During the Fall of 07, Joe was looking ahead to his next project, and looking for something that excited him. His thoughts turned back to some of his Bogosian shows and to ST. NICHOLAS. As he recalled the fun of those presentations, he recalled another Conor McPherson solo show that he'd barely glanced at while prepping ST. NICK. He went back and reviewed THE GOOD THIEF, and was knocked out - not only by the story, but also by the challenge playing the character would represent. He did a reading for Director Sarah Whitney (who directed Joe in ST. NICK as well as CUL-DE-SAC.) She liked it, agreed to take on the director's job once again, and the game was afoot. Joe followed up casual conversations with Ben Dressel about someday doing something at Dressel's Pub in the Central West End, and dates were set for a late March opening. Joe appreciated the lengthy rehearsal process, and, with Sarah's help, took his time building the character and investigating the script.
The show was a joy to perform - a cool cops-and-robbers tale with lots of twists, some cruel and brutal elements to raise the stakes, with plenty of Irish wit, charm and blue collar poetry to make the show's violence somewhat palatable. And the show was a success; reviews were very strong, and the crowds followed, to the extent that an extra, late night show on the final scheduled evening was added. Ben Dressel, his Mrs., and his staff also enjoyed the show. It did bring a bit of business to the pub, but they also enjoyed the story and the performance quite a bit. The old world charm of the classic Welsh pub, and its newly renovated (to make it look just as classic as the rest of the place) party room was a perfect spot for the intimate one-man show, and even the weather cooperated, as most shows had a background soundtrack of St. Louis rain that performed as the Dublin rains called for in the script.
The Good Thief
By Judith Newmark
POST-DISPATCH THEATER CRITIC
The Irishman with his own bottle of whiskey perches on a bar stool. He starts talking to you, casually but warmly. You will not get a word in edgewise — or want to.
His story of misbegotten crime is excruciating in its sadistic detail, weirdly comic in its acknowledgment of the insistence of ordinary needs even in extraordinary circumstances, and finally very sad.
Joe Hanrahan, who has become the persuasive master of this kind of thing, performs another one-man show under the direction of Sarah Whitney. This time, in "The Good Thief" by Conor McPherson, he plays a Dublin thug. Tough, compact and guilty as sin, Hanrahan's criminal offers no apologies. But in his vivid recollections, he now and then reveals something surprising: His mundane desires aren't so different from anyone else's. And, like most of us, he's disappointed to discover that he has a lot less control over the outcome of his work than he assumed he did.
"The Good Thief" plays in a timbered room upstairs at Dressel's Pub, with the audience seated at wooden tables. If you're lucky, you'll catch the show on a stormy night.
The Good Thief
By Dennis Brown
It poured ferociously last week during the opening-night performances of two current productions that are both set in Ireland, a land known for incessant rainfall. The unrelenting weather here in St. Louis only served to underscore what was happening onstage. The thunder and lightning that rocked the theaters was a metaphor for the flashes of power and brilliance that infuse these two brash, vigorous works.
Conor McPherson was only 23 when The Good Thief was first staged in Dublin in 1994. This one-man show was quite different then, for it included an intermission, slide projections and frequent intrusions for recitations from philosophical writings. Through the years the piece has been distilled to its essence, and surely for the better. Now it is simply a yarn, a 65-minute intermissionless monologue about a paid thug who is forced to flee Dublin after he mucks up a job in which he was supposed to "scare" a fellow who had been giving his underworld boss a hard time.
The title, The Good Thief, remains enigmatic; any allusions to St. Dismas are elusive. (The piece's original title, The Light of Jesus, is even more confusing.) Perhaps the original version included some built-in religious allegory, but what we get here seems to be more influenced by Mickey Spillane or Elmore Leonard than by the Bible. This Good Thief is raw and lean. The story grabs the viewer in the first sentence — "Let's begin with an incident" — and never lets go. At times the terse prose is outrageously funny. (In complaining a-bout a shoe repairman he'd been dispatched to harm, our mercenary protagonist pauses in his narrative long enough to tell us, "I hate people with skills who can do stuff." After the laugh he continues, "It's a small quibble, but I refuse to constrain my personality.") The tenor of the piece will swing from comedy to pummeling violence on the turn of a comma.
Joe Hanrahan, who scored a great success a few years ago in St. Nicholas, a later McPherson solo recitation that has to do with vampires, does a sensational job of taking us into his confidence and never letting our minds wander — at least not in a negative way. I did occasionally find myself trying to imagine Sterling Hayden with an Irish brogue, because the narrator-thug so reminded me of Dix Handley, the hooligan hero in John Huston's Asphalt Jungle. He also brought to mind George C. Scott's doomed gangster in the B-movie thriller The Last Run. But then Hanrahan would take a pause to bring us back into his confidence, and I would dutifully follow.
This Midnight Company production has been directed by Sarah Whitney, who might be responsible for Hanrahan's canny ability to establish the characters we need to know. A lot of names get mentioned here. But whenever a really important character is introduced — the sluttish Greta, saloon owner Joe Murray, the psychotic Vinnie Rourke — Hanrahan cleverly slows down the narrative to make sure we're listening. Smart, too, to precede the show with the Beatles singing "Lady Madonna." The lyric "see how they run" sets us up the next hour.
McPherson has gone on to write several well-received full-length plays. (Just this week The Seafarer ended a six-month Broadway run.) This is early material, not as nuanced or layered as the spooky St. Nicholas. It has the feel of a writing exercise more than the work of a dramatist with something on his mind. But to sit in a barroom at Dressel's Pub and listen to a guy with a glass in his hand tell a tale of mayhem — and tell it so well — is a special kind of pleasure. And if it happens to be pouring buckets outside the barroom window as this tale gets spun, it's no great stretch to imagine all that rain as kind of theatrical benediction.
The Good Thief
Reviewed by Sarah Boslaugh
There's a whole pub full of people populating The Good Thief, and they're all played by Joe Hanrahan. The nameless central character, who we would term a leg-breaker, describes his job laconically as scaring people, by means such as setting fires and shooting them-but only as a warning, you know.
He's not a bad guy, though, and you'd probably enjoy having a pint with him, if you weren't on the list of people to be scared. He's a grand talker, charmingly self-effacing, and even has half a conscience and some degree of self-reflection, although he doesn't quite know what to do with them. He simply is what he is, informing us that he "hates people with skills who can do stuff" before describing a brutal beating delivered to a shoe repairman.
One day the thief puts on his balaclava, loads up his Webley and sets out to deliver a "warning" to a warehouse owner behind in his payments. This time, however, he is greeted at the door of his intended victim's home by another bloke in a balaclava, accompanied by a compatriot bearing an automatic rifle. Much excitement ensues which leads to the thief's escape with the wife and daughter of the intended victim, some double-crossing and unexpected mercy, and finally to his sitting in the pub telling us this story.
Joe Hanrahan's performance, directed by Sarah Whitney, is mesmerizing. The thief's tale, which lasts just over an hour, is so absorbing that you'll lose all sense of time and place early in the telling. You'll also forget that you are watching one person, in one location, using no more props than two bar stools, a glass and a bottle of Scotch: the story seems as big as the world, and many characters who figure in it are as vivid as if they were actually present in the room with you.
There's also the redemptive nature of storytelling at work. Brutal as the thief's tale can be, the act of sharing it creates a bond between teller and audience, so that for an hour, at least, we are all less alone in the world.
The title's meaning may seem obscure, since the central character is not a thief at all but what we would call a legbreaker or enforcer. The reference is to Saint Dismas, the thief crucified next to Jesus who repented of his sins and was granted a place in heaven. Although McPherson's good thief never explicitly denounces his former life (such a statement would be entirely out of character), his basic decency and flashes of self-realization demonstrate that redemption can be visited on the most unlikely of souls.
KWMU Theatre & Film Critic: Joe Pollack
People who work in the theater love to tell stories, and Joe Hanrahan is a prime example. The veteran St. Louis actor and his Midnight Company usually work in a spare style, with small casts and minimal accouterments, as he is doing now in "The Good Thief," an oxymoronic tale playing upstairs over Dressel's pub in the Central West End through April 10.
Hanrahan weaves his story in an soft, engaging style, re-creating all the characters created by Conor McPherson. Hanrahan's a thug, an enforcer for Joe Murray, a bar-owner who works in a wide variety of criminal schemes.
Murray also stole Greta, who was Hanrahan's girl despite her many infidelities, and he is grieving his loss and seeking revenge. Murray hires him to frighten a man who owes him money, but the job blows up and Hanrahan finds himself on the run. Of course, like everyone else in Irish theater, she has a story, too. "The Good Thief," a charming, warm performance by Joe Hanrahan at Dressel's Pub through April 13.
The Good Thief
The Midnight Company
by Mark Bretz
Thursday, April 3, 2008
Story: A small-time thug in Dublin spends his days hanging out at Joe Murray's bar, reminiscing about his ex-girlfriend, who is now Murray's main squeeze and plugging the jukebox for early Beatles tunes. Although he tells us in his monologue that “I'm not the issue here,” he quickly reveals that he probably is with his statement, “I refuse to constrain my personality.”
The unnamed narrator is sent by Murray to scare a local businessman, but when he arrives at the man's house, he is confronted by two other brigands already there. Later, a trio of more menacing types arrives on the scene, ostensibly to kill everyone on the premises. Owing to a flurry of good luck, the thug escapes, taking the businessman's wife and young daughter on a terror-filled flight into the Irish countryside. The ‘good thief' of the title thinks that he has saved himself and his two kidnap victims from unspeakable horror at the hands of the double-crossers, but has he really?
Highlights: Written by Irish playwright Conor McPherson in his early 20s and first performed 15 years ago, The Good Thief is given its St. Louis premiere in this terrific production by The Midnight Company. The one-act, 75-minute drama is a suitable platform for actor Joe Hanrahan to demonstrate his ability to weave a tale with the best of them. With a clipped Irish accent, Hanrahan makes this one-man show engaging and compelling from start to finish, filling his character with pathos and tenderness, as well as vulgarity and violence.
Crisply directed by Sarah Whitney on an austerely lit, barebones set, all of the drama is focused directly on Hanrahan's precise ability to deliver McPherson's deft knack for storytelling. And, as demonstrated with other works such as St. Nicholas and The Weir, McPherson knows how to turn a twisting tale and take it in surprising and revealing directions.
The Good Thief is a finely polished little gem that focuses on that marvelous intersection where writing and acting coalesce into a shining, albeit brief, moment of theater.
Rating: A 4.5 on a scale of 1-to-5.
Joe Hanrahan Steals the Show
Written by Laura Hamlett
Saturday, 22 March 2008
Joe Hanrahan's Midnight Company brings yet another chillingly riveting drama to the stage, this time in the form of Conor McPherson's The Good Thief opening March 26. Read our interview with the actor, playwright, director and company owner.
What led to your forming the Midnight Company?
It was about eight years ago. There was a buddy of mine, we had just finished a play called Psychopathia Sexualis, a comedy. We had both been associated with a previous company but we were at loose ends. We just got together and started talking one night, said let's get together formally and do something. Back then there were many fewer theater companies than there are now; it seems like they're popping up on every corner every other week. Then, the space was just there for us to do it. And we really wanted to do shows we wanted to do; that was kind of inherent in what we were doing.
Do you feel like the outpouring of theater companies has cut into your audience?
It would be hard to say that, but I think everybody's cutting into everybody's audience in some ways. I think how that's manifested most is in the lack of opportunity for press coverage. Everybody's trying to build their audience, but the Post[-Dispatch] has kind of gone down. There are very few opportunities to alert an audience where theater isn't on the top of their list anyway. So what you're doing is really important right now.
Why should people choose live theater over a movie or other form of entertainment?
One, they'll have the opportunity to see stories and themes and issues explored that aren't always explored as much or in the same depth as in movies. In movies there's independent films and serious films, but even in the best film, you have less opportunity to really talk, discuss, explore. Theater's all about talk, and whether it's dealing with a personal situation, a social situation, or just building empathy for other people. It doesn't always happen, of course, just like it doesn't always happen with movies or other art, but in a live performance, if you can get into the story, become part of it, feel empathy for what's going on, it can have some significant impact in terms of making you feel.
What drew you to Conor McPherson's The Good Thief?
I was again wondering what do I want to do next. What popped up was what had excited me in the past. I thought about St. Nicholas again, had a really good time with a good reception, loved dealing with the language and his writing. I thought about this play, which I had just glanced at a few years ago. I decided to go back and look at it again because it was another convenient one-man show that I could pull off. This time, the story captured me but also it really kind of excited and scared me to do the character. Very different char and it was a big challenge to me to try & work on this char. It had all the earmarks of something I wanted to tackle: a great story and the challenge of wanting to pull it off.
You perform a lot of one-man plays with yourself as the sole actor. What's the reasoning behind that?
Convenience, and also control. The first one I did was a good 10, 12 years ago and I never had thought about doing one myself; I never considered it, but someone asked me to do it. Someone had seen me in something else and was producing, and asked me with a lot of fear and a lot of help; I got dialect coaches, worked like a dog on it, but once I was able to pull it off I understood the mechanics it takes to get there. As my theater company has kind of winnowed down to a company of one, it's been a convenience. And I keep running into really interesting scripts: Cul-de-Sac, this Canadian show I did a year ago, Tom Paine two years ago, which was just a brilliant existential stand-up, it was described as. I see those things and I know I can do them and they're just too compelling to pass up; I want to do them.
You're also an accomplished playwright. Has your material been performed in other cities or by other companies?
No they haven't, and I really haven't pushed them out there or tried to publish them that way; I just did them for my own company. The Ballad of Jesse James, a couple of groups have asked over because that had a wider audience, but I turned them down because we wound up wanting to do it again and so I wanted to keep my hands on it. The two one-acts I wrote this past summer & directed, they were nominated for Kevin Kline awards in outstanding production, so I'm kind of thinking that I'm going to push those out a little more in the near future.
Anything else in the works?
There's a couple things right now, but there's a couple other theater projects that aren't mine, so they're kind of down the road.
You seem to consistently choose outstanding plays to produce. What's your selection method?
Again, it has to be a topic, a story that I feel really compelled to tell. It's almost like a great bit of gossip or a great joke or a great story I've heard and I say, "Hey listen, you've got to hear this; let me tell you this thing." It's the same thing with the play, as varied as anything. Cul-de-Sac which I did last year was about a murder, a gay guy in a little neighborhood; it was about his neighbors and the interplays and the subtle indifference people can give to others. The show I'm doing right now is just a classic drama, as involved and brutal as any of those stories can be. Those are the spectrum.
The things I did this summer that I wrote about were just two things that were top of my mind; one was top and one was bottom, I guess. I wanted to involve my son in a show—he's an actor—and I was writing what was top of my head: the war was going on, and he's military age now. I was thinking about the young guys that go out and fight every war and the old guys that sit home and send them. That kind of just made me want to write; it was a short burst of anger.
The second one-act that I wrote last summer was something I've been thinking a lot about, which was the treatment of performing animals, performing circus monkeys; what happens when those stars—which I'd seen as a kid, when they're put out to pasture and they kind of go crazy. It was just something I wanted to explore myself and come to some conclusion. In terms of producing, it's always just a great story. I think it can involve almost any topic.
The Good Thief is performed in a restaurant, as St. Nicholas was previously. Why the return to a restaurant setting.
St. Nicholas, which was a similar show to this, I'd done first at McGurk's and then I did it at Balaban's. It's not only the very small venue kind of thing, a little bit of the Irish flavor, storytelling in a pub, but it's almost like that's almost naturally where this play takes place. The impetus of one guy telling a story. The way the director and I have decided that this play is happening it's basically like a couple of us are sitting around telling stories, and I say, hey listen to this one. I walk out, get another bottle, come back in and here I go.
by Kara Krekeler - March 26, 2008
West End Word
For a couple of weeks starting March 26, an Irish gangster will be telling a bit about his life over a few beers at Dressel's Pub in the Central West End.
The gangster's stories won't be your average drinking-buddy tales, however, nor will they be true. Instead, the stories are fabrications written by Irish playwright Conor McPherson, and the gangster will actually be local actor Joe Hanrahan, bringing life to McPherson's one-man play The Good Thief.
“It's a challenging character,” Hanrahan said. “He's no superhero or tough guy, but the story is really good. And I've become a sucker for Irish gangster stuff.”
Short and with flyaway graying hair, Hanrahan is something of an anomaly in the growing St. Louis theater community. Not only does he regularly perform one-man shows for the Midnight Company, the theater company he founded with David Wassilak in 1997, but he also chooses which plays to produce, finds venues to host the productions and hand-delivers the press releases for each show.
“I'm a company of one,” he said.
It wasn't always that way. Hanrahan said he and Wassilak had both worked in the St. Louis theater community for several years before they founded the Midnight Company. The pair met while working on a production of Hamlet for the now-defunct Orthwein Theater Company, where Wassilak worked for several years.
After the company dissolved, however, Wassilak and Hanrahan both found themselves at loose ends and decided to create the Midnight Company (known at that time as Midnight Productions).
“We were just doing shows we wanted to do,” Hanrahan said of the early days of the Midnight Company. “Almost all the shows were and are brand new to St. Louis.”
But over the last couple years, the Midnight Company has become literally a one-man show. Wassilak left the company after a falling out between Hanrahan and himself, and went on to co-found the St. Louis Actors' Studio last year. These days, Hanrahan single-handedly produces, markets, stars in and occasionally writes the Midnight Company's shows; he does, however, hire others to direct the productions.
Despite the change behind the scenes, Hanrahan said that the Midnight Company is still very much the same as it ever was, producing small, often one-man, shows at unexpected locations throughout the city.
“We're the vagabond theater company. Almost all of our shows are in non-theatrical spaces,” he said, adding that among other places, the Midnight Company has staged shows in bars, museums and TV-production studios over the years. “We create theaters wherever we go, and we're always looking for new places.”
And while most theater companies tend to seek out a permanent home, or at least a regular one, Hanrahan said he's happy to keep roaming the metro area, scripts in hand.
“I don't mind moving around. [Settling down] suggests organizational commitment, and I'd need a lot more people for that,” he said.
Of course, not everything Hanrahan does is by himself. He also acts in productions by other theater companies in St. Louis, and said he enjoys ensemble plays, which he argues are easier than solo performances.
“In an ensemble show, at least half your lines are responses,” he said, adding that he enjoys the atmosphere of working with other actors. One-man shows, on the other hand, require constant focus throughout the production, as well as a lot of mental and physical endurance to carry the entire dramatic or comedic load.
Doing a one-man show means that everyone in the audience is there to see you, and the entire success or failure of a show rests on your shoulders, he explained. “I always get scared just moments before I go onstage.”
Hanrahan said that he has pigeon-holed himself a bit by doing so many solo performances, but said that he enjoys both the challenge and the convenience of doing them.
“It's not all I want to do, but they are a convenient type of show to do,” he said.
Revised: October, 2007
© The Midnight Company