Though written a few years apart, Conor McPherson's Dublin Carol and St. Nicholas (both longish one-acts) have been combined by Pittsburgh & Irish Classical Theatre into one program of seasonal entertainment. This is a bit of a stretch: The dank and unpleasant Dublin Carol is just tangentially involved with Christmas, and St. Nicholas references the Yuletide season only in the title.
Of the two, however, St. Nicholas is the far, far more entertaining piece. It's a 90-minute monologue in which a bilious middle-aged man tells us his story: For many years he was a theater critic in Dublin, and then he switched careers and worked for a group of vampires.
His life as a theater critic was a miserable one (sing my pain, baby!) during which he hated just about everything he wrote and all the people he wrote about. Bringing home live bodies to the vampires was, most of the time, a pleasant experience because the vampires were fabulous, if dull, and had the ability to rob him of his own self-determination.
McPherson's writing in St. Nicholas is funny and filled with small moments of surprise -- clever bits of writing and/or wry insights into character. There's a strong forward momentum to the story, no doubt enhanced by Andrew Paul's intelligent, no-frills direction. And the whole piece is compelling.
The problem is that the two halves (critic and vampire) have almost nothing in common in tone or content. The man relating the events of the critic years seems to be an altogether different character than the one living with the vampires. It's only a problem, however, if you, like me, spend too much time waiting for the stories to finally join up. My other complaint involves the couple of times when the protagonist rambles on about existence and purpose; these sections don't work in such a flamboyant way. I'm not sure whether the limitations are McPherson's, or constitute McPherson's comment on the limitations of the character.
But everything else is just as fun as can be -- especially with Martin Giles attacking the role with such intense theatricality. It's a character filled with humor, self-loathing, intelligence, myopia and, finally, wonder, and Giles plays every note with style and restraint.
I don't know what this show has to do with Christmas, but I prefer it to Christmas Carol anytime.
St. Nicholas continues through Sat., Dec. 20. Stephen Foster Memorial Theatre, Forbes Avenue at Bigelow Boulevard, Oakland. 412-394-3353 or www.picttheatre.org