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SEX, DRUGS, ROCK & ROLL Pandemic Revival
by Eric Bogosian
October/November 2020
Kranzberg Black Box

It’s a long, winding, plague story of how this production came to pass. `I had been working on shows since March. Rehearsing NOW PLAYING THIRD BASE…, then `moving it back to June, then July, then August.In the midst of that, discussions with the director and the five-person cast of IT IS MAGIC, `scheduled for late October, resulted in that show being rescheduled until November, 2021 (a `date, which at this time, would accommodate the full existing cast.) It seemed early to `reschedule that, but given the surges and restrictions happening at this time (November, 2020),

it was the right move. It then became apparent that we couldn’t do NOW PLAYING… Things were just too hot, and we rescheduled that show to July, 2021. So that left the Harry Truman show as the one existing production on our schedule. In mid- August, it still seemed possible. The pandemic was slowing at that time. And the Truman show was the one show that I really, really wanted to do - that I should do - as a possible contribution to the political awareness of the time. And at that time, a door seemed to open. The Kranzberg Arts Foundation, who would have to approve the production happening in their space, said the City was open to one-time proposals. And the Missouri Arts Council was instituting the Missouri ArtSafe program, certifying arts organizations as having gone through procedures and training for safe performances. So I jumped at it, but was told that it would be too quick a process to try to get Truman OK’d, and announced for ticket sales. So Harry was cancelled.

But I still had the October IT IS MAGIC dates available, and now, with the doors opened by the City and State, I thought “Maybe I can…maybe I should do…something.” As everyone was preaching, a one-man show was the (only) way to go. So I dived back into my one-man show stash, and quickly landed on SEX, DRUGS, ROCK & ROLL…as much as far the title as the script itself. But the script revealed its resonance and relevance. A cliche I wound up using a lot was that most people probably thought Rainbows and Lollipops were the only appropriate content during a pandemic, but I thought this show proved something else. Not only were Bogosian’s characters still real and valid and with us, but the bottom line of the show dwelled on their hypocrisy, a pandemic in its own right in this fraught time.

So that was the show. After NOW PLAYING and Truman, I started work and memorization on my third script in a matter of months. I had in mind a director who would challenge me, and help me reach towards my best work, so I landed on the idea of an actor, a good actor, one I admired. And John Wolbers came to mind. I’d admired his work in several productions, and he turned out to be just the right choice. Not only did John live a block from our rehearsal space at Winter Opera, but he brought a big picture outlook to the show, and aide enormously in updating the show with COVID and topical references.

Also with the help of Production Designer Kevin Bowman and Lighting Designer Tony Anselmo, he fashioned a show that I think looked a lot bigger than its one-person cast and reduced capacity audience. After helping arrange the distanced chairs in a show-friendly fashion, we wound up with a capacity of 18 seats (OK for a one-person show.) The distanced seats were a bit of a problem - this show deserved some laughter and sometimes it was wanting - it felt like that old proverb that a comedy doesn’t work at a drive-in. You need the communal mirth. But most of the shows had engaged audiences. We averaged about a dozen folks per show, and ended with a sold-out Sunday matinee crowd who definitely showed their amusement and appreciation.

Producing (and especially performing) a show during this crisis was not easy. It seemed at times like doing in underwater. (We were the only show in town.) But once on stage, I certainly enjoyed the opportunity to present Bogosian’s sharp characters and brilliant dialogue. The show had a deeper, almost poignant flavor. But it was a show. And we did it.


Come for the ‘Sex, Drugs, Rock & Roll,’ stay for the subtext
by Tina Farmer
Nov 3, 2020

At a time when one- and two-actor shows are the only feasible choices for live theater, Midnight Company returns with “Sex, Drugs, Rock & Roll.” The popular one man show, starring Joe Hanrahan with sharply focused direction by John Wolbers, gets a few pointed rewrites that make the production feel more than just a rehash of familiar material. Continuing through November 8 at the Kranzberg Arts Center Studio theater, which has achieved Missouri ArtSafe Certification, the small cast, limited audience production is one of the first live performances since the pandemic hit full force in March.

The show, a series of short solo sketches originally penned by Eric Bogosian, introduces us to a revolving door of stereotypical men associated with the glam era of rock and roll, though their status and lifestyles vary. Written several decades ago, the character types are nonetheless recognizable, and surprisingly relevant. The script is also aided by smart edits referencing contemporary issues such as the Me, Too movement, the growing disparity between the haves and the have nots, and changing attitudes on race and gender equality. There are even a few one-liners about Covid and mask wearing. Wolbers creates beats of emphasis that direct attention to the updated perspective without distracting from the original material. Hanrahan, a veteran of the one-actor show, delivers a strong performance as expected. I find his partnership with director Wolbers helpful as the fresh eyes elicit more distinction and nuance, revealing new facets of the familiar characters.

An aging rock star trying to live sober and be hip again shows he’s completely missing the point through projection and appropriation. A local drug dealer longs for bygone days, before his best friend gave up “the business” to be a Starbucks manager. A well-off man, who is clearly clueless about the income gap, is just as clearly overcompensating with the most expensive of everything. A real estate agent spews classism, conformity and segregation as he’s trying to sell a young family on a very exclusive gated community. These characters and more are brought to life, in all their uncomfortable, privileged glory by Hanrahan and Wolbers. Each character is quite distinct and clear, which helps keep the audience interested in the various stories, and there are multiple thematic threads woven throughout the scenes that loosely connect them, sometimes with unexpected humor.

Taken as a whole, there’s an air to the show that feels a little stale and overdone, but with a purpose that makes the case for the play without excusing the characters. The original script is well crafted and stuffed with a million little details. The related edits give this production a harsher edge, with characters seen in a less flattering light, helping to successfully reframe the stories for 2020’s audiences. The commentary isn’t scathing, and could be sharpened to a more precise edge in future productions, but it is clear that the collaborators approached the source material through a contemporary lens.

I don’t know that now is the time for us to be listening to stories about privileged white men waxing poetic as they try to hold onto their sense of self worth in a changing world, though I genuinely enjoyed the performance. In all honesty, with the pandemic showing little sign of slowing, I wasn’t 100% comfortable sitting in a well-spaced theater, even knowing that everyone in the room went through screening and a temperature check, and I’m ambivalent about when I’ll go back again. Midnight Company’s latest take on “Sex, Drugs, Rock & Roll,” continuing through November 8, did, however, remind me of one important truth. Sometimes, the more things change, the more things need to change.

Ladue News

The Midnight Company Presents First In-Person Production With COVID-19 Restrictions in Place.
by Mark Bretz
November 4, 2020

Joe Hanrahan and his Midnight Company are presenting A Model for Matisse. It's the premiere of a new work about the great artist and the unusual relationship that led to his masterpiece in the last years of his life--the wonderful Chapel of the Rosary in the small town of Vence on the French Riviera.

Joe Hanrahan and his Midnight Company are presenting A Model for Matisse. It's the premiere of a new work about the great artist and the unusual relationship that led to his masterpiece in the last years of his life--the wonderful Chapel of the Rosary in the small town of Vence on the French Riviera.

Story: A barebones set serves as background for a series of monologues delivered by a coterie of mostly unsavory types. We’re introduced first to a genial homeless man, and from there, our adventures devolve as we listen to a vapid Hollywood producer, an over-the- hill rock star, a ridiculous self-help guru, a redneck beer-guzzler and numerous others who spend most of their time talking at us, not to us and certainly not with us.

Highlights: That’s easy enough. After seven months of pandemic-induced theater closings, The Midnight Company’s crisp, committed dive into the intense world of playwright Eric Bogosian’s 1990 work, Sex, Drugs, Rock & Roll, is a refreshing reminder of what the pre-COVID-19 world was like, at least in the theater.

Other Info: Company artistic director Joe Hanrahan, who stars in this one-man exercise in modern existentialism, went to painstaking lengths on opening night to thank the people and organizations responsible for what he calls “the first approved indoor arts event in the city” since last March.

That list includes certification through Missouri ArtSafe, a program led by the Missouri Arts Council, as Hanrahan notes in the show’s news release. He also notes in the release that guidelines “developed alongside the Kranzberg Arts Foundation and approved by the City of St. Louis will be in place and made publicly available on The Midnight Company’s website.”

Chris Hansen, executive director of the Kranzberg Arts Foundation, says “We’ve taken steps to help everyone, cast, crew and guests, stay as safe as possible through extensive vetting and working alongside our public health officials.” Reserved-only seating is capped at 20 audience members per performance. Approximately 18 people attended the one-act show’s first production, including three crew members and the work’s director, John Wolbers. Everyone wore masks, temperatures were taken at the entrance, seats were six feet apart and reservations were confirmed via mobile phone.

Bogosian’s monologues have been updated and localized to St. Louis considerably by Hanrahan in many cases, helping keep the 30-year-old production sound topical. Candidly, though, the best or at least the most appealing character is the introductory one, an affable homeless man who ambles through a city’s streets searching for bottles and cans to take to the local recycling center.

He’s content, he tells us, eating egg salad sandwiches, smoking cigarettes and reading the newspaper on some park bench. He likes his coffee, too, but at $3 a cup, it’s getting to be too extravagant for him. Still, immersed in his frayed, ragged coat, he keeps an upbeat attitude and happily welcomes us for some well-earned reflections on life. After that, Bogosian and actor Hanrahan fill the time with a number of monologues by self-absorbed, shallow types who are big on self-gratification and are fervent devotees of materialism. Hanrahan imbues each character with a distinctive voice and mannerisms, gliding seemingly effortlessly with the barest interludes between monologues. He goes to the coat rack at the back of the set to adorn various characters with a modicum of attire to identify each one. Then, he utilizes a desk or a lawn chair and even a seat where he becomes an audience member questioning the theatrics from behind his mask, effectively socially distanced from others as well.

Of course, most of these characters are clueless about the plight of anyone beyond their world of white privilege. This is adroitly noted in the charity of choice by two different characters who are intrigued with people indigenous to the Amazon rainforest for their token attempt at ‘sharing the wealth.’ Hanrahan’s perceptive interpretation of their guilelessness is all the more telling.

Wolbers directs the performance with polish and his usual predilection for details, and he adds a foot-tapping “greatest hits” soundtrack including the likes of Bob Dylan, the Rolling Stones, Janis Joplin, Jefferson Airplane, The Doors, ELO and others from rock’s halcyon days. Tony Anselmo’s lighting design tellingly complements the performance. Over the last couple of decades Hanrahan has honed his craft in one-man shows and does this physically and intellectually demanding work as well as anyone you’ll see on a local stage. Several years ago he performed this same play, but this time around he and his colleagues have jumped through considerable hoops to offer patrons 75 minutes of a carefully crafted, knowing look at the mostly seedy characters who permeate this wide-eyed observation of 21st century America.

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