Theatre Mirror Reviews - "St. Nicholas"

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note: entire contents copyright 1999 by Christopher Harding

"St. Nicholas"

A Minority Report by Christopher Harding

Though it's got a name with a Christmasy ring, "St. Nicholas" is a spooky one-man show far better suited to Halloween; the production, currently running at the Boston Center for the Arts, is the latest presentation of the Súgán Theatre Company. Conor McPherson, one more of Ireland's seemingly endless supply of "exciting young playwrights," has staked out the supernatural as his special territory on Broadway and the West End. This riveting tale of a never-named man who ends up pimping for vampires is as convincing as anything Anne Rice ever wrote.

Irish playwrights usually pay their audience the compliment of assuming that they are fairly well steeped in literature and mythology. McPherson's tale of a self-loathing theater critic who tries to redeem himself contains many allusions to infatuation. The critic pans a production of Oscar Wilde's "Salome" and Herod-like falls under the spell of the actress who plays the title role. In an attempt to make amends to the leading lady Helen (shades of Helen of Troy?), he abandons his job and family to follow the company over to England. There, in a role reversal, instead discouraging people from attending evenings at the theater, the critic finds himself jollying new acquaintances into joining in late night debauchery with his urbane vampire hosts ( parties which fortunately don't have permanent consequences).

There's a restless Ancient Mariner quality to the performance, reflecting the penitential content of the story. Actor Richard McElvain prowls the dusky perimeter of the bare acting space; he rambles among the spectators, occasionally plumping down in an empty seat but never for more than a moment. This physical intimacy gives us a sense of how he recruits for his undead masters, but the relentlessly disciplined outpouring of McPherson's lines contrasts sharply with true interactivity of improvisational theater that this kind of proximity leads us to expect.

"St. Nicholas" nestles stories within stories…. we sense there are no loose ends, if only we could grasp all the allusions and tie all the tantalizing strands together. By shying away from the bright lights of centerstage, McElvain, McPherson and director Carmel O'Reilly lure us irresistibly into an infinitely more interesting twilight world of the shadows, the realm of regrets and redemption.

"St.Nicholas" (till 2 October)
Boston Center for The Arts, 539 Tremont Street, BOSTON
1(617) 426-2787

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide