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Wednesday, 08 January 2014 15:03

There’s no shortage of humor in 'Solemn Mockeries'

Written by Tina Farmer
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The Details

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.

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