Brendan Coyle confronts the undead in St. Nicholas | Theater Review | Chicago Reader

Brendan Coyle confronts the undead in St. Nicholas 

The Donmar Warehouse production of Conor McPherson's play comes to the Goodman.

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Helen Maybanks

Self-loathing men occupy the center of Conor McPherson's world—and he gives them plenty to hate about themselves. That's particularly true for the unnamed narrator in McPherson's 1997 solo play, in which a jaded and repulsive theater critic abandons his life in Dublin and falls in with a gang of vampires in suburban London. They bestow upon him the effortless charm he's never had, and in return he uses his newfound power to ensnare young victims for his hosts.

McPherson's sinuous-yet-acidic two-act narrative provides a showcase for any actor, and surely Brendan Coyle, who played the long-suffering valet Bates in Downton Abbey, will be an audience draw for this Goodman import from London's Donmar Warehouse. But Coyle brings far more than telegenic star power to his midlife monster of a writer manqué. Aching hunger drives his actions, from his attraction to a young actress in a mediocre production of Salome to a growing realization that the only way out of being undead is finding a story of his own.

There's nothing obvious or heavy-handed in Coyle's performance (directed by Simon Evans), which brings out many witty shades in his dissolute-but-desperate hack. He's a clinical and sardonic observer, even—or especially—of the critic's own human failings. But he also makes us believe that it's possible to reject the easy path of conscienceless cynicism for the darker, deeper journey toward meaning.   v


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