Two magnificent actors plus an iconic writer’s work minus the fourth wall equals a night of outstanding theater.
Two magnificent actors plus an iconic writer’s work minus the fourth wall equals a night of outstanding theater. Midnight Company tackles Tennessee Williams’ somewhat autobiographical study on the “confining nature of human existence.” Claire (Michelle Hand) and Felice (Joe Hanrahan) are traveling actors who have been deserted by their company and friends. The show has a play within a play called “The Two-Character Play” in which Claire and Felice—in character—expose all of their anxieties, paranoia, and social flaws. The fact that Claire and Felice also have these same issues makes their respective characters even more believable.
While the story is overly complex, it really is quite enjoyable to follow thanks in part to the amount of comedic lines Williams wrote. I never knew Williams was so funny. The dialogue of the show is classic Williams with dramatic pregnant pauses and verbal diatribes so exquisitely crafted that you could almost see the emotional wounds inflicted manifest on the actors’ bodies.
I mentioned the absence of the fourth wall earlier. Although the actors interacted with the audience in brief moments, I was referring to how the gap between the audience and the actors was physically non-existent. Produced at Winter Opera, the room was no larger than the basement of a moderately priced home. Two rows of chairs lined up against the back wall were only inches away from the actors themselves. It is, perhaps, the most intimate setting for a production I have attended.
The smallness of the room was the perfect setting for this type of show. Tender facial movements may have gotten lost in a bigger theater. Bravo to the technical team of Mark Wilson, Liz Henning, and Jimmy Bernatowicz—all of whom wore multiple hats—for creating such an magnificent world for the actors to inhibit.
Then we get to the two characters of the play, Hanrahan and Hand. Both actors did sensational jobs in their performances. Hanrahan’s ability to give his performance enough emotional weight without crossing the line was brilliant. The love Hanrahan has for the dialogue Williams created was undeniable. His performance was heartfelt and endearing. This is one performance I would love to see again.
Hand is the total package. She ran the gamut of characterizations: alcohol addiction, paranoia, manic depression, ferocious anger, compassion, and most of all love. Her role was the Olympics of acting and she, by far, won the gold. Her menacing glare from across the room made me ill at ease, her ability to land the lion share of the jokes was exquisite, and her delivery of the verbose dialogue—with elocution that will make your head spin—was perfection. Any time you get the chance to see Hand in action take it. She is a magnificent jewel in St. Louis’ theatrical crown.
The Two-Character Play is a fascinating study in human behavior, which also reminded me of Grey Gardens. What happens when you cut yourself off from society and marinate in your own neuroses? While that question will remain with me for a while, so will this production. This show is a must-see for the mere fact that you will see two locals actor give a master class on emotional realness. | Jim Ryan
The Two-Character Play has a limited run until June 4. Please visit midnightcompany.com—quickly—for tickets.
Photo: Ride Hamilton