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by Mary Shen Barnidge

Playwright: Conor McPherson. At: Irish Theatre of Chicago at the Den, 1333 N. Milwaukee Ave. Tickets: 773-878-3727; Article Link Here ; $26-$30. Runs through: Jan. 4

Conor McPherson's first play written after his near-death experience in 2001 acquaints us with three troubled marriages, as recounted by three troubled husbands. One account takes up perhaps 10 minutes of onstage time; another's disparate segments add up to maybe a total of 30 minutes. Both of these husbands, you see, are closer to resolution than the third, whose epiphany requires nearly an hour before achieving its purpose.

The story opens with middle-aged John telling his psychotherapist that his house is haunted by the ghost of his deceased wife, recently killed in an automobile accident. This occurrence so unnerves him that he flees his home for the security of a rented room and makes an appointment with the first shrink in Dublin with an opening. Little does he suspect that his counselor is also suffering marital upheaval—following his departure from the Catholic priesthood, Ian proceeded to father a child by his pub-waitress girlfriend, only to suddenly be afflicted with misgivings over his adoption of the secular lifestyle.

McPherson once declared this play's theme to be guilt. Appropriately, the start of John's healing journey is confession—a process that reaches its climax in an uninterrupted gush of contrition whose arc brings its narrator to a realization of his culpability in his spouse's untimely demise. Ian, farther along in his progress to absolution, vows to confront his same-sex yearnings by picking up a hustler in the public park. Ironically, this tempter turns out to be yet another estranged dad, his illicit activities undertaken to raise travel money pursuant to reuniting with his family—reparation being the final step to redemption.

The Irish Theatre of Chicago—as the Seanachai company recently re-christened itself—retains its expertise at conveying intimate intelligence without a trace of actorly grandstanding. Brad Armacost, in a monologue that would test the vocal stamina of an actor half his age, draws us into John's futile evasion of the truth behind his wife's walking spirit, while Coburn Goss' ability to listen during his every moment onstage keeps Ian irrevocably immersed in the individual dynamic of each scene. Carolyn Kruse and Shane Kenyon likewise forge complex characters from the briefest of appearances, under Jeff Christian's deft direction. Whatever message you may receive from this play amid December's cheery Christmas clamor, when New Year's Day comes, you'll be grateful for having seen it.

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