Actor Brad Armacost is dealing with a lot of ghosts this holiday season – not to mention a lot of traffic.
For the second consecutive year, Armacost is starring as Ebenezer Scrooge in Drury Lane’s production of “A Christmas Carol.” (He played Scrooge three times prior, early last decade with Provision Theater.)
At the same time, performances start Nov. 26 for the Irish Theatre of Chicago’s production of Conor McPherson’s “Shining City” at The Den Theatre, 1333 N. Milwaukee Ave.
At points in their respective runs, between both plays, Armacost will be performing as many as 18 shows in one week.
Armacost joked that he should have learned his lesson last year when he was in both Drury Lane’s “A Christmas Carol” and the Seanachai Theatre Company (now the ITC) production of McPherson’s “The Seafarer,” which is set on Christmas Eve and involves the Devil himself showing up to collect a debt at a card game in a grubby part of Dublin.
In “Shining City” Armacost plays a middle-aged man who has lost his wife. After he thinks he sees her ghost, the man – for the first time in his life – heads to see a therapist and becomes that therapist’s first client.
Armacost said McPherson’s script notes paint the man as a very normal kind of fellow with an air of confusion about him, as “the world is not as orderly and predictable as he thought.”
What makes “Shining City” fitting for December, Armacost said, “is the play is ultimately about hope.”
Armacost has also been in McPherson’s “The Weir,” and he noted “Shining City” is the writer’s first play after giving up drinking.
“He went through the depths, and after literally finding himself waking up on a bridge went sober. This play was a rebirth for him, just as the holiday season offers hope for a new beginning.”
McPherson’s dramas also offers actors a chance to perform in well-written works where every “um” and “you know” is there for a purpose.
“A comparison to David Mamet is very apt,” Armacost said. “ And there’s the Irish dialect, which is melodic. The writing’s also like music in that there are such specific pauses, with notes for such like a composer would make. You study the script as a musician would a score.”
Armacost added, “There is an honesty, a blatant honesty to McPherson’s characters and writing. As an actor you get out of the way of what he’s written and the part is there for you.”
“McPherson is great at capturing awkward conversations, particularly between men. He writes with warmth, often about losers in a loving way. They want to connect, which makes his works hopeful,” said Coburn Goss, who plays the therapist.
“He was a priest, and I’ve studied about what it was like for an Irish priest to leave the Church,” Goss said. “He’s turned his back on everything, but winds up in a profession that’s the closest thing to being what he was.”
While there are few other characters, most of “Shining City” involves just the patient and therapist being on stage.
“I find that freeing, especially if the writing is good,” Goss said. “You can’t second guess anything. You’re on the train, and whatever happens, happens.”
Goss joked about frequently getting cast or calls to play a priest, including the part of Father Leone in the Superman movie, “Man of Steel.”
Unlike a play, where actors get a full script, filming a big budget superhero movie meant only getting to see his own lines and working on a top secret set in front of a large IMAX camera.
“With ‘Shining City’ in a 55-seat theater, you feel more supported. It’s a true collaboration,” Goss said. “The audience is there to hear a good story.”
Of course, the 20-year-old ITC (in its incarnation as Seanachai) is known for its group work and this year received the Joseph Jefferson award for Best Ensemble for the aforementioned take on “The Seafarer.”
“I’m a founding member (of Seanachai/ITC), but this is my first time performing with them in nine years,” Goss said. “I consider them family, and what I’ve learned is nine years is way, too long to have been away.”