That's largely the experience of watching, and listening to, Conor McPherson's Shining City, the one-act drama that opens Ion Theatre Company's new season in Hillcrest. Because of a remarkably honest performance by Ion executive artistic director Claudio Raygoza as John, a tormented Dubliner seeking truths from therapist Ian (Francis Gercke), Shining City is a taut, quietly revealing piece of theater. At the same time, under Glenn Paris' direction, it surprises you when you least expect it, with a raised voice here, a slammed drawer there and, ultimately, a shocking finale.
More than half of the play's 98 minutes are consumed by John's therapy with Ian, who speaks hardly at all behind a tense, secretive frown. Meanwhile, John unfolds the misery of his longing for human connection, his unapologetic self-centeredness and, looming over it all, the grief and guilt about his wife killed in an accident. He has seen, John confides, her ghost—ashen and wet and lurking inside the home they once shared. He is, without saying it outright, haunted. In an obvious but nonetheless intriguing case of "physician, heal thyself," it turns out that Ian, in his way, is just as lonely, just as unapologetically self-centered, just as haunted.
The cast of four, which also includes Jessica John as Ian's nervous fiancée, Neasa, and Zack Bonin as the by-intention faceless man whom Ian just as nervously brings home for a tryst, maintain Irish accents and the play's dour mood with equal grace. There are never more than two actors on stage at the same time, and in this play, one's listening is just as vital to the story's messages as is the other's speaking.
Ion's Shining City does that so well. Its ghosts, in all manifestations, never speak, either, but they are there: relentless and unignorable.
Shining City runs through Sept. 28 at BLKBOX Theatre in Hillcrest. $15-$35. iontheatre.com
Logan Heights: The local premiere of a play, by Josefina Lopez (Real Women Have Curves), about an immigrant family living in the titular San Diego neighborhood. Opens Sept. 13 at OnStage Playhouse in Chula Vista. onstageplayhouse.org
The Maids: When the woman of the house is away, two maids begin to play—in a sadomasochistic way. Presented by Talent to aMuse Theatre Company, it opens Sept. 13 at 10th Avenue Theatre, Downtown. talenttoamuse.com
Detained in the Desert: Parallel stories about a second-generation Latina-American and a right-wing-radio host propel this tense one-act drama that comments on immigration, the media and racial profiling. Presented by Teatro Máscara Mágica, it runs through Sept. 15 at La Jolla Playhouse. teatromascaramagica.org
The 39 Steps: A comedic, four-actor stage version of the 1935 Alfred Hitchcock film, as if performed by Monty Python, with lots of allusions to other Hitchcock classics. Through Sept. 22 at Lamb's Players Theatre in Coronado. lambsplayers.org
Almost, Maine: A bunch of short plays about relationships in a mythical Northeast town. Through Sept. 22 at Patio Playhouse in Escondido. patioplayhouse.com
The Tempest: Shakespeare's oft-performed play about a wizard who inhabits a Mediterranean island. Through Sept. 22 at Coronado Playhouse. coronadoplayhouse.com
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead: Tom Stoppard's existentialist play turns two minor characters in Shakespeare's Hamlet into lead characters. Through Sept. 26 at The Old Globe Theatre in Balboa Park. oldglobe.org
The Merchant of Venice: Shakespeare's play, about a man who borrows money to court a woman, gave us the terms "shylock" and "a pound of flesh." Through Sept. 28 at The Old Globe Theatre in Balboa Park. oldglobe.org
Shining City: Ion Theatre starts its eight season with the San Diego premiere of a story about two men, a widower and his therapist, both trying to sort out their lives' trajectories. Through Sept. 28 at BLKBLOX Theatre in Hillcrest, but we neglected to include it in last week's listings. Sorry! iontheatre.com
A Midsummer Night's Dream: A Greek forest is alive with fairies, magic potions and the pursuit of love in the opener of The Old Globe's summer Shakespeare Festival. Through Sept. 29 at The Old Globe Theatre in Balboa Park. oldglobe.org
Man with a Load of Mischief: In this musical period piece, a lord, a lady and their two servants entangle themselves in a mess of seduction and deception while stranded at an inn in the English countryside. Through Sept. 29 at North Coast Repertory Theatre in Solana Beach. northcoastrep.org
Marry Me a Little: This one—which takes songs from other Stephen Sondheim musicals and places them in a story about two lonely young New Yorkers—was inserted into Diversionary Theatre's current season to commemorate the recent Supreme Court decisions in favor of marriage equality. The production alternates the characters—two men, two women, one man and one woman—so choose a performance accordingly. Through Sept. 29 at Diversionary Theatre in University Heights. diversionary.org
miXtape: Generation X was torn between disillusionment and hope in this cavalcade of music from the 1980s. Produced by Lamb's Players Theatre, it runs through Sept. 29 at the Horton Grand Theatre, Downtown. lambsplayers.org
A Weekend with Pablo Picasso: Herbert Siguenza brings the legendary modern artist back to life in a one-man show. Presented by San Diego Repertory Theatre, it runs through Oct. 6 at the Lyceum Theatre at Horton Plaza, Downtown. sdrep.org
Lettice and Lovage: A woman gets sacked from her job leading tours of a boring 16th-century English hall for making up fascinating stories about it and later sparks up a friendship with the woman who fired her. Through Oct. 6 at Scripps Ranch Theatre. scrippsranchtheatre.org
Crime Pays: A radio game show with dastardly overtones, served up with dinner, is presented by Mystery Cafe at Imperial House restaurant in Bankers Hill. mysterycafe.net