By Lynn Venhaus
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