Deep into Conor McPherson's St. Nicholas, our devilish, graying narrator is engulfed by the irresistible spell of otherworldly figures, swept into their London mansion of dark wood paneling and blood-red carpets. He's in the home of vampires. But it's the one-man script and Ted Roisum's stirring performance that cast the real spell, creating an impeccable theatrical reflection on what it means to be human.
This is Roisum's third time asking a Portland audience what distinguishes critics from vampires. He performed St. Nicholas with CoHo Productions in 1999 and three years later at Cygnet Theater. But this revival is the first full production for fledgling Corrib Theatre, which is on a mission to bring Irish drama to Portland.
Kells' upstairs banquet room makes for a minimalist stage. With nothing but a cocktail table and stool, Roisum's thunderous voice and claylike facial expressions guide the audience through a tale so sumptuously visual it's like reading a good book and imagining how any film adaptation would fall short.
It begins, as in all respectable Irish writing, with a bleak and despairing Dublin populated by writers on the precipice of liquor-induced self-destruction. A theater critic in his late 50s looms perpetually drunk and self-important above his fellow writers. When sudden infatuation with an actress, aptly named Helen, reduces him to an obsessive Romeo, he takes his whiskey bottle and abandons Dublin to woo the long-legged chimera during her tour in London. Instead, vampires woo the fallen critic into their patronage. Like Lucifer's bellhop, he is entrusted the task of delivering bright young things to nightly feasts at the vampire mansion.
Roisum makes it all tangible: the shadows dancing around Helen's sinewy ankles, the smell of over-ripe fruit in the vampires' backyard, the beer-tinged irony of a critic's desire to please.
Before opening night even concluded, the show garnered enough requests to prompt an extended run. In her Irish lilt, director Gemma Whelan announced to a house clutching Guinness pints that the production will add two dates. Just like that, Ireland's black comedy has found a niche in Portland.
SEE IT: St. Nicholas is at Kells, 112 SW 2nd Ave., 389-0579. 7:30 pm Monday-Thursday, April 1-4; Monday, April 8; Sunday-Tuesday, April 14-16. $15.