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Cul-de-Sac | afterMIDNIGHT

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cul_smFollowing his impressive turn in St. Nicholas a couple years back, Hanrahan again takes the stage solo in Cul-de-Sac, a fully absorbing intermissionless 90-minute monologue which finds him embodying a neighborhood worth of characters.

 

 

 

Written by Daniel MacIvor, directed by Sarah Whitney, performed by Joe Hanrahan

play_culdesac Joe Hanrahan is brilliant and St. Louis is lucky to have him. For one, he cofounded the Midnight Company, a professional theater group in our town. For two, he has an uncanny knack for selecting plays that are witty, well-written, intelligent, captivating, and fulfilling. For three, he usually stars in these productions, sometimes as the sole actor. And he's an amazing one, at that.

Yes, you read that correctly: the sole actor. One-man plays. Following his impressive turn in St. Nicholas a couple years back, Hanrahan again takes the stage solo in Cul-de-Sac, a fully absorbing intermissionless 90-minute monologue which finds him embodying a neighborhood worth of characters.

The title of the play refers to the dead-end street on which said neighbors reside. The play's main character, Leonard, begins the narration, recalling a late night on which the neighbors did or did not hear a storm, a commotion. Something terrible has happened, we learn; as neighbors are interviewed, more is revealed: it's happened to Leonard, the only gay member of the neighborhood, and it's resulted in his death. There are distractions—porn on the computer, an empty house—so it takes the entirety of the play's unfolding for us to learn the details of the event.

"Maybe my first mistake," Leonard reveals early on, addressing the audience, "is not trying hard enough to like hockey." This, of course, refers to the character's sexuality, which ultimately leads to his downfall. After we are well introduced to Leonard, Hanrahan moves to portray other residents in the neighborhood, beginning with the Walshes, Joy and Eddy who, we are told, are awake when "it" happens: he's upstairs, pretending to be asleep; she's downstairs, watching the end of a scary movie.

One by one, the neighbors reveal their impressions of Leonard and what they heard at precisely 2:01 a.m. on the Sunday night in question. We meet the veterinarian, Dr. Bickerson, who freely admits to taking matters into his own hands concerning Leonard's elderly cat, no longer missing; we meet the socialites, Samuel and Virginia, hosts of the neighborhood's annual Christmas party.

Without a doubt, Hanrahan's most impressive performance is that of Madison Turner, Leonard's 13-year-old neighbor and friend. Her parents divorced, Madison lives with her father, for whom she spares no disdain. She's been writing a novel, The Balsa Wood Astronaut, since she was 11; as the book's recently gone missing, however, she's moved to writing it in her head, making it up in her dreams as she sleeps. (Leonard later admits to having stolen the journal, as Madison only intended to burn it upon completion anyway.)

Over the course of an hour and a half, Hanrahan embodies fully eight distinct characters, from their speaking patterns to their vocal inflections to their facial expressions to their mannerisms. Each of them comes from different backgrounds, with varying opinions of and sensitivities to their deceased neighbor, his actions, and his lifestyle. Yet as Dr. Bick reveals, we're more alike than we sometimes appear. "Birth, death, love, weather, arthritis—the same five things happen to everyone."

The set's sparse, a sound stage at Technisonic Studios. Gray walls, cement floors, and a gray box to the rear left combine for minimalist surroundings, made further bare by Hanrahan's all-black ensemble. The sound effects—an impending storm, background music at a party—are minor, as well, yet effective.

Maybe it's that we're left wondering for so long, our minds given room to roam, to fill in the blanks. Maybe it's that what happens is random, preventable, senseless. Maybe it's that a character outside of the cul-de-sac is introduced. Whatever the reason, I found myself a tad dissatisfied when Leonard's fate was finally revealed. Not dissatisfied enough to not recommend the play, mind you, because it's still a brilliant piece of writing. And certainly not dissatisfied so that I wouldn't sing Hanrahan's praises high and low, because I am and I will.

afterMIDNIGHT's presentation of Cul-de-Sac is well worth your 90 minutes and your $15. Go. | Laura Hamlett

 

afterMIDNIGHT, a producing arm of the Midnight Company, presents the St. Louis premiere of Daniel MacIvor's haunting suburban gothic, Cul-de-Sac, through March 10, 2007. Performances Thurs., Fri., and Sat. at 8 pm at Technisonic Studios, 500 S. Ewing in the St. Louis Business Center, near Jefferson and Highway 40. Tickets are $15, and may be reserved by calling 314 487-5305.

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