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Along with the convenience of the preparation for a one-man show, ST. NICHOLAS also appealed to Joe Hanrahan with its vampire story, an unusual take on the timeless myth from Conor McPherson. Joe had recently met Sarah Whitney, a new St. Louis transplant who had moved here with her husband from Chicago. Sarah’s theater credits were impressive, and her intelligence and enthusiasm moved him to ask her to direct the project. She did an excellent job, clarifying the challenging script and refining Joe’s performance.The first production of ST. NICK was in April, ‘04 at an ideal setting – the backroom of McGurk’s Irish Pub in Soulard. In a space decorated with classic portraits of great Irish writers, and filled with the ambience of classic Ireland, the show garnered immediate critical raves, and popular response, playing to sold-out audiences after a sparsely populated opening night that competed with the Cardinals’ Opening Day and a first ball pitch from President Bush. Reaction was so strong that Joe was convinced there were more audiences out there for this compelling show, and it was then presented in July,’04, in the basement at Balaban’s in the Central West End.(Continuing Midnight’s penchant for producing shows in new spaces, ST. NICK was the first theater production at both popular nightspots.) With a different environment (darker, a little more sophisticated, and a little sleazier than the somewhat safer Irish ghost story feel of McGurk’s), the presentation of ST. NICK at Balaban’s was another popular success. And when the summer season at HH was being developed, it seemed a natural step to include this show for one more run. Again, critics and audiences agreed that Mr. McPherson’s work was a compelling and chilling evening of theatre.

Beer and Skits
Drama brews at McGurk's
By Dennis Brown
Riverfront Times
Review of 2004 Production

It's almost as if St. Patrick's Day has arrived a month late. All week long Riverdance, the Irish musical phenomenon, will be clogging its way across the vast Fox Theatre stage. Then on Monday and Tuesday night, in stark contrast to that blaze of Gaelic melody and energy, Joe Hanrahan will conclude a three-week run in the much quieter, much simpler -- yet in its own direct way no less enthralling -- St. Nicholas, a monologue by the young Irish playwright Conor McPherson.

Although the back room at McGurk's Irish Pub in Soulard doesn't accommodate a large crowd, Hanrahan is performing this 85-minute confession before a distinguished audience. Photos of celebrated Irish dramatists -- Oscar Wilde, William Butler Yeats, Samuel Beckett and the like -- peer down from the walls onto the makeshift stage, reminding the viewer of how the Irish love a good yarn.

"When I was a boy," this yarn begins, "I was afraid of the dark." As an adult our narrator, a vitriolic Dublin theater critic, is still afraid of the dark. For it's when sitting in dark theaters that he's most painfully aware of his own bankrupt imagination. Bereft of creativity, cynicism weighs on him like a millstone. When he's feeling generous, he might at best deign to bestow a mixed review. But because he lacks any original talent himself, usually he uses his reviews to attack those functioning artists of whom he is most envious.

Playwright McPherson (best known in America for his drama The Weir) devotes the early minutes of this 1997 play to establishing the theater critic as a metaphorical vampire, doing his utmost to suck the life -- or at least the enthusiasm, the joy, the desire -- out of those who are able to do what he cannot. The plot kicks in when our protagonist, to his enormous surprise and discomfort, finds himself attracted to a mediocre but beautiful actress who is appearing in Oscar Wilde's Salome. While pursuing the young actress, our metaphorical vampire encounters the real thing. As Act Two begins, the critic is enlisted as a pimp for a coven of blood-suckers.

"I can't overstate their power to distract," the (nameless) critic informs us with typically humorous understatement -- at which point one wishes Bram Stoker, the Irish-born author of Dracula, also was staring down from McGurk's wall.

Among even avowed theater lovers, there are those who would rather handle snakes or get tetanus shots than sit through one-person shows, and often with good reason. But St. Nicholas -- part drama, part short story -- provides a compelling and very funny narrative. (I cannot explain the significance of the title, but be assured that this is not a Christmas story. It's better suited to Halloween.) Although there are a lot of words here, the writing never gets ahead of the viewer. Rather, this rich, descriptive, salty language commands the listener's attention.

Under the direction of Sarah Whitney, Joe Hanrahan is riveting from beginning to end. How can the same character be both natty and disheveled? Hanrahan pulls it off. He imposes upon his critic enough of an accent to remind us we're not in Kansas, but he's not so thoroughly Irish as to be incomprehensible. Clarity is paramount to this production. In a performance larded with contempt and self-loathing, Hanrahan presents us with one of those human train wrecks at which you can't help but stare. He effortlessly reels out his narrative the way a fisherman reels out a line.

It's not often that theatergoers have the opportunity to hear an Irish ghost story told in an Irish pub. Even the intrusive crowd noises from the next room seem apt rather than distracting. And in contrast to a regular theater, here you can nurse the beverage of your choice while the blarney unspools. St. Nicholas, an engaging morality tale about the subtle distinction between living and being undead, offers an unconventional and invigorating evening of theater.

St. Louis Post-Dispatch review
Reviewed by Judy Newmark

One of the supposed pleasures of bars is that you'll hear fascinating stories. Over a drink, some uncommonly articulate stranger might open up and tell you unimaginable, personal things, precisely because you'll never meet again.

In real life, that person is much more likely to be a bore you wish you'd never met in the first place, someone inexplicably eager to share his biography in all its excruciating and predictable detail.

For the extraordinary encounter with the stranger whose stories take your breath away, skip the bars and try the theater. In particular, try After Midnight's revival of "St. Nicholas," a one-man play starring Joe Hanrahan. He plays a man whose stories, some utterly fantastic and others all too real, weave a web so strong it might as well be spun from iron.

Hanrahan plays a Dublin theater critic, a hard-drinking bully who has no personal life and, by his own scathing assessment, no actual personality. In the first act, the nameless critic ruthlessly looks at the mess that passes for his life. He would have gone on like that to the grave, no doubt, until one night he sees a beautiful young actress named Helen.

Although he barely meets her, he becomes so obsessed with Helen that he walks away from his job and family to follow her to London. There, he becomes mixed up with a household of . . . vampires.

That's right, vampires. Irish playwright Conor McPherson is no stranger to the occult; he won the Olivier Award for his ghost story "The Weir," which played a few years ago in the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis's Studio.

Whether you choose to see the vampires as real characters, as symbols or simply as material for another good story, Hanrahan invests them with a terrifying realism. Directed by Sarah Whitney, he commands the tiny HH stage, investing the critic's personal catastrophes and otherworldly encounters with the same persuasive authority.

Like the first show in After Midnight's season, "Orphans," "St. Nicholas" gives St. Louis theatergoers an off-off-Broadway evening that makes up for in imagination what it lacks in frills. TODD DAVIS Joe Hanrahan plays an Irish theater critic bedeviled by a young actress and a group of macabre vampires in After Midnight's revival of "St. Nicholas."

KDHX Theatre Review - St. Nicholas
The Midnight Company After Midnight Series
Reviewed by Steve Callahan

How does Santa Claus, the patron of Christmas giving, relate to a parable about vampires and conscience? Conor McPherson's one-man play, St. Nicholas, sent me running for my hagiography to resolve this curious point-and, thank God, I found no easy explanation. I love theatre that raises questions, and the current production by Joe Hanrahan in his After Midnight series will leave you joyously thinking, thinking.

Both playwright McPherson and actor Hanrahan are consummate story-tellers. I've become a little skeptical about one-man shows-so many arising as they do from a confluence of economic necessity and thespian ego. And yet they are an ancient tradition: Homer, with his vast monologues about the Trojan war, was the greatest one-man show of all time. And Joe Hanrahan grips his audience with Conor McPherson's tale of a Dublin drama critic who is drunk on his own power and drunk, indeed, literally, most of the time. He has the knack of stringing words together so that he can do "a week's work" in half an hour. The ease with which he has attained the power to destroy a theatrical career has led him to abuse that power-and to despise himself for doing so.

One night he is suddenly overwhelmed with infatuation for a young actress. (This beauty, in this fable, must of course be named Helen.) He somehow feels that through her he can recover some meaning to his life, and he surrounds himself with desperate, reckless, hopeless lies in an effort to attract her. After following her to London and shaming himself before her he sinks to the very nadir of his alcoholic abyss-from which he is lifted by William, a soft, charming vampire gentleman. William lives in a grand house with several females of his species. Now these vampires are not your B-movie vampires. Yes, they seem to live forever, but they don't fear crosses or infect their victims with their vampirism. (They do have a curious compulsion to count grains of rice. Is that some obscure reference to writer Anne of that name?)

Oddly, magically our drunken critic takes on the role of procurer of "new blood" for William and his female fellows.

It is here that the philosophy begins to run fascinatingly deep. Questions of morality and conscience are pondered-and they are not simple or obvious ones. Yet the grip of the story-telling never once falters. In fact we are wound ever tighter into the coils of this strange tale. When William tells a folk-tale it opens like a rose to reveal a lovely enigmatic parable within this enigmatic vampire parable.

The nameless critic is troubled by the utter lack of conscience with which the vampires feed upon their victims. He hates them for lacking that component of self that has caused him so much suffering. In the end this somehow leads him to attain a measure of redemption.

Lope de Vega said that all you need for theatre is "two boards and a passion". Joe Hanrahan amply and ably supplies the latter commodity, but the tiny space at HH Studios in Maplewood barely squeaks by the "two boards" criterion. But you'll find that matters not a whit.

Conor McPherson's St. Nicholas is an altogether satisfying evening. The production by After Midnight plays through August 14 [2005].

The answer to the puzzle? It just might be that St. Nick gives innocents what they want. And what's an innocent? Someone who needs no conscience . . . and therefore has none. So our critic is delivering just what's wanted by these oh, so innocent vampire girls and boys.

St. Nicholas Playback Review 2005
St. Nicholas
By Conor McPherson
After Midnight
Directed by Sarah Whitney

Last year, the indomitable Joe Hanrahan brought the one-man show St. Nicholas to McGurk’s Pub and Café Balaban, garnering rave reviews. This year, he moves into a slightly larger and more theatrical venue, but show is just as stunning.

Hanrahan is an unnamed Irish theater critic. He tells his tale as if we in the audience are but a group of revelers assembled in a pub; once he begins, we are held spellbound by his words. He was a pompous critic, he reveals, speaking in a slight Irish accent, not contributing to the community but sucking life from it. He yearns to write his own plays but, alas, nothing comes. Still, he has no trouble composing scathing reviews, criticizing others who are doing what he cannot. He is even a stranger in his own home, feeling nothing but contempt for his wife and distance from his two children.

When he finds himself smitten with Helen, an actress from a production of Salome, he is consumed by her. Concocting a plan to confess his desire, he follows the production to London. Of course, nothing goes as planned, and he finds himself further alienated, drunk and alone on the street as night falls.

That’s when he meets—and is, in a way, seduced by—a vampire. William takes our critic home, providing food, a bed, and a shelf full of books; in exchange, he asks only that his guest recruit “fresh blood,” if you will, for the house’s inhabitants each night. Suddenly, the critic is aglow in charm and magnetism; he is living the life of the reveler, carefree and cared for. Until the night he encounters Helen, and brings her home with him, when all the boundaries are crossed.

As the nameless critic, Hanrahan is absolutely riveting. Far from being your typical one-man production, Conor McPherson’s St. Nicholas is infused with personality, sharp storytelling, and pointed observations about life—even if you’re neither vampire nor theater critic. Through his words, expressions, and gestures, Hanrahan imparts his character with heartache and compassion. Though his critic makes choices we wouldn’t make, we are able to find common ground in loss—the loss of his loves, yes, but also the loss of his dreams, of once aspiring to be something great.

Director Sarah Whitney has designed a sparse set, with two bar stools and two end tables; we could very well be in a pub, sharing a drink with an especially talkative patron. We should only be so lucky to encounter a storyteller such as this one. Laura Hamlett

St. Nicholas Playback Review 2004
Written by Connor McPherson
Performed by Joe Hanrahan

Typically, one-man shows have bored me to death. They seem like nothing but a huge ego trip for the performer. One long monologue, with no set changes and no other characters to add other dimensions. If you were not enthralled with the actor, you were screwed. That said, I was on the fence about seeing St. Nicholas at Balaban’s. The thing that put me over the edge was the promise of a story involving vampires. Call it self-indulgent, but I have always had a soft spot in my heart (or should I say throat?) for vampiric tales.

Using a banquet room in the basement of Balaban’s in the Central West End, Joe Hanrahan weaves his tale of self-loathing, lust, and servitude in an ultra-intimate setting. The only negative thing about the venue itself is that it’s a restaurant. So as Joe tried to create scene after scene, the audience heard a chair dragging across the floor above, or the cash register beeping as guests were rung out.

But let me focus on the performance: Hanrahan was brilliant. Despite the intrusions, he never lost his intensity nor let his façade crack for an instant. His performance was committed, believable, and genuine. He begins the hour-and-a-half monologue discussing his character’s life—his wife, his children, and the unlimited power at his fingertips, seeing how he could make or break careers as a theater critic. His scathing speech about how theater critics are the lowest form of writers (himself included) received howls of laughter from the audience and a raised eyebrow from yours truly. Then I built my bridge and got over myself and enjoyed the rest of the performance.

As his story unfolded, he became enthralled with a beautiful actress named Helen whom he follows to London. This is the point of the story when he begins his dance with the devil. As he realizes his feelings for Helen are far too intense, he meets up with the vampire clan and in essence becomes the pimp for the whole clique. After a couple of inevitable bitings, Joe returns home to reconcile his mishaps.

While this just skims the story line, Hanrahan adds a tremendous amount of character to the plot with his drunken stupor. He makes the character likeable and intriguing. Sarah Whitney did a fine job directing him from one emotion to the next. She managed to let him explore the intricate desires of the character without letting him become overly cheesy. My recommendation: go for the performance, and as an added bonus, stay for the chocolate fritters.


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Revised: October, 2007
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