Acclaimed Irish playwright Conor McPherson’s St. Nicholas concerns a man involved with vampires, but the undead he writes about have as little to do with Edward Cullen as they do with Count Dracula.  The compelling story touches on jealousy, the thirst for power, the possibility of self-discovery and more, conveyed in lyrical, harsh, elegant language designed to enrapture and transport the audience.

“Conor McPherson’s work is very much in the vein of Irish storytelling about the supernatural,” says Randall Tosh, who directs the play, coming to The Verona Studio in December.  “What I like about his work is how he… does so in a way that makes supernatural experiences seem plausible.”

The story concerns a vitriolic, hard-drinking, self-hating Dublin theater critic who craves power over those more talented than he, and how his obsession with a young actress leads to his involvement as a recruiter for a London house of vampires.  It’s not unusual for fairies, ghosts or the devil to show up in McPherson’s work, and for a story to flow effortlessly from the realistic to the supernatural and back again.

“McPherson treats them as being plausible beings,” Tosh says, de-mythologizing vampires “in order to make a bigger point about one of the major themes in the play.  St. Nicholas draws a parallel between the world of the theater critic, who lives off of the artistic work of others but has no ideas of his or her own, and the world of the vampires, who live off the blood of others, and who have no conscience or ability to reflect.”

The one-actor production features Gregory Jolivette, familiar to Salem audiences from local productions of As You Like It, Macbeth, Julius Caesar and To Kill a Mockingbird.  Jolivette, Tosh says, “has the depth of experience that is needed for a play like St. Nicholas.”  Having seen Jolivette perform Shakespeare also influenced Tosh; “I think there’s something Shakespearean about the character in St. Nicholas,”

This will be Jolivette’s first performance with The Verona Studio and he says he was drawn to the play for many reasons.  First off, “It’s a great story,” he says, “and the fact that the storyteller is a former theatre critic was intriguing to me, being an actor.”  He is also interested in solo performance as an art form. “It’s very different, for example, having to develop relationships with characters who are part of the story, but who are never on the stage.”

Both actor and director are impressed by Irish traditions.  Tosh has been drawn to Ireland and Irish culture for many years.  “It started with Celtic music when I was in college,” he says.  “When I first heard it, I felt like I was experiencing memories I did not have.”

Jolivette can remember the first time he saw an Irishman “talk seriously about fairies.”  He says, “Up to that point, fairies were silly.  In my mind, they were cute pixie faced children with dragonfly wings… [but] the storyteller completely dispelled those notions.”  Jolivette sees McPherson doing the same thing with vampires.  “He draws our attention to things we have in common with vampires as well as what makes us different… It’s just both thrilling and challenging to hear a story that provokes disbelief and at the same time seems plausible.”

The immediacy with the supernatural “and the fact that the supernatural could be manifesting itself in what appear to be very ordinary situations,” Tosh says, “is kind of specific to Irish culture.  In many ways, theater goers can look at St Nicholas “as a dramatized version of an evening with a ‘seanchai’ – a traditional Irish storyteller – regaling you with a supernatural tale.”

In the course of his research for St. Nicholas, Tosh viewed videos of traditional Irish storytellers.  “There was one fellow that was recounting a story about faeries,” he recalls.  “He starts the story by rhetorically asking his listeners whether they had ever seen a fairy.  He then says, ‘How would you know, because they look just like us.  In fact, that person sitting next to you, well, he could be a fairy…’  Even though the play involves vampires, it is about so much more.  It’s a fantastic bit of storytelling.”

Playing in December, beguiling to the ear and mind, St. Nicholas will provide those who want a break from the holiday cheer and stress, “a thought-provoking and entertaining evening of theatre,” Jolivette says.  “And holiday gatherings are just an ideal venue for a storyteller to enthrall others with a story that’s both believable and unbelievable at the same time.  That’s St. Nicholas!”

St. Nicholas

December 3 – 19

By Conor McPherson

Directed by Randall Tosh

Featuring Gregory Jolivette

The Verona Studio

In The Reed Opera House

189 Liberty Street SE, Suite 215