By Lynn Venhaus
Versatile storyteller Joe Hanrahan is among the theater community’s biggest hyphenates. Actor, writer, director and producer, his Midnight Company is presenting “Judgment at Nuremberg” at the Missouri History Museum for an April 25-29 run.
The drama depicts the second wave of post-World War II trials at Nuremberg, as influential judges who cooperated with the Nazis face a military tribunal. That includes the character Ernst Janning, who is portrayed as one of the most eminent German legal minds of the pre-war era.
Originally produced on television in 1957, Abby Mann’s screenplay was made into an Academy Award-winning film in 1961, then adapted for the stage, premiering on Broadway in 2001.
“It not only brought some of the worst Nazi atrocities to public attention, but has become one of the 20th century’s most important records of the Holocaust,” Hanrahan said. “In the play, Abby Mann’s compassion strikes at the heart of human suffering, and ‘Nuremberg’ remains a play that unfortunately is as potent and relevant as ever. The play’s achievement has been to reaffirm humanity and justice in the wake of unspeakable evil.”
Hanrahan, who portrays American Judge Dan Haywood, the lead judge of the tribunal. said he hopes the audience takes away an admiration for the courage and strength it took to hold these trials, demanding justice for the world.
“’Nuremberg’ is an exceedingly important play for our times. Of course, it is a history lesson, but the post-World War II trial it depicts is not about the leaders of the Third Reich and their awful final solution, but one of a series of trials of businessmen, doctors, and in this play’s case, judges, who cooperated with the Nazis and contributed to their success. I thought it very important to highlight the danger that can come from cooperation, silence, complicity with dangerous regimes,” he said.
“I hope the audience specifically takes away the parallels between the dangerous early activities of the Nazis — baiting the press, demeaning the justice system, demonizing minorities, demanding loyalty oaths — and what’s going on today. I hope they realize that no one can sit back and be silent today, much less support these policies,” he said.
Hanrahan is artistic director and co-founder of The Midnight Company, which was formed in 1997 to focus on new and interesting work for the stage, screen and internet.
During recent years, Hanrahan has delivered acclaimed intense one-man show offerings. This week, he is the principal role in the 16-member cast for ‘Judgment’ and continues to be open to projects — large and small.
What drives him to take on shows? “I’ll continue to work in theatre with two prerequisites: First, I love telling stories – stories so compelling that I want to grab people and say ‘Listen to this! This is so cool!’ And second, I want to be challenged by any play I take on – a challenge of whether I can do the play, can I pull it off? These two guideposts give me what I need to keep on keeping on,” he said.
Midnight has previously performed two plays at the History Museum – “Give ‘Em Hell Harry,” which was part of a season where they presented plays from St. Louis companies in 2009, and “The Ballad of Jesse James,” a script he wrote.
The James play has been produced in many places, including twice on the porch of the James farm in Kearney, Mo.
Midnight is producing the current drama in a partnership with SATE artists (Slightly Askew Theater Ensemble).
“It’s a personal alignment based, I think, on our mutual dedication to good work,” he said.
Their collaboration began when his associate director Sarah Whitney was unable to work on Eric Bogosian’s “Sex, Drugs, Rock & Roll,” as she was taking a long-planned vacation. So, he scouted a few productions, and saw Slightly Askew’s “Bachelorette,” which was directed by Rachel Tibbetts.
“It was raw, adult, funny and good, and I felt she’d be ideal for Bogosian. I approached her, and she was in. The show was a success,” he said.
Ellie Schwetye, Rachel’s SATE partner, then asked him to be in “One Flea Spare”in 2015. The production received multiple St. Louis Theater Circle nominations.
“A year later, I brought two scripts to the ladies, and without wanting to take over their lives, I wanted them to be involved in both. In a testament to their good taste, they agreed,” he said. “I directed Rachel and Ellie in the two-character vampire sisters drama, ‘Cuddles’ in November 2016 for SATE, and then Ellie directed Rachel and I in Midnight’s two-character Irish chase comedy/drama ‘Little Thing Big Thing.’ Both were fun and successful — and timing worked out so that Rachel was nominated for Theater Circle Best Actress in succeeding years for each show.”
Hanrahan was also nominated for directing “Cuddles.” He was among the ranch hands in SATE’s “Of Mice and Men” last fall.
For ‘Judgment,’ Schwetye directed and Tibbetts is acting as Frau Margarete Bertholt, whose military husband was hanged for war crimes. In November, he will act in John Wolbers’ “Doctor Faust” show at SATE.
Hanrahan said he enjoys working with other companies, and has worked with The Black Rep, Upstream Theater, New Jewish Theatre, R-S Theatrics, Clayton Community Theater and the Theatre Guild of Webster Groves.
He will be in Stray Dog’s “The Crucible” next winter. He won Best Director for a Drama for Clayton’s “A View from the Bridge,” recently from Arts For Life’s Theatre Mask Awards.
“I don’t specifically pick projects. If a project interests me, I’ll audition, or a company might ask me to direct, and then I might have a say in the show if there are some choices,” he said.
“I hope Midnight continues to evolve by doing work, for the most part, new to St. Louis, producing unique plays, working in a variety of spaces. I hope to continue to write. With that, I hope Midnight can carve out a unique identity in the theatre landscape,” he said
Beyond this run, what’s next? He’s written a piece about theater for the Grand Center Theatre Crawl this summer called “Audition.”
“It’s a short play about a director and a producer for a post-modern theatre company who disagree on whether an actress with a very unusual resume should be allowed to read for their company, with its gender free, diversity encouraged mission,” he said.
“I’m also working on a longer piece that may appear later this summer. Not announced yet, but I’m excited by it – I’ve done a lot of one-man shows, but I’ve never written one,” he said.
He is very proud to be a part of the St. Louis artists’ community.
“The St. Louis theatre scene continues to amaze me with its explosive growth, with new companies springing up regularly, and existing companies continuing to operate with energy and commitment,” he said.
“The other recent observation I’ve had about St. Louis theatre is how good it continues to be. Companies are doing better and better work, raising the bar, and inspiring everyone to go beyond their best,” he said.
For more information, visit: www.midnightcompany.com
TAKE TEN QUESTIONS WITH JOE HANRAHAN:
1.Why did you choose your profession/pursue the arts?
I had little experience with theatre growing up. Liked movies. Theatre was the closest thing to it in St. Louis then. Finally had the nerve to audition when I was a senior in high school. I’m sure I was terrible, but the director let me down easy, with a sports metaphor: “We’re going to go with the younger guys.”
So, I vowed then to never attempt theatre again. But in college, someone recruited me, for some reason, for a play. The director was great. In that show, and several subsequent, he gave me a master class in acting, and I was set on a course. (But have always been a writer — professional business writer for many years, which may have inhabited creative work. Trying to catch up with that now.
2. How would your friends describe you?
Always ready for a good time
3. How do you like to spend your spare time?
Movies, Reading, Tennis, Fantasy Baseball.
4. What is your current obsession?
World War II, The Hollywood Knights (my Fantasy team), and as the weather warms up, my tennis game.
5. What would people be surprised to find out about you?
I had a long business career, and did theatre at night. In addition to being VP/Executive Creative Director at Ralston Purina’s in-house agency CheckMark for many years, I was Marketing Director for both The Rep (early days under David Frank) and The Black Rep.
6. Can you share one of your most defining moments in life?
My son passed away from a drug overdose last year. Something like that defines everything in life – from the time you wake up in the morning. That incident set me on a path where theatre became a consuming, distracting. creative life-affirming activity. Last year, I did seven shows, including writing three, and this year looks much the same.
7. Who do you admire most?
8. What is at the top of your bucket list?
The people I’m working with, the shows and roles I’m doing are right at the top.
9. What is your favorite thing to do in St. Louis?
Walk through the Zoo, walk through Soulard, walk Downtown, but all when there’s nobody else there. Drop by McGurks almost any night of the week.
10. What’s next?
Have written a show for Theatre Crawl. Reuniting with Dave Wassilak for two plays by Chicago playwright Mickle Maher in September. In the casts for SATE’s and John Wolbers’ Faust show in November and Stray Dog’s “The Crucible” in February, ’19. (Maybe something in between that isn’t announced yet.)
More About Joe:
Birthplace: St. Louis
Current location: St. Louis
Family: Married, 2 kids, 4 grandkids
Education: Bachelor’s Degree in English Lit, Post-Graduate Work (no Degree) in Humanities.
Day job: I quit.
First job: 12 years old, sold snow cones from a wooden cart I’d push to various ballfields.
First role: Schroeder in “You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown.”
Favorite roles/plays: Henry in “The Real Thing,” Turing in “Breaking The Code,” Eddie in “Hurly Burly,” Simon in “Otherwise Engaged,” Pale in “Burn This,” Norman in “The Norman Conquests,” Looseleaf in “Happy Birthday, Wanda June,” Truman in “Give ‘Em Hell Harry,” William-Henry Ireland in “Solemn Mockeries,” roles in one-man shows of Bogosian, Conor McPherson and Will Eno, “Hamlet,” and the role I’m doing right now – Judge Dan Haywood in “Judgment At Nuremberg.”
Dream role/play: Henry Higgins in “My Fair Lady.”
Awards/Honors/Achievements: A few Theatre Circle and Kevin Kline nominations, several Judys and RFT awards for shows or Company work.
Favorite quote/words to live by: “I’m just tellin’ ya.” From Steve McQueen in “The Sand Pebbles.”
A song that makes you happy: “Rock and Roll Girls” by John Fogerty.
“Judgment at Nuremberg” is at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday, April 25-29, with 2 p.m. matinees Saturday and Sunday. For tickets, go to: mohistory.org/judgment-at-nuremberg