2014 Starts Off With The Midnight Company, Joe Hanrahan And “Solemn Mockeries”

Joe Hanrahan as William-Henry Ireland in "Solemn Mockeries."

Joe Hanrahan as William-Henry Ireland in “Solemn Mockeries.”

A delightful way to start the new year- with the St. Louis king of one-man shows, Joe Hanrahan- this time portraying a little-known  dubious Shakespeare “expert” and all of those around him as well in “Solemn Mockeries.” With unusual sincerity, sharp wit and an astounding mastery of slipping easily from one character to the next, Mr. Hanrahan entertains us over two acts with the antics of this 19th century ne’er do well.

William-Henry Ireland grew up with an unforgiving father, a “live-in” housekeeper who served as his mother and he only aimed to please as he found out early on that his father had a penchant for everything Shakespeare and longed for something with the famous playwright’s signature. So, as “Solemn Mockeries” opens, we are attending a lecture by Mr. Ireland in an attempt to explain how a simple attempt to please his father led to his life of “crime.” After all, he tells us, he murdered no one, he really did nothing wrong other than make his father happy. Samuel Ireland would regale the child with his own version of Shakespeare during William-Henry’s formative years. Using misplaced emphasis and inappropriate pauses, it’s a wonder the young lad ever understood the Bard at all listening to his father’s interpretations. Starting out by forging Shakespeare’s name, William-Henry soon began writing poems, letters and other short pieces and signed Shakespeare’s name (experts determined them to be the real thing). When he “discovered a “lost play” by Shakespeare, he became the darling of the literary set and his (Shakespeare’s play) was scheduled to open at the prestigious Drury Lane Theatre.

William-Henry Ireland (Joe Hanrahan) takes a signature sniff at his kerchief in "Solemn Mockeries."

William-Henry Ireland (Joe Hanrahan) takes a signature sniff at his kerchief in “Solemn Mockeries.”

The second act description of the disastrous opening night is why Joe Hanrahan is the master of these one-man shows. With nothing but frantic movement and a voice to match the hysteria that went on around him and the play, it becomes a magnificent tour de force for this accomplished actor. His mastery of all of the characters he portrays throughout “Solemn Mockeries” is equally adept. Giving each man and woman a particular voice and mannerism, it becomes easy to identify each person with a wave of Mr. Hanrahan’s hand or a curl of the lip. 

With sly and witty direction by Sarah Whitney, it becomes an evening that you won’t soon forget. Outfitted in glamorous rags thanks to costumer Taylor Steward and lit perfectly by Tyler Duenow’s design and a few set pieces (including a courting chair, of all things) by Krista Tettaton, it becomes a thing of 19th century beauty. The Rick Creese script is funny and smart if a little slow at times, but in the hands of Mr. Hanrahan, it becomes a loving bon mot to the time as well as to Shakespeare.

Playing at Stray Dog’s Tower Grove Abbey stage, “Solemn Mockeries” is a hoot. Catch it between now and January 18th for a step back in time that’s not so different from today- a scurrilous character tries to make a comeback from an unforgivable act. Today he’d be a politician or a reality TV star.

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