Theater critic reviews own acts


Brendon Coyle in the Donmar Warehouse production of St. Nicholas. (Photo by Helen Maybanks
Brendon Coyle in the Donmar Warehouse production of St. Nicholas. (Photo by Helen Maybanks

3 stars

“…Power… I was a theater critic…,” says Brendan Coyle in “St. Nicholas.” The show, a one-person play by Conor McPherson is at Chicago’s Goodman Theatre fresh from its success at London’s popular Dormar Warehouse.

An Olivier Award winning actor from McPherson’s “The Weir,” Coyle drew laughter from Goodman’s opening night crowd of theater critics and patrons almost every time he said the word “critic.”

However, given that McPheron’s portrait of a critic contains more than a few resemblances to Oscar Wilde’s philosophical and Gothic  “The Picture of Dorian Gray,” it arguably would be better to ask a Goodman Theater patron how that person liked or felt about the play.

Coyle, whom Downton Abbey’s addicted viewers know as Robert Crawly’s valet, Mr. Bates, takes on the opposite persona from the highly moral Bates in “St. Nicholas.”

He adopts the mantle quite well of a mean-spirited, jaded, alcoholic critic, but I found the first act’s pompous blustering to wear thin before the nearly 50 minutes ended with the mention of vampires.

BTW, the character starts out the show scattering rice around the stage. Viewers learn later that he thinks rice keeps vampires so busy counting the grains that he can escape them if needed.

Audiences may ask themselves if the blood-sucking vampires of the second act are supposed to be a metaphor for how some people, including critics of any of the arts, seem to prey on actors and artists in order to stay alive and collect a paycheck.

But the critic’s Gothic vampire experience also marks his changing perspective.

Adding vampires to the play also serves another purpose. In the first act, the critic acknowledges he is jealous of playwrights because they have a story to tell and can write. He admits he has no story and can’t write.

Cut to the play’s end. The critic excitedly exclaims that he now has a story. And, he dramatically adds, “There’s hope.”

Maybe he means redemption or a comeback from what appears by the dilapidated accommodations he seems to have, to a life of respect and prominence.

There’s no question that Coyle is a fine actor as he tries to draw the audience into his story. For some viewers, Coyle’s talent will be enough. Others might find the play to be a bit of pseudo-intellectual naval gazing.

Audiences are left to choose whatever they want to make of the title. Saint Nicholas (also known as a miracle worker) is the patron saint of, among others, sailors, brewers, merchants, repentant thieves and pawnbrokers.

DETAILS: “St. Nicholas” is in the Owen Theatre space at the Goodman Theatre, 170 N Dearborn St., Chicago,  through Jan. 27, 2019. Running time: approximately 2 hours including one intermission. For tickets and other information call (312) 443-3800 and visit Goodman Theatre.

Jodie Jacobs

For more shows visit Theatre in Chicago

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