Shinn offers snitches of background detail and political argument that he means to be important but that he fails to develop. And what goes unsaid between the characters, though intentionally withheld, can be frustrating. But this searing 90-minute work puts its finger on the way in which, even among those opposed to war and violence, aggression can figure in personal and sexual relationships. Between Kelly and Peter, the aggression is either passive or unintended — it’s hard to tell whether Peter means to let out of the bag the cat whose bite reduces his sister-in-law from evasive friendliness to agonized recognition. For the volatile Craig of the flashbacks and e-mails from the battlefield, aggression is wound into who he is. And the discovery of that by the Harvard-educated, ROTC-trained officer may have occasioned a death different from the target-practice accident reported by the military.
At the Lyric, under Daniel Gidron’s direction, on a conventional apartment set behind which a devastated Iraq comes into gradually clearer focus, Dying City is well-acted by Jennifer Blood, an intelligent but very vulnerable Kelly, and Chris Thorn as the vain if hurting Peter and the volatile, sexually brutal Craig. The performances are at once natural and, especially by Blood, unfettered. If the play’s calculated construction sometimes rings false, the collaterally damaged hearts of its characters never do.
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