The Good Thief: A Powerful One-Man Drama When Predator Becomes Prey

The setup:

Playwright Conor McPherson, born in 1979 1971, attracted attention with this early play, The Good Thief, first produced in 1994 by the Dublin Theatre troupe he founded, the Fly By Night Theatre Company. McPherson went on to write The Weir, winner of the Olivier Award as Best Play in 1999, and to receive a Tony nomination in 2008 for his The Seafarer on Broadway. In 2013, London's prestigious Donmar Warehouse presented a season of McPherson's work.

The Good Thief is a one-man monologue, but filled with plot and events, described in vivid detail by the unnamed narrator, a low-level Irish hoodlum. It stars Santry Rush, and is directed by John Tyson, who directed Rush in it in a Mosaic Theatre production in 2011 as well.

The execution:

The set is simple, a chair, a bottle of Jameson whiskey on a small table, some glasses and an ashtray filled with cigarette butts. The play opens with some filmed projections of people and streets, but begins with a vengeance when Rush begins to speak, at first mourning the loss of his girlfriend to a man higher up in the Irish underworld than he, assuring himself it was not much of a loss, but with a lingering resentment. The brutality of his speech and the coldness of his eyes indicate that the he is a man not to be trifled with, that violence comes easily to him, a ready solution for, well, for almost everything. So much for the green hills of Ireland.

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This is not one of those Spaulding Gray introspective monologues, where the subtext is how perceptive and sensitive the narrator is, but the polar opposite, an increasing revelation of amorality and crassness, of insensitivity. Yes, there is perception, but it's the perception of a wounded animal, searching the wind for the scent of danger. But not carefully enough, for the narrator's expedition to do a little enforcing runs into an unexpected snag, and he becomes prey instead of predator.

A gunfight with what may be IRA thugs launches him into flight across Ireland, accompanied by Mrs. Mitchell, survivor of the melee where her husband was killed, and her young daughter. There is high adventure, unexpected turns, and it becomes increasingly clear that those who embroil themselves with the narrator may wish they had never met him.

Santry Rush commands the stage with a powerful presence, seething with hostility, as he recounts horrific events with equanimity. We share in his desperate moments, and struggle to believe in a quasi-redemption that an extended sojourn in prison may have led to. The words may be gentler, but the cold eyes tell a different story.

John Tyson's deft direction matches Rush's compelling performance, and the gripping narrative speaks to the rich talents of playwright McPherson, touted by The New York Times critic Ben Brantley as "very possibly the best playwright of his generation." To those who have an aversion to one-man monologues, and would prefer dialogue, I say: "Be careful what you wish for - one Irish hoodlum is quite enough."

The verdict:

A powerful drama by an award-winning playwright is brought to brutal, exciting life by actor Santry Rush, in a riveting performance directed with intelligence and skill by John Tyson.

The Good Thief continues through February 15, from Stark Naked Theatre Company, at Studio 101, 1824 Spring St. For information or ticketing, call 832-866-6514 or contact www.starknakedtheatre.com.

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