NOW PLAYING THIRD BASE FOR THE ST. LOUIS CARDINALS...BOND, JAMES BOND
by Joe Hanrahan
Scheduled first for 2020, then rescheduled during the virus outbreak, then eventually rescheduled for 2021 when the virus refused to go away, NOW PLAYING... finally had a great run at The Chapel (the first time Midnight produced there, but we will be back.)
Free from the one-hour time limit of the Fringe, where the show was initially produced, we were free to take our time with it, making the transitions between the various subject matters clearer and more distinct. And a bit more material - on Baseball, Bond, The Beatles and more - were able to be.
Critics were enthusiastic, and so were the sizable audiences, which included old friends and new, as well as current (and hopefully future) theatre collaborators. All enjoyed the free crackerjack, popcorn, beer and soft drinks provided by The Chapel (who did accept donations).
Performing it was a joy, and the presentations were very consistent in quality and energy.
A very rewarding remount, and we brought it in just under another mask mandate.
The Midnight Company Presents a Play About the St. Louis Cardinals, Pop Culture and Racism in 1964
by Mark Bretz
July 12, 2021
Highlights: The Midnight Company founder and artistic director Joe Hanrahan reprises his role as the narrator of this engaging and absorbing yarn, which mirrors a previous era with the present in journalistic but not always flattering ways, blending the histories of baseball, movies, racism and theater together into one intriguing tale.
Story: It’s 1964 and several boys are getting ready to play another baseball game on a St. Louis summer’s day. The St. Louis Cardinals are in the middle of a pennant race, a year after a close second-place finish to the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1963 and 18 years after their last World Series triumph.
This group of boys loves baseball and the Cardinals. They also like the music of a new British band called The Beatles. And then there’s that fledgling sensation at the box office, an English spy known as “Bond, James Bond,” created by British World War II veteran Ian Fleming.
After the success of the first Bond adaptation, Dr. No, Bond has returned to the cinema in From Russia, With Love. A lad named Danny has arrived tardily at the sandlot but immediately engages his friends in a lengthy, play-by-play description of this film, which he saw the night before at the Maplewood cinema.
Looking back on that summer, our host recalls not only the games and the movies but also the rampant segregation between races, exemplified not only in St. Louis but also in Florida, where the Cardinals had spring training and where The Beatles played a concert in Jacksonville.
He also sprinkles in observations about theater because, after all, isn’t Danny performing for his friends, who listen raptly to his story about the suave secret agent on the silver screen?
Other Info: The newly remodeled exterior of The Chapel, where Bond is being performed, has further enhanced the attractiveness of the building’s architecture and landscaping. Inside, The Chapel’s lobby serves as the showplace for a delightful Cardinals baseball memorabilia exhibit curated by George Venegoni, a retired St. Louis police detective, former classmate of Hanrahan’s at McBride High School and fellow passionate devotee of fabled Abner Doubleday’s mythical creation.
Playwright Hanrahan has lengthened Bond from its original, 60-minute showing at The St. Lou Fringe Festival in 2018 to a 75-minute performance for audiences at The Chapel, where seats are arranged in pods to follow pandemic protocols.
The play also includes a brief history of one-person shows, such as Hal Holbrook as Mark Twain and Julie Harris as Emily Dickinson. We see glimpses of each in Michael B. Perkins’ video design, which incorporates photos throughout to help underscore reminiscences of From Russia, With Love, The Beatles, baseball players of the time and more. They’re all set in the forefront of the baseball diamond which serves as Perkins’ centerpiece.
Kevin Bowman’s production and lighting design help accentuate the simple tools – a bench, a bat – utilized to underscore Hanrahan’s affecting recollections and observations about how the Grand Old Game and the nation itself are inextricably linked, not always in a positive fashion.
For those of us who were around in 1964, the tidbits about the cast and crew of From Russia, With Love or the racism in baseball and throughout America in those days enhance our own recollections. For younger audiences, Bond suitably serves as a primer for more serious and detailed study.
At times, director Shane Signorino and Hanrahan stumble a bit in their pacing, which offsets the mood just a tad, similar to a modern-day baseball game, which can trudge along.
Nevertheless, Hanrahan captivates his audience as both the reflective narrator and the wide-eyed youth, Danny, while filling patrons in on his own experiences as a ballpark vendor in surely more colorful times before the advent of Fredbird and a smorgasbord of concessions. Following Signorino’s careful guidance, Hanrahan makes Bond a rewarding and educational experience, accentuating both the good and bad of St. Louis and American history.
Snoops Theatre Thoughts
Midnight’s Hanrahan Plays an Impressive “Third Base” at the Chapel
by Michelle Kenyon "Snoop"
July 8, 2021
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.
Looking Back At 1964 And Talkin’ Baseball In St. Lou Is Hanrahan’s Insightful, Delightful One-Man Show
by Lynn Venhouse
July 16, 2021
1964 was a memorable year for Americans. Still reeling from President Kennedy’s assassination, an escalating war in Vietnam and civil rights struggles, the U.S. was on the cusp of enormous change.
For teenage St. Louisans like Joe Hanrahan, it was an eventful time, especially that summer. The four lads from Liverpool rocked their world and they were ecstatic about the big bang of the British Invasion. The hometown Cards would make a mad dash for the pennant and face the Yankees in the World Series. And the coolest of the cool, Sean Connery as super-spy 007, was back on the big screen.
Hanrahan, a gifted storyteller, weaves his boyhood obsessions about baseball, The Beatles and James Bond into an entertaining and heartfelt amalgamation he wrote, titled “Now Playing Third Base for the St. Louis Cardinals…Bond, James Bond.”
His memory play, presented by The Midnight Company, will evoke a sense of being there. Vividly capturing a moment in time, you can visualize a dusty ballfield, neighborhood buddies and their equal passions for rooting for the hometown team and going to the movies.
These are the quintessential boys of summer. Joe, who played baseball in four different leagues, recalls his carefree days playing pick-up ball with his pals and nights selling soda and popcorn at Sportsman’s Park.
It is one of his most accessible works, and he’s completely at home on the intimate stage at The Chapel.
He draws us in by creating a specific sense of place, and how what was happening socially, politically and athletically affected these kids growing up in the city, as the ‘Lou was dynamically changing too.
And being teenage boys, enamored with a friend’s spirited recounting the entire experience of seeing the second Ian Fleming adaptation, “From Russia with Love,” the night before at the air-cooled Maplewood Theatre, is a major focus of this play. Rich in details, it’s riveting, as Hanrahan acts out the reminiscence, using Connery’s suave and debonaire demeanor, the beauty of Daniella Bianchi, and the exciting triumph over Spectre.
While Hanrahan showcases his raconteur skills, he offers copious amounts of interesting details – of the segregation issues across America, how Gussie Busch, who took over ownership of the Cardinals in 1953, led the way in integrating the team. Our Hall of Famers Bob Gibson and Lou Brock joined Ken Boyer, Dick Groat, Curt Flood, Julian Javier, Bill White and a young Mike Shannon in defeating the all-white Yankees dynasty in seven games.
Looking back, it was a seminal moment in American history, and Hanrahan credits David Halberstam’s book, “October 1964,” for the insight into race issues in Major League Baseball.
Hanrahan doesn’t shy away from mentioning the developing racial tensions and progress here either.
The reflections are palpable. He expresses the joys of a halcyon youth 57 years ago with panache, taking us back to the days of hi-fis playing 45s of “Can’t Buy Me Love,” “Twist and Shout,” “She Loves You,” “I Want to Hold Your Hand” and “Please Please Me” – the Beatles scored the top five positions on the Billboard Top 40 singles in America, an unprecedented achievement. Or the LP “Meet the Beatles,” which Joe hijacked from his sister.
The production is deftly directed by Shane Signorino, who has worked with Hanrahan before.
Video designer Michael B. Perkins has enhanced the one-man show with a cultural panoply of the sights and sounds of the day – the Fab Four, MLB players and the front office brass, and snippets of the Bond movie.
It’s a clever multi-media presentation. Kevin Bowman also provides crisp production and lighting design.
While he threads a boy’s look back, Hanrahan delivers dollops of theatrical wisdom. It is, after all, a work of theater – with drama and comedy.
A bonus is a magazine cover display in the lobby, courtesy of Redbirds fan George Venegoni.
Hanrahan has linked the time it was in an engaging way, guaranteed to produce smiles on a warm St. Louis summer night.
‘Now Playing Third Base for the St. Louis Cardinals… Bond, James Bond’ is a solid base hit
by Tina Farmer
July 18, 2021
Much like baseball, the latest offering from The Midnight Company, "Now Playing Third Base for the St. Louis Cardinals… Bond, James Bond" is a pleasant diversion. Written by and starring Joe Hanrahan, and directed by Shane Signorino with video design by Michael B. Perkins, the show is layered with nostalgia and commentary. Hanrahan’s animated performance and the script’s unfortunate but enduring relevance ensure the show resonates even as it reaches back to the 1960s for its plot.
In St. Louis, Missouri, the summer of 1964 was a significant one. Particularly if you were a young teen boy, obsessed with baseball, music, the movies and puberty. Doubly so if your parents moved you to a new neighborhood, introducing you to ideas like racism, segregation and white flight. For the narrator of this one actor show, all these ideas and pastimes coalesced together during that magical summer, leading him to his true calling – theater.
Bet you didn’t see that coming, did you? Or maybe you did, because this is a one-actor show after all, and not a one-man baseball team.
Hanrahan effortlessly moves between the real world of the St. Louis Cardinals' surprising run to the World Series that year and the imaginary world of super spy and renowned lothario James Bond. The Beatles' ascendence in the pop charts and personal impact on a young man’s sensibilities play a lesser, but still important, role. The events are typical of a U.S. summer, filled with sports, action movies and catchy pop tunes. The year is singularly formative to the narrator, introducing him to theater in the form of storytelling and play. Watching Hanrahan realize each thread and then connect the strands together is highly entertaining.
First, he’s 13-year-old Danny, rapidly retelling and acting out every detail of the new James Bond movie he just saw. Then, he’s Bond himself. Or maybe Harry Caray – a Cards broadcaster before he defected to Wrigley Field. Or one of the Black men selling concessions at the Ballpark and teaching the white schoolboys they worked with a thing or two. The story touches on some of the cruel realities of racism, which was more present and real in their lives than the Cold War, as seen through the eyes of a young man whose ideas about the world are still forming.
Signorino directs the show in a way that adds pauses and transitions without losing any of the energy and movement inherent in the script. It’s just enough for the audience to keep track of the various threads without distracting from the present scene. There are a few moments when the history behind an anecdote slows the pace a bit, but for the most part, Hanrahan and Signorino keep the show moving along briskly. Perkins’ video adds context that’s particularly helpful for those of us who don’t share all the cultural references of the period or city.
Hanrahan, adept at solo performance, weaves his tale with delight and a keen appreciation for the time and its personal influence on his life. Mostly though, he just dives in with two feet and total commitment to spinning and then tying together this fact-filled, anecdote riddled, often laugh out loud funny and surprisingly engrossing story. The combination is a more personal piece that showcases Hanrahan’s flexibility as an actor and skill as a storyteller.
“Now Playing Third Base for the St. Louis Cardinals… Bond, James Bond,” continues through July 25 at The Chapel. Though I would be curious to see how another actor would inhabit the character, Hanrahan is at his most compelling here and the show is a rare memory play that feels both nostalgic and topically relevant. The moment Hanrahan’s audience realizes his retelling of the James Bond movie is complete, signifying a transition to the conclusion, is palpable in the intimate theater space. And an actor can’t get much better kudos than a transfixed audience.
Joe Hanrahan’s Summer of ‘64
by Judy Newmark
July 22, 2021
Joe Hanrahan must be the hardest-working artist in St. Louis theater. As everyone struggles to return to performance mode after our long, unscheduled interruption, Hanrahan is already mounting his second Midnight Productions show of the season.
It probably helps that both are one-man shows, his specialty. Obviously, he loves these quirky, inherently intimidating pieces. It also means that he’s spared the difficulty of assembling a cast of available, vaccinated actors, and of putting together a set. (Solo performance favors bare-bones aesthetics.) Once Joe’s ready to go on, so is the show.
Hanrahan is both author and performer of “Now Playing Third Base for the St. Louis Cardinals . . . Bond, James Bond,” a mash-up of his memories of the St. Louis summer of 1964. Then a young teen, Hanrahan takes to The Chapel stage to recall four indelible elements of those steamy days.
The shadow of John Kennedy’s assassination the previous November still hung heavy. On the much brighter side, the Beatles were leading the British Invasion, storming America with a cool new sound. And the Cardinals - whom Hanrahan followed passionately, as a fan and as a soda vendor in the stands – were having a great season. By the end of it, the home team would beat the Yankees in the World Series. The victory, as Hanrahan recalls, was all the sweeter because the good-guy Cards boasted more African-American stars than the snooty Yankees.
Plus, a new James Bond movie opened, “From Russia with Love.” It was the first one that Hanrahan and his pals got to see, and they were thrilled by Sean Connery’s incarnation of virile adulthood and by Bond Girl’s Daniela Bianchi’s allure. Hanrahan’s buddy Danny was the first to see it at their neighborhood theater, the Maplewood, so he acted it all out for them when they met to play ball the next day. Danny, Hanrahan considers, was his introduction to one-man performance. Plainly it had an impact.
Directed by Shane Signorino on a stage enlivened only by Michael B. Perkins’ video graphics, “Now Playing” is frankly autobiographical. Indeed, Hanrahan truly seems to be “playing himself” – a smart, charming, funny guy who can entertain us with quick turns as the characters who populate his memories. (His evil Lotte Lenya is especially tasty.) Hanrahan’s baby-boomer contemporaries will especially appreciate this stroll down memory lane, though others may relate.
“Now Playing,” though, seems to be going for something more than nostalgia. You sense that Hanrahan the playwright wanted to weave all four elements - JFK, the Beatles, baseball and James Bond - into a shining, coherent metaphor for those times.
That doesn’t happen (and may not even be possible). But the beginning of the long title, “Now Playing,” is a tantalizing phrase, one that makes equal sense in terms of sports or music, movies or live theater. Maybes Hanrahan came close to his unified field theory of 1964 after all.
Revised: October, 2007
© The Midnight Company