When a show is called St. Nicholas, it seems likely it’s a Christmas piece about a certain bearded character in a red suit. But not the St. Nicholas that’s playing through Sunday, Oct. 22, at 35below.
Written by Conor McPherson, this is a monologue play about an unnamed and burned-out theater critic who is obsessed with a beautiful young actress and who falls in with a band of vampires.
St. Nicholas is a one-man show, masterfully played by veteran Asheville actor Waylon Wood, with direction by Betsy Puckett. It is essentially a 90-minute story that combines elements of drama, comedy, fantasy and horror. The character of the critic serves as the storyteller and host, speaking directly to the audience. It’s a superb evening of theater, made even more powerful and effective by the small confines of 35below, which is more like a living room than a playhouse.
The theater critic is as jaded as they come, writing his reviews on the back of the playbill during a show, then phoning the notice in to his office before dashing off to drink. He has grown weary of his job and wife and has no relationship with his children.
After writing an ugly review of a play, he spies a lovely young actress. The critic is instantly smitten and begins to fantasize about a relationship with her. He leaves his home and job to follow her show to London.
This is where the tale takes a creepy turn. The critic meets a mysterious stranger in a park, goes home with him and eventually discovers the stranger’s house is occupied by vampires. But they are not wearing capes and don’t appear to be particularly threatening. Still to be determined is what they want and if the critic will ever connect with the young actress — questions wrapped up by the show’s conclusion.
Wood, who played the conductor in Asheville Community Theatre’s 2016 family Christmas show Snowbound, reveals his wide acting range, delivering his lines with plenty of expression. It’s an impressive feat, given that he speaks for about 90 minutes (there’s a 15-minute intermission).
For a good bit of the show, Wood is seated in a large easy chair but gets up at times to wander around the small performance space, inches from the front row. He completely embodies the character, making the story more real. Lighting is through a handful of lamps onstage, which glow or darken, depending on the mood.
St. Nicholas is not a show for children or anyone bothered by profanity or intense situations. But it’s a great alternative to the usual Halloween fare of ghosts, witches and Frankenstein and is well worth seeing.
WHAT: St. Nicholas
WHERE: 35below, 35 Walnut St., ashevilletheatre.org
WHEN: Through Sunday, Oct. 22. Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m., Sundays and 2:30 p.m. $15