Thursday, October 31, 2019

Helluva at The Sanctuary: "St. Nicholas"

Award-winning Irish playwright Conor McPherson is a masterful storyteller who started out writing monologue plays and later incorporated monologue-stories into his best known works like The Weir [1999] and The Seafarer [2006]. His folk tales and ghost stories always take unexpected turns and rely on both the audience's acceptance of their bizarre plots and of the actor's storytelling skills.

So, with an opportune programming of McPherson's St. Nicholas [1997] over the Halloween-All Saints-All Souls weekend staged at The Sanctuary by the "Helluva Theatre Company", his story of and by a disillusioned theatre critic's dark journey with vampires is a timely choice.

Directed by Alex Dmitriev, and featuring John Martello as the cynical unnamed critic, the two-act monologue -- his version of the truth about his profession, his marriage, his jealousies, his fears, and his willingness to journey with a coven of vampires -- lures the audience bit by bit until they are as trapped as he is in seeking a resolution.

He tells us at the beginning that when he was a boy he was afraid of the dark, and then invites us into his dark journey, his dissatisfaction with his job [even though he relishes the power it gives him over the actors he reviews], his battles with alcohol, his jealousy of playwrights whose words and characters he can't summon in his own attempts at writing plays, his fractured marriage and family, his infatuation with an actress performing in Oscar Wilde's Salome that causes him to stalk her from Dublin to London where he meets William [the leader of the vampires who conscripts him as a kind of pimp for the coven], and the cynicism that infects his every thought.

With a couple of tangential stories that keep audiences wondering where this might lead, it is nonetheless imperative that we understand the dark nature of his tale, the darkness he has feared since childhood, and the darkness that infects him still.

Though drinking is at the center of the character's life, and there are so many references to its effects throughout the play, it is curious that Mr. Martello never takes a drink in his performance. The staging is minimal, with no props and only a single chair and a small rug at center stage, and a few lighting modifications for atmospheric reference; so we rely exclusively on Mr. Martello's abilities as an interpreter of McPherson's words to engage with us for almost two hours; an intimacy he achieves with apparent comfort and a sometimes indiscernible Irish dialect.

In short, we are captivated by McPherson's chilling supernatural script and Martello's shaping of it into a seductive evening's entertainment.