By Lynn Venhaus

The playwright Harold Pinter made a long and distinguished career out of confounding people with odd plays featuring weird situations, convoluted dialogue, and peculiar characters. “Old Times,” written in 1971, is his freaky, flaky waltz down memory lane that never resolves anything but builds unnerving tension. It is one of his more divisive dramas.

When Roundabout Theatre Company was in rehearsals preparing for a revival in 1984, actor Anthony Hopkins asked Pinter to explain the play’s ending. He famously responded: “I don’t know. Just do it.”

OK, then. When the playwright intends to leave us hanging, it may be hard for a theatergoer to decipher, and there are plenty of theories about what really happened in this show. The point is caring enough to be satisfied with your highly personal observation.

This play is already a tall order for even the most accomplished artists, and unfortunately, is more frustrating than fulfilling in The Midnight Company’s latest presentation.

Director Sarah Lynne Holt has framed Pinter’s familiar enclosed space setting in a stripped-down theater-in-the-round style at The Chapel, where the audience is squished into a wedge of chairs where your view of the three actors may be limited.

That’s a detriment to absorbing the highly stylized delivery of the three actors where every non sequitur, riddle, pause and selected memory is supposedly fraught with meaning. And the sound isn’t consistent either, which makes it even harder to understand the disjointed patter.

The staging is clumsy, and while I realize it’s a low-budget production, the serving of tea is awkward, and the pouring of brandy into cordial glasses, not snifters, is puzzling.

Kelly Howe, Joe Hanrahan and Colleen Backer. Photo by Joey Rumpell.

Individually engaging performers — Colleen Backer as Kate, Kelly Howe as Anna, and Joe Hanrahan as Deeley, aren’t meant to be a cohesive trio, and their distance only raises more questions, as intended.

On the surface, it appears that a husband, Deeley, and a wife, Kate, are visited by her old friend and former roommate, Anna, from their carefree single days. They live remotely by the sea while she lives in Sicily but once lived in London. Kate and Anna haven’t seen each other in 20 years.

Well, that’s the story that they seem to be sticking with, and from the start, you can tell something is off kilter. Reality is blurred and recollections are tested in a most bizarre reconnection.

Vague on purpose, Howe hints that Anna has a swinger past and can still seduce, trying to be coquettish with both Kate and her husband.

The married couple don’t find that odd, nor do they appear to be what they seem. So, what kind of a charade is exactly going on?

While Backer and Howe are two evocative actresses — and it’s important to see their facial expressions if you can position yourself to do so, even their suggestive glances and knowing looks can’t convince us of any sexual heat between each other and Deeley.

And Deeley comes across as kind of pervy with his unfiltered accounts of sexual desire, conquests and previous hook-ups with these and other women. Is Hanrahan purposely playing him as creepy? We do discover his lounge lizard past.

The characters are all supposed to be in their 40s, and clearly, Hanrahan is not, even though he doesn’t look his age.

But one aspect that supposedly distinguishes other productions is sexual tension, as in the 2015 Broadway revival starring Clive Owen, Eve Best and Kelly Reilly, where critics repeatedly mentioned it. The heat is not evident here.

While that is an elusive quality, that addition could have been crucial to the audience buying into this scenario.

The women affect British accents while Hanrahan avoided it, so that’s another point that may bother you.

Pinter teases that there is something darker afoot. But the information is slim about their quirky characters the more the play goes on. Kate, who barely speaks, finally blurts out that she remembers her roommate being dead. Say what?

They may all be alive or dead, they all might be figments of someone’s imagination, and the way they reminisce about the past may be total fiction. Emotions are guarded and the characters don’t say what they mean. You wanted Pinteresque, and you got it.

If you are fascinated by his maddening style of doling out clues and pieces of information that may or may not wind up germane to the story, then you’ll invest the time to solve the puzzle.

If you are irritated by his overuse of pauses, or if you lack the patience to be convinced of anything not spelled out, then this material will let you down. It’s all in your perceptions.

Hailed as one of the most influential writers of the 20th century, Pinter won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2005, and is famous for “The Birthday Party,” “The Homecoming,” “Betrayal” and “The Caretaker.” He died at age 78 in 2008.

He tended to concentrate on isolation, fear and troubled personal relationships, creating an elliptical dialogue. He also liked to confuse time and space. Frequent descriptions of his work – unpredictable, unspecific, and combative – are apt.

Another choice is that Holt does little to guide the audience in a certain way, preferring to keep everyone guessing and debating afterwards instead. But according to the press release, she didn’t want to make it easy for people to agree on what happened.

The Emperor’s New Clothes or brilliant 20th century mind at work? You say subtle, I say pretentious.

I don’t find this material a good fit for the strengths of the award-winning veteran performers. They can, and have done, so much better. I usually enjoy watching them on stage, but Pinter’s obtuseness can only carry a show so far, especially when you feel disengaged.

The clock is ticking, and the play lasts 1 hour and 35 minutes with one intermission. Fatigue sets in when you realize they aren’t really saying much – and won’t.

I am pretty sure no two people who see “Old Times” will agree on interpretations, and then again, there’s no one right answer.

The trick is caring. The murkiness is troubling, and if you are OK without a satisfactory resolution, that’s your prerogative.

The Midnight Company presents “Old Times” July 11-27 at The Chapel, 6238 Alexander, with performances Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m., and Sunday matinees July 14 and 21 at 2 p.m. Tickets can be reserved at For more information, visit

By Lynn Venhaus
A daffy delight, “Spirits to Enforce” is a close encounter of the strange kind even in the make-believe world of theater.

This shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone familiar with the eccentric work of The Midnight Company and visionary writer-director Lucy Cashion who specializes in the unconventional. Only this time, they are vessels for playwright Mickle Maher’s quirky concept.

Maher, a favorite of Midnight Company’s creative director Joe Hanrahan, has infused his absurd comedic caper with comic book stylings mixed with William Shakespeare characters.

Maher, co-founder of Chicago’s Theater Oobleck, his producing home for more than 30 years, is known for creating paradoxical works, often involving classic literature. Both Midnight Company, Cashion, and their assembled team are at home in this very original and unusual world.

The result is as wacky and clever as the Marx Brothers in “Duck Soup,” one of comedian Bob Newhart’s early telephone routines, the whimsical “The LEGO Batman Movie,” and the surreal comedy troupe The Firesign Theatre (popular in the ‘60s- ‘70s).

It definitely has an improvisational troupe vibe, but director Cashion has masterfully choreographed it like a dance/show choir/cheerleading competition where they are going for the gold.

And that care is exhilarating – and special. It’s apparent that this dozen worked incredibly hard on their precise movements and seamless execution. The kooky ensemble is a marvel of impeccable timing, crisp delivery, and a robust take-no-prisoners approach to their roles.

Twelve characters sit at a very long table, like at a telethon phone bank (pre-GoFundMe, Google it), and are tasked with raising money for a superheroes production of “The Tempest.” This is to save Fathom Town from Professor Cannibal and his band of evildoers.

While sitting in close proximity, they appear to be singular in purpose – their crimefighting mission. As a community, they are desperate to drum up support for this benefit performance, and their urgency and frustration are on full display. They project the manic energy and anxiety of an all-nighter when cramming for a college final.

Photo by Joey Rumpell

The story is that they have finally imprisoned their arch nemesis, Professor Cannibal, and are keeping the city safe from fanged, venomous, ambulatory whales (go with it – anything can happen in those multiverses and ‘snaps,’ you know).

“The Tempest” is a tale of shipwreck and magic, explored on an enchanting island setting, with themes of  betrayal, revenge, and family, so that adds another layer of interesting texture to the production.

These Fathom City Enforcers are in a secret submarine, and the set-up, particularly with old-timey landline phones with extra-long cords, allows much physical humor to take place while they are skillfully weaving in hilariously constructed dialogue to be heard over the din.

The finely-tuned cast includes some of the most eternally gifted performers in local theater – and their names are followed by their secret identity, superhero identity and character in “The Tempest”: Will Bonfiglio, three-time St. Louis Theater Circle Award winner for comedic performances, as Emorie Lawson/Ariel; Rachel Tibbetts, also a Theater Circle Award winner, as Susan Tanner/Memory Lass/Miranda; Cassidy Flynn as Randell James/The Tune/Ferdinand; Miranda Jagels Felix as Donna Adams/The Silhouette/All Masque Characters; Alicen Moser as Cecily Gray/The Page/Prospero; Spencer Lawton as Dale Clark/The Intoxicator/Stephano; and Joe Hanrahan as Wayne Simon/The Untangler/Caliban.

They are joined by (fairly) newbies Ash Arora as Rebecca Lloyd/The Ocean/Gonzalo; Kayla Bush as Diana Blake/The Bad Map/Trinculo; Joey Taylor as Brad Allen/The Snow Heavy Branch; Ross Rubright as Craig Cale/The Pleaser/Antonio and Celeste Gardner as Oliver Kendall/Fragrance Fellow/Sebastian.

They all mesh in perfect harmony, jagged as it is to depict the stakes of saving the world from nefarious villains while they carry on phone conversations. Their agility with each other is a joy to witness.

The creative team is a league of its own too – costume designers Liz Henning and Eric Widner (the logo!), lighting designer Jayson Lawshee, and music by Joey Taylor. It’s all dandy work – and with the simple Batcave-like set, really adds to the atmosphere. All the office-type props provide the sight gags, too.

Stage Manager Jimmy Bernatowicz and assistant stage manager Morgan Schindler keep the flow brisk. It is presented without an intermission.

The Midnight Company has produced Maher’s “It Is Magic” and ‘The Hunchback Variations,” and their partnership is an enriching artistic endeavor.

Cashion’s superpowers, to create such an entertaining and enthralling show, are on full display here. And her merry band of good guys deliver — they are heroes for more than a day.

Photo by Joey Rumpell.

The Midnight Company presents “Spirits to Enforce” Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m. through May 18 at The Kranzberg Black Box theatre in Grand Center. Ticket information is available at or for more information, visit

Editor’s Note May 22: “Just One Look” returns to the Blue Strawberry on Wednesday, June 26, at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are on sale now, and can be reserved at or by calling 314.256.1745.

By Lynn Venhaus

Originally scheduled for three performances, the Linda Ronstadt tribute show “Just One Look” has been playing for more than a year.

Now 19 performances (and counting) later, the original cabaret will be on stage for a return engagement on Wednesday, May 15, at the Blue Strawberry. Kelly Howe reprises her critically acclaimed performance.

The Midnight Company first mounted the show in March 2023. Creative Director Joe Hanrahan wrote and directed the piece, framed as an interview and career retrospective, with Howe singing Ronstadt’s most iconic songs.

“The response has been absolutely bonkers. People have seen it three and four times. They’re not only sending friends, they’re coming back with friends. And the audiences are consistently great, hooting and hollering. I’ve never really been a part of anything like it. It’s great! I’m having more fun with every show,” she said.

“I love singing these songs. Lucky she has incredible taste in music, so we really couldn’t go wrong in choosing if we tried. She really chose great great songs, as we talk about in the show,” Howe said.

Ronstadt ruled the pop charts and filled stadiums in the 1970s and 1980s. The reigning rock goddess of her era, she later sang Gilbert and Sullivan in “The Pirates of Penzance” on Broadway and the Great American Songbook in collaborations.

Her worldwide album sales totaled more than $50 million, she won 10 Grammy Awards, and received the National Medal of Arts and Humanities, plus was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2014.

Her songbook featured collaborations with some of the biggest names in music, and her personal life included long-term relationships with, among others, California Governor Jerry Brown when he was running for president, and filmmaker George Lucas best known for the “Star Wars” universe.

In “Just One Look,” Hanrahan portrays a veteran rock ’n roll journalist who finally gets to interview his unrequited love, Ronstadt, though she’s now retired to her hometown of Tucson, suffering from Parkinson’s disease. During the course of the show, they remember her debut in Los Angeles, and Howe becomes the younger Linda, recalling her storybook career and singing her great songs.

“Both Kelly and I have a deep appreciation for the great music Linda Ronstadt delivered. Both her rockers and her ballads are among our favorite songs. We aim to remind people who she was, and to honor her work and her life,” Hanrahan said.

Howe recreating a version of Ronstadt’s album “Hasten Down the Wind.”

After Ronstadt’s long success on the pop music charts, she went on to triumphs on Broadway with Gilbert and Sullivan, three albums of the Great American Songbook with Nelson Riddle, Mariachi and lullaby albums, and much more. She had three number 1 hit albums, and 10 albums in the top ten. 

She recorded over 30 albums, and appeared as a guest on 120 albums by other artists – from Philip Glass to a duet with Homer Simpson. There was a number 1 single,  3 number 2s, 10 top ten singles, 21 reaching the top 40, and two number 1 hits on the Country charts. 

Ronstadt’s hits included “Different Drum,” “Blue Bayou,” “Desperado,” “It’s So Easy,” the title song of this show and many more.

“When Joe and I first talked about doing a show like this, we didn’t know at first who it would be about. We both thought of Linda Ronstadt separately. He’s a big fan, and I’ve always been a big fan of hers too. She was still coming out with huge hits when I was a kid. I can’t remember not knowing who she was or wanting to sing like her,” she said.

“In preparation for the show, I really dug into her music more than I had before. She is just incredible. One of the greatest singers of all time. And one of the coolest people too. I love her. I didn’t imagine I’d get to play Linda Ronstadt when I grew up, but I’m sure glad I did! It’s a cool gig, man,” she added.

Howe is an award-winning performer herself. She was nominated twice for Outstanding Supporting Performer in a Drama, Female or Non-Binary Role, by the St. Louis Theater Circle — for this year’s awards in March for her role as a grieving mom in “See You in a Minute” from Contraband Theatre, and for her role as a factory worker in “Sweat” presented by the Black Rep in 2021.

She has also been in “Tommy” as Mrs. Walker at Stray Dog Theatre and the title character in “Rodney’s Wife” at The Midnight Company, as well as part of two Aphra Behn Festivals from SATE. Kelly earned her BFA in theatre from Stephens College then moved to New York City where she worked as an actor, vocalist, and occasional producer for a decade before coming home to St. Louis. 

The Just One Look Band is led by Music Director/Pianist Curt Landes, who has played with Chuck Berry, Albert King, Glenn Campbell, John Hartford and the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra, and has appeared at numerous national and local music festivals.

Tom Maloney is on guitar and bass. He was the music director for an international Johnnie Johnson tour. He’s played with everybody from Jerry Vale to Homesick James, and co-wrote and produced Jeremiah Johnson’s #1 song on the Billboard Blues Chart, HiFi Drive. 

And Mark Rogers will handle percussion and provide backup vocals. Mark co-founded many local bands, including Street Corner Symphony, Walnut Park Athletic Club and The Heaters.  He proudly claims that he’s used the same drum set since 1968, and and the same milk can as a drum stool since 1973.

Kelly Howe as Mrs. Walker in “Tommy” at Stray Dog Theatre in 2019.

This partnering with Blue Strawberry wasn’t the only collaboration that Midnight has mounted several over the past year.

“Jim Dolan of The Blue Strawberry and I have discussed incorporating a theatrical element into classic cabaret, and with the Linda Ronstadt show, we’re aiming to create that,:” Hanrahan said last March.

“Blue Strawberry is excited to be working with Joe Hanrahan and Midnight to present this show. As a longtime fan of Joe and Midnight’s work, we are honored to be a part of this production,” Dolan said.

The Midnight Company’s performance of “Just One Look” takes place at 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday, May 15, at The Blue Strawberry, 356 N. Boyle. For more information, visit:

“Rodney’s Wife” at The Midnight Company in 2022.

Take Ten Questionnaire With Kelly Howe

1.What is special about your latest project?
Well, my current project “Just One Look: A Tribute to Linda Rondstadt” has been running for more than a year. It was originally scheduled for three performances, 18 sold out performances and a quick stint at City Winery later, we’re still going. So, I’d say it’s definitely special. It’s certainly fun.

2. Why did you choose your profession/pursue the arts?
I’m not sure I’d call it a choice. Since the first time I was on stage as a kid, there wasn’t really any other option. It’s kind of
just part of who I am.

3. How would your friends describe you?
This is funny, I don’t know! Nice like, kind of funny, good in the kitchen, Beatles obsessed…that basically sums me up lol.

4. How do you like to spend your spare time?
I like to see plays! Lucky this town is lousy with them! I also love to travel. Anywhere and everywhere. Wish I could do it

5. What is your current obsession?
I just finished watching “Ripley” on Netflix. It was very well done, very compelling. But most of all beautiful to look at. A
trip to Italy has been on my list for a while, but the show has made it more a priority. My current obsession is figuring out
when and how I can get my old man and me to Italy. Itinerary TBD.

6. What would people be surprised to find out about you?
I hate mayonnaise, ketchup and yellow mustard. Pickles too. I’m basically anti-condiment.

7. Can you share one of your most defining moments in life?
I was in the St. Louis Children’s Choir as a kid. When I was in the 8th grade we went on a trip to Russia, Czechoslovakia (it
was called at the time), and Austria. It was amazing. I think being exposed to such different cultures at such an early age
really defined who I am in many ways. Travel is the best education there is, in my opinion.

8. Who do you admire most?
Hmmm, I am filled with admiration for a lot of folks about town…I’d have to say my parents though, and my husband. Two I
was lucky enough to be born to, one I chose. They are definitely the people I aspire to be most like.

9. What is at the top of your bucket list?
I have a long list of places I still have to see. My bucket list is populated with travel destinations. Plenty of roles I’d like to
play too, too many to list.

10. How were you affected by the pandemic years, and anything you would like to share about what got you through and any lesson learned during the isolation periods? Any reflections on how the arts were affected? And what it means to move forward?
Man, this is a lot. I was tending bar before the pandemic started, I will never forget the night I closed the bar when everything shut down. So crazy. Jack Patrick’s survived the pandemic and is still one of the best spots in town! But I didn’t feel comfortable continuing that work in the pandemic, I’m a bit compromised. I did not like the isolation though! It was very difficult. I spent most of it tutoring a 10 year old…tutoring is generous, I was more like her school chum as she was isolated and doing online learning. She is very smart and needed little help, but the time spent with her was a great gift. We read a lot. It was definitely helpful to be around such positivity and optimism, the optimism and wonder of a 10 year old was good medicine when all else seemed lost.

It felt like theatre was over. Zoom plays and the like were happening, but of course nothing compares to live in-person performance, and when we were in it, it felt like that was gone forever. What I’ve learned working on some early post-pandemic productions, and how the community has fought back since is that theatre, art and artists are resilient. We can creatively adapt and move forward, because if you make art, if you make theatre, there’s really no other choice in the matter. Life is so much less beautiful without it. So we must keep on
keepin’ on.

11. What is your favorite thing to do in St. Louis?
Man, I love St. Louis. It’s hard to choose a favorite thing. There is endless theatre to see. The food scene is top notch. There are the baseball Cardinals! STL City, The Blues. If you’re hip to the goings on in town, it’s hard to be bored.

12.What’s next?
“Old Times” with The Midnight Company. A Pinter play! I’m really excited for this one. Sarah Holt is directing. Joe Hanrahan, Colleen Backer, and myself will appear. I’m really excited to work with Sarah and Colleen. I know I love working with Hanrahan. July 11 – 27.

More Information On Kelly Howe:

Birthplace: Centralia, IL
Current location: South St. Louis City
Family: me and my old man, Kyle
Education: BFA in theatre from Stephens College
Day job: Swade Cannabis Dispensary (drug dealer)
First job: St. Louis Bread Company, one of the first!
First play or movie you were involved in or made:
Peace Child The Musical at Stages. Pretty much sealed the deal for me.
Favorite jobs/roles/plays or work in your medium? I was lucky enough to perform SWEAT for Lynn Nottage with The Black
Rep. We were a part of The William Inge Festival that honored Lynn Nottage that year. Hard to beat that one.
Dream job/opportunity: Man, I just wanna keep getting hired for stuff. I’m not so picky. Ha.
Awards/Honors/Achievements: Lots of nominations, no awards. Yet.
Favorite quote/words to live by: All you need is love!
A song that makes you happy: Yikes, so many. Beyoncé’s cover of “Blackbird” has so far made me cry every time I’ve
heard it. Happy tears from the beauty and weight of it.

Linda Ronstadt

The Midnight Company has scheduled four shows for their MainStage 2024 season., including “Spirits to Enforce” by Mickle Maher, to be directed by Lucy Cashion and presented May 2- 18 at the Kranzberg Black Box Theatre and Harold Pinter’s “Old Times,” to be directed by Sarah Holt,” on July 11 – 27 at The Chapel.

Co-founder and artistic director Joe Hanrahan has written three short plays, ‘Auditions,” that will be presented at the St. Louis Fringe Festival Aug. 12 – 18.

Another Hanrahan original, “Now Playing Third Base for the St. Louis Cardinals… Bond, James Bond,” will be reprised Oct. 3 – 13 at the Greenfinch.

In addition to these, Midnight will continue to present Cabaret Theatre performances at The Blue Strawberry, including JACEY’S JAZZ JOINT, finishing it’s scheduled run on Wednesday, March 27, and JUST ONE LOOK, with an encore performance on April 10.

By Lynn Venhaus

The rapacious 12th Century Plantagenet Family behaves as badly as the modern-day Roys of Manhattan and The Duttons of Montana, a rogues’ gallery of royal connivers in “The Lion in Winter.”

That’s one of the many reasons why The Midnight Company’s bracing production is fun – and riveting – to watch because sparks fly, and flames are fanned in a master class exercise in acting.

Director Tom Kopp has lit a fuse under his finely tuned ensemble so that they burn bright, crackling with big birthright energy while delivering virtuosic performances: Joe Hanrahan, Lavonne Byers, Joel Moses, John Wolbers, Ryan Lawson-Maeske, Michael Pierce and Shannon Campbell.

As the formidable ensemble tackles each aristocratic character like a predator setting a trap for his prey, they often strike a playful, comedic tone but mainly heighten the drama’s intensity because their massive ambitions collide in a winner-takes-all battle. The prize: inheriting the crown of King Henry II of England.

Multi-hyphenate award winner Joe Hanrahan plays mega-manipulator Henry with a smirk and a gleeful vitality, emphasizing his skills at being a disrupter and poster boy for “It’s Good to Be King.” He met his match with his older ‘bride,’ Eleanor, the richest and shrewdest woman in the world who bore him four sons, but they sure don’t care much for them, except as pawns in their epic face-offs.

James Goldman’s 1966 play is set at a contentious Christmastime in 1183 in a castle in Chinon, France, on land still owned by the British ruler. The classic dysfunctional family is hanging festive holly, but they are far from jolly.

That’s to be expected, with the mom – who tried to overthrow the king awhile back — about to return to prison, where she’s been kept by her husband for 10 years, and then dear old domineering dad put the three bad-tempered sons in the dungeon. His firstborn has died. Sounds – and looks like – a holiday in hell.

The wannabe kings. Photo by Joey Rumpell

With anger and resentment thick in the air and mulled wine flowing, swords are brandished and emotions erupt as conflicts ensue. You can see the wheels turning in their cunning little heads. Kopp has briskly staged the posturing, maneuvering, embracing, and shouting so that we’re kept off-guard and suspicious.

The group is tangled in one–upmanship, some more obvious than others – but it’s apparent the amount of trust and respect among the actors that allows them to have a field day with the material and each other.

One of the grand dames of St Louis regional theatre, Lavonne Byers ascends to her lofty perch as the crafty and regal queen – and in a savvy display, she doesn’t telegraph what she’s doing until it’s done, so smooth in the takeovers.

The two-time St. Louis Theater Circle winner and frequent nominee devours anyone in her path as the legendary Eleanor of Aquitane, the role that won Katharine Hepburn her third of four Academy Awards in the 1968 movie version.

As the mom-and-pop puppetmasters, Hanrahan and Byers are spirited in doing the Tango Queen as they dance around – and this battling couple actually loves one another. But as to which of their three chips off the old block will take over the kingdom is quite a game of chess.

Richard, the warrior, as in “The Lionhearted,” won’t be denied, but neither will the pre-Renaissance Machiavellian Geoffrey, bitter about being passed over, and they both are out of favor because the youngest, an immature buffoonish John, is daddy’s favorite. (Maybe because they both behave like petulant children.)

The terrific trio of Joel Moses as the steely soldier Richard, John Wolbers as sly schemer Geoffrey, and Ryan Lawson-Maeske as spoiled brat John lock into their characters seamlessly.

I’m not concerned about their characters’ ages – Richard, 26; Geoffrey, 25; and John, 16, and you don’t have to be either – it’s called acting, and they’re very good at creating full-bodied portrayals. When you have actors not usually known for playing villains in amoral roles, it’s delectable. (Also, smart choice to not have English accents).

The French kids. Photo by Joey Rumpell

Then complicating things are those testy French folks staying there, unpleasant attitudes flaring up – the young King Philip, 18, who’s been in charge for three years, and his sister, Alais, 23, who besides being a princess is supposed to be engaged to Richard but is Henry’s very young mistress. That’s another soap opera, but she may be the most ruthless of all.

Alais has been in the castle for a long time, pretty much raised by Eleanor. Strange bedfellows indeed. Shannon Campbell and Michael Pierce are strong in those roles, setting themselves apart from those high-maintenance Plantagenets but still crafty. After all, the new king is itching to go to war with England.

The creative team has delivered a vibrant staging, with stage manager Karen Pierce keeping the action from sagging. With a well-appointed set design by Brad Slavik, well-lit by lighting designer Tony Anselmo, and vintage props collected by Miriam Whatley, the look is a pleasant replica of nooks in a drafty castle. Costume designer Liz Henning demonstrates her considerable gifts outfitting the royals in impressive fabrics, textures, embroidery and finery.

A special touch is original music composed by Susan Elaine Kopp that gives it an authentic cultural  “welcome to the almost Renaissance” sound.

If you like diving into history, you may enjoy finding out who succeeded Henry. Spoiler alert: the tall fighting man. But that should be its own sequel.

The Midnight Company’s invigorating production makes the past become an absorbing power play by movers and shakers that leaps off dusty pages of an Encyclopedia Brittanica. Long live the kings in a not-to-be-missed show.

The Midnight Company presents “The Lion in Winter” from Oct. 5 to Oct. 21, with performances at 8 p.m. on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, and at 2 p.m. Sundays on Oct. 8 and 15 at the .Zack Theatre,

Mom and Pop. Photo by Joey Rumpell

Due to sold-out shows, The Midnight Company will present an encore presentation of YOU MADE ME LOVE YOU at The Blue Strawberry on Thursday, September 14, 7:30pm. Tickets are on sale now and can be reserved at or by calling 314.256.1745.

YOU MADE ME LOVE YOU, written/directed by Midnight’s Artistic Director Joe Hanrahan,stars Jennelle Gilreath Owens.  In the one woman show, Jennelle pays tribute to Judy Garland, telling her story and singing Judy’s greatest songs. Jennelle also reveals incidents from her own life, illustrating through Judy’s story and her own the challenges a woman faces in life and show business.

Jennelle is backed by a band led by Music Director John Gerdes (on bass), with Lea Gerdes on woodwinds, Paul Cereghino on piano, and Clarence Newell on drums.  Featured guest singers,collaborating with Jennelle on some of Judy Garland’s historic duets, are Kimmie Kidd and Jeffrey Wright.

The Midnight Company continues its string of Cabaret Theatre presentations at The Blue Strawberry with two extended performances of JUST ONE LOOK on Wednesdays,  August 16 and 30, 7:30.  JUST ONE LOOK stars Kelly Howe as Linda Ronstadt in a rousing  rendition of the life and times and spectacular music career of the singer.  Also in the show is Hanrahan (who wrote/directed the show) as a veteran music industry reporter who finally gets his chance to interview his long unrequited love.  The JUST ONE LOOK band is led by Music Director Curt Landes on piano, with Mark Rogers on drums/vocals and Tom Maloney on guitar/bass.

And Midnight will be introducing a new show, PROFESSOR SUNSHINE’S Traveling Post-Apocalyptic ROCK ’N ROLL REVIVAL at The Blue Strawberry, with performances on Wednesday September 20 at 7:30pm and Saturday September 23 at 8:30pm.  The ROCK ’N ROLL REVIVAL is a modern version of the touring shows that roamed the Wild West.  This show travels the new Wild West in a dark, burnt out world, as crumbling towns await the appearance of the show bringing with them a bit of song and temporary salvation.
Hanrahan (who wrote/directed the show) will be your host, Professor Sunshine, and Kelly Howe will be Cheyenne, the show’s sultry, savory chanteuse, singing her patented version of savage, classic rock ’n roll.  The House Divided Band will feature the same players as JUST ONE LOOK – Curt Landes, Mark Rogers and Tom Maloney.

Tickets for the extended JUST ONE LOOK shows and for the ROCK ’N ROLL REVIVAL are on sale now at or by calling 314.256.1745.

By Lynn Venhaus

Singer-actress Jennelle Gilreath Owens is an old soul. And we are fortunate to experience it in her labors of love.

For a cabaret-theater presentation this summer at the Blue Strawberry, she has assembled a personal tribute to Judy Garland –“You Made Me Love You,” and has put her heart and soul into it.

She plays herself and intertwines elements of her life’s challenges with Judy’s tough times. Judy died tragically at age 47.

The story is tinged with sadness. Yet the star’s luster doesn’t lose any power. Owens’ luminous talent and warm personality make it not just a sentimental journey, but a substantive presentation about our chosen paths. A big takeaway is how people affect us through their gifts, and how we decide to share our gifts matters.

Playwright Joe Hanrahan, artistic director of The Midnight Company, has written a script that hits the highs and lows of Garland’s career and life. He also smoothly directed the show.

“Dear Mr. Gable”

Owens starts off strong with the title song, the fan letter to Clark Gable that Garland sang at age 15 in the movie “Broadway Melody of 1938.”

A longtime fan of the acclaimed singer-actress-dancer, Owens talks about the connection that Garland had with her ardent fans. She was a much-loved star, known for her vulnerability, achingly tender, gorgeous voice, and beautiful spirit, soaring in the ‘30s and ‘40s, and trying to stay afloat in the ‘50s and ‘60s. She had man troubles, struggled with addiction, fragile mental and physical health, emotional trauma from abusive childhood, and career ups and downs.

Garland appeared in some of the most delightful movie musicals of all-time, including “Meet Me in St. Louis,” “The Harvey Girls,” “Easter Parade,” “Summer Stock,” “Girl Crazy,” “In the Good Old Summertime,” “Babes in Arms” and “The Pirate.”

Owens has selected signature songs from those and the Great American Songbook, ones that are strongly identified with Judy –including a bittersweet rendition of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” from her most iconic role as Dorothy Gale in “The Wizard of Oz.”

Two accomplished guest singers joined her on stage for one number each. Jeffrey Wright endearingly sang the Gene Kelly part in “For Me and My Gal,” the 1942 vaudeville-centered musical in which Kelly made his film debut, and it was a lovely pairing.

For a heartfelt mash-up finale, Kimmie Kidd-Booker wistfully sang “Happy Days Are Here Again” while Owens added “Get Happy,” replicating the famous pairing when rising star Barbra Streisand appeared on “The Judy Garland Show” in October 1963.

What a fabulous snapshot and a grand way to end the evening.

In a retrospective of Garland’s career, touching on disappointments noted in the 2019 biopic drama “Judy,” which is based on the superior play, “End of the Rainbow,” Owens mentions Judy’s two Oscar nominations, in “A Star is Born”1954 remake and “Judgment at Nuremberg” in 1961. She sings the memorable torch song Judy delivered in her Oscar-worthy role (she was robbed): “The Man That Got Away.”

Judy and Barbra

Owens’ selections ran the gamut of jaunty (“The Trolley Song” – from “Meet Me in St. Louis”), vibrant (“Come Rain or Come Shine” – from Judy’s 1961 Carnegie Hall concert), silky (“Embraceable You” from “Girl Crazy”) and haunting (Charlie Chaplin’s “Smile” – from her memorable appearance on “The Ed Sullivan Show” in 1963) – all sung with conviction.

On the small stage, she was supported by a mighty combo of stellar musicians, who helped make it a polished presentation. Music Director John Gerdes led Lea Gerdes on woodwinds, Paul Cereghino on piano, and Clarence “Clancy” Newell on drums/percussion.

Owens, who has appeared in regional professional theater and local community theater for the past 10 years, earning multiple award nominations, has two other passions as a performer. She travels the country to present a World War II immersive USO show, “Dixie D’s Canteen,” which captures the 1940s songs and spirit of the Greatest Generation.

She teared up talking about her experiences entertaining military veterans. She is also a performer, producer, emcee, and member of The Bon Bons Burlesque Troupe.

With her busy schedule, the Garland tribute was only scheduled for three nights – July 27, Aug. 2 and 9. It’s such a sincere, affectionate show that I hope it has an encore in its future.

Update: Sell-out crowds have prompted a new date — Wednesday, Sept. 14. More info: and

Jennelle Gilreath Owens, in her Dixie D’s Canteen Show

By Lynn Venhaus
Life and death. Lost and found. Weddings and funerals. The big picture and small moments. Cindy Lou Johnson’s “The Years” mulls it all over, and a pliant cast grasps their roles astutely in a bittersweet production from The Midnight Company.

A family comedy-drama written in 1994 and presented in St. Louis some years ago by the Orthwein Theatre Company, its universal themes again connecting in the intimate space of The Chapel. Joe Hanrahan directed the current show, and the latter.

The two-act framework, at first, seems like a familiar scenario: preparing for a small wedding with chaos all around two sets of cousins. Is any family spared drama on special occasions? Not in my experience – but we’re one of those who puts the ‘fun’ in dysfunctional, so the turmoil is relatable.

And this family is indeed ‘off-center.’ “The Years” is resolute in accepting the quirky, with characters going through different phases of understanding through a 20-year period. As the two sisters Andrea and Eloise, Alicen Moser and Summer Baer suffer both in silence and then out loud. They are fine, delicate actresses who excel at their craft.

Alicen Moser. Summer Baer. Photo by Joey Rumpell.

Their flakier cousins Isabella and Andrew are counted on to get things done, and Ashley Bauman and Joey File are terrific in comic relief as bossy, neurotic older sister Isabella and slacker, yet contemplative, younger brother Andrew. Newcomer File is the show’s breakout star, and one to watch.

It’s Andrea’s wedding day, but she is delayed by an inconvenient mugging that’s left her visibly bruised and emotionally battered. Meanwhile, her sister Eloise has problems of her own. They are both fragile, anyway, as they deal with their mother’s suicide soon after their father’s death.

They move on after that turbulent day, and 13 years pass. It’s time for another family wedding, and the cousins come together after struggling through the unpredictability of life. The last act takes place three years later, and this is where it stretched credibility, but it had me up to that troubling end, which didn’t feel like a ‘wrap up.’

The confident cast makes the most of a jagged little play, for they are a finely calibrated ensemble, smooth in their deliveries and comfortable on stage with each other.

In particular, the four cousins are convincing in projecting their shared bonds. While their lives intermingle, we get snippets of their characters through the skills of the performers – because the character backstories are slim.

Rounding out the cast, Michael Pierce and Joseph Garner may seem like interlopers, but their roles are anything but random. In only one scene, Pierce is assured as Eloise’s husband Jeff and Garner, a powerful presence in recent stage appearances, is a conflicted stranger Bartholomew, a lost soul that re-emerges throughout the play. He is prone to giving advice after life-altering events: “My life didn’t change – I changed my life.”

Hanrahan, a master storyteller on his own, has a knack for connecting people through art. A creative dynamo during the coronavirus public health crisis, he pivoted with original material, and keeps challenging himself and his casts with intriguing projects – well-known or new.

An experienced fight choreographer, Pierce (“Twelfth Night” by St. Louis Shakespeare Festival and “Murder on the Orient Express” at The Rep) set up authentic confrontations.

Competent design work was handled by Brad Slavik on set, Miriam Whatley on props, and Tony Enselmo on lights. Liz Henning’s costume designs are always outstanding

While not profound, “The Years” is a thoughtful reflection on connection, curveballs in life, and how our lives are impacted in roundabout ways, and ever more relevant after a global pandemic shutdown.

Summer Baer and Michael Pierce. Photo by Joey Rumpell.

The Midnight Company presents Cindy Lou Johnson’s “The Years” from July 13 to July 29 at The Chapel Performances are Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., with Sunday matinees at 2 p.m. on July 16 and 23. Tickets are on sale at For more information, visit

The Midnight Company’s 2023 season continues with extended performances of “Just One Look” July 19, Aug. 16 and 30 at Blue Strawberry; “You Made Me Love You” July 26, Aug. 2 and 9 at Blue Strawberry; “Humans of St. Louis” at the St. Louis Fringe Festival Aug. 15-21, and “The Lion In Winter” Oct. 5-21 at the .Zack.

The Midnight Company will present Cindy Lou Johnson’s THE YEARS, running July 13-29 at The Chapel.  Performances will be Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm, with Sunday matinees July 16 and 23. 

Tickets, $20 for Thursdays and $25 for Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, will be on sale at on Monday, June 12. The show will be directed by Midnight’s Artistic Director, Joe Hanrahan.

The play opens on a tumultuous day for two sets of cousins:  Andrea and Eloise, and Isabelle and Andrew.  It is Andrea’s wedding day, and she and her sister Eloise, are dealing with the recent death of their father, which was soon followed by their mother’s suicide.  On the day of her wedding, Andrea has gone into work to help someone, and returning home is mugged. Meanwhile Eloise has just learned of her husband’s betrayal and the end of their marriage.   They make it through that turbulent day.  And as the story continues, thirteen years pass, and all of the cousins are forced to deal with the vagaries of life and death that the years deliver.

Joe Hanrahan directed this script some years ago for The Orthwein Theatre Company, and Gerry Kowarsky, writing for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, called that production of THE YEARS “…an exceptional work.  Many plays deal with the pain of family relationships, but few have as much insight, pathos and humor as THE YEARS.”  And Phyllis Thorpe, for Intermission, a theatre publication at the time, called it “…a beautiful play.  Those who saw it will cherish it for a long, long time.”  In its premiere New York production, Broadway World cited an “…amazing script,” that resulted in “…a poignant play.”

Hanrahan said, “THE YEARS is a delicate, haunting, unusual play.  It deals with situations everyone faces in life, and so we’re able to quickly connect and feel  deeply for these characters.  I’m so looking forward to working with it once more.  And so lucky to have such a great cast to tell this story.”

The Midnight production features Summer Baer and Alicen Moser as sisters Eloise and Andrea.  For Midnight, Summer was seen in last year’s RODNEY’S WIFE.  And recently she’s appeared in PROOF for Moonstone,  THE BIRTHDAY PARTY for Albion, and currently GLORIA: A LIFE at New Jewish Theatre.  Alicen, Artistic Director for Poor Monsters, just directed THE ABSOLUTE BRIGHTNESS OF LEONARD PELKEY for Midnight, and previously appeared in the Company’s Beatle play at the St. Louis Fringe Festival, THE EVEREST GAME.  She’s currently appearing in ERA’s THE BRECHTFAST CLUB.  

Ashley Bauman and Joey File will play their cousins, Isabelle and Andrew.  Ashley has appeared in AS YOU LIKE IT for SIUE, A LATE SUMMER NIGHT’S STROLL for St. Louis Shakespeare Festival and DR. FAUSTUS: THE MODERN PROMETHEUS for SATE.  Joey was also in the cast of AS YOU LIKE IT, and has also been seen in MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING and RENT at SIUE.

Michael Pierce will portray Jeffrey, husband to Eloise.  Michael, who will also serve as Fight Director for the play, has been seen in the Aphra Behn Festival for SATE, and LAUGHTER ON THE 23rd FLOOR for New Jewish.  He also served as Fight Director for St. Louis Shakespeare Festival’s TWELFTH NIGHT and MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS for The Rep.  And Joseph Garner will portray Bartholomew, a stranger who becomes involved in the cousins’ lives.  Garner appeared in Midnight’s ANOMALOUS EXPERIENCE, was seen in THE CHRISTIANS at West End and currently in CLASH OF THE TITANS for Cherokee Street Theater.

Hanrahan recently appeared in Midnight’s THE ABSOLUTE BRIGHTNESS OF LEONARD PELKEY.  He wrote and directed the Linda Ronstadt show, JUST ONE LOOK, currently playing in extended performances at The Blue Strawberry, and is writing and directing the upcoming Judy Garland show, YOU MADE ME LOVE YOU, coming in late July there.  Hanrahan was nominated by The St. Louis Theatre Circle as Outstanding Director for last year’s RODNEY’S WIFE from Midnight.

Mason Hunt will be Stage Manager for the show,  Brad Slavik is designing the set, Tony Anselmo the lights, and Elizabeth Henning costumes.  Miriam Whatley will handle props.

Photos Todd Davis.  Alicen Moser (black eye/wedding dress)  Summer Baer (wedding veil/smile)

The Midnight Company’s 2023 season continues with:
Extended Performances of the JUST ONE LOOK July 19, August 16 & 30 at Blue Strawberry
YOU MADE ME LOVE YOU July 26, August 2 & 9 at Blue Strawberry
HUMANS OF ST. LOUIS at The St. Louis Fringe Festival  August 15-21
THE LION IN WINTER at the .ZACK  October 5-21

Kelly Howe in “Just One Look”

more at

By Lynn Venhaus

As we head into Pride Month, “The Absolute Brightness of Leonard Pelkey” couldn’t be timelier, especially in this unfortunate age of intolerance.

This passion project from The Midnight Company stars an empathetic Joe Hanrahan in multiple roles and is deftly directed by Alicen Moser.

A one-man show, written by Celeste Lecesne, is based on their young adult novel, and illuminates a very personal struggle about acceptance.

Lecesne has gone by he/they since 2020, and is best known for winning an Academy Award for Best Live Action Short in 1995, for “Trevor.” In 1998, they co-founded and launched The Trevor Project, which is a 24-hour suicide prevention and crisis intervention lifeline for LGBTQ+ youth.

The 2015 narrative fictional play is structured as a police procedural, with a detective seeking answers about a missing teen in a small-town on the Jersey Shore. A hard-hitting story that draws inspiration from such horrific true incidents as high school student Jadin Bell in Portland, Ore., who committed suicide after gay-shaming, and college student Matthew Shepard who was attacked and left for dead in Laramie, Wyoming in 1998, among other anti-gay hate crimes.

The playwright, who described Leonard as a luminous force of nature who encountered evil and whose magic wasn’t truly felt until he disappeared, shines a compassionate spotlight on this character you feel that you know.

Unapologetically flamboyant, theatrical, and true to himself, the 14-year-old chatterbox looked and acted as he pleased, just being himself. He planned to dress up as Lady Gaga on Halloween.

Bullied for being who he was, Leonard did win some people over. Details emerge about what a colorful presence he was, and how that light dimmed in the people’s lives who loved him.

Joe Hanrahan .Photo by Joey Rumpell

Besides the inevitable pensive sadness that permeates the one-act, there is also a glimmer of hope about progress and brings more focus on the never-ending mission to understand those who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning – and anyone who beats to a different drummer.

Over the course of 1 hour and 20 minutes, Leonard looms larger than life, although he is not physically present. We feel him. We see him through the people who knew him, which Hanrahan effectively presents.

Besides playing the primary character — police detective Chuck DeSoto, Hanrahan takes on the characters Chuck interviews – Ellen Hertle, a hair salon owner who cared for Leonard after his mother died, and her 16-year-old daughter Phoebe Hertle, who report him missing; Buddy Howard, who ran the drama and dance school where Leonard took classes; Gloria Salzano, who saw a platform sneaker floating in the lake next to her home; Marion Tochterman, Otto Beckerman, suspect Tyler Lembeck; and Chuck’s boss, Marty Branahan.

Trevor didn’t tell people he was gay, they just assumed, although he liked to remain a mystery. That didn’t stop name-calling. And he attempted suicide.

As Chuck discovers clues and puts together details of a brutal murder, it’s hard not to be moved by the melancholy, but also discover how this boy touched lives, and eventually made a difference in how people saw others.

The minimalist drama, with stage manager Linda Menard placing props on sparse furnishings and production support from Kevin Bowman, features expressive lighting design by Tony Anselmo in the Kranzberg Black Box Theatre.

Although Leonard isn’t a real person, you leave feeling like you know every character. Hanrahan, who often presents one-man shows, makes the people relatable.

The show’s message reflects Shakespeare’s line from “Hamlet”: “To thine own self be true,” and it’s always good to reinforce that, no matter how one identifies themselves. And to bring more attention to The Trevor Project – hotline is 1-866-488-7386.

Hanrahan, himself a force of nature, has dedicated this show to the Absolute Brightness of Travis Hanrahan, his son who died at age 27 in 2017.

Photos by Joey Rumpell

The Midnight Company presents “The Absolute Brightness of Leonard Pelkey” from May 4-20, Thursday through Saturday at 8 p.m., in the Kranzberg Black Box Theatre, 501 N Grand Blvd, St. Louis, MO 63103. For more information, visit