While SKYLIGHT was the first show planned
for After Midnight’s Summer ’05 season, the first
on the calendar became ORPHANS.
With Joe’s son Travis already on board for a role in
SKYLIGHT, a production of ORPHANS came to mind – one
which could include an ideal role for Joe’s other son,
Peter (home for the summer after receiving his MFA in playwriting
at Rutgers and just prior to his move to Los Angeles to break
into the movie biz), and long-time Midnight collaborator Larry
Dell, who was anxious to do some stagework while waiting for
the revival of the Company’s JESSE JAMES project.
Set in a small apartment in North Philadelphia, ORPHANS was
an ideal opening project at HH Studio.
(Coincidentally, just prior to ORPHANS’ opening in St.
Louis, it was announced that Al Pacino was going to do a workshop
of ORPHANS (in the role of Harold) in L.A., in preparation
for a Spring, ‘06, Broadway production.)
|St. Louis Post-Dispatch feature article
Written by Judy Newmark
It is a play about fathers
and sons, one of the resounding themes of world culture. Think
Abraham and Isaac. Think "Oedipus the King." Think
Ivan Turgenev, whose landmark Russian novel actually takes
"Fathers and Sons" as its title.
Think the Hanrahans. Joe Hanrahan -- actor, director and playwright
-- has been a fixture on the St. Louis theater scene for something
like 30 years. A veteran of such troupes as Theatre Project
Company, Orthwein Theatre and the New Theatre, he and David
Wassilak founded tiny Midnight Productions (now Midnight Company)
about seven years ago. He passed his passion on to his sons.
Peter Hanrahan, who studied theater as a Washington University
undergraduate, just earned his MFA in playwriting at Rutgers
University. Travis Hanrahan is active in theater at Christian
Brothers College High School, where he'll be a junior in the
Now, Joe Hanrahan is directing the brothers in "Orphans,"
a three-man play, at the intimate HH Studio in Maplewood.
Larry Dell -- who has often worked with Joe Hanrahan -- completes
the cast. Dell isn't related, Joe Hanrahan acknowledges, "but
Larry has long wanted me to adopt him."
For this crowd, a play called "Orphans" sounds a
little off the mark. But Lyle Kessler's play is, in truth,
about families -- and particularly about one crucial family
Both comic and sad, "Orphans" centers on two brothers
who were long ago abandoned by their parents. The younger
boy, Phillip, stays safe by staying in the siblings' shabby
digs, a virtual prisoner, while his older brother, Treat,
supports them with petty crimes. When Treat brings home a
drunk named Harold who seems to have some money, the brothers
conceive a kidnapping scheme. But Harold -- who turns out
to be a gangster on the lam -- becomes a surrogate for the
man they really miss.
The available cast led Joe Hanrahan to "Orphans"
as he followed the usual Midnight rule. "We stage plays
that we want to do ourselves, even if we have to write them,"
he explains. "And when it turned out that the boys were
going to be in town for the summer, I grabbed the chance to
work with them."
Peter Hanrahan suspects that real-life connections won't compromise
the play, but will make it richer.
"Maybe the usual filters (between actors and directors)
aren't there," he says, "but that facilitates the
process. And because our father is there, maybe that helps
us realize the loss that the brothers (in the play) have experienced,
and why Harold becomes their father figure."
Just as fathers may lose their tempers, directors have been
known to go off on actors. But Hanrahan says that's never
been his style. "I'm a gentle director," he says.
"And I am making a real effort to think of Peter and
Travis as actors."
Still, on one side of the lights or the other, theater is
an interest the Hanrahans share. "All three of us wanted
to work on a play this summer," Peter Hanrahan says.
"But it's nice that it's also family time."
|St. Louis Post-Dispatch review
Reviewed by Judy Newmark
St. Louis' edge theater
scene - a lot more resilient than people sometimes think -
has alit in another unexpected location: Maplewood.
That's where "Orphans," the latest offering from
After Midnight, reminds audiences that theater depends, above
all, on the passionate performance of strong scripts.
Nobody denies that attractive accouterments - high-gloss technical
values, ample space, audience comforts - are desirable. But
if those aren't available, theater still can flourish. Just
ask Joe Hanrahan.
Hanrahan - director of Lyle Kessler's "Orphans"
and co-founder of the Midnight Company, After Midnight's parent
troupe - will stage theater anyplace. In seasons past, his
venues have included an abandoned brewery, an art gallery
and assorted saloons. If somebody told Hanrahan that he had
to stage a play on a stairwell, he'd probably find a play
that could be staged on a stairwell.
More than anyone else in town, Hanrahan trusts that theater
is fundamentally rooted in imagination, not money. So it's
really no surprise that his low-tech production of "Orphans"
- a three-man drama performed by his sons, Peter and Travis
Hanrahan, and one of his favorite actors, Larry Dell - clasps
the audience in a viselike grip for close to two hours. It
crushes the heart to the breaking point.
The actors play determined, if luckless, characters. Peter
Hanrahan portrays a reckless young criminal, Treat, who supports
himself and his younger brother, Phillip (Travis Hanrahan),
The boys' father split years before; their mother died. Treat's
confused, quasi-parental impulses - simultaneously protective,
controlling and merely ignorant - make him confine his brother
to their shabby house, a prisoner of deadly "allergies."
When Treat drags home a prosperous-looking drunk called Harold
(Dell), everything changes. The boys' minds are on crime:
Could kidnapping pay off? But Harold, a gangster on the lam,
needs a quiet place to lie low, and the brothers need a father.
Could they satisfy each other with the creation of a warm,
The play's frequent hilarious moments make that seem possible.
But even its brightest episodes - Harold serving bouillabaisse
to Phillip, Treat strutting in a chic new suit - glow in a
subtle shadow. Nothing good can come from this. Deliberately
echoing plays by Harold Pinter and Sam Shepard, Kessler tempers
his outrageous humor with harbingers of horror beyond the
Always an imposing actor, Dell never has been better than
he is as Harold - suave, thoughtful, considerate even in peril.
His presentation of bouillabaisse, extrapolated into a lesson
in language and cosmology, combines intellect and paternal
affection without a hint of arrogance. He sits at the table
in a silly ruffled apron and rises as a "Leave It to
Beaver" dad, generous and wise. It's an astonishing moment,
one that director Joe Hanrahan allows all the time it deserves.
Hanrahan plays the brothers against Dell with acuity. Peter
Hanrahan seethes manfully, although he could lose the overly
mannered clenched jaw, which verges on a tic. Travis Hanrahan
gives a touching performance as the only character to deserve
the audience's hope. In his first scene, caressing a red shoe
that might have belonged to his mother, he gives the audience
its ticket to Weird-land without a single word.
"Orphans" plays on a bare-bones set at HH Studio,
normally a place for classes in acting and writing. It's too
warm, it's too small (40 seats) - it's glamour in reverse.
But people who love off-off-Broadway theater, or who feel
curious about it, may want to give "Orphans" a shot.
This is the real thing.
|Orphans Playback Review
Written by Lyle Kessler
Directed by Joe Hanrahan
Orphans, the latest offering from the edgy folks at After
Midnight, has made a splash in the St. Louis summer theater
scene. Far from your typical dramatic tale, Orphans is a black
comedy—more tragic than comedic, at times—involving
a minimalist set and just three characters. Chief are brothers
Treat (Peter Hanrahan) and Phillip (Travis Hanrahan—the
two, sons of the director, are brothers themselves) who live
alone in a semi-squalor. After the departure (or was it death?
The audience is never quite sure) of their parents when they
were young, Treat has assumed responsibility for his brother,
providing for them by a life of pick-pocketing and petty crime.
Prone to violence, Treat also has control issues, such that
he dominates his brother, keeping him a virtual prisoner in
their Philadelphia home.
As the lights come up, we first meet Phillip, an uneducated
(though, we come to learn, somewhat self-taught) adolescent
busying himself in his home. He steals to the window and back,
watching in trepidation for his big brother. Though Phillip
obviously loves Treat, he is also afraid of the elder sibling’s
violent outbursts and near-constant threats. Ever the observer,
Phillip regales Treat with tales of what he has seen each
day, whether on TV or from the window of their apartment.
One night, Treat brings home Harold, a drunk, seemingly wealthy
Chicago businessman, intending to kidnap the man and hold
him for ransom. That plan, of course, backfires, and instead
the boys find themselves with a surrogate father of sorts
who teaches them life lessons and provides encouragement.
At first reticent, Treat allows himself to be refined, as
he works for Harold and begins to better understand how to
interact in the world.
Under Harold’s guidance, Phillip learns how to circumvent
the system (don’t know how to tie a shoelace? Simple:
Wear loafers!) and gains the confidence to overcome his fears,
defy his brother, and leave the apartment. This new alliance,
however, causes further rifts between the brothers. All the
while, the audience is left to wonder about Harold. Where
did he get his money? And, perhaps more importantly, why did
he flee Chicago?
In a scene both hilarious and frightening, Treat returns home
late with a briefcase full of stocks and securities purchased
on behalf of Harold. He’s late, he explains, because
a large, black man on the bus took up two spaces, and Treat
wanted to teach him a lesson in civility. What if he had pulled
out a gun and shot you, Harold demands; then where would my
securities be? To prove his point, Harold asks Phillip to
play the role of the black man, which Phillip takes to comical
excess. It is not enough for Treat to realize the error of
his ways, however; he ultimately rejects Harold, despite his
brother’s obvious fondness for the man.
The real-life brothers Hanrahan are absolutely stunning in
their respective roles. As the well-intentioned but socially
stunted Phillip, Travis is expressive, versatile, and believable.
And Peter does a solid job in portraying Treat, a boy forced
to grow up far too soon—and, by default, one with far
too much bravado and deep-seated anger. When he stands before
Harold, fists clenched at his side and literally snarling
with rage, he is fully convincing as one who resents the inferior
hand he’s been dealt. Larry Dell is both charming and
mysterious in his role of endearing con man Harold; the affection
he bestows on the boys is truly touching.
With its strong, sparse cast and tight script, director Joe
Hanrahan seems to have had his work done for him. (Kudos to
him for raising such talented kids!) As for set and lighting,
well, they were minimalist, at best. HH Studios is basically
a storefront space; audience members entered into the “theater”
itself from the street. This, of course, meant that any latecomers
(and there were a couple) interrupted the play, as did audience
members taking restroom breaks during the performance. Additionally,
the space was cooled by a single window unit air conditioner—fine
before the play, but a bit stifling during, as the A/C was
cut to reduce the noise. A bare-bones set composed of a kitchen
table, loveseat, and TV set was sufficient to create the “home”
these boys shared, first with each other and then with Harold.
Orphans is a solid production from a talented theater company;
catch it before it’s gone. Laura Hamlett
| Fear Itself
Orphans glance into an unpredictable world
By Deanna Jent
A classic playwriting exercise has the writer establish
two characters who have some bond, then introduce a third
character who causes loyalties to shift. Lyle Kessler seems
to have taken this exercise to the extreme: His Orphans follows
the pattern to the letter, providing a variety of power struggles
between two brothers and the outsider who changes their lives.
This twenty-year-old script plays like a tribute to Mamet,
Albee and Shepard, with a little bit of American Buffalo,
a touch of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and a smattering
of True West. There's rock & roll, tough talk, violence
and mayonnaise; it's a testosterone-driven story fueled by
fear and anger.
Produced by After Midnight, the show features real-life brothers
Travis and Peter Hanrahan, directed by their father, Joe Hanrahan.
For Joe, this might be a parenting dream come true -- not
just working with his sons, but having them do what he says.
How often does a parent get that? Rather than being an exercise
in nepotism, the casting makes good dramatic sense: The physical
resemblance between Travis and Peter gives an added dash of
realism to the production, and knowing that they're really
brothers makes the friction between the characters seem that
much more real.
The play begins with a fearful Phillip awaiting his brother's
return. Travis invests Phillip with quivering worry and just
the right amount of adolescent awkwardness. Peter, playing
older brother Treat, seems as if he might explode at any moment.
His gestures lash out unexpectedly as he tries to mask his
anxiety behind a tough man's swagger. Peter's performance
is sometimes too big for the intimate space in which the play
is performed; at times his gestures overpower his characterization,
drawing attention to his acting technique rather than to the
action of the play.
Treat supports himself and his brother through petty thefts
but thinks he's struck gold when he brings home Harold, a
drunken older man whose briefcase is full of valuable stocks
and bonds. Larry Dell perfectly embodies the intriguing character
of Harold, an orphan who is now rich through some sort of
shady business dealings. Rather than escaping his so-called
kidnappers, Harold makes himself at home, cooking corned beef
and cabbage for Phillip and employing Treat to run small errands.
He embraces the role of father for these two "dead-end"
kids, trying to teach Treat lessons in moderation and self-control
while giving Phillip the confidence to venture outside on
Orphans is performed in the front room of the HH Studio in
Maplewood. The space provides a true sense of the unpredictable
outside world trying to intrude on the safely confined apartment
of Treat and Phillip; pedestrians walking by the large windows
glance curiously inside as the story unfolds. Unfortunately,
the limited audience seating is all on the same level as the
stage space, making it difficult to see if you're sitting
anywhere but the front row. And while the two lighting instruments
provide enough illumination to see the actors, they create
odd shadows and a distracting sense of theatricality in a
play that depends on the illusion of realism.
Not surprisingly, the brothers change positions of power at
the end of the play. Travis shows us Phillip's newly discovered
strength in subtle vocal and physical changes, but two aspects
of the production mar the ending. Peter doesn't believably
portray Treat's descent into despair -- it all happens to
quickly. And the brothers' final bit of action, doing something
on the floor, can't be seen by most of the audience.
When Chicago's Steppenwolf Theatre premiered Orphans, it was
labeled a "bone-crunching" production. The current
show may not be quite that athletic (with the audience practically
in the actors' laps, that may be preferred), but it's still
an energetic exploration of male bonding. To get the full
effect of Kessler's powerful tale of brotherly love, get there
early enough to sit in the front row. And ignore the gawkers
at the window.
Revised: October, 2007
© The Midnight Company