Midnight was eager to return to the friendly confines of Herbie's Wine Room. A summer run was agreed upon, and a few different options were explored a favored script, but rights weren't available a new script, but it was in the early stages.
So two old favorites were revived. It had been several years since we'd produced ST. NICHOLAS and THE GOOD THIEF, both by Conor McPherson, and we figured a new generation of audiences were be intrigued by them
Part of our intrigue was the set-em-up set-em-down sequence of the three one-man shows back to back and in tandem these shows immediately following HOUSE. But it was a rare opportunity to examine and contrast different characters on top of each other.
While summer is always a tough season for indoor theatre in St. Louis, the sparse attendance for these shows was surprising.
While few were fortunate enough to see these shows, we were fortunate with the reactions of a few very important people:
Sean Gallagher of Herbie's were was unfailingly supportive of the production, and counted the high praise from a few of our audience at the bar as gospel.
Carrie Houk of St. Louis' Tennessee Williams Festival who hosted an early production of ST. NICHOLAS at her HH Acting Studio in Maplewood, and has always been a fan of the script. She fit in the show in between returning from out of the country and getting married, and fit enough Facebook raves to draw
Gerry Mandell, old friend and theatre/tennis/advertising associate, who came based on Carrie's pitch and came back the following week as well, both visits accompanied by the lovely and charming Mrs. Mandel.
Dennis Fisher, from Chicago, and Chicago Dramatists. He caught a bit of our bit at the St. Louis theatre crawl, and came down from Chicago to see GOOD THIEF, and returned the following week for GOOD THIEF again and ST. NICHOLAS. He's a McPherson fan, but didn't know these shows. His raves and post-show encouragement is still ringing in my ears.
Maureen Wilt, who comes down from Kansas City to see most of my shows.
A mystery man (didn't get his name) who saw Brian Cox in ST. NICHOLAS' original off-Broadway incarnation.
And a number of other theatre associates and the like who I can almost list by
name Ron, Ellie, Rhyan, Tamara, Craig, Mike, Todd you know the rest of you.
Such a pleasure to perform these shows again.
Instead of presents, this 'St. Nicholas' delights with a well-crafted story
If there's one thing the Midnight Company's artistic director and principle actor Joe Hanrahan knows, it's how to find and interpret interesting characters with good stories to tell. The remarkable part about this is that Hanrahan has been creating these characters for several years and still manages to find ways to make each character a unique individual, with quirks, mannerisms and opinions aplenty to share. In the company's production of Conor McPherson's "St. Nicholas," running through July 26, 2015, Hanrahan has discovered another persuasively imperfect story to embrace.
Hanrahan's characters are always flawed, philosophical and a bit unkempt. Prone to digression and soliloquy, they are generally addicts or recovering addicts of at least one temptation, if not several. They are also almost always equally intelligent, charming in some small way, and with at least a shred of decent likeability. In short, Hanrahan embodies characters that are just the kind of guys you'd like to sit around with, listening to their stories.
"St. Nicholas" introduces us to a classic Hanrahan type, a wayward Irish theater critic hiding out from reality and responsibility somewhere in London, but on the verge of turning prodigal. Disillusioned with his job as well as the local notoriety and attention that comes with being a critic of some renown, our narrator spends his days drinking and attending shows with a robotic lack of enthusiasm. Increasingly distant from his wife and nearly grown kids, he finds himself enamored with an actress in an otherwise forgettable show.
Impulsively, he follows the show to London in the hopes of kindling a romance with the actress. After drunkenly stumbling purposefully to and then sheepishly from the cast house, he spends the rest of his night sleeping in a park. When he wakes, he sees someone else lurking in the shadows of a tree, and meets William, a vampire with a need for a man with our critic's skills, predilections, and demeanor.
Our narrator is soon living with the vampires and assisting them in satisfying their needs, but, just as in his normal routine, he quickly becomes disenchanted with the arrangement. He finds the task distasteful, the vampire housemates unsettling, and William a pretentious, animalistic bore. Eventually, the critic leaves the house, though not without seeing his infatuation one last time.
Hanrahan has a finely tuned ear for language, not simply accent and cadence, but also the related mannerisms, intonation, attitude and tone that fills a voice with personality and distinction. This approach emphasizes the critic's disdain for the general public and is highlighted by an offhand suggestion that most people are incapable of understanding the depth of his brilliance. In an appropriately odd choice, Hanrahan and director Sarah Whitney costume the critic in a patchwork suit put together by combining not quite complementary pieces from several suits and an ever-present glass of scotch or bourbon or similar spirit that serious drinkers always seem to prefer.
Hanrahan also uses the small, sparsely furnished room well, moving around freely and occasionally gesturing towards or moving closer to an audience member as if he's about to share a moment. He fills the room with the critic's presence; it's clear this is a man accustomed to people listening to him, no matter how bloviated or far-fetched his tale may seem. The approach works nicely in "St. Nicholas," and is supported by minimal but effective sound cues and lighting; once introduced the song choices are particularly evocative and provide a compelling backdrop and atmosphere to this tale of middle aged longing and passive vampires who prefer to have others lure their prey.
The plot and action represent, in many ways, a rather straightforward tale of redemption in the making. It is Hanrahan's skillful interpretation that compels us to lean in and listen to his tale. Through inflection, movement and direct invitation, he lures us in then wanders, pontificates and weaves this strangely satisfying and textured story. There were a few moments when the accent slipped a bit, and a few of the lines seem to get tangled in the delivery, but even these errors added humanity and the sense of fallen grace to the characterization.
The Midnight Company's production of Conor McPherson's "St. Nicholas" running through July 26, 2015 in the performance space at Herbie's Vintage 72 restaurant is a spectacular character study with a compelling story to tell.
'The Good Thief' Is Expert Storytelling by Playwright and Actor: Theater Review
by Mark Bretz
Story: A small-time Irish hood knocks down a few pints at the local pub when he begins to reminisce about a harrowing experience in his past. He had been in love with a woman named Greta, who left him for the mobster who occasionally had put him to work threatening people, collecting money and other unsavory activities.
The mobster, Joe Murray, sends the hood out one day on what sounds at first to be a routine collection assignment. He arrives at the home of a local businessman and encounters him in his kitchen with his wife and young daughter. The hood suspects a double-cross, though, when a trio of other gangsters arrives soon after.
Sensing that he and the residents all will be killed, he manages to escape with the woman and child, with police and the mob in pursuit. With no plans and little money, the hood and his hostages take off into the country where he believes they can hide "until this blows over."
Highlights: Joe Hanrahan, who previously performed this one-act drama by noted Irish playwright Conor McPherson in 2008, is reprising that performance in rotating repertory with his work in another McPherson drama, St. Nicholas, at Herbie's Vintage 72. In each of these one-man works, Hanrahan underscores his ability as a master storyteller with a riveting performance of an Irishman living on grit and guile in an indifferent, or in this case, hostile world.
Other Info: With just a table and a couple of chairs, Hanrahan is able to shape McPherson's haunting tale with the sober reflections and lonely moments of a forgettable grinder whose lone chance at happiness is the barmaid who uses him as indifferently as one of the whiskey glasses she cleans for a customer.
With a distant, vacant expression and a face bereft of any smile, Hanrahan paints a portrait of a hanger-on who knows he's over his head with some truly villainous thugs but still has enough decency to show some compassion for a young wife (with secrets of her own) and her little girl. While he makes a living of sorts as a low-grade enforcer, he's a decent enough chap deep down.
With minimal technical support (including some wisely chosen Beatles numbers in the background) and the painstaking but unobtrusive direction of Sarah Whitney, Hanrahan is convincing, absorbing and deliberate in his finely etched characterization, immersing himself in McPherson's engaging banter.
Like his work in St. Nicholas, this makes for a fulfilling evening of reflection not only by the actor but by his audience as well. McPherson's final line is especially poetic and poignant.
The Good Thief, like Hanrahan's insightful portrayal, is more than it appears, and the audience is its beneficiary.
'St. Nicholas' Is a Haunting Tale of a Wicked Man...and Vampires, Too: Theater Review
by Mark Bretz
Story: A jaded Irish theater critic goes through the motions of his job, amused by how his harsh words can wreak havoc with the artists whose work he skewers on a regular basis. He tells us, though, that what he thought was real power paled in comparison with what he learned when he fell in with vampires.
He had impulsively abandoned his newspaper job and a wife for whom he had no feelings (as was the case with his son, although he felt a twinge of remorse about his daughter) to travel to London to see a production there of a play he had trashed in Dublin before becoming smitten with a young actress in that effort.
He makes a fool of himself by crashing the place where the cast is staying and then staggers off into the night. When he awakens he meets a kindly young man named William who soon informs him that he is a vampire, albeit a friendly enough sort who will not afflict the critic.
In exchange for living with the vampires, the bitter man is asked to bring an assortment of attractive young people back from nightclubs every evening to their lair, where the creatures can satisfy themselves and their guests will leave the next day unaware of what has happened. This life settles around the critic until the evening when he sees the actress of his dreams at a pub and brings her cadre of colleagues to the vampires, with vaguely unsettling results.
Highlights: Midnight Company founder and artistic director Joe Hanrahan first presented Irish playwright Conor McPherson's one-man, one-act drama in 2004 at McGurk's Irish Pub in Soulard. For this reprise effort he has selected Herbie's Vintage 72, where a patron can grab a Guinness or Jameson's (recommended by Midnight) and soak up the Gaelic atmosphere in suitably sudsy style.
With or without the beverages, St. Nicholas is a finely woven tale given expert interpretation by Hanrahan, whose studied portrayal of a wasted life is realized in doleful eyes and an often vacant expression that hints of haunting loneliness.
Other Info: Published in 1997, St. Nicholas is an intriguing, absorbing foray into the dark recesses of one man's mind, expertly crafted by McPherson and precisely presented by Hanrahan. The title comes from the 4th century Roman Catholic saint whose knack for leaving presents for people without fanfare eventually morphed into the character of Santa Claus. The feast of St. Nicholas still is celebrated on December 6th as well.
St. Nicholas is revered as the patron saint for repentant thieves as well as sailors, merchants, children and brewers, among others. And while William is a vampire with a taste for the blood of others that keeps him alive, McPherson paints him as a decent enough chap whose aversion to garlic is because it leaves a bad taste in his mouth and nothing more.
Hanrahan carefully etches portrayals not only of the dead-eyed and black-hearted narrator of the tale with his clipped Irish accent but also shapes an interpretation of William that contrasts the night creature with the shell of a human being that the critic has become. It's especially convincing as director Sarah Whitney guides Hanrahan around the cozy confines of the basement room at Herbie's Vintage 72 where McPherson's story is relayed.
St. Nicholas is being performed in repertory by Hanrahan and Midnight Company with another reprise of McPherson's The Good Thief, first produced by Midnight Company back in 2008, at Herbie's through July 26. For more information, visit midnightcompany.com.
New productions by Midnight Co., LaBute Festival deliver bite-size drama
St. Louis Post Dispatch
St. Louis doesn't have an "off-Broadway" district, maybe because its big theaters occupy no particular geographical district either. But we do have an alternative theater scene, rich in small, nontraditional productions.
Curious? This is a good time to go exploring, with the Midnight Company's rotating repertory of one-man plays by Irish dramatist Conor McPherson and the third annual LaBute New Theater Festival presented by the St. Louis Actors' Studio.
Joe Hanrahan, Midnight's artistic director, has become something of a specialist in one-man shows (though he also appears with other troupes in larger plays). In McPherson's "The Good Thief," he plays a Dublin criminal who, apparently at a bar among strangers (the audience), recounts the story of a home invasion that went horribly wrong. Years later, it continues to haunt him.
Under the direction of Sarah Whitney, Hanrahan dominates the spare set (a table and a couple of chairs) in the basement of Herbie's restaurant. Uneasy, quick to anger and, weirdly, to jokes, the ex-convict Hanrahan portrays shifts from fury to tender reminiscence to self-justification without missing a beat. The episode he recounts is so violent that at times, you might find yourself covering your eyes or your mouth only to realize that, of course, there's nothing to see but a small man who has to use his fingers to make a "gun." That's the power of good storytelling.
"The Good Thief" alternates with McPherson's eerie "St. Nicholas." Midnight has presented both plays before, but Hanrahan's thoughtful characterizations are worth revival.
At SLAS, the festival again opens each performance with a short play written for the occasion by its namesake, Neil LaBute. This year's "Kandahar," performed by Michael Hogan and directed by John Pierson, is a monologue by a soldier who has committed a terrible crime. As he addresses a board of investigators, he tries to explain what happened but reveals his own mental illness.
As in "The Good Crime," the violence in "Kandahar" is portrayed strictly through words, not action. Hogan, self-controlled and physically imposing even seated, could easily play a military hero in another kind of show; the contrast between his manner and the story he tells adds to the tension effectively.
This year as in the past, the winning plays are divided into two blocks. The first block runs through July 19, the second from July 24 through Aug. 2.
St. Louis actors and directors from troupes all over town give full-size performances to these miniature works, all performed on a versatile set designed by Patrick Huber.
The first block of short plays varies widely, from a kind of adolescent exercise in metaphysics ("A Taste of Heaven" by Chris Holbrook of San Francisco) to a charming little romance ("Stand Up for Oneself" by Lexi Wolfe of London). Directed by Pierson, Wolfe's play features appealing performances from Nathan Bush as a disabled professor and Alicia Smith as a schoolteacher who won't take no for an answer.
There's also a nicely paced, slowly developed mystery at a jewelry store ("Custom" by Mark Young of Chicago), an encounter between a blind man and a street busker ("Cold in Hand" by Steve Apostolina of Burbank, Calif.) and a comedy about sexual fantasy ("A Stranger Here Myself" by Rich Orloff of New York City).
There are new-play festivals all over; the late HotCity used to sponsor one. But it's nice to see the Actors' Studio pick up the banner. It makes St. Louis a hot spot for aspiring playwrights, no matter where they write. Besides, it's fun if audiences don't know just what they're in for.
Actor keeps you spellbound in 'St. Nicholas'
Joe Hanrahan is a mesmerizing, loquacious actor.
In the grand tradition of a long line of gifted Irish storytellers, he can weave a fascinating yarn.
He specializes in one-man shows, and has kept me riveted in the bracing "Sex, Drugs & Rock 'n Roll" and a short play, "House."
This time, he holds one's attention in two one-act plays, "St. Nicholas" and "The Good Thief," both by Conor McPherson, on alternate nights. I was fortunate to see "St. Nicholas" but missed "The Good Thief."
As for "St. Nicholas," he plays a jaded theater critic guess what group was laughing in the audience who is miserable about his lot in life. He is unhappy in marriage and in a rut at work.
Captivated by an actress in a play, he leaves his family and follows her to London. He joins in the revelry, but has a drinking problem already, and makes a fool of himself.
An encounter with a young man will change his life and he soon enters the dark world of vampires, but as an outsider let in to the inner circle. It's a bizarre twist, but Hanrahan is able to keep you spellbound. His agility with words is truly remarkable.
The build up, however, to the end fizzles, and the wrap-up is bromides about life.
But Hanrahan is so good, I would watch him perform any character.
"The Good Thief" is about a small-time thug who is on the run for is life after being set up.
Sarah Whitney directed both shows, and in the interesting setting of Herbie's basement, it's an intimate experience.
'The Good Thief' reminds us that it's generally good advice to stay out of the rain
Similar to "St. Nicholas," The Midnight Company's production of Conor McPherson's "The Good Thief," running through July 25, 2015 at Herbie's Vintage '72, introduces us to a not altogether unlikable bloke with a very interesting story to tell. Whereas the narrator in "St. Nicholas" is fairly well educated and comfortable if not quite securely middle class, this fellow hails from the proverbial wrong side of the tracks. He is a nearly hardened criminal, with a thuggish occupation, quick jealousy, and uneasy sense of trust towards the world. His is a tale of double-crosses and sticky situations, but there are hints of tenderness and the occasional flicker of compassion that endear the malfeasant crook to the audience.
Joe Hanrahan entreats and sways the sympathies of the audience in another in a string of compelling, successful one-man shows. His rhythms and pacing give the piece the tone and feel of an in-the-moment conversation. The narrator of "The Good Thief" is a coarse man, given to vulgar expressions and quick reactions. His story is peppered with the plausible and the unlikely, making for a humorous if not always believable tale, which perfectly suits Hanrahan's glib portrayal. His voice is a bit rough on the edges, and occasionally crackles as he dodges a fact or defensively asserts his position. Hanrahan's mannerisms are broad and unrefined; his movements slowed by years of brutality and his demeanor generally suspicious, but with a deep need to be heard.
With a series of comically exaggerated mishaps and more than a few lucky breaks, our narrator relates his greatest escapade, the one that led to his being sentenced to fifteen years in prison, for kidnapping. You see our narrator had Greta, a girlfriend he loved very much even though he understood that she could be less than faithful from time to time. What he didn't account for was her gold-digging nature, though he thought he handled it well when she left him for his boss.
Naturally, he was therefore taken by surprised when, on his next assignment, he rain into other thugs, waiting to take him out. It seems he had landed himself in the middle of a turf battle. Luckily, our narrator's instincts ensured he was prepared, but in the ensuing melee, several men were shot and he found himself on the run with the wife and daughter of the man he had been sent to rough up. The story takes a number of interesting, lavishly embellished twists and turns -- but they're best experienced in the telling.
Hanrahan varies the accent significantly with this character, it's harder to pinpoint the location in Ireland, but seems an urban mix, and one that supports the dialogues suggestion of a man of tough circumstances and lower circumstances. The thief is a frenetic man, with a need to keep moving, and a tendency to appeal directly to the audience. As the story's tension builds, his humor and joking nature is replaced by an urgency, an adrenaline fueled need to get through this part of the story just as if it were the original incident.
Hanrahan also stretches the moments when he shows the thief's kinder nature, such as when he references his friend Jeff or his complacent kidnapping victims. His retelling of Mrs. Mitchell's shared secret anchors a restful, almost optimistic section of the play that moves at a slower pace, as Hanrahan savors the memory. The contrast is naturally supported by throw-away lines and even his memories of Greta which, while not a place he longs to return to, give him comfort as he presses on with his new life.
Sarah Whitney's direction complements Hanrahan's instincts, though a little more attention to the small details would considerably tighten the delivery. I would have preferred fewer comments thrown over the shoulder to the audience, for example, and there were moments when the characters posture -- head down, shoulders hunched -- caused a line or two to drop. But the overall story and its telling make are thoroughly engaging and hold your attention from start to finish.
The enjoyment of Hanrahan's characterizations and the richly detailed scripts by Conor McPherson is heightened when combined with viewings of the equally compelling "St. Nicholas." The Midnight Company's production of "The Good Thief" plays through July 25, 2015 at Herbie's Vintage '72.