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A CurtainUp Review

St. Nicholas

The heading Critics, Bloody Critics in our Quotes By and About the Theater World's Famous and Infamous contains this by New York City playwright Dolores Prida on New York Magazine's maestro of the poison pen: " John Simon died 40 years ago and his corpse was revived by a witch. To keep alive he must drink the blood of actors, directors and theatrical designers on a weekly basis. "

In the mono-drama, St. Nicholas, (St. Nicholas was a Fourth century bishop with a reputation for performing miracles), Scottish actor Brian Cox treats us to a portrait of a Dublin counterpart of the critic as a metaphoric blood sucker. Unlike Mr. Simon, whose reviews while often written in blood can't be said to lack a point of view, the St. Nicholas critic's facility for stringing words together is a coverup for a complete dearth of original opinions or ideas. He loves his power to destroy, admits "I knew what I did was wrong" and defiantly adds "that's why I did it!" He's also depressed, prone to drink, and has no compunctions about insinuating himself into opening night parties with lies about having filed a favorable review. When he says "I was famous in all the wrong ways" It's clear that he's hungry to tell rather than to merely bear witness to other people's dramas.

This being a play which happens to be about a critic and penned by a young playwright who loves storytelling, Mr. Cox's scribbler does indeed become embroiled in a story of his own which is the one he relates with great relish for the better part of this intriguing toast to story-telling as theater.

And what is this story he segues to after establishing himself as a card-carrying star of the Vitriolic Drama Critics' Circle of Dublin? Quite simply, and with wonderful implausibility, our anti-hero gets his comeuppance when he falls like a ton of Irish potatoes for the young actress starring in a pedestrian revival of Oscar Wilde's operatic one-acter, Salome. (a sly bow to his compatriot's omnipresence on the stage he's only begun to take by storm?). In the course of obsessively and boozily stalking the subject of his obsession all the way to Kent (England), our critic meets and becomes embroiled with a Vampire who unlike him does have a name -- William.

Curtain up on our critic's new career as William's aide-de-camp. Instead of wielding his pen he now lures young women to parties at which their hosts will ghoulishly drain away their plasma.

In the end, the Ann Rice/Brant Stoker nightmare becomes the device to redeem the narrator's character After, all, he now has a story of his own to tell. And the power of story telling, is what this ninety minutes is all about -- a story that displays Mr. McPherson's gift for language and illuminates Mr. Cox's astonishing ability to hold even the most resistant to one-man, no-set shows riveted by his magnetic voice and personality. From the moment Cox announces his presence at the back of the darkened theater, he reels us in as the co-players in his story. We smile as he stops to talk to some of us as he works his way towards the bare stage. He captures us in his I-dare-you-to-look-away gaze and draws us into his magical Blarney. Both the playwright and the actor almost fool us into believing that we've seen a full-fledged play. Not an easy feat.

Links Of Interest
For a more full-featured play by Conor McPherson, read our just posted review of The Weir --The Weir (Click to London Production Reviews). It's currently a big hit in London and scheduled to arrive in New York by the end of the year

If you haven't already done so, check out the season's other much praised young Irish playwright, Martin McDonaugh. We've already reviewed The Beauty Queen of Leenane soon scheduled to transfer to the Walter Kerr theater on Broadway.

Also The Cripple of Inishman to be reviewed after its April 7th opening.

Written and directed by Conor McPherson
Starring Brian Cox
Lighting: Deborah Constantine
Primary Stages, 354 W. 45 St. (212/ 333-5052)
2/11/98-4/26/98; opened 3/17
Reviewed 3/26/98 by by Elyse Sommer

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