it runs for only one more week, closing this Sunday. Also, director Francis Gercke (Associate Artistic Director at Cygnet) and the two actors, Sean Cox and Christy Yael, will be on These Days tomorrow to talk about the play.  Tune in around 10:30...pledge your support at whatever level you can afford (sorry, but it's that time!)... and then listen to some interesting theater talk!