Review: ‘St. Nicholas’ at Washington Stage Guild

Theater critics can sometimes be vicious and bloodthirsty…… and that’s before one of them gets employed by a bloodsucking vampire in the Washington Stage Guild production of St. Nicholas. This wonderfully witty and poignant one-man show takes an unusual premise and releases both side-splitting comedy and thought-provoking questions.

An unnamed Irish theater critic introduces us to his daily life and reveals he’s deeply unsatisfied with both his home life and his job of constantly criticizing those who make art while never creating anything himself. After he becomes romantically obsessed with a young actress in the latest production he’s reviewed, he follows her from Dublin to London. While there, he meets William, the charismatic leader of a band of vampires, and encounters an unexpected opportunity which won’t leave his evenings free to review theatrical shows any longer.

Bill Largess as The Critic. Photo by C. Stanley Photography.
Bill Largess as The Critic. Photo by C. Stanley Photography.

Bill Largess is wonderfully melodramatic and thoroughly entertaining as the unnamed theater critic who has to carry the ninety minute show. His delivery is excellent and Largess displays a natural ease and command onstage. Largess maintains an authentic Irish dialect throughout the entire show and showcases outstanding character voices (in a variety of other regional accents) as he impersonates the conversations with other characters. Largess shows some masterful facial expressions and again, his phenomenal comedic timing is on display with some expression as small as a raised eyebrow or shoulder shrug.

It helps that Largess has some incredible material to work with. The script, written by Conor McPherson, is fantastic and filled with poignant and pointed one liners. McPherson deftly handles what could be a ridiculously overblown premise with the perfect amount of humor and tongue-in-cheek self-awareness. The story provides a skilled blend of excellent witty comedy and sincere self-reflection. However, without revealing the ultimate ending of the show, the ending is a slight let-down as it varies greatly from the tone of the rest of the show. St. Nicholas does contain extremely strong language, but many of the expletives in context (and especially with Largess’ delivery) are hilarious and the show contains some of the best (and pretty factual) insults and quips about actors, critics and theater folk that you’ll ever hear.

Fantastic direction by Laura Giannarelli reveals multiple layers to the narrative and never lets the action in the one-man show become static. Unique blocking choices allow Largess to utilize space on and off the stage. The action never seems repetitive and different actions and choices represent the varied implied physical locations in the show.

The intimate theatrical space affords Largess plenty of opportunities for audience interaction and Giannarelli took full advantage of the opportunity. There are several instances where Largess poses direct questions to the audience and many intense moments due to the close proximity of the audience to the stage.

Bill Largess. Photo by C. Stanley Photography.
Bill Largess. Photo by C. Stanley Photography.

The production features nicely subdued technical elements, allowing the focus to remain on the story. The set, designed by Carl F. Gudenius, features a few pieces of furniture, including a table, chair, some steps and fittingly, a ghost light, against a backdrop of a speckled black and white wall. Largess’ costume, designed by Lynn Steinmetz, is a nice and simple modern day ensemble with muted colors. The lighting design by Marianne Meadows is excellent, as subtle lighting changes in shades of white, green and blue represent the different locations and times in the story.

For an exceptionally comedic evening with some conscientious observations about the human condition…….. (coming from a critic employed by vampires), check out St. Nicholas at the Washington Stage Guild.

Running Time: 90 Minutes with no intermission

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St. Nicholas plays through February 21, 2016 at the Washington Stage Guild performing at the Undercroft Theatre of Mount Vernon United Methodist Church – 900 Massachusetts Avenue, NW, in Washington, DC. For more information and for tickets, call (240) 582-0050, or purchase them online.

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