With appropriate stealth, "The Good Thief" arrived in town over the weekend. Four-and-a-half years ago, the acclaimed young Irish playwright Conor McPherson's ghostly play, "The Weir," had a successful run for the Irish Classical Theatre Company. Scott Behrend, artistic director for his Road Less Traveled Productions, was the set designer for the play and became enthralled with McPherson's work.
As have many others. McPherson's plays -- "The Lime Tree Bower," "St. Nicholas," "The Shining City," among others -- have garnered many British theater awards. But Behrend chose an early McPherson one-act, the dark and shadowy "The Good Thief," for Road Less Traveled's late-winter offering because he already had an actor in mind for the title role.
Brian Riggs is probably Buffalo's most complete stage performer. In the past two years alone he has portrayed Sir Noel Coward, chased windmills in a nondancing role in the ballet "Don Quixote," sung the songs of Jacques Brel and amazed and shocked in Terrence McNally's edgy "Burn This." Audiences have come to expect the unexpected from this young talent.
"The Good Thief" relates a violent and ugly chapter in the life of a nameless petty thug from Dublin's underside -- a loser, a bumbler whose criminal activity is usually booze-fueled. This guy preys on easy marks, storekeepers, service providers and the like.
"I hate people with skills who can do stuff," he says.
An assignment to "frighten" a foe of an acquaintance goes horribly wrong -- shootings, multiple deaths -- with "The Good Thief" fleeing with a woman and child. Hiding out with a friend, the punk -- who narrates this story -- then brings disaster to more people, including his captives. He alone escapes the carnage, saved by a former girlfriend with the proviso that he is to keep quiet.
The police? "Make something up," he is told. He does but pays with a 10-year prison sentence.
Riggs wanders the chameleon New Phoenix Theatre, now tiered and ramped and staired for this monologue, explaining himself and his strange moral code. He thinks nothing of beating victims to a pulp but is outraged at Anna Mitchell -- his captive -- and her tale of an extramarital affair. He is moved by a baby's touch but admires a pistol's power.
The thief can be charming and poetic. The soft-spoken, profanity-laced Riggs stops here, reclines there, talking conversationally to the audience, practically in people's laps -- his brogue a whisper or a shout.
Recalling the deadly firefights, he confides, "I felt sad all the time." There is, after all, something in the guy worth redeeming. In the end, he is alone.
"I drink too much, don't go out," he said. "I just want to make someone happy."
Kelli Bocock-Natale directs this physical story wisely and well, moving the remarkable Riggs around, drawing onlookers and listeners into this dark life, pacing this tense business perfectly. The thief disappears into shadows occasionally; it seems appropriate for a stranger to the light.
The Los Angeles Times has said that "McPherson blends the descriptive genius of Joyce with that of Mamet." Those are big shoes to fill. With productions such as this and tour-de-force performances such as Brian Riggs', that will come to pass.
"The Good Thief"
Review: Four stars (out of four)
Drama presented by Road Less Traveled Productions, running through April 2 in New Phoenix Theatre, 95 Johnson Parkway.