Booze, Blood, and Beauty
Published: Sunday, January 29, 2012
Updated: Monday, November 5, 2012 20:11
A jaded, old, and quite possibly drunk former theater critic stands before a small audience. The stage is dark; its adornments are few. For the better part of the next two hours, he will discuss alcoholism, unrequited lust, and existential crisis.
Oh, and vampires.
The unconventional play in question is Conor McPherson's "St. Nicholas"; its lone performer is Buffalo legend Vincent O'Neill, owner of the esteemed Irish Classical Theater; the venue is Buffalo's own Road Less Traveled Theater, in the Market Arcade Film and Arts Center.
"St. Nicholas"and its lone performer tell the tale of an unnamed alcoholic Dublin theater critic whose work, family life, and spiritual condition are all as unfulfilling as you'd expect those of an alcoholic Dublin theater critic to be. Indeed, almost the entirety of the play's first act is spent recounting them and their emptiness, with varying degrees of emotion and gusto.
The critic's existential crisis eventually leads him to the London abode of a handful of actors – including that of the significantly-named and supernaturally beautiful Helen – while (naturally) quite drunk.
After failing to consummate his lust with the walking classical allusion, the critic finds himself alone on a park bench. It is here, at the apex of his disillusion and discontent, where the vampires enter, turning the critic's worldview on its head.
"I think it's a good, introspective piece," said Gina Gandolfo-Lopez, managing director of Road Less Traveled Productions. "It makes you look within yourself…and really question the world around you."
Any one-man or one-woman show requires nothing short of a powerhouse performance, and O'Neill delivered. While the outward persona of his character was usually one of jaded disillusionment and distance, occasional moments of genuine emotion – over Helen's beauty, or the "real power" of the vampires, or, ironically, his own inability to express his emotions genuinely, artistically or otherwise – provide some of the play's best moments.
"What can I say, it's Vincent O'Neill…he was phenomenal," said Anne of Buffalo.
The one-man show also relied on a number of formal elements – some conventional, some not – to tell its story. Blocking was for the most part quite simple, and consisted mainly of O'Neill moving between the three strategically placed chairs on stage. The occasional sarcastic impression aside, most of O'Neill's gestures consisted of scarf flourishes and, in those rare moments of genuine feeling, desperate grasps of his chest. This relatively straightforward stage direction served only to highlight O'Neill's vocal performance – the exposition told through O'Neill's thick Dublin accent was the real star of the show.
The only other presence on stage beside O'Neill and the trio of chairs were five vertical structures, onto which visual impressions of particular scenes were projected. This effect – which, despite its visual nature, was more diegetic than mimetic – was coupled with a great deal of tone lighting and intermittent snippets of music to create an almost overwhelmingly atmospheric production.
O'Neill and his visual accompaniment were directed by Scott Behrend, the founder and artistic director of Road Less Traveled Productions, an Amherst native, and a former employee of O'Neill's at Buffalo's Irish Classical Theater. Though the two have had a long history together, this production marks their first collaboration with Behrend directing.
"I'm a big believer in collaboration," O'Neill said. "It's a question of finding the right vehicle…it's lovely to see [a production like this] spread its wings."
"St. Nicholas" will run through Feb. 19, with showings every Thursday, Friday, and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and every Monday at 2 p.m.