You know how some people used to watch Oprah and Jerry Springer to feel better about their own lives? As in: Well, shit, at least I’m not as fucked up as those fuckers so I must be doing something right! If such twisted optimism colors your world, you’ll have plenty to feel good about while taking in The Good Thief, a one-man show starring Ken Webster, playing through August 6, 2011 at the Hyde Park Theatre.
The unnamed Dubliner played by Webster is your basic, garden variety, low-level thug. He plays yes-man to a (perhaps only slightly) mightier thug, one Joe Murray. As the character tells his tale, we discover that life was going pretty well for him just shaking down sundry folks for protection money, scaring the shit out of others here and there, more bark and less bite. Until, that is…
And here comes into play my no spoiler rule. I will tell you that the tale that unfolds is not linear. Oh, there’s an arc to it, to be sure. But I’d like to chalk it up to Irish storytelling magic that this one-hour monologue, delivered by Webster in a brogue, goes wandering all over the Irish countryside both literally and figuratively. Things have gone wrong, very wrong for our main character, who bumbles what was to have been a simple job. And with this, a Rube O’Goldberg device is set into motion, pulling into the tale all manner of characters, each of them—save perhaps for the wee little children and their wee little cameos—flawed in his or her own way.
McPherson also penned St. Nicholas, another one-man show recently staged by HPT that also starred Webster. Hold St. Nicholas up beside The Good Thief for a good comparative view and you will find similarities. The stripped down set. The sole narrator. A man who gets sucked into a place of darkness and seems surprised by this, despite the fact that he’d been lurking on the edge of that place long before fully falling in.
And, of course, what both have in common in our town is Ken Webster. As he always does, Webster manages to bring to vivid life the character he portrays with just the faintest twinkle hint in his eye and the sort of quiet charisma required to make The Good Thief’s protagonist sympathetic. Funny, you’d think getting an audience to cultivate such feelings for an admitted scoundrel would take hard work. Webster makes it seem effortless. We know the story we’re hearing is from the perspective of the thug, and by virtue of this fact should easily leave us skeptical, or at least on the lookout for holes in his tale. Instead, in a peculiar way we wind up if not totally rooting for him, at least feeling something other than the condemnation his actions probably should unabashedly merit. That, people, is the wonderful one-two punch of Ken-Webster-meets-Conor-McPherson. This is the sort of part Webster expertly sinks his teeth into, making it his own.
The Good Thief plays at Hyde Park Theatre Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays through August 6, 2011. Thursdays are Pay What You Can night. Show starts at 8 pm and runs about an hour (no intermission). Order tickets online or call 479-PLAY to reserve seats.