Saturday, June 26, 2010

On-Stage: St. Nicholas

One could say that the blood-sucking parasite of Conor McPherson’s vampire play is actually a theater critic, but that would be too easy. Drama criticism, at least as practiced in Dublin, certainly gets a thorough skewering. In fact, the unnamed narrator’s lack of critical integrity is the one thing we can be sure of amidst the macabre blarney of McPherson’s one-man vampire play St. Nicholas, recently revived at the WorkShop Theater by the Theatre of the Expendable.

Through an extended monologue, Ireland’s hardest drinking drama critic explains to the audience how through an unfortunate series of events he became the indentured familiar of a den of vampires. It all started with a mediocre production of Salome. In a rare act of critical fairness, he gave it the so-so review it deserved. However, that was not what he told the cast and crew at the after party. Ordinarily, he would not worry about their dashed spirits when they discovered the true tenor of his review, but the middle-aged curmudgeon developed a fast fixation on a beautiful young actress in the production.

In a monumentally bad decision, our increasingly obsessed narrator followed the production to London after their Dublin run closes early (thanks in no small part to his own write-up). Much alcohol is consumed during a confrontation that leaves the skunk-drunk narrator vulnerable to the mental domination of an alpha male vampire. That is, if we chose to believe him. While his story is fantastic, in all fairness, he is hardly self-surviving in its telling, casting himself in a consistently unflattering light.

Even as a cautionary tale told in retrospect, St. Nicholas relies more on suggestion than accounts of actual blood. Yet, McPherson’s vampires are still described in highly sexualized terms, not unlike those currently dominating pre-teen novels and cinema multiplexes. It is also quite amusing at times, particularly during its scathing depiction of the state of theater criticism in Dublin.

Obviously, as a dramatic monologue, St. Nicholas largely depends on the ability of its lead to serve as a forceful raconteur. Fortunately, Darrell James brings the cynical critic (surely this is not a redundancy) to vivid life, showing a strong affinity for the cadences (both the comedic and the eerie) of McPherson’s language. A play well served by an intimate space like the WorkShop, director Jesse Edward Rosbrow trusts the simple elements of the play—just the strange narrator, a chair, and the audience. Yet, with the help of the subtly evocative lighting (designed by Ryan Metzler), James completely draws the audience into to this tale of worldly humiliation and supernatural mystery.

Coming relatively hard on the heels of the release of McPherson’s justly acclaimed supernatural film The Eclipse, the timing should be right for revivals of his work and St. Nicholas seems like an economical choice. Indeed, Expendable’s production is quite entertaining and should well satisfy theater patrons who enjoy highly literate supernatural fare. Now officially open, it runs at the WorkShop through July 3rd.

(Photo: Dorian Nisinson)