The Good Thief. Conor Lovett stars in a play written by Conor McPherson and directed by Judy Hegarty-Lovett. At the Rubicon Theatre, Sunday, August 13. Plays through September 17.
Reviewed by Charles Donelan
To the strains of Gavin Bryars’s melancholy composition “Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet,” Conor Lovett takes the stage at the Rubicon alone, faced with holding the attention of an audience for more than an hour without props, jokes, or other actors. Thanks to an engaging script by Conor McPherson, and the deft direction of Judy Hegarty-Lovett, but mostly due to his own sheer skill and determination, Lovett manages to do just that, bringing everyone present into the dangerous, desperate world of a Dublin thug.
More than an hour in the exclusive company of a man who admits he is a violent criminal may not be everyone’s idea of a good time, and the good question of whether or not to care for this “good thief” is left up to the viewer. Insofar that Lovett’s character defies the brutality of his environment, he earns our sympathy, and although he never rises to the ethical level of a traditional hero, he nevertheless is recognizably “good” — but perhaps not as good as we might wish.
The Good Thief resembles a cross between Samuel Beckett’s How It Is and the film Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels, but there’s more than a match between existentialism and criminality. Its roots are in medieval Christianity and folklore, as befits its Irish setting. First, there’s the “good thief” Dismas who, according to the Gospel of Luke, was one of the two men crucified with Jesus. When Gestas, the “bad thief,” mocks Jesus, Dismas tells him to shut up, and asserts that, while they are guilty and deserve their punishment, Jesus has done no wrong. Like Dismas, who stands up to his more callous fellow thief, this character saves a woman and her daughter from certain death as witnesses to a murder. Yet in the bloody carnage that follows the more corrupt bosses through the tale, there is also an element that recalls Chaucer’s “The Pardoner’s Tale,” another story told by a character who has seen it all.
Lovett’s lilting brogue is in tune with his laconic delivery, which has something of Christopher Walken about it. The economical direction is wonderfully effective. When Lovett finally moves from in front of the gray scrim and stands on the open stage, the implication is clear — he has stepped free of his past. Of course, when events turn against him minutes later, and he returns to his original spot, we also feel that powerful sense of disappointment and despair.