Joe Hanrahan Steals the Show

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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?

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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.

 

The Midnight Company‘s production of Conor McPherson’s The Good Thief takes place Wednesdays and Thursdays, March 26-April 10, at Dressel’s Pub, 419 N. Euclid Ave. in the Central West End. Showtime is at 7:30. Tickets ($15 adults, $10 students/seniors) are available by calling 314-487-5305. Joe Hanrahan stars and Sarah Whitney directs.

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