It’s not often that a theater reviewer gets to recommend a production — in 2010 — that was on his 2000 top 10 list. But that’s the case with Burning Coal Theatre Company’s gripping presentation of Irish playwright Conor McPherson’s spellbinding vampire story, a wonderfully fanciful one-man show called St. Nicholas for no easily discernable reason. Once again staged with style and wit by New York director Randolph Curtis Rand and performed with great panache — and a knowing wink — by Burning Coal artistic director Jerome Davis, St. Nicholas is an exquisite one-of-a-kind edge-of-your-seat theatrical experience like nothing else that this critic has witnessed in more than 40 years of reviewing.
St. Nicholas is a did-he-or-didn’t-he? tale told by an overweight, perpetually sozzled, and all-around nasty Dublin theater critic, who goes middle-aged-crazy when he becomes besotted with the beautiful young actress performing the title role in a execrable London-bound production of Oscar Wilde’s Salomé. After he savagely pans Salomé’s Dublin performances, The Critic abruptly abandons home and hearth — not to mention a wife of many years and two nearly grown children — to follow the object of his affections to London, where she cuts him dead and he goes on an epic bender, passes out in a deserted park, and wakes up — after dark — just in time to meet William the vampire, who takes him home to meet his five drop-dead gorgeous (pun intended) vampire brides.
Although Jerry Davis’ Irish accent comes and goes, his passion for this plum part never wavers; and he holds the audience spellbound with The Critic’s increasingly fantastic account of his dangerous liaison with a vampire coven preying on unsuspecting twenty-somethings picked up — three sheets to the wind — at trendy pubs in a London suburb.
While Jerry Davis is demonstrating his mastery of the storyteller’s art, director Randy Rand is shaping the story — behind the scenes — into a masterpiece of suspense. The play — and The Critic’s story — begins with a voice literally in the dark, then Davis flicks on a desk lamp, and ultimately the lights come up as he paces the stage, recounting The Critic’s eerie encounter with the Undead.
The opening beats in the dark might work a little better if there was the cherry glow of the tip of a lit cigarette or a gray aromatic curl of pipe smoke to announce The Critic’s presence in the moments before he speaks. But that’s a minor quibble with a mesmerizing piece that demonstrates conclusively that theatrical lightning can strike twice, in different locations, when a theater troupe combines genius with genius in 2000 and again in 2010 and conjures up magic, sheer magic.
SECOND OPINION: Nov. 6th Raleigh, NC News & Observer review by Roy C. Dicks: http://www.newsobserver.com/2010/11/06/784339/st-nicholas-is-a-well-told-well.html. (To read the Nov. 5th Triangle Arts and Entertainment online version of the Triangle Theater Review preview by Robert W. McDowell, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/2010/11/burning-coal-director-randy-rand-and-actor-jerry-davis-reprise-their-roles-in-st-nicholas-by-conor-mcpherson/.)
Burning Coal Theatre Company presents ST. NICHOLAS, starring Jerome Davis, at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 11-13 and 18-20 and 2 p.m. Nov. 14 and 21 in Burning Coal Theatre at the Murphey School, 224 Polk St., Raleigh, North Carolina 27604.
TICKETS: $20 ($15 students, seniors 65+, and active-duty military personnel), except $10 Thursdays and $5 Student Rush Tickets (available at the door, 5 minutes before curtain).
BOX OFFICE: 919/834-4001 or http://www.etix.com/.
GROUP RATES (10+ tickets for $12 each): 919/834-4001.
SHOW: http://burningcoal.org/index.html. SCRIPT: http://books.google.com/.
VIDEO PREVIEW: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rsQmwX-hSSs.
NOTE: At 6 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 13th, poet David Nelson Bradsher and professor and author Carlos Rojas will deliver a “Lobby Lecture” on the nature of vampires in popular culture. The lecture is FREE to anyone holding a ticket for any performance of St. Nicholas and $5 to everyone else. For details, call 919/834-4001.
The Playwright: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Conor_McPherson (Wikipedia), http://www.ibdb.com/person.php?id=4900 (Internet Broadway Database), and http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0574217/ (Internet Movie Database).
Robert W. McDowell is editor and publisher of Triangle Theater Review, a FREE weekly e-mail theatrical newsletter that provides more comprehensive, in-depth coverage of Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill theater than all of the other news media combined. This review is reprinted with permission from Triangle Theater Review.
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To read all of Robert W. McDowell’s Triangle Theater Review previews and reviews online at Triangle Arts & Entertainment, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/author/robert-w-mcdowell/.