Sunday, November 20, 2011

St. Nicholas

Dana Hart shines in Conor McPherson’s ST. NICHOLAS at Ensemble

The Irish are noted as vivid and imaginative writers (think Bram Stoker, James Joyce, Jonathan Swift, Samuel Beckett, Sean O’Cassey and Brian Friel). They are also noted as being verbose in their creations, as well as being prodigious drinkers, spinners of tall tales, philosophers and womanizers.

Conor McPherson is one of the new breed of Irish writers who creates in his heritage’s tradition. In 1990, The Dublin born McPherson’s THE WEIR, won the Laurence Olivier Award for Best New Play. His 2004 play, SHINING CITY, prompted the London Telegraph to describe him as "the finest dramatist of his generation.” THE SEAFARER, which opens this week at Dobama Theatre, opened in London and New York to rave reviews. Both SHINING CITY and THE SEAFARER were Tony nominees.

It should come as no surprise that McPherson, the author of ST. NICHOLAS, now in production at Ensemble Theatre, writes a rather long diatribe about a hard drinking writer who spins a preposterous tale of vampires, women, drinking and finding redemption. And, much in the Irish tradition of the likes of G.B. Shaw, McPherson asks, "Vampires or theater critics—which are more repellent? Tough call when they’re bloodsuckers, the lot of ’em.” (And, the man got great reviews in spite of skewering us critics.)

The play takes us on a journey with a jaded Irish theater critic who is mesmerized by a beautiful young dancer/actress from the famed Abbey Theatre in Dublin. Following the young actress to London, the critic is drawn into a world of big-city “vampires” – a world that is elegant, sophisticated, and in the end, soulless. It is a tale of self-discovery, in the typical overly dramatic Irish way, that assaults modern culture, where greed and self-gratification are paramount and where the “vultures” try to suck the life right out of us.

Dana Hart is outstanding as the lone-actor in this two-act almost two-hour show. There are hundreds of lines, a subtle Irish brogue, a necessary twinkle in the eye, the need to portray a drunk who is not slapstick or maudlin, being able to confront the audience directly and play for the seriousness and mirth of the ideas, while making us question whether the goings on are real, or Irish blarney. Hart does is all with ease. This is a tour-de-force performance!

Director Sarah May has worked with Hart to create a believable story-telling realism, while transporting us to a philosophical world of illusion.

Is this a Christmas tale as might be assumed from the play’s title? There is one Christmas tree on stage, but it is neither referred to in the dialogue or gets paid any attention. The holiday’s name gets mentioned once in the script, but again, for no particular reason. The title? As is the Irish custom of creating illusion, McPherson has given each of the viewers a wonderful gift from St. Nick, a holiday present in the form of this play!

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: ST NICHOLAS is an actor’s show. In this case, actor Dana Hart gives a performance that deserves to be seen and appreciated.