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Theater Review:

"ST. NICHOLAS," Gee Kay Productions at Victory Gardens Theater

BY LUCIA MAURO

In Conor McPherson’s "St. Nicholas," a crusty, emotionally lost Irish theater critic takes audiences on a macabre and sensual journey involving unrequited lust and a coven of vampires. Audiences attending Gee Kay Production’s midwest premiere of this 1997 tragicomedy at Victory Gardens downstairs studio space, featuring extraordinarily malleable Chicago actor Greg Vinkler, will feel like they’ve viewed a spine-tingling epic film featuring a cast of thousands.

But only one man remains on stage the entire time: the critic himself at a crucial crossroads in his life when he questions his purpose and embarks on a bizarre and fantastical path toward finding his own story. And Vinkler, with his ability to not merely wear a character but absorb that character into his skin, achieves a monumental feat: He makes perhaps one of the most loathsome creatures to ever inhabit a stage ultimately human and redeeming.

Director Todd Schmidt, together with Rachel Decker’s sculptural and metaphoric lighting, create an alluringly suggestive theatrical masterpiece. My main criticism is that this 90-minute one-man show would more compellingly envelop audiences if it did not include an intermission.

I also believe that Irish playwright McPherson, who favors wildly diabolical yarns, is getting back at the swarms of theater critics he’s perceived to be self-interested power mongers. In fact, as a critic vehemently opposed to the selfish, destructive and manipulative tactics employed by Vinkler’s character, I found much of the first half difficult to bear. The critic I was watching on stage embodied all the qualities that have given theater critics a bad – nay, repulsive -- name over the last century. He is bitter, vindictive and unethical but ultimately ineffectual, unfulfilled and achingly lonely.

While the critic’s story is not an earthshattering one, McPherson’s gifts for stringing together pearls of wisdom and wit adorned with deeply reflective metaphoric jewels makes for a satisfying time in the theater. Vinkler’s irascible but touching portrayal should be studied by serious theater students and used as a model for attaining the apex of "being" on stage rather than acting. His tone is so harmonious, I almost thought I was at a vocal recital rather than a theatrical performance.

The story truly picks up imaginative speed in the second half when the critic – who makes a fool of himself chasing after a young actress – meets up with a vampire who lures him into his web of mysterious seduction and uses him to procure young people to attend surreal parties in the undead’s tomb-like castle.

Two stunningly profound ideas arise from this gem of dramatic storytelling: Vinkler’s character concludes that the real and more ordinary travails of life are a lot more terrifying than vampires; and that those who are content doing what they love send out an aura of unselfconscious beauty and purity that, hopefully, touches others heading toward an epiphany of self-purpose.•

Gee Kay Productions’ staging of "St. Nicholas" runs through December 30 at Victory Gardens Theater, 2257 N. Lincoln. Tickets: $26-$28. Call 773-871-3000.

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