SOLEMN MOCKERIES began as many of my projects do: while seeking out a small project that could be handled in the midst of multiple responsibilities, perusing an out-of-town publication for likely scripts. In this case, it was LA Weekly, reviewing a new one-man show at the Independent Shakespeare Company, a true story about William-Henry Ireland, notorious Shakespearean forger of the late 18th Century.
I contacted the ISC who directed me to playwright Rick Creese. He sent along the script, and from the first read, the game was on.
While we were looking at production by summer of 2013, circumstances (including difficulty nailing down dates at our preferred performance space of Dressel’s Pub) kept delaying it until we determined the ideal production dates (early Jan/2014) but then needed a space. Dressel’s was out of the question, but an out-of-left-field call to Gary Bell resulted in his warmly welcoming us to a blank spot in the Stray Dog schedule.
Though the Tower Grove Abbey was a bigger space than we had planned, we immediately began making performance and production choices that would help fill the space.
The work was challenging (wouldn’t have it any other way.) English accents, 16 or so different characters, period and Shakespearean influenced – a task. Director Sarah Whitney exhibited her typical good judgment and infinite patience to move us along.
And playwright Rick Creese became a long-distance ally, explaining things and collaborating on some script chages.
And finally, we got there: opening on a tough weekend , Jan 3. We papered the house a bit to start word of mouth, and since no other theatre was happening on that dark weekend, all the critics came. And they loved it!
Reviews were not just good, but the kind of good that actually moved tickets.
The final two weekends, the crowds grew and grew, and the shows were celebrations. The playwright, Rick Creese, and Mrs. Creese, were able to come into St. Louis for the second weekend, and enjoyed the performances and their visit. And talks were on-going about another possible Creese/Midnight collaboration.
The show was immensely satisfying for me: not only as an actor, the joy of performing the charming and witty script (after I had somehow got it under my belt), but also as a producer, the joy of seeing the show so artistically and popularly appealing.
And along with the success of the show, whatever stale and weary thoughts may come to a theatre artist in the midst of trying to mount a show, they were rescued by the generosity, hospitality and spirit of Gary Bell and Stray Dog Theatre, who welcomed us to their Stray Dog Abbey, and provided all the support we could want.
By Judith Newmark firstname.lastname@example.org
'Solemn Mockeries' tells a story built on real lies
Rick Creese first heard of William-Henry Ireland years ago, when he was in graduate school at UCLA and Ireland was little more than a footnote in one of his courses.
But the story stuck with him. And why wouldn’t it? It’s quite a tale, bursting with family tensions, greed and literary intrigue.
And in its own weird way, it’s also pretty funny.
Eventually Creese, who teaches at UCLA now, turned Ireland’s saga into a one-man play, “Solemn Mockeries: The Notorious True Story of the Great Shakespeare Forgery.” When the Midnight Company presents the St. Louis premiere of the play with Joe Hanrahan, theatergoers may find it hard to believe that it’s based on real events. But Creese swears he couldn’t have made this stuff up.
At the dawn of the 19th century in London, teenage William-Henry Ireland was kicked out of school; the teacher thought he was too stupid to educate. His father, Samuel Ireland, concurred. A book collector and manuscript seller, Samuel made his disdain for his son no secret.
But William-Henry knew that his father, who adored Shakespeare, had one great longing: an original document in the Bard’s own hand. What a treasure that would be!
It wasn’t all that hard to make it up. William-Henry had old paper, from his father’s shop, and a facsimile of Shakespeare’s handwriting to work from. He forged a document, claiming he had acquired it from a man he met at a coffee shop.
In those pre-CSI days, that was good enough for Samuel — and for William-Henry, who with a few faked strokes had turned himself into the “light of his father’s life,” Creese says.
You’d think that would satisfy Samuel. But no, he wanted more — and William-Henry, basking in unaccustomed approval, did his best to satisfy.
He delivered treasure after treasure: a love letter to Anne Hathaway (Shakespeare’s wife, not the movie star), an original script of “King Lear.” Was Samuel troubled by rumors, common in 1800, that Shakespeare was a “papist”? William-Henry reassured him with a hand-written declaration of faith, espousing clearly Protestant beliefs!
Curiously, the coffee-shop man was never available to meet Samuel, only William-Henry.
“If Samuel had been a little brighter, he might have checked things out,” Creese says. “But he was just so proud, he invited important men to see his finds. (Biographer) James Boswell bowed down and kissed the paper.
“Samuel had it all pretty well stage-managed. He would have guests in for a few hours at a time, and he gave them exactly what they wanted to see.”
Creese points out that, at that time, Shakespeare scholarship was much different from today.
“Edmond Malone, the first real Shakespeare scholar, was just coming into his own,” he says. “And he never actually saw the papers.”
Still, when Samuel, unable to resist, published copies of his treasure, Malone lit into him, challenging the authenticity of his great find on the basis of hundreds of errors.
That was the beginning of the end for William-Henry, who, in a burst of nerve or desperation, came up with a “lost” Shakespeare play, “Vortigern.” This went beyond forgery; William-Henry actually wrote the play himself.
“There are two copies of it in California, at the Huntington (Library),” Creese says. “It’s horrible.”
Creese wrote “Solemn Mockeries” for David Melville, managing director of LA’s Independent Shakespeare Company. In November, that production won the award for best period show at the United Solo Theatre Festival in New York.
Hanrahan, Midnight’s artistic director, has made solo shows something of a specialty. A veteran performer who has worked with troupes here from Theatre Project Company to the Black Rep to OnSite, he estimates that he’s done 10 or 11 one-man shows, often with director Sarah Whitney (who is back for “Solemn Mockeries”).
Still, this one poses challenges, and not only because he plays 18 characters.
“Rick’s writing is very funny,” Hanrahan says. “It tells a deep, rich story, full of actors and royalty and common folk. It’s a British period piece with all that entails — which is a lot of work!
“But it’s a great story, too, a fascinating story. It’s like hot gossip — the kind of thing you really want to tell.”
By Judith Newmark email@example.com
'Solemn Mockeries' charms with literary crimes
“How trivial can seem the moment that destroys one’s life,” William-Henry Ireland sighs near the beginning of “Solemn Mockeries,” the one-man play that the Midnight Company just opened.
The circumstances of Ireland’s life, pre- and post-destruction, are so outlandish that it’s tempting to put him in a class by himself. But with that line, playwright Rick Creese reminds us how anyone’s fate may turn on a dime.
Maybe that’s why the play is so funny and so touching. As a forger who not only copied Shakespeare’s handwriting but invented his love letters and even a “missing” play, Ireland makes an exceptionally weird character. But as someone who turned a chance remark into a criminal career, he’s a lot like everybody else: Things just got out of hand.
Who can’t understand that? Creese surprises us with sympathy.
The witty, fact-based play opens in 1826, when Ireland, cash-strapped as usual, gives a public lecture on his early adventures in fraud. Joe Hanrahan, who portrays him and a host of others, cuts an ingratiating figure in breeches and tattered frock coat. Costumer Taylor Steward provides just enough detail to establish the period and mood on the nearly bare, but aptly old-fashioned, Tower Grove Abbey stage.
Ireland genially reminds us of all the things he has never done: kill anybody, throw bombs, frighten a child. Yet he is one of the most notorious men in England, because of the crime he did commit. He just wants a chance to explain.
It leads to a delightful evening of theater, rich in incident and vivid characters. Under the direction of Sarah Whitney, Hanrahan transforms himself into all the people who influenced Ireland (though rarely for good). They include the icy housekeeper who raised him, a lisping aristocrat, a glamorous actress and his one “friend,” a witless actor. Best of all is Hanrahan’s portrayal of Samuel Ireland, William-Henry’s father and the speaker of the fatal, chance remark.
Samuel Ireland had nothing but contempt for his son, and nothing but adoration for Shakespeare. On their way home from a pilgrimage to Stratford-on-Avon, Samuel tells William-Henry how much he longed to have a scrap of paper, anything, with Shakespeare’s own signature on it.
More clever than Samuel realized, William-Henry practiced until he was able to make his father’s dream “come true.”
With his father’s contempt transformed to affection — and with his greed unchecked — the teenager kept going, supplying more and more Shakespeariana. For a while that made Samuel the king of the London literati. But when it crashed, it all fell on William-Henry’s head.
A little like enjoying a meal with the best dinner guest ever, “Solemn Mockeries” is of course a treat for Shakespeare lovers. But those who enjoy theater by any author will savor Hanrahan’s colorful performance in a challenging piece. Above all, the play has lots to offer anyone who’s ever been in a parent-child relationship, on either side.
BY: CHRISTOPHER REILLY
Solemn Mockeries’ Is An Historical And Comedic Delight
Everyone has, at one time or another, done something they knew was wrong, only to have it blow up in their proverbial faces. Still, it would be hard to match the exploits of William-Henry Ireland, who in 1795 forged William Shakespeare’s name on a document to impress his father, only to wind up as the greatest forger of Shakespeare’s documents and manuscripts of all time. “Solemn Mockeries,” beautifully acted by Joe Hanrahan, tells the story of the literary thief with style and charm for an evening of intriguing, poignant and humorous theater by The Midnight Company at Tower Grove Abbey.
Hanrahan has the one-man show down to an art form. A year or so ago we marveled at Hanrahan’s performance in “Mistakes Were Made,” so it comes as no surprise that he holds the audience in the palm of his hand in this story and can draw laughs with either a subtle gesture or outright buffoonery. Along the way, Hanrahan plays each of the characters involved in the tale, all 40 or so of them.
The true story is well documented, and playwright Rick Creese sticks to the facts. No need to embellish when the true story is fantastical in itself. Although Ireland was—to put it mildly—an underachiever, he was quite adept at the technical aspects of his forgeries. He mixed a special recipe of ink, which when held close to a candle turned brown and looked aged. The papers he used were the end pages torn from antique books, and he pried old wax seals off old documents and stuck them on his newly forged ones.
As for how he continually acquired these rare documents, and even full-length manuscripts, he made up a mysterious “Mr. H,” who had given him access to an old trunk with permission to take what he wanted. How his father could believe that the mysterious trunk could produce specifically requested documents seems beyond believable, but Ireland points out a fact that we know all too well; people see what they want to see. And that is how he not only passed his fakes off on his father, but fooled high-society and experts alike.
The discovery of the forgeries was inevitable, but it was hastened by Ireland himself when he began to believe that he was actually Shakespeare’s literary heir. So much so, that he writes his own play titled “Vortigern” and attempts to pass it off as an unknown work by the great playwright. When that play gets produced at Drury Lane (a very funny scene with Hanrahan playing all the actors, the audience, the playwright, and everybody else), things come to a head.
Director Sarah Whitney, a frequent collaborator of Hanrahan’s, keeps the story clear and captivating, which is remarkable considering the complexity of the true story—a story that in Hanrahan’s telling seems way too short. An hour feels like fifteen minutes. Nor do you have to be “into” Shakespeare to enjoy the show. The themes of seeking a father’s approval; the struggle against self-mediocrity; as well as being trapped in a bad situation of our own making are universal and timeless.
It’s easy to recommend “Solemn Mockeries.” Hanrahan, a St. Louis stage veteran, has the acting thing down, and the amazing story just might have you rushing home to look up William-Henry Ireland.
St Louis Eats
Joe Hanrahan has run another of his one-man shows up the flagpole. Should we salute again?
He's offering "Solemn Mockeries" at Tower Grove Abbey, a new play about an 18th Century forger. Not too promising a subject? Oh, please. Con men are almost inevitably fascinating, and given Hanrahan's ability to inhabit his characters, the audience has a good chance of being drawn in.
William Henry Ireland - who really existed - has taken to the stage to explain the folly of his youth when he forged Shakespeare's signature, and then longer pieces attributed to the Bard. Wearing an exquisitely shabby coat and in moderate dishabille, Hanrahan, who surely has the largest cowlick of any actor working in St. Louis currently, makes his case with all the earnest modesty that surely helped Ireland along his road to peridtion.
One guy onstage, helped by several people like Taylor Steward, who created the costume, Krista Tettaton, who pulled out all the carefully chosen props like the "courting chair" that keep things simple but right, and Tyler Duenow's lighting. Uncredited is the frock-coated gent who strolls out to change and flourish the hand-lettered signs that begin each of the two acts, but who I suspect is Tyler Linke, the stage manager. No dialogue, but he gets laughs.
The play, by Rick Creese, loses a certain amount of momentum in the second act, that not-uncommon problem in so many works. And perhaps the author is a little too Freudian in blaming Ireland's malfeasance on his relationship with his father. Still, especially for history buffs, it's a worthwhile evening. And frankly, with Hanrahan, it's always a good gamble to see what he's been working on.
The Midnight Company is starting off the New Year with a trip back in time. With their new production of Rick Creese’s one-man play Solemn Mockeries, the Tower Grove Abbey has been turned into a sort of “Wayback Machine”, transporting the audience to 19th Century London, where we are introduced to the colorful William-Henry Ireland (Joe Hanrahan), who recounts his fascinating, alternately comic and tragic life story, focusing on that one time, 30 years earlier in 1795, when he almost got away with forging a full-length Shakespeare play and managed to have the play staged by some of the most prominent theatrical figures of the era in one of the most well-known theaters in London. It’s one of those too-strange-to-believed anecdotes of history that, astoundingly enough, actually did happen, and this production turns that improbable tale into an entertainingly immersive evening of theatre.
The setting is very simple, but completely effective. Just a few pieces of furniture and a series of placards announcing Ireland’s appearance (introduced by a silent, sober-faced man in impeccable early 19th Century costume) help set the mood and transport the audience back to an era in which the apologetic but also proud and enterprising Ireland is making a living out of reliving his earlier adventures before the general public. The Tower Grove Abbey, a re-purposed early 20th Century church building with its wooden pews and stained glass windows,is a fitting venue for this event, and Hanrahan, as Ireland, even makes a sly reference to the building in his opening remarks. It’s easy to get caught up in the illusion of the 1820′s setting as Ireland tells his story and interacts with the audience, giving impromptu quizzes, asking for opinions and offering whimsical commentary on the events as he portrays them.
Hanrahan, looking like he stepped out of the pages of a history book in costume designer Taylor Steward’s well-appointed ensemble, portrays Ireland as an eager-to-please, charming rascal who is at once proud and apologetic about his career as a forger. His accent is a bit uneven in places, but that doesn’t really matter in the long run since his Ireland is such a fascinating character, and his descriptions of his upbringing and the events that led into his acts of fraud are thoroughly compelling to watch.
Hanrahan portrays not only Ireland, but also Ireland’s impressions of various character’s in Ireland’s life, from his stern, historical relic-obsessed father, to his opportunistic actor friend, to the Duke of Clarence (the future King William IV) and the various actors involved with the production of Ireland’s faux Shakespearean tragedy, Vortigern. It’s a hilarious comic performance, but also tinged with regret and even tragedy, as Ireland is shown as an ingratiating sort whose greatest wish in life was to please his own implacable father, who ignored and neglected the young Ireland until he suddenly “found” all these documents supposedly written by the Bard. Hanrahan’s Ireland is a mass of contradictions–reveling in his adventures while simultaneously showing regret and a desire to be accepted, full of self-deprecating wit and giddy, gleeful energy as the story of his colossal failure unfolds.
The play itself finds a lot of sympathy in Ireland, especially in his upbringing and neglect by his parents, but it also presents him as something of a pathetic figure–a mediocre artist looking for validation, but who was born into a world where celebrity was highly valued and enterprising people could make their own fame if they had the right motivation, and the right gimmick. It actually sounds a lot like today, which is why I think a story like this can be so entertaining for modern audiences. Today’s William-Henry Ireland would probably have his own reality show as opposed to appearing on the lecture circuit, but regardless of how enlightened people may think they are today, there still seem to be engaging frauds like Ireland popping up from time to time looking for attention and, eventually, forgiveness.
Ultimately, I was impressed by how vividly the times and places of William Henry Ireland’s life were evoked by this production, with nothing more than the impeccable costumes, simple sets and Hanrahan’s compelling performance to hold the audience’s attention and capture our imaginations. Ireland is a person that many people may not have heard of, and this production introduces us to him and and the events of his life in a thoroughly engaging way. It’s a very amusing and thought-provoking journey through time.
By Paul Friswold
Theater is the art of embellished storytelling. An event unfolds, but to relate it properly to an audience you need costumes, lights, a stage and at least one actor to better handle the emotional moments. But what if your story is so good that it needs no such embellishments?
William-Henry Ireland has one of the all-time great stories. He is also one of the all-time great embellishers. Who better than him to tell his story? And so we gather in an English theater in 1826 to hear him explain what he did and why he did it in plain, unvarnished English.
What he did is forge a trunkful of papers, poems and a play under the name "William Shakespeare." Why he did it is in equal measure a tale of hope and of human weakness.
Ireland, played with incisive wit and no small amount of panache by Joe Hanrahan, tells us of his early years. His mother is the family housekeeper, Mrs. Freeman, who was once the mistress of the Earl of Sandwich. His father is the man the earl paid to take in Mrs. Freeman when the earl moved on. Or perhaps William-Henry's father is the earl — the situation is unclear, even to poor William-Henry.
Unloved by his vindictive mother (a woman scorned, and all that) and ignored by his distant in-house father, young William-Henry's only joy comes from the thrice-a-week family reading sessions, at which he and his siblings recite the great works of the English language under Mr. Ireland's direction. Shakespeare is Mr. Ireland's passion, while William-Henry loves Sir Herbert Croft's Love and Madness, a fictionalized account of the real-life forger of medieval poetry, Thomas Chatterton. It seems inevitable that the interests of father and son will become tangled in the near future, at least as William-Henry tells it.
Hanrahan creates all of these other characters through posture and voice, giving each an identifiable mannerism so that it's always clear who is speaking. As William-Henry, Hanrahan gives a dazzling performance. There's a barely concealed chuckle in his voice as he relates his misadventure, as if even he can't believe how he became the greatest literary hoaxer of his age. As the details of his crime flow forth, his eyes belie what he says to great effect. Revealing that Mr. Ireland calls him "Sam," after William-Henry's dead twin brother, he blithely claims he doesn't mind being referred to as the dead twin he never met, but his eyes dim with unspoken pain.
That his family, such as it is, spurs him to make brash pronouncements while also being the source of his discontent is the prosaic truth nestled in the heart of Solemn Mockeries. Unloved and unwanted at home, William-Henry realizes, "If I wanted good fortune, I would have to manufacture it." That he did, repeatedly and in blatant defiance of the law and common sense. But his intention was simply to please his father, who had a mania to possess something with William Shakespeare's signature on it. That this desire culminated in the full production of Vortigern, Shakepeare's "lost" play, with the finest actors of the day on London's grandest stage, is insane and patently unbelievable — and yet it all happened.
Of course, to hear William-Henry Ireland tell it, it was simply a matter of embellishment writ large. The best theater always is.
by Mark Bretz
Story: An ornate chair at stage left and a stately desk at stage right rather starkly adorn the stage for an appearance by one William-Henry Ireland in London in 1826. He’s there to publicly explain how, some 30 year earlier, he fooled the experts and conned the public into believing that he had unearthed a treasure trove of original letters, poems and even a hitherto unknown full-length play by none other than The Bard himself, William Shakespeare.
Driven to forge such documents by an iron-willed and callous father who worshipped Will, young Ireland, not yet 19 years of age, churned out a succession of forgeries in an attempt to quell the senior Ireland’s insatiable thirst for all things Shakespearean. Alas, William-Henry met his Waterloo (even before Napoleon, ironically) when he attempted to mount a full production of Vortiger, which he alleged was written by Shakespeare and only recently discovered under mysterious circumstances.
As the premiere date approached, the show’s director and cast became increasingly suspicious of Vortiger, which certainly read and sounded inferior to The Bard’s accepted canon. When estimable Shakespearean scholar Edmond Malone studied a new book of “lost” works by Shakespeare, he accused Ireland of fraud with a blistering dissection of the tome, and the truth was out. Still, William-Henry was driven to produce his ‘masterpiece,’ regardless of what ‘solemn mockery’ may result. Now, three decades later, Ireland returns from self-imposed exile to explain his actions.
Highlights: Rick Creese, a lecturer for writing programs at UCLA, wrote this one-actor work after hearing the true story of notorious Shakespearean forger William-Henry Ireland. It premiered in Los Angeles in 2013 in a production by the Independent Shakespeare Company, which was awarded “Best Period Show” in November at the United Solo Theatre Festival in New York City.
Riding on the coat-tails of that very recent success is a delightful presentation currently being staged by The Midnight Company at Tower Grove Abbey. Midnight’s artistic director, Joe Hanrahan, once again proves adept at handling all the heavy lifting required of a single performer telling a story on stage, even a yarn as bizarre and forlorn as this one.
Other Info: Creese’s script is neatly packaged as two, 45-minute acts sandwiched around a 15-minute intermission. That’s a tidy and sufficient amount of time for Hanrahan to engage his audience with a droll performance as the sad William-Henry, a young man who was deemed too “stupid” to be effectively taught at the private school his father had selected for him in the late 18th century.
Hanrahan also portrays the cold, aloof senior Ireland, a man whose son refers to most often only as “Mr. Ireland,” lacking the comfort and clarity -- and paternal love -- to refer to him as “father” or “papa.” That’s the sort of heart-rending revelation that drives this fascinating but profoundly sad and true tale.
To make matters worse, William-Henry suspects that the flippant tart who keeps Ireland’s house amidst other ‘arrangements,’ is in reality his own mother, who was ‘sold’ to the senior Ireland by none other than the Earl of Sandwich.
Hanrahan glibly calls upon a variety of accidents and affectations in portraying more than a dozen characters in this cautionary tale, which serves effectively to break the monotony of a work performed by a single player. He can be calculating or precious or buffoonish or cruel or convivial, depending upon the character, while always anchored to the central role of the gifted but tortured forger.
Director Sarah Whitney allows Hanrahan plenty of room and time to develop his cadre of characters, which the versatile veteran delivers with finesse and savory style, even sending Hanrahan into the audience briefly. Krista Tettaton provides a bevy of quaint-looking props to help visualize the story, Tyler Duenow adds stark lighting and Taylor Steward dresses William-Henry in an elegant but somewhat foppish period costume, matching his quirky personality.
Truth is stranger than fiction, ‘tis said, and patrons of a certain age may be reminded of Clifford Irving’s 1970s hoax, The Autobiography of Howard Hughes, as a modern equivalent. Solemn Mockeries is bizarre and baffling yet intoxicating, the stuff of which troubled dreams may be made.
Written by Tina Farmer
There’s no shortage of humor in 'Solemn Mockeries'
With "Solemn Mockeries," the Midnight Company has once again succeeded in producing a memorable, and thoroughly enjoyable, evening of theater on a smaller scale. This "true story" introduces contemporary audiences to William-Henry Ireland, a man who nearly found success by creating forgeries of William Shakespeare's personal documents. If his reach hadn't exceeded his abilities, Ireland might have escaped discovery during his lifetime.
The humorous tale is presented from Ireland's point-of-view, countered by the observations and reactions of multiple supporting characters, including Ireland's father, a number of actors, theater proprietors, Shakespearian scholars, and such. As this is a one-man show, actor Joe Hanrahan is in constant movement and adjustment during the performance, adding both urgency and self-importance to his delivery.
Hanrahan is a talented actor, with a wealth of experience in the one-man format, which once again serves him, and the story, well. The show's lead, William-Henry Ireland, is distinct and interesting; and Hanrahan remains true to the subtleties of this character each time he returns to him.
I don't know that I saw 17 different, fully developed characters, but there were mannered affectations, vocal nuances, and purposeful motivations for Ireland and each of the supporting characters. In addition, all of the characters were clearly expressed and well represented. There are simply so many characters in the show that many have just a line or two, as they are included only to add humor or emphasis.
The script, by Rick Creese, is engaging and the subject matter interesting, but without Hanrahan's diligent efforts, the evening would have felt more like a lecture and less like entertainment. While each character was individually entertaining, I found myself wondering if the show would be better served with more dialogue from fewer characters.
Sarah Whitney's direction was sure handed, and the pace and lighting were strong. The set design was simple, but nicely appointed, and a series of "title cards" employed at the top of each act set the tone for a sly, witty evening of storytelling. The use of a number of mnemonic audio cues was another humorous touch, but may have been somewhat overplayed.
Unfortunately, there were several scenes that seemed to go on and on, as well as a number of threads that were distractingly off-topic, no matter how charmingly delivered. Creese's script is obviously well researched and filled with rich detail, perhaps too much detail. While I enjoyed the show and did not find that it actually ran long, the running time is well under two hours, there where moments that simply felt long and unnecessarily drawn out. I felt some skillful editing would improve the production without losing the story and humor.
The show is a delightfully entertaining and humorous retelling of William-Henry Ireland's career in forgery, and Hanrahan's glib and sophisticated interpretation makes it easy to sympathize with him. As usual, Hanrahan throws himself into the part with appropriate abandon. Even as an older, wiser man, Hanrahan adds rakish charm and a boyish perspective to Ireland, creating an affable, energetic character. Considering the over-abundance of characters and details, the show moves rather quickly and is as funny as it is abundant.
"Solemn Mockeries" runs through January 18, 2014 in the theater at Tower Grove Abbey, by arrangement with Stray Dog Theatre. I was pleased to see yet another pair of companies working together to utilize resources while producing quality theater for St. Louis audiences. For more information, or to make reservations, visit www.midnightcompany.com.
St. Louis Public Radio
By Camille Phillips
A discussion with Joe Hanrahan about his roles in Rick Creese's one-man play "Solemn Mockeries" which dramatizes the true story of Shakespeare forger William-Henry Ireland.
Continuing his run of one-man plays, artistic director Joe Hanrahan stars in the Midnight Company's production of "Solemn Mockeries," based on the true story of Shakespeare forger William Henry-Ireland. The play opened last Friday at Tower Grove Abbey, with Friday and Saturday performances through January 18.
Hanrahan described the play as both sad and funny; sad because it tells the story of a young man desperate for the approval of his father, and yet funny because it is filled with sly, humorous comments.
Stage Door Review
2014 Starts Off With The Midnight Company, Joe Hanrahan And “Solemn Mockeries”
A delightful way to start the new year- with the St. Louis king of one-man shows, Joe Hanrahan- this time portraying a little-known dubious Shakespeare “expert” and all of those around him as well in “Solemn Mockeries.” With unusual sincerity, sharp wit and an astounding mastery of slipping easily from one character to the next, Mr. Hanrahan entertains us over two acts with the antics of this 19th century ne’er do well.
William-Henry Ireland grew up with an unforgiving father, a “live-in” housekeeper who served as his mother and he only aimed to please as he found out early on that his father had a penchant for everything Shakespeare and longed for something with the famous playwright’s signature. So, as “Solemn Mockeries” opens, we are attending a lecture by Mr. Ireland in an attempt to explain how a simple attempt to please his father led to his life of “crime.” After all, he tells us, he murdered no one, he really did nothing wrong other than make his father happy. Samuel Ireland would regale the child with his own version of Shakespeare during William-Henry’s formative years. Using misplaced emphasis and inappropriate pauses, it’s a wonder the young lad ever understood the Bard at all listening to his father’s interpretations. Starting out by forging Shakespeare’s name, William-Henry soon began writing poems, letters and other short pieces and signed Shakespeare’s name (experts determined them to be the real thing). When he “discovered a “lost play” by Shakespeare, he became the darling of the literary set and his (Shakespeare’s play) was scheduled to open at the prestigious Drury Lane Theatre.
The second act description of the disastrous opening night is why Joe Hanrahan is the master of these one-man shows. With nothing but frantic movement and a voice to match the hysteria that went on around him and the play, it becomes a magnificent tour de force for this accomplished actor. His mastery of all of the characters he portrays throughout “Solemn Mockeries” is equally adept. Giving each man and woman a particular voice and mannerism, it becomes easy to identify each person with a wave of Mr. Hanrahan’s hand or a curl of the lip.
With sly and witty direction by Sarah Whitney, it becomes an evening that you won’t soon forget. Outfitted in glamorous rags thanks to costumer Taylor Steward and lit perfectly by Tyler Duenow’s design and a few set pieces (including a courting chair, of all things) by Krista Tettaton, it becomes a thing of 19th century beauty. The Rick Creese script is funny and smart if a little slow at times, but in the hands of Mr. Hanrahan, it becomes a loving bon mot to the time as well as to Shakespeare.
Playing at Stray Dog’s Tower Grove Abbey stage, “Solemn Mockeries” is a hoot. Catch it between now and January 18th for a step back in time that’s not so different from today- a scurrilous character tries to make a comeback from an unforgivable act. Today he’d be a politician or a reality TV star.
Revised: October, 2007
© The Midnight Company