St. Nicholas

Some people feed off others. The ones who do it best don't let their victims know it was even done. That's enviable power. But what of those for whom power is closely shadowed by a sense of responsibility? In Conor McPherson's one-person script, the plausible and the unearthly make solid bedfellows.

At the top of the play, actor Michael McGee enters down the center aisle. Usually a paradoxically distracting directorial choice, here it makes sense—as do all of helmer Scott Paulin's choices. The character is a theater critic, usually seated in the house, usually an observer, who breaks through the fourth wall in the other direction to stand onstage and describe his world to the rest of us.

McPherson gives us ample chances to decide whether the critic's story is a dream, an exaggerated pub tale, or the truth. After the critic told a particularly cruel lie, he came in contact with vampires whose ordinariness is more frightening than our romanticized visions of them. As McGee spins the tangled tale, he paces, briefly perches, returns to the center aisle, drinks out of a stein, and in general keeps us captivated and thoroughly convinced he's the hack writer from Dublin, the sot whom theatermakers feared, with quite the adventure to recount and, we hope, lesson to be learned about self-reflection.

The uncredited set adds much to the moodiness of the evening, enhancing the symbolism of theatricality and a shadowy world. Gently shimmering at us from behind a gauzy black curtain, jumbled stage furniture is lit by tiny lamps that fade on and off.

What does the play's title signify? Could it acknowledge the patron saint of gifts? After all, they say the Irish have the gift of storytelling.

Presented by Second Story Theatre at the SFS Theatre, 5636 Melrose Ave., L.A. June 18–July 25. Fri.–Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 4 p.m. (Dark July 2–4.) (323) 960-5296.