Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘the midnight company’

Rodney’s Wife
by Richard Nelson
Directed by Joe Hanrahan
The Midnight Company
July 7, 2022

Kelly Howe
Photo by Joey Rumpell
The MIdnight Company

The Midnight Company’s latest production is a complex character study that features intricate plotting and an excellent showcase for six  talented local performers. Rodney’s Wife is an intriguing period piece that explores family and marital relationships, while also presenting a vivid setting and backdrop for the action. It’s a more elaborate production for this theatre company, and it’s thoroughly intriguing.

If you don’t know much about the story going in, that’s probably a good thing for this show, since the characters and situations are not what they may first appear to be in some ways, while in others ways they are exactly what you might expect. The set-up features Kelly Howe introducing the story as an unnamed character talking about her mother, Fay, and an important time in Fay’s life focused on a period spent in an Italian villa in 1962. Then, Howe takes her glasses off and becomes Fay, and the main story begins, as Fay is staying with her husband Rodney (John Wolbers) in Italy while Rodney, an actor, is filming a western film with an Italian director.  The action begins on an evening in which Rodney’s daughter from his first marriage, Lee (Summer Baer), and her new fiance, Ted (Oliver Bacus), have recently announced their engagement–to everyone except Fay, it seems. Also present is Rodney’s recently widowed sister Eva (Rachel Tibbets), who seems a little too involved in her brother’s life, to Fay’s increasingly obvious irritation. There’s also Henry, Rodney’s manager, who has a new script for Rodney to read with a great role for Rodney, but it’s filming in Los Angeles, and the various characters react to this possibility in starkly contrasting ways. There are many suggestions and hints about what’s really going on, as subtle and not so subtle reactions lead to further revelations later in the play. At the center of all this drama is Fay, who is hiding secrets of her own, and is upset about both Lee’s seemingly sudden engagement and the prospect of going back to Hollywood. I won’t add much more because the real drama here comes from the gradually unfolding plot, as well as the characters’ relationships with one another and with the secrets they keep and reveal. 

This is a drama of relationships, and there are elements of comedy along with the drama. In fact, the first act leans more toward the comic, as a portrait of “jet-setting” Hollywood people in Italy with sometimes hilariously caustic interactions between characters. Still, there’s an undercurrent of something else going on, which is revealed in the second act as the tensions explode, and all the actors play this exceptionally well. As the central character, Howe portrays the character’s complexities with credible emotional reactions, as Fay’s world is often defined by the decisions of those around her, especially the excellent Wolbers as the outwardly amiable but inwardly needy Rodney, and the superb Tibbets as the clingy, controlling Eva.  Baer, as the somewhat mysterious Lee, is also strong, as is Bacus as her affable but somewhat clueless fiance, Ted. Ritchie also lends strong support as the somewhat anxious Henry. Everyone works well together, with some especially memorable moments between Howe and Wolbers, Howe and Baer, and Wolbers and Tibbetts as the story plays out, relationships are shown for what they are, and hidden secrets are revealed.

The action is well-paced by director Hanrahan, and the set by Bess Moynihan is nothing short of remarkable. With meticulous detail, the fully realized Italian villa has been brought into the relatively small space at the Chapel. It’s easily the most elaborate set I’ve seen in this venue, and it serves as an ideal backdrop for the action, setting the mood, tone, and period style of the show. And speaking of “period style”, Liz Henning’s costumes are impressively accurate, colorful, and oh-so-early 60s chic. Along with Moynihan’s evocative lighting and some well-chosen music of the era, the mood is ideally set, adding much ambiance to the proceedings as the story plays out.

Rodney’s Wife is a show that features a lot of mature situations, and some strong language and sexual situations, so it’s for mature audiences. The drama can get intense, as well, especially in the second act, as the show explores the world of characters who aren’t always who they seem. It’s an exploration of truth, lies, artifice, and the sometimes stifling efforts to define oneself by others’ expectations. It’s a fascinating play, performed with compelling skill by the impressive cast and crew at The Midnight Company.

Oliver Bacus, Summer Baer, John Wolbers
Photo by Joey Rumpell
The Midnight Company

The Midnight Company is presenting Rodney’s Wife at the Chapel until July 23, 2022

Read Full Post »

Anomalous Experience
by Joe Hanrahan
Directed by Morgan Maul-Smith
The Midnight Company
May 5, 2022

Payton Gillam, Joe Hanrahan
Photo by Joey Rumpell
The Midnight Company

Joe Hanrahan’s Midnight Company is back, with an original show that’s not very long in terms of time, but is full of intensity and meaning in its own way nonetheless. Anomalous Experience is actor-playwright Hanrahan’s foray into the unexplained, covering the often controversial topic of alien abductions. It’s an intriguing piece with a strong cast, but what stands out especially are the surprisingly strong production elements that add much to the overall sense of eeriness and mystery.

The play is presented in the format of a lecture by psychologist and professor James Collins (Hanrahan), who has worked with a variety of clients over the years who have claimed to have been abducted by aliens. He introduces us to two such clients–Virginia (Payton Gillam), whose case is described as more “classic”, and Scott (Joseph Garner), whose tales are a little more unusual. It’s all very straightforward in terms of presentation, but the tension ramps up as the stories get going.

There isn’t much here in terms of subject matter that hasn’t been covered in science fiction or shows like Unsolved Mysteries back in the day, but the actors make their stories compelling. Hanrahan makes an effective facilitator as Collins, and both Gillam and Garner are credible in their portrayals of their experiences. What especially adds to the experience, though, is the stellar work by sound designer Ellie Schwetye and lighting designer Tony Anselmo, in elevating this production from a simple interview format to a more increasingly chilling experience. As the characters tell their stories, the lighting and especially the sound effects add a creepy, suspenseful tone that punctuates the storytelling with surprising effectiveness. The pacing and staging by director Morgan Maul-Smith also lends much to the overall tone of the production, and even though you may have heard similar stories on TV or in movies before, these characters and their stories are made all the more compelling by the strong acting and excellent technical production.

No matter what you think about the topic of alien abduction in the real world, the topic makes for an intriguing subject as presented here. Anomalous Experience may not being breaking any new ground in its portrayal of this topic, but it’s a story told especially well. It’s a simply staged production, but an impressive cast and especially impressive technical design elevates the material. It’s an engaging, occasionally chilling, and thought-provoking piece from The Midnight Company.

Joe Hanrahan, Joseph Garner
Photo by Joey Rumpell
The Midnight Company

The Midnight Company is presenting Anomalous Experience at the .ZACK Theatre until May 21, 2022

Read Full Post »

Tinsel Town
by Joe Hanrahan
Directed by Rachel Tibbetts
The Midnight Company
December 2, 2021

Joe Hanrahan, Ellie Schwetye
Photo by Joey Rumpell
The Midnight Company

Los Angeles, California is like no other place on earth, both in its near-synonymous association with the entertainment business and with a specific form of quirkiness. The Midnight Company’s latest production, Tinsel Town, is a suite of interconnected short plays that highlight the unique aspects of this area and with entertainment culture in the age of the pandemic. Showcasing two excellent performers, the show is a fun, alternately hilarious, critical, and insightful look at showbiz personalities and the town in which they live, work, struggle and thrive.

The show is three plays in one, with its two performers, Joe Hanrahan and Ellie Schwetye, each playing a different role each time, although the stories are connected in that they are set in the same “world” representing a day in L.A. and various aspects of the entertainment industry, and through Schwetye’s three characters, who each mention the others and who are working on a film project together. Even with these connections, though, the plays vary sharply in tone, from the broad comedy of the first segment: “Late Lunch on Melrose 1:30pm”; to the more humor-tinged drama of the second segment: “Just Off Sunset 12:15am”; and finally to more lighthearted comedy with the third segment “Shoot in Santa Monica 12:40pm”. Each looks at “the business” from a different angle, highlighting both positive and negative aspects of the L.A. and showbiz life, particularly in the movie and music industries. The plays also all deal with artists experiencing various transitions in their careers, as Schwetye’s demanding movie star Beverly Montclair deals with maybe not being considered “A-list” anymore, and getting offered different roles than she’s used to by her longtime agent Bobby Daniels (Hanrahan) in the first segment; veteran singer Teenah Davis (Schwetye), who is trying to restart her career with a new band after some struggles, has a potentially fortuitous meeting with also struggling longtime session guitarist Hank Riley (Hanrahan) in an alley behind a club after a show in the second segment; and longtime British stage actor Richard Hoffman (Hanrahan) deals with nerves and cultural adjustment issues as he works on his first Hollywood film shoot–for a sci-fi epic featuring villainous “space vampires”–with aspiring director Susan Dmitri (Schwetye) in the third segment.

The performers here adjust impressively to the shifts in tone between the pieces, with both–and especially Schwetye–gleefully hamming it up in the hilariously over-the-top first act, as Hanrahan’s fun script cleverly skewers the stereotypical “Hollywood” atmosphere and demonstrating the versatility of the word “darling”. Both performers also find much poignancy in the melancholy but hopeful second segment, and then deftly return to a slightly more gentle brand of comedy in the third vignette, as Hanrahan’s examination of the L.A. life trends back to the goofy side, but still maintaining a sense of hope. It’s a fun show, overall, showing off the considerable talents of its two leads, as well as their versatility and sense of timing.

The L.A. atmosphere and “Hollywood” vibe are well-maintained throughout by use of excellent mood-setting music in the interludes between shows, and by Erik Kuhn’s excellent lighting and minimalist set, as well as top-notch video design by Michael Musgrave-Perkins. The costumes by Elizabeth Henning are also impressive, and suit the characters especially well. Overall, this is a well-paced, superbly cast, especially memorable look at a day in the life of one of the more celebrated–and parodied–cities in the United States, and in the world. 

Ellie Schwetye, Joe Hanrahan
Photo by Joey Rumpell
The Midnight Company

The Midnight Company is presenting Tinsel Town at the .Zack Theatre until December 18, 2021

Read Full Post »

It Is Magic
by Mickle Maher
Directed by Suki Peters
The Midnight Company
October 21, 2021

Michelle Hand, Chrissie Watkins, Nicole Angeli
Photo by Camille Mahs
The Midnight Company

There is magic in the theatre, but there can also be stagnation, monotony, rejection, competing egos, and jaded artistic directors with ulterior motives.  These ideas are some of what you can draw from The Midnight Company’s latest production, although there are many more thoughts and ideas you can also derive from this darkly comic, outrageously unpredictable, and ultimately riveting production that just opened at the Kranzberg Arts Center.  The production is called It Is Magic, and as directed by Suki Peters and featuring a stellar cast, it actually is quite magical. 

One of the many highlights of this show is the construction of it, and its sheer sense of thrill-ride unpredictability. It starts out as one thing, then morphs into something else, and then still into another thing, with a steady and relentless pace as it tells its story with dark, twisted abandon. Overall, it’s about theatre, and there’s a lot of biting satire here, but there’s also a sense of subversion about it that doesn’t seem apparent at the start. As the play opens, we’re in the basement of the Mortier Civic Playhouse, where the determined Deb Chandler (Michelle Hand) is conducting auditions for her new adaptation of “The Three Little Pigs” for adult audiences. As the good-natured perennial bit-player Tim Padley (Carl Overly, Jr.) auditions for the lead role of the Wolf, Deb’s glum sister Sandy (Nicole Angeli), who also wants the part, looks on. After Deb has stopped the audition several times with some somewhat overzealous “notes” and the audience might start to think this play is something along the lines of the modern classic film Waiting For Guffman,  pontificating artistic director Ken Mason (Joe Hanrahan) arrives from upstairs, where he’s directing a production of “The Scottish Play” (Macbeth) on the Playhouse’s Main Stage. Ken is looking for Tim, who is supposed to go onstage as the Second Murderer very soon, even though Deb keeps detaining him because, even though she’s determined that Tim should get the part of the Wolf, something’s not quite right. That’s just the beginning of the story as things start to get more unusual, and then even more so, as eventually Elizabeth (Chrissie Watkins) shows up to the audition claiming to know Deb and Sandy, although they don’t seem to remember her. From there, the surprises keep coming as the show veers from straight-up comedy, to flirtations with melodrama, and then crashes back into comedy with a decidedly dark tone, and all the while there are building elements of mystery and, yes, magic. 

That’s about as far as I want to go with the plot synopsis, because the unfolding mystery and unpredictable, perpetual surprise element of the story is the real driving force of this production. On the way, though, there is a fair amount of skewering of theatre tropes, like the audition process, self-important artists, the cult of personality, and more. There’s also a fun blend of the fairy tale elements with themes from Shakespeare’s Macbeth and aspects of fantasy and even horror. Underneath all the jokes, plot developments, surprises, and revelations, though, is an exploration of the purpose of theatre and its importance, and the tension between the desire to create and to challenge, and the temptation to slide into a sense of the mundane and mediocre.  

The black box theatre at the Kranzberg is the ideal place for a show like this. The minimal set by Kevin Bowman, and the lighting, also by Bowman, provide an all-too realistic setting for this depiction of a small community theatre audition and rehearsal space. The characters are also outfitted ideally in Liz Henning’s striking costumes, and director Peters–who is especially adept with comedy–has paced the show with a precise sense of timing, bringing the absolute best out of her excellent cast.

And that cast is truly marvelous. Everyone is ideally cast. Hand, as the self-doubting, all-too-earnest Deb projects a sense of both mounting desperation and hopeful determination, along with a somewhat unsettling hero-worship of Ken, who is played by Hanrahan with an outward wit and charm that still doesn’t disguise his underlying condescension and controlling nature. There’s also impressive work from Angeli, who gives a multilayered performance, bringing out a sense of melancholy, bitterness, determination, and an ember of hope to the ever-rejected Sandy, who is eager for a chance to finally get a part in a play, but also has some other surprising motives. Overly, as the good-natured but increasingly exasperated Tim, is also strong, with some surprises of his own; and Watkins brings a fierce intensity to her game-changing role as Elizabeth. All of the players work well together, with much of the comedy, tension, and energy coming from their various interactions.

I wish I could write more about exactly what this play is about, but really, this is the kind of show that needs to be seen to be believed. It’s also a show that should raise some challenging questions concerning the purpose and nature of theatre itself. it’s a fascinating, riveting and genuinely hilarious play to watch. It’s an impressive show from The Midnight Company, that usually (but not always) produces one-person shows, especially considering the fact that the ensemble chemistry makes this production all the more compelling. And absolutely, like the title says, It Is Magic.

Joe Hanrahan, Carl Overly, Jr.
Photo by Camille Mahs
The Midnight Company

The Midnight Company is presenting It Is Magic at the Kranzberg Arts Center until November 6, 2021

Read Full Post »

Now Playing Third Base for St. Louis Cardinals… Bond, James Bond
by Joe Hanrahan
Directed by Shane Signorino
July 8, 2021

Joe Hanrahan
Photo by Camille Mahs
The Midnight Company

It’s summer in St. Louis, and for many in this baseball-obsessed town, this season is synonymous with the St. Louis Cardinals. For Joe Hanrahan of the Midnight Company, the Cardinals and the cultural climate of St. Louis and the wider world at a particular moment in history have been woven into a fascinating feat of storytelling in his new and expanded version of his original one-man play, which has a relatively short running time despite its long title: Now Playing Third Base For the St. Louis Cardinals… Bond, James Bond. It’s a story about a lot of things, but as Hanrahan says in the play, ultimately it’s about theatre. 

Hanrahan performed an earlier version of this show a few years ago at the St. Lou Fringe festival, and I remember being impressed then. What stuck in my memory from that show was the juxtaposition of the triumphs 1964 Cardinals’ championship season with the theatrical telling of the story of the second theatrical Bond film, From Russia With Love, by Hanrahan portraying his teenage baseball teammate, Danny. That combination is still here and is an important and fascinating part of the story, but other aspects stood out to me this time, such as the focus on the national grieving after the relatively recent assassination of President John F. Kennedy, and the influence of music as a soundtrack for the times. There’s also some focus on the pervasive influence of racism in St. Louis and in general, and particularly in Major League Baseball. Above all, though, is the emphasis on theatre, as Hanrahan gives the audience a bit of history about one-person shows and explanations of the nature of theatre itself. In its basic essence, theatre is about storytelling, and Hanrahan tells a compelling story–or, at least 4 compelling stories woven together. Here, Hanrahan becomes characters as he needs to (such as Danny and the movie characters), but he’s mostly narrating as himself, looking back on a memorable time in the city’s, the nation’s, the world’s, and his own personal history. The set is basic, consisting of a bench and a video screen, and Hanrahan is casually dressed in a baseball-style t-shirt and jeans, which is fitting for the casual, reflective tone of the show. 

This is an impressive show in its construction, and Hanrahan commands the stage with his insightful, humorous, and memorable performance. Also impressive are the simple but clever production values, with lighting and overall design by Kevin Bowman, and especially outstanding use of video projections, designed by Michael B. Perkins. The video elements and musical soundtrack work seamlessly along with Hanrahan’s performance to serve as an illustrative backdrop to the events as Hanrahan tells them. 

There’s more going on in this show than is easy to describe. What Hanrahan gives us is essentially a tribute to storytelling, whether in a theatre, on a movie screen, on a baseball field, or anywhere in life. Stories are everywhere, and Hanrahan tells a memorable one here. It’s another fascinating production from The Midnight Company.

Joe Hanrahan
Photo by Camille Mahs
The Midnight Company

The Midnight Company is presenting Now Playing Third Base for the St. Louis Cardinals…Bond, James Bond at the Chapel until July 25, 2021

Read Full Post »

Here Lies Henry
by Daniel MacIvor
Directed by Ellie Schwetye
The Midnight Company
June 10, 2021

Joe Hanrahan
Photo by Joey Rumpell
The Midnight Company

Here Lies Henry is a show that’s perfect for Joe Hanrahan. Hanrahan’s Midnight Company has become known for his one-man shows (although that’s not all they do), and I can’t think of a better vehicle for Hanrahan’s talent than this one. It’s an ideal showcase, also featuring the talents of a strong technical crew and consistently excellent director.

This is kind of an odd show, but that’s par for this course for The Midnight Company, as well. When we first see Henry (Hanrahan), he’s obviously nervous, and it’s not obvious why he is there, shifting back and forth between different approaches to speaking to the audience, from telling personal stories to corny jokes, to singing a little bit of a song and, occasionally, dancing. For a while, the point of this presentation isn’t clear, and many of Henry’s comments seem random, but as the show continues, everything begins to fall more into place, as references return and return, eventually revealing their meaning, and the purpose for Henry’s speech is gradually revealed, leading to an abrupt but poignant conclusion.

The overall effect here is that the audience gets to know Henry little by little as he catalogs his history of being a great liar, which is one reason for the show’s punny title. In the midst of these lies, though, there is truth, as Henry reveals realities concerning his background, relationship with his parents, his experiences of love and personal identity, and more.  There is also much truth in Hanrahan’s relatable performance. Hanrahan, as usual, is excellent, and this show gives him an ideal opportunity to display a wide range of emotions, as well as philosophizing about the meaning of life–in general, and specifically for his character. 

The staging and technical aspects here are also superb, and deceptively simple, as the show is essentially Hanrahan on a mostly empty stage. Still, even though it’s simple, there’s a lot going on, as Tony Anselmo’s lighting and Kevin Bowman’s production design lend a lot of atmosphere to the story, and the overall effect is a testament to the proficiency of these artists and director Ellie Schwetye in letting Hanrahan shine as Henry tells his fascinating tale and Hanrahan embodies every moment with substance, humor, and drama.

It’s been a welcome return to theatre for me and theatre fans around St. Louis, with a variety of shows currently onstage. Here Lies Henry may seem like one of the “smaller” offerings, although it features a big performance and much to provoke thought and reflection. It’s another excellent and intriguing work from Hanrahan and The Midnight Company.

Joe Hanrahan
Photo by Joey Rumpell
The Midnight Company

The Midnight Company is presenting Here Lies Henry at the Kranzberg Arts Center until June 27, 2021

Read Full Post »

A Model For Matisse
by Barbara F. Freed and Joe Hanrahan
Based on the Documentary Film Written and Directed by Barbara F. Freed
Directed by Ellie Schwetye
The Midnight Company
September 19. 2019

Rachel Hanks, Joe Hanrahan
Photo by Todd Davis
The Midnight Company

Joe Hanrahan’s Midnight Company has been known mostly for its one-man shows starring Hanrahan, although occasionally they have done some works with two or more performers. The company’s latest offering, A Model For Matisse, signifies a collaboration for Hanrahan in more ways than one, since he is not only the co-star but also the co-writer of the piece. It’s a fact-based exploration of an important relationship in the life of a well-known 20th Century artist, as well as other intriguing issues that arise from that friendship. It’s a well-cast production and a well-chosen subject, providing not just entertainment but also education for its audiences.

According to the press materials for the show, Hanrahan sought to create this play after seeing a documentary of the same name that was written and directed by Barbara F. Freed. After contacting Freed to get permission to adapt the film, Hanrahan not only got the rights; he ended up collaborating with Freed on the script, which has now had its world premiere with this production. It tells the story of the later years of famed French artist Henri Matisse (Hanrahan), and his significant friendship with the young nursing student Monique Bourgeois (Rachel Hanks), who modeled for several of his paintings and later joined a Dominican order of nuns and became Soeur Jacques-Marie. The play also covers the design and construction of the Chapel of the Rosary in Vence, France, for Soeur Jacques-Marie’s order. The sister and the artist worked together on the project, with the sister serving as a significant consultant and source of inspiration. The story shows the development of the relationship and the conflict between both characters’ different outlooks on life, which serves as reflection of the overall conflict between the influences of traditional religious views and the increasing influences of modernism in Western culture in the mid-20th Century.

The show is a fascinating portrayal of two contrasting characters and the close bond they form. It also serves to highlight the work of Matisse for those for whom the artist’s work–and especially his later work–isn’t especially familiar. The casting is ideal, with Hanrahan bringing a warmth and thoughtfulness to his role as the ailing, occasionally disillusioned but increasingly determined Matisse, and Hanks bringing likable energy to her role and also providing compelling narration to the story as it unfolds. Their story is fascinating and informative, aided by an excellent technical production including stellar projection design by Michael B. Perkins, as well as excellent costumes by Liz Henning and sound design by director Ellie Schwetye, and evocative lighting by Tony Anselmo. Schwetye’s staging is well-paced and inventive, as well, making for a memorable, informative and relatable production.

Although I had heard of Henri Matisse before seeing this show, I didn’t know this particular story, and I suspect a lot of people seeing this play would be in the same position. This show, with an intelligent and lively script from Freed and Hanrahan, sheds light on a perhaps less-known aspect of the artist’s life, bringing to light an important friendship that had a profound influence on him. These two characters are brought to life with clarity by the show’s ideally cast lead performers, providing a fascinating look at art, artists, European life in the mid-20th Century, and more.

Rachel Hanks, Joe Hanrahan
Photo by Todd Davis
The Midnight Company

Read Full Post »

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

Read Full Post »

Popcorn Falls
by James Hindman
Directed by Sarah Whitney
The Midnight Company
March 30, 2019

Popcorn Falls is the latest quirky, offbeat production from Joe Hanrahan’s Midnight Company. Hanrahan is well-known in St. Louis for his one-man shows, but he has also shared the stage with an array of excellent local performers. This time, Hanrahan and Shane Signorino team up with director Sarah Whitney to stage a hilariously energetic comedy of hopes, dreams, and a host of memorable characters.

As is usual for Midnight shows, the staging is minimal, with just a few furniture pieces and props, and that’s all that’s needed here, along with some occasional simple costume changes as the actors change from one character to another. The main figures in the story–set in the declining small town of Popcorn Falls–are new mayor Ted Trundle (Hanrahan), and janitor Joe (Signorino), who find themselves teaming up to save the town from power-hungry county executive Doyle (also Signorino) who aims to tear down Popcorn Falls and build a sewage treatment plant in its place. The ray of hope comes in the form of a financial grant that was awarded for the purpose of financing a theatre group in the town–but there isn’t one, so Mayor Trundle sets out to start one with the aim of putting on a play in order to receive the money and save the town, even after Doyle has given them the seemingly impossible deadline of one week in which to stage this production. Through the course of the show, we meet a varied cast of characters who are assembled to be part of this show, and we learn more about everyone as relationships grow, backstories are revealed, and the characters encounter a series of increasingly difficult obstacles in their efforts to save the town.

With this show, the story is fun, but it’s the performers who essentially are the show. Hanrahan and Signorino are both impressive in their energy and presence, bringing a host of characters to life, with Hanrahan’s hapless Trundle and Signorino’s regretful Joe being the anchors. Hanrahan is excellent as usual, and Signorino–who has the most characters to play–is equally impressive, introducing the audience to such different personalities as an imperious librarian, a moody teenage girl, a single mother and aspiring actress, the villainous Doyle, and more. The interplay between these actors and their characters, along with the clever staging to allow for the quick changes–including both performers playing the same character at different times when needed–adds to the comedy and flow of the production. The simple set by Chuck Winning and lights by Tony Anselmo work well to maintain the overall improvised feel of the production, supporting playwright James Hindman’s fast-moving script.

This is a simple, somewhat frantic production that gets its energy–and its heart–from its performers. It’s not a long show, but there’s a lot going on, with something of a twist to the ending that’s entirely fitting to the tone of the show. Ultimately, Popcorn Falls is a fun show.

The Midnight Company is presenting Popcorn Falls at the Kranzberg Arts Center until April 13, 2019

Read Full Post »

AN APOLOGY For the Course And Outcome of Certain Events Delivered By DOCTOR JOHN FAUSTUS On This HIs Final Evening
and The Hunchback Variations
By Mickle Maher
The Midnight Company
September 21, 2018

It’s FAUSTival part 2! As the latest entry in the extended “festival” featuring works from various local theatre companies, Joe Hanrahan’s Midnight Company is presenting something that’s appropriately Faustian and also reflective of the Midnight Company’s offbeat style. And, also as is usual for this company, the result is well-cast, thoughtful, and fascinating.

A revival of a production staged a few years ago, this is a set of two separate one-act pieces, one of which is a “Faust” tale. Both, however, are somewhat metaphysical explorations of concepts and characters. AN APOLOGY… is, essential, just what the title says. Here, Hanrahan plays Dr. John Faustus on the last day of his life on earth, having agreed to sell his soul 20 years earlier to Mephistopheles (David Wassilak), who spends most of the play looming in the background, clad in black velvet and wearing sunglasses and appearing somewhat bored of Faustus’s whole spiel. For Faustus’s part, he’s in regret mode, as well as desperate to hold on to a semblance of privacy as he recounts his efforts to keep some privacy from Mephistopheles, who as part of the agreement has lived as Faustus’s servant for the past 20 years, a constant, annoying presence and reminder of Faustus’s pride and rashness. The casting here is strong, with Wassilak’s presence being suitably menacing by just sitting there most of the time, and Hanrahan’s Faustus being increasingly desperate and grasping for some sort of meaning in his life that’s about to end in moments. Since it’s essentially a long speech with a few brief interruptions by Mephistopheles, it does tend to get rambling and a little hard to follow at times, although Hanrahan’s presence keeps it interesting, as do some clever immersive elements involving Faustus handing out beer and chips to the audience.  It’s a particularly philosphical and condensed take on the “Faust” story, with more of an introspective focus as Faust tries to gain the audience’s sympathy.

While An Apology… certainly has its moments, especially in terms of its exploration of language and the concept of time and the overall brevity of life, the more entertaining piece of the evening is the more fast-moving, comic seminar-styled The Hunchback Variations. Here, there’s much more of a focus on humor, and the situation is even more bizarre than it is in the first play.  Here, the audience is given an imaginary scenario in which composer Ludwig Van Beethoven (Hanrahan) and Victor Hugo’s Hunchback of Notre Dame character, Quasimodo (Wassilak) are seated at a table littered with various offbeat musical instruments (kazoo, tin whistle, etc.) and are giving a lecture recounting their efforts to identify an elusive sound described in a stage direction in Anton Chekhov’s play The Cherry Orchard. The show is essentially a series of vignettes, with similar staging and introduction, as the two, usually led by the more outwardly confident Beethoven, recount their efforts to meet and discover this mysterious sound, as the more sullen, earnest Quasimodo plays various sounds and expresses more of an initially pessimistic outlook about their meetings. This is a fascinating play on many levels–first, it’s hilarious, and the comic timing is impeccable. Second, it’s also kind of sad, as we see the futility and failure of the endeavor as they recount attempt after attempt with the big unasked question lingering in the air–what’s the point? The interplay between these two characters presents their relationship as sometimes companions in futility, sometimes frenemies. It’s an intriguing dynamic to watch, and both players play their parts extremely well, from Hanrahan’s bossy, overconfident Beethoven to Wassilak’s gruff-voiced, weary but still hopeful Quasimodo.

Both of these plays are presented in a small backroom at the Monocle bar in the Grove neighborhood, and the intimate setting adds to the mood in both plays. This is a thoughtful, sometimes funny, somtimes profound, always unusual production, showcasing two excellent local actors. It’s a worthwhile theatrical experience.

The Midnight Company is presenting AN APOLOGY and The Hunchback Variations at the Monocle until September 29, 2018

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »