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Midnight decided to have a flint at The Fringe this year. Now running two weeks, The St. Louis Fringe Festival, under Em Piro's excellent and energetic leadership, continues to grow in impact and fun festivities.

With Sarah Whitney's original production ALL Ears, Midnight had participated in the first Fringe Festival, and was happy to be part of the fourth. (Joe had acted in another previous Fringe production, Bob Mitchell's MONTANA, The Shakespearean Scarface.)

What to do there? Joe commenced work on an original script, but found it growing beyond the scope of finishing in time. But then was lucky enough to find a perfect script for this event.

A few years ago, Midnight produced Canadian playwright Daniel MacIvor's one-man show, CUL-DE-SAC, and at the time had gathered a number of MacIvor's scripts. One that wasn't reviewed at the time was HOUSE. On looking it over, it seemed like it was written for the Fringe. (MacIvor and his work has appeared at several Fringe Festivals in the past. He did win a First Fringe Award at Edinburgh.)

Work commenced and it was a joy. Both Sarah and Joe loved the script, the words, the attitude, the process. Additional resources were employed (Sarah's friend, Chicago composer Rob Steel, contributed a lovely melody for the song in the show), and St. Louis actress Maggie Conroy helped Joe with the wild, celebratory dance that occurred during the evening.

We worked in a new Fringe space – the Creative Exchange Lab, an architectural think tank a bit off the beaten Fringe path - and it was an great, intimate space for the show. Crowds were good, audience response was better, and the entire event was a blast. Joe and Sarah saw several of their fellow artists' offering – comedy, music, dance, theatre – parties popped up nightly, and a splendid time was had by all.

St. Lou Fringe hopes to lure audiences with oddball 'House' and 'Creepy Basement'
By Nancy Fowler

What's it like to have a mother whose seven-foot-tongue slices your arm (eight stitches!) and a wife who greets your boss in thigh-high boots and consistently claims she's on the phone with "nobody?"

Sounds like a family on the fringe. And that's fitting, because it's the storyline of St. Lou Fringe Festival's production of "House," by Canadian playwright Daniel MacIvor. The fourth-wall-breaking comedy is staged six times during this year's annual festival of performing arts, which runs through Saturday, June 27.

Joe Hanrahan of Midnight Theatre Company plays Victor, the sole character in the play that's directed by Sarah Whitney.

"It's really as 'Fringe-y'— if I can use that as a term — a show as I've ever run across," Hanrahan said.

Even so, Victor is an everyman.

"It's one of those shows that make you understand a little more, feel a little more about what it's like to be human," Hanrahan said.

"House" begins with frantic chair-throwing then settles into a rhythm of absurdist fantasies (dog couples dancing to Lionel Richie) and fast jokes, like the one about Victor's AA meetings: "The last bastion of macrame is 'group.'"

For St. Louis theater-goers who know Hanrahan, it's worth the price of admission ($10) just to see him mock-seriously dance to club music.

'House' Is an Example of How Intriguing the St. Lou Fringe Festival Can Be: Review
by Mark Bretz

Story: A middle-age man prone to spasms of anger discusses his life with a wary audience. He talks about his therapy group, which is overseen by a therapist who tells everyone to "call me Bobby," something our sarcastic host resolutely refuses to do. Everyone in the group has a reason for being there, such as alcohol or drug addiction, dependency, anger issues or, in one case, says our host, "just because he's weird."

This forlorn fellow rants and raves about his demonically possessed mother, a father who abandoned the family to join the circus as "the world's saddest man," a sister with her own issues who somehow still loves the narrator and a wife who views him with thinly veiled contempt, spending a lot of time talking to "nobody," going "nowhere" and doing "nothing," all of which adds up to something suspicious.

Everything hits a pivotal point when this man finally convinces the owner of the waste management company where he works "in the office" to visit his house for dinner. Despite ignoring him for years, his boss seems oddly upbeat about this unusual happenstance. Even though it all sounds promising, an air of foreboding indicates otherwise.

Highlights: Joe Hanrahan, artistic director of The Midnight Company, specializes in one-man performances of bizarre, off-kilter works that keep an audience guessing about what's about to happen next. His selection of Canadian playwright Daniel MacIvor's arresting House fits beautifully into the context of the fourth annual St. Lou Fringe Festival, which for the first time is running over two weekends.

Hanrahan's interpretation of the frenzied, frenetic protagonist is the high-octane fuel that sparks this inspired performance. It epitomizes the best of what a fringe festival of theater, music, dance and art can deliver in a street performance atmosphere.

Other Info: MacIvor's work, first presented in Toronto in 1992, is an explosively funny rant by a disconnected misfit living on the fringes of society. He doesn't fit in with the commonplace folks who seemingly inhabit his workplace. Nor does he blend well with the eccentrics or the outliers such as dear old dad and his peculiar occupation under the Big Top.

What this man does best is erupt in volcanic anger, spewing invectives and expletives at anyone who ventures too close, warning one and all that his body is his 'house,' and let the intruder beware. In the course of less than an hour, though, his prickly demeanor descends more into pathos and a sad little state of despair more than righteous indignation.

Hanrahan artfully channels every fabric of the man's frustrations and weaves them into a telling and tormented portrayal with the notable guidance of director Sarah Whitney. And the shrewd musical compositions of Robert Steel underpin the man's gnawing uncertainties about himself and his life.

This House is a home of torture but the only refuge for its lonely inhabitant.

Another sampling of the 30 acts performing at the 2015 St. Lou Fringe Festival is a piece titled The Unknown, presented by the Holy Upside Down Theatre Company, like The Midnight Company a local troupe.

At the St. Lou Fringe: A full house of entertainment
by Chuck Lavazzi

Thursday, June 25th, turned out to be my best Fringe experience yet, with two fine one-person shows and a powerful Shakespeare-inspired cabaret act.

Things got off to a strong start with "Origins of Love", a smartly theatrical cabaret starring a pair of actors well known on the local theatre scene, Khnemu Menu-Ra and Antonio Rodriguez. With a narrative thread assembled from the works of Shakespeare and a song list that ranges from Stephen Sondheim to Trent Reznor to the Lebanese-British singer-songwriter Mika, "Origins of Love" rings an impressive variety of changes on the theme of love and its discontents.

A well-designed cabaret show will often feel like a one-act play, with a dramatic through line and possibly the sense, by the end, that you have gone on a journey with the performers. "Origins of Love" is exactly that kind of show. It opens with Mr. Menu-Ra (who carries the majority of the show) performing the "Bottom's dream" speech (from "A Midsummer Night's Dream"), the moves smoothly and logically to Sondheim's "Invocation" (cut from "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum") and finally "High Flying, Adored" from "Evita." That last song is performed as a duet with pianist and music director Leah Luciano, whose skill as a singer and musician is also essential to the success of the evening.

From there, the selections from Shakespeare—performed, I'm happy to report, with an excellent feel for both the meter and the meaning—are used to segue among segments on various aspects of love, from juvenile sexual conquest to dark obsession, and finally to light-hearted acceptance. The show is filled with impressive moments, including Mr. Menu-Ra's performance of the title song (from Stephen Trask's score for "Hedwig and the Angry Inch") and Mr. Rodriguez's hilarious "Stumble Along" (from "The Drowsy Chaperone"). Ms. Luciano also has a nice solo on "I'd Rather Watch You," a clever 1920's pastiche from Joshua Schmidt's score for the 2008 musical adaptation of Elmer Rice's "The Adding Machine." stlfringe.com

Kimberly Lawson is credited as the director of "Origins of Love." I don't know how much of this show is hers and how much is Mr. Mr. Menu-Ra's, but between them they have come up with one of the stronger cabaret productions I've seen recently. And I've seen some pretty darned good ones.

Next, I hiked down the street to the CEL Center for Architecture and Design for The Midnight Company's presentation of Joe Hanrahan's latest one-man play, David MacIvor's "House." Described as a stand-up-sit-down comedy nightmare," "House" is the story of Victor who is, as he puts it, "fucked up, but not weird. You're born weird, but you get fucked up." It starts out as a comic, no-fourth-wall complaint about Victor's therapy group and soon moves on to an equally funny but increasingly bizarre series of complaints about his life. His wife Mary Ann doesn't love him, to begin with, and his father ran off to the circus to become The Saddest Man in the World.

OK. Odd, but possible. But then: his sister hosts parties for dogs who, according to Victor, behave eerily like humans. And when he tells his mother that he is planning to leave Mary Ann, she turns into a demon, levitates to the ceiling, and begins slashing up the house with a razor-sharp tongue.

Maybe not so possible. Mr. MacIvor's script and Mr. Hanrahan's charmingly believable performance combine to lure you into this story. Victor's disconnect from reality doesn't become obvious until he has already become ingratiating, and by then there's no turning back. "House" is a perfect combination of virtuoso acting and compelling story telling.

Finally, it was off to TheStage @ KDHX for "ODDyssey," actress Blair Godshall's comic monolog about her "10-year journey of odd jobs, odd skills and odd people." Fresh out of college with a theatre degree, Ms. Godshall realized that the odd jobs she had taken to help finance her education were going to have to continue while she tried to find a way to make a living on stage. That meant lots of work in various service industries involving "screaming children, dangerous heights, sexist midterm papers, even more sexist bosses, extra hot coffee, expensive glass and reasonably priced sausages".

She tells her stories with a sure sense of comic timing and a slightly caustic attitude that often reminded me of another skilled comic and actress, Sandra Berhnard. She changes from her own persona to that of other characters quickly and credibly, and it's not surprising to discover, towards the end of her show, that she is finally working as an actress on a regular basis.

"ODDyssey" is obviously a work in progress. Ms. Godshall was still working from a script and sometimes had to vamp while she got back on track, and her one-act play doesn't really have much of an end yet, but that's minor stuff. "ODDyssey" is still great fun, and a reminder of the mundane stuff your WTFs (Weird Theatre Friends) have to do in order to grab some creative freedom.

The St. Lou Fringe Festival continues through Saturday, June 27, at various venues in Grand Center. For more information, check the festival web site.




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