If you want to see acting at its very best, then you must see Michael McGee’s extraordinary performance at the SFS Theatre on Melrose.
The play is “St. Nicholas,” by the highly acclaimed Irish playwright Conor McPherson (“The Weir,” “Shining City,” “The Seafarer”). Beautifully written as it is, however, McPherson’s story here is not as compelling as his other works. While you are thoroughly charmed and engrossed by McGee’s ongoing monologue, it is a bit like listening to a good friend recall a dream he had — for an hour and a half.
Whereas in “The Seafarer” the plot revolves around a crucial card game between the protagonist and the devil, “St. Nicholas” is a game of wits between a man and a vampire. It’s a power play — a play about power. And, as McGee explains, “Vampires don’t have the power to make a man do evil, they have the power to make a man want to do evil.” Except in this case the vampires are not all that evil, and not very scary, either.
What they engage their enthralled captive in is a nightly prowl to bring attractive young people back to their mansion for a raucous party. Since he is prone to nightly forays in the local pubs even before he meets the vampires, this doesn’t seem like such a stretch for him. Moreover, the vampires only occasionally bite someone, and when they do the victim doesn’t become a vampire. In fact, he doesn’t remember anything about the orgiastic evening at all.
Meanwhile, McGee’s character (identified as “Man”) is struggling with his own crises. A theater critic locked in a boring marriage, he is engulfed in ennui, a sense of futility, contempt for his profession, doubts about his professional capabilities, and a desire to escape from his life in ways other than in a perpetual alcoholic stupor. So he is ripe for a leap into the supernatural.
McPherson is quoted as saying, in an interview at ifc.com, “Even though my work can go to quite dark places, ultimately I do want to get it to a place of affirmation because we’re here on earth and we’ve got to make a go of life.” And this affirmation is reflected in the title of this play, “St. Nicholas.”
As director Scott Paulin (who, by the way, does a dynamite job of directing) explained, “Christmastime appears in McPherson’s plays repeatedly as a metaphor for happy times, the joy of family … and hope.”
And so, does McGee’s character eventually overcome his doubts and his anomie? One can only hope.
“St. Nicholas,” produced by Second Story Theatre, will run Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 4 p.m. through July 25. The SFS Theatre is located at 5636 Melrose Ave. (at Larchmont), in Los Angeles. Call (323) 960-5296 for tickets.
Cynthia Citron can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.