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Charlie Johnson Reads All of Proust
by Amy Crider
Directed by Sarah Lynne Holt
The Midnight Company
May 30, 2019

Joe Hanrahan
Photo by Todd Davis
The Midnight Company

 

Joe Hanrahan has a knack for finding one-man shows that work for him, when he doesn’t write them himself. St. Louis’s king of the solo play has located another fascinating piece for his latest Midnight Company production. Directed by Sarah Lynne Holt, Amy Crider’s one-act called Charlie Johnson Reads All of Proust provides a good showcase for Hanrahan as well as providing questions for all of its viewers to ponder.

The play’s premise involved the 75-year-old Charlie (Hanrahan) who, in response to a question by his wife/partner’s daughter-in-law, decides to read the entire 7 volume set of Marcel Proust’s work known as Remembrance of Things Past, or In Search of Lost Time. He begins the exercise with the goal of simply being able to discuss the books with his relative and show her that he is able to understand them, but as he reads and continues to read, he begins to learn more about himself. His stories become more and more personal as he continues to read, becoming less about Proust’s recounted memories and more about his own. Munching on Madeline cookies and recounting memories of his time in the military, his relationships with his late first wife Katherine, his current partner Bonnie (the play isn’t clear if they’re married or not), his daughter, his grandson, and more, we see a picture of an essentially “traditional” man who has consistently been challenged to question his traditional mindset. It’s a very specific story, but with wide-ranging applications that many audience members will be able to relate to, from the very first question Charlie is asked–“what’s your Madeleine Moment?”  The explanation for that question is explained in the play if you haven’t read the source material, but it’s the one question that I think will be talked about the most.

It’s an engaging play with a character who is sometimes easy to relate to, and sometimes more difficult to understand. Hanrahan, with his usual charm and presence, lends a lot of sympathy to Charlie without covering over his obtuseness. It’s a role that seems tailor-made for Hanrahan, although sometimes I think he could have been even stuffier at the beginning so that his personal lessons and revelations would have had more power. Still, it’s a compelling portrayal, and the technical aspects of the production lend just the right atmosphere to the storytelling, with a simple and “lived in” set design by Chuck Winning along with excellent lighting by Tony Anselmo and simple, effective staging by director Sarah Lynne Holt.

Charlie Johnson Reads All of Proust  is a brief play, despite its long title and the even longer source material. It’s a little over an hour with no intermission, but a lot of story happens in that short period of time, even though I wish there had been more resolution to some of the situations, and especially Charlie’s relationship with his daughter. Overall, it’s a thought-provoking show featuring another strong performance by Hanrahan, and it’s sure to have audiences wondering about their own “Madeleine Moments”, and possibly even reading Proust for themselves. It’s a fine example of how literature can impact everyday life, especially in unexpected ways.

The Midnight Company is presenting Charlie Johnson Reads All of Proust at the Kranzberg Arts Center until June 15, 2019

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