Complex storytelling


While the art of storytelling will serve as the backbone for the Performance Workshop Theatre's newest production, the play is far from soft-voiced readings of books pulled from the children's section at the library.

St. Nicholas, by acclaimed Irish playwright Conor McPherson, best known for Olivier Award-winner The Weir, features a jaded Dublin theater critic who describes how a midlife crisis led him to chase after a young actress and ultimately landed him in the lair of a few powerful vampires.

Director Marlyn G. Robinson said one reason the theater chose this work for its 2005-2006 season opener -- the production runs tomorrow through Nov. 26 -- was the playwright's ability to blend real and surreal moments into an engaging narrative.

"You can take [the plot] as his having had an unbelievable experience, or maybe he just plain had a nervous breakdown. But it is a good story," Robinson said.

Although vampires are involved in this unconventional story line, there will be no Buffy the Vampire Slayer-style stakings, as all of the action is relayed through the unnamed critic's words. St. Nicholas is a monodrama with only one cast member --award-winning local actor Marc Horwitz.

Robinson explained that staging this nearly two-hour play with intermission "is very daunting, very challenging, since it's about 50 pages of script, and that's quite a bit to conquer" by one actor.

But Robinson and Horwitz believe they have a few things working in their favor. The first is that the 28-person theater creates a natural intimacy that will help get the audience more involved in this story. The second is that the playwright has mapped out a complex character in deftly chosen words.

"It's [McPherson's] ear for dialogue -- he has an uncanny ability to capture rhythm in speech, how language can create a fresh, new approach at looking at life," Horwitz said.

The play is billed as a "strangely comical story," but both Robinson and Horwitz say the comic elements help put heavier emotions in relief. At its heart, St. Nicholas is about an unhappy man who stopped feeling alive and then decided to seek life out again, Robinson said.

Horwitz agreed, saying that the play was "really dealing with an emotional universe that exists within an individual person."

"St. Nicholas" will run at the Performance Workshop Theatre, 28 E. Ostend St., tomorrow through Nov. 26. The performances will be held Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. There will be no Sunday matinees on Nov. 6 or Nov. 20. Tickets are $12-$18. Call 410-659-7830 or visit

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