St. Nicholas Vampires have gotten pretty lame. Even when they show up in live theater, as they do in Conor McPherson's 1997 St. Nicholas, now running at the Alley Theatre, they aren't much to say boo at. McPherson is most famous for The Weir, a lovely Olivier Award-winning script about a group of Irish neighbors who sit around telling stories as they get soused in a pub one melancholy eve. St. Nicholas is also about the art of storytelling, but here there's only a single character, and he takes center stage to spin his yarns straight out to the audience. Like The Weir, this play also concerns drinking and the loneliness of the human condition, but here McPherson has layered in a weirdly unscary tale about a vampire named William. In the first act, before the vampire shows up, the writing is powerful. Onto an almost naked stage strolls the only character, a nameless, angry theater critic, played with rich depth of feeling and voice by the Alley's James Black. The critic tells us that when he was writing about the theater, he was a "jealous" asshole who "rehashed columns." This is a sad, dark tale about a man who finds himself at middle life with absolutely nothing to show for it. And when McPherson sticks with this, he is surprisingly good, especially since he wrote it when he was in his twenties. But when the story turns to vampires, the fire goes out of the writing. The critic tells us how he learned that most of what we know about vampires is wrong — they aren't really all that bad. They live in the suburbs and throw fabulous parties. As far as the victims go, "nobody dies," and besides, the victims forget everything by morning. So vampires aren't that compelling as mythical creatures go. In the end, the only thing the vampire does for the critic is to give him something to live for. "Most important. Over everything else. I had a story," he tells us. But McPherson has a story before the vampire ever shows up. The dark nights of middle age are a lot scarier than bloodsuckers in the suburbs. Through August 8. 615 Texas, 713-220-5700. — LW

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