Christopher Shinn Takes On His Own 'Dying City' Off-Broadway

When Lila Neugebauer had to bow out of directing the revival of Christopher Shinn's Dying City at Second Stage Theatre shortly before rehearsals began, the playwright didn't freak out, he stepped up. He wasn't worried that he had only helmed one previous production: his play Where Do We Live? at the Vineyard Theatre in 2004.

"I loved directing when I did that and it was well-received," says Shinn. "It was an experience I wanted to repeat at some point. But I'm not like obsessed with directing my own work -- which is obvious from the fact that I have only done it twice in 15 years."

Since Shinn had been involved in the preproduction process with Neugebauer, he felt it made sense for him to take over. "To choose another director -- even one I admired -- would mean that person would be inheriting a production that they didn't cast, or have any part in the design, or who hadn't been thinking about the work," he explains.

A finalist for the 2008 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, Dying City is an unsettling one-act about a young Iraq War widow (film and TV star Mary Elizabeth Winstead) who receives an unexpected visit from her dead husband's gay identical twin (Colin Woodell, who plays both brothers). While the setup may sound simple, their slippery interactions, plus unnerving flashbacks, explore the personal impact of complex global events such as war and terrorism. Even though the play has enjoyed many successful stagings, including a critically acclaimed 2007 mounting at Lincoln Center Theater, Shinn went into this production with fresh eyes.

"I have a very bad memory for works of art -- including my own -- so I don't have a deeply developed point of view about any of my plays," he admits.