Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Theater critic meets vampires in St. Nicholas at Onstage Atlanta

Posted By on Wed, Nov 5, 2008 at 9:50 PM

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Halloween is over but new blood will pump up vampire fans this month. Nov. 14 sees the Atlanta release of Sweden's Let the Right One In, a spooky drama and  international film critics' hit about a starcrossed friendship between a young vampire and a human, and then Nov. 21 marks the nationwide bow of the film version of Twilight, based on the popular Young Adult novel series of forbidden teen love with a bloodsucker. Onstage Atlanta takes a nibble of the vampire vogue with St. Nicholas, an eerie little monologue play by Irish playwright Conor McPherson.

The one-man show stars Michael Henry Harris as the unnamed narrator, a bitter, boozing theater critic living in a major Irish city. Fictional critics are usually defined either by self-loathing or verbal sadism, and St. Nicholas doesn't break the pattern. Harris's miserable theater reviewer acts out a mid-life crisis by developing an embarassing crush on a rising young actress. When he follows her production of Salome to London, he meets a stranger named William who turns out to be the leader of a household of vampires, and in need a human agent to invite guests for non-fatal blood "donations." The theater critic becomes a contemporary equivalent to Renfield, Dracula's unhinged manservant best known for eating bugs. Harris's character goes to moral extremes, not physical ones, and while the actor has plenty of presence, his level delivery threatens to become monotonous. (In fairness, it's a brisk show and it's hard to imagine the downbeat character being much more animated.)

Onstage Atlanta is presenting a kind of Conor McPherson two-fer, with the small second stage hosting St. Nicholas and the larger mainstage presenting The Weir, a melancholy evening of ghost stories retold at a remote Irish pub (and staged several years ago by Theatre Gael). Both shows use horror conventions as a kind of misdirection, drawing the audience in while offering character studies of lonely, isolated individuals. St. Nicholas' vampires rely less on supernatural hocus-pocus, and the play instead sheds light on the ideas of compassion and cultivating a conscience. It's comparable to the original Interview with the Vampire, only without the Goth window-dressing.

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