Tell Me a Story; Make It a Good One


Story telling reveals meaning without making the error of commenting on it. Hannah Arendt

When was the last time someone told you a really good story…not read it; ‘regaled you with a tale that drew you in, made you laugh, furrow your brow, raise an eyebrow? Remember visualizing the characters, the surroundings? Remember the anticipation, the tension, being captivated; losing your sense of the present? Multiply that experience by tenfold and you might come close to the sheer transporting pleasure of the evening just spent with John Martello.

Conor McPherson, author of The Seafarer, The Weir, and Shining City clearly had a good time with this one. St. Nicholas is the story of a jaded, cynical Dublin journalist, a self-loathing, lascivious hack, “famous in all the wrong ways;” in fact, a theater critic! “It was possible to produce the work drunk and hung over and then you began to believe it was the only way.” He reveled in people’s fear, congenitally abusing what he thought was real power. That was before he followed a beautiful young actress to London and fell in with the vampires.

Yes, vampires. “You don’t mind the Bible?” asks the critic, finding one in the bookshelf. “Nature made us both,” shrugs William (a vampire). It’s as simple as that. These are practical creatures; not greedy. Civilized. A deal is made and kept. Their power is insidious. They’re almost a metaphor. The critic is philosophical. The philosophy is rather “vampiric.”

This is a tale acted in modern day idiom with a lovely deep, Irish lilt whose clarity is worthy of Shakespeare…by the man who escaped—or has he? A man who made other choices…right? Its language is both colorful—peppered with fuckin’ and wankers and poetic: Helen was never conscious of her beauty because everyone else was doing that for her…ah, the assured grace of her arms. For an hour and forty minutes—with intermission—the audience is rapt.

Director Alex Dmitriev has midwifed an exceptional production. He’s resolutely economic with anything extraneous to our imagining and his character’s self possession. The critic sits, gestures, paces a bit and breaks the fourth wall once or twice. It seems completely natural. Every single minute works.

John Mantello is an actor, producer and director. He commands the stage as someone who is—accustomed. Mantello conjures situations and induces empathy. Memories are viscerally experienced. His eyes in turn, blaze, twinkle or pass into stupor. His timing is consummate. St.Nicholas (will someone explain the title to me, please?) is performed with gusto. We left the theater exhilarated. Go!

For St.Nicholas, McPherson was awarded the Evening Standard Award for Outstanding New Playwright, the London Critics Award for Most Promising Playwright, and The George Devine Award in 1997.

Photos by Carol Rosegg

St. Nicholas by Conor McPherson
The Irish Repertory Theater’s
W. Scott McLucas Studio Theater
132 West 22 Street (between 6th & 7th)
212-727-2737 or
Through November 21

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