- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Talk about surreal experiences. Try being the only audience member, and a theater critic to boot, watching a one-man play about a perpetually schnockered, decrepit and burned-out Dublin theater critic.

You can’t help but feel singled out as the Man (Brian Hemmingsen), a bottomless fount of rancid rage, rails against mediocre stage productions, self-entranced actors and theater folk, loveless marriages and the encroaching indignities of middle age.

Playwright Conor McPherson saves most of his invective for drama critics, most of whom apparently are drunken train wrecks who never take the care to form opinions — they just have them. They’re a nasty and bloodsucking lot, ruining lives and hurling insults simply because they have the power.

Mr. McPherson seems to be having a jolly time of it with the character of the Man, and the bulk of “St Nicholas” details his fall from grace, going from a amiably boozy member of the media elite to a pathetic schlub after he becomes besotted with a young actress appearing in a production of Oscar Wilde’s “Salome.”

He follows her to London and goes on a binge, winding up sleeping it off in a public park. There, he meets the mysterious William, a vampire, who recruits the Man to entice fresh young people to his house for parties that usually end with a bit of nonlethal bloodsucking. The Man sees this rather unusual midcareer change not as pandering to evil, but as a way of redemption, a chance to rediscover his sense of humanity and conscience.

The supernatural wafts through much of Mr. McPherson’s work, in particular, the ghostly play “The Weir,” and he seems to have a knack for mingling the concrete and the otherworldly. The Man is drifting through life half-dead and half-dazed. When he slips into a strange netherworld where vampires live in the suburbs and haunt the wine bars of Soho it seems perfectly natural.

After all, it is a small step from a critic going for the jugular to a leech of a different stripe.

“St. Nicholas” conjures a woozy, atmospheric climate, but unfortunately, the spell is broken by Mr. Hemmingsen still grasping the script in his hands as if it is a lifeline, and his inability to be off book by this point compromises the power of the piece.

It is more a staged reading than a play, and although the velvety rasp of Mr. Hemmingsen’s voice and the acidic gush of his anger goes far to bring the Man to derelict life, you are far better off at home curled up with a mug of something warm while reading Mr. McPherson’s mesmerizing tale on your own.


WHAT: “St. Nicholas” by Conor McPherson

WHERE: Scena Theatre at the Source Theatre, 1835 14th St. NW

WHEN: 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays. Through May 6.

TICKETS: $25 to $32

PHONE: 703/683-2824


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