Don Monet, the curator of the Cube gallery on Wellington, certainly knows how to host a party. On opening night, of the New Theatre of Ottawa’s production of St. Nicholas, he pulled out all the stops. The wine flowed freely, cheese and grapes were available for munching on, and the pre-show schmoozing was in full swing.
It’s great to see a theatrical performance while surrounded by beautiful visual art. I love when these kinds of collaborations between mediums (in this case theatre and visual art) take place. In fact, we all benefit from the cross pollination that occurs from these exchanges. The proof of that was at intermission where the audience was discussing the art on the walls the gallery as well as the play on the stage. That’s fantastic and I encourage artists, galleries, theatres, and dance studios to embrace collaboration because it’s truly the best way to grow the arts in this town.
Conor Mcpherson’s script tells the story of a critic looking for redemption . The narrator has lived a rather empty life. He has failed as a husband, artist, and critic and now can only gain friendship by lying to others. “I wasn’t dying, like you might think,” he exclaims. ”I was dead!” The stage is then well set for this, appropriate for Halloween, fable of a theatre critic falling in with a coven of vampires.
So what does the title have to do with the theological St. Nicholas? It is certainly enigmatic at first blush, until we remember that while St. Nicholas is most famous as the patron saint of children (Santa Claus mythology etc.) he is also the patron saint of prisoners and those wrongly condemned.
Mcpherson’s St. Nicholas, is an appeal by the unnamed narrator for redemption. Will the critic be freed from the prison of the life he has created? Is a man who is in many ways so despicable worthy of redemption? Or does he deserve his fate? Mcpherson leaves these questions for the audience to ponder.
John Koensgen is convincing as the narrator in this production. He is a wonderful storyteller and it is a delight to watch him perform in this small and intimate space.
I also enjoyed the simple but effective lighting design. There are several moments where the critic (Koensgen) is lit by a lone candle,which evokes the feeling of a good flashlight ghost story. All this combined with the intimacy of the space, and Don Monet’s hospitality, led to an enjoyable experience.
I was fortunate that I sat near the front, I wonder if the seats at the back of the room provided adequate sight lines. Perhaps some risers would alleviate this potential problem.
St. Nicholas is spooky, smart, and fun. A perfect fit for this time of the year. Catch it if you can.