Review: Doubling Up on Toxic Manhood in ‘Dying City’
But the more you learn about the brothers — and particularly about their Midwestern childhood — the more you sense affinities between them that wouldn’t be obvious at first. It develops, by stealthy degrees (warning: spoilers ahead), that they are both cut from a similar, deceptively silky cloth of misogyny and sadism.
Whether gay or straight, actor or soldier, these brothers carry a shared legacy of poisonous masculinity. Their dad was a Vietnam vet, it turns out, and prone to scary eruptions of violence, which their mom seemed to be almost proud of. Peter and Craig have learned how to torment — women, in particular — without raising a fist, or a rifle.
The marvel of “Dying City” is how fluidly and subtly it traces the prevalence of this toxic sensibility through so many levels of culture and politics, from the backstage of a theater to the arena of war; from the marriage bed to the back seat of a car on a family drive. Mr. Shinn carefully stacks up the evidence via seemingly casual reminiscences; an explosive collection of emails Craig sent to Peter from Iraq; even the writers, all male, that Craig was exploring for his doctoral studies.
What adds to the unease here is that much of what we learn comes directly from Peter, an artist of passive aggression. How much of what he says is really true, and how much has been devised purely to mess with Kelly’s understandably confused mind?
There was a component of melodrama in the 2007 production of “Dying City,” which flirted with the archetypes of menacing (male) villain and vulnerable (female) prey. Mr. Shinn’s staging tones down that dichotomy, as do the performances.
Largely known for their screen work, Mr. Woodell and Ms. Winstead register as comfortable and natural on stage. Then again, this a play about discomfort and unnatural acts.
As the narcissistic Peter, Mr. Woodell seems more like an annoyance than a threat. (His relatively opaque Craig is the creepier of the two.) And Ms. Winstead seems too centered, too self-reliant to be unhinged by either of these brothers. You do not fear for the nightmares of her future.