BWW Reviews: Stark Naked Theatre Company's THE GOOD THIEF is Enthralling
In May of 2011 Santry Rush, directed by John Tyson, presented the Houston premiere of Conor McPherson's THE GOOD THIEF at the Mosaic Theatre Company. Since then, the duo has been seeking an opportunity to bring the show inside the loop for another staging, and was granted that opportunity by Stark Naked Theatre Company, who is currently producing the Houston professional premiere of the riveting one-man show in repertory with Brian Friel's FAITH HEALER.
Written in 1994, when the prolific Conor McPherson was just 23, THE GOOD THIEF tells the story of a nameless Dublin thug. In the show, we learn that the narrator suffers from an extremely low opinion of himself, and he is still obsessing over her ex-girlfriend, Greta, who has left the narrator for his minor gangland boss and pub owner, Joe Murray. In particular, the narrating degenerate shares a story about an intimidation crime that goes horribly wrong, leading to unplanned murders, kidnappings, and more. The narrator goes into hiding, and through his own self-reflections and his interactions with the woman and child he kidnaps, his eyes are opened to something in himself that is worth redeeming.
Direction by John Tyson has Santry Rush deliver his story, which feels like some violent TV movie of the week, in such a spellbinding fashion that the audience can't help but hang on every word. Sitting in a chair, serving himself tumbler after tumbler of Jameson Irish Whiskey, John Tyson and Santry Rush have worked together to create a character that is nuanced and wholly fascinating. As an audience, we attend to every word uttered. We smirk and chuckle at the rich dark humor, we are touched by the narrator's realization of self worth, and we are entirely moved by the storyteller's poignant finale, which comes in the form of a simple line that pristinely sums up the mesmerizing production: "I was trying to get out of the rain."
At the top of the show, Santry Rush enters the performance space and watches the video projected on the backdrop with us. Once the projection shifts to a bar scene, he takes his chair, pours his first tumbler of Jameson, scoots to the edge of his seat, and dives into his narrative. Before Santry Rush has even uttered a single word, his magnetizing presence in the room has grabbed our attention. He isn't threatening or intimidating to us; after all, we're not on his bad side. However, we instantly can see that he is a no-nonsense ruffian. He initially paints himself as a conscienceless miscreant in the tale, letting us know he doesn't think twice about hurting people. Yet, as he spins his yarn, we see that he is mentally unbalanced, but has a handful of positive characteristics - namely a skewed code of morality. His diminished capacity for good is what makes the character so intriguing, for it grows throughout his tale. Thus, in spite of how unsavory the character is, he deftly captures and even warms our hearts.
Furthermore, Santry Rush expertly engages the audience by making direct eye contact with us as often as possible. In doing this, he turns this poignant "dialogue-less" monologue into a dialogue where we're simply left speechless. He pauses at times, almost like he is encouraging us to respond vocally. Yet, when no one says anything, Santry Rush's narrator keeps going. We, as an audience, do not object because we are truly glued to this story of violence, death, and redemption.
The technical elements are unobtrusive and simply fade away as we grow more and more enamored by Santry Rush's ability to tell Conor McPherson's narrator's tale. The most noticeable element is Clint Allen's projections, which subtly shift a handful of times during the performance. They are striking images of bar life, and all look rather lonely and isolated.
John Tyson and Santry Rush's take on THE GOOD THIEF is my first experience with the show and with the work of Conor McPherson. As a team, they have piqued my interest in the playwright; however, their enthralling production of THE GOOD THIEF has me hoping I don't see the show again for a long time. I'm quite certain that if I do see the show again, it won't live up to the high bar set by this duo. Santry Rush delivers Conor McPherson's words with a tangible magic, and it really seems like they were written for him to tell. In the hands of another actor, I fear the work wouldn't be as captivating.