By Lynn Venhaus Managing Editor In The Midnight Company’s charmer of a one-man show, “Charlie Johnson Reads All of Proust” is a good match for Joe Hanrahan’s storytelling skills.
He plays an average Joe, 75, retired from insurance, whose
mundane Midwest life includes Snappy Seniors activities and family to-dos. One
day, Charlie doesn’t realize that a package of cookies as a snack at Starbucks
will lead to a reading adventure. He has what’s called “a Madeleine moment,”
and thus enters the world of French literary legend Marcel Proust, more out of
spite at his snobbish know-it-all daughter-in-law.
The cake-like cookie, sort of in the shape of a seashell,
is associated with Proust’s opus, “In Search of Lost Time,” earlier known as
“Remembrance of Things Past,” which was published between 1913 and 1927, in
seven parts. Dipping the cookie in his tea, the narrator is immediately
transported to childhood memories.
On the surface, Paris during the French Third Republic
couldn’t be more different than contemporary Indiana, but then again, Charlie is
open to the similarities and differences. At that time, France saw the rise of
the middle class and the decline of the aristocracy.
But it is through Proust’s penchant for reflection and
articulation about memory that sparks multiple revelations for Charlie.
And lest not forget perseverance. Many a literary scholar
can’t seem to work their way through all of Proust. The title in itself is a
testament to fortitude. And in modern library terms, the seven volumes amount
to 4,300 pages – and 2,000 characters.
Charlie proves to be quite an interesting character, a
meaty role designed for Hanrahan’s gifts. And he’s well-suited to bring out the
humor in playwright Amy Crider’s work, which pops with personality. She is an
astute observer of human nature, visually conjuring an assortment of regular
folks you know you know.
The Kranzberg black box is simply outfitted with a
comfortable easy chair, a well-worn living room space that provides an
immediate sense of place. Chuck Winning’s set design takes you to an everyman
nook, with photographs and artwork that mean something, a statement on the
artist’s role in society and understanding an artist’s life as influence. Tony
Anselmo’s lighting design also reflects on the lived-in quality.
Director Sarah Lynne Holt emphasizes Charlie’s dignity and
intelligence, while Hanrahan’s monologue delivery brings out the absurdities in
life we can all relate to, no matter our circumstances.
This solo sojourn is an insightful piece, a fanfare for the common man that the Midnight Company fluidly interpreted as a guy with something to say.
The Midnight Company presents “Charlie Johnson Reads All of Proust” Thursday through Saturday at 8 p.m., May 30 to June 15, at the Kranzberg Arts Center, 501 N. Grand. For more information, visit www.midnightcompany.com
Lynn Venhaus has had a continuous byline in St. Louis metro region publications since 1978. She is a Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic, currently reviews films for Webster-Kirkwood Times and KTRS Radio, covers entertainment for PopLifeSTL.com and co-hosts podcast PopLifeSTL.com…Presents, and writes features and news for Belleville News-Democrat and contributes to other publications. She is a member of CCA, AWFJ and St. Louis Film Critics Association. She is a founding member of the St. Louis Theater Circle.