By Lynn Venhaus
1964 was a memorable year for Americans. Still reeling from President Kennedy’s assassination, an escalating war in Vietnam and civil rights struggles, the U.S. was on the cusp of enormous change.
For teenage St. Louisans like Joe Hanrahan, it was an eventful time, especially that summer. The four lads from Liverpool rocked their world and they were ecstatic about the big bang of the British Invasion. The hometown Cards would make a mad dash for the pennant and face the Yankees in the World Series. And the coolest of the cool, Sean Connery as super-spy 007, was back on the big screen.
Hanrahan, a gifted storyteller, weaves his boyhood obsessions about baseball, The Beatles and James Bond into an entertaining and heartfelt amalgamation he wrote, titled “Now Playing Third Base for the St. Louis Cardinals…Bond, James Bond.”
His memory play, presented by The Midnight Company, will evoke a sense of being there. Vividly capturing a moment in time, you can visualize a dusty ballfield, neighborhood buddies and their equal passions for rooting for the hometown team and going to the movies.
These are the quintessential boys of summer. Joe, who played baseball in four different leagues, recalls his carefree days playing pick-up ball with his pals and nights selling soda and popcorn at Sportsman’s Park..
Hanrahan, who has performed his share of quirky one-man shows over the past decade, walks down a memory lane that other generations can relate to – not just Baby Boomers. He originally wrote the show for the 2018 St. Louis Fringe Festival, and then expanded it beyond that festival’s one-hour time limit for this new presentation.
It is one of his most accessible works, and he’s completely at home on the intimate stage at The Chapel.
He draws us in by creating a specific sense of place, and how what was happening socially, politically and athletically affected these kids growing up in the city, as the ‘Lou was dynamically changing too.
And being teenage boys, enamored with a friend’s spirited recounting the entire experience of seeing the second Ian Fleming adaptation, “From Russia with Love,” the night before at the air-cooled Maplewood Theatre, is a major focus of this play. Rich in details, it’s riveting, as Hanrahan acts out the reminiscence, using Connery’s suave and debonaire demeanor, the beauty of Daniella Bianchi, and the exciting triumph over Spectre.
While Hanrahan showcases his raconteur skills, he offers copious amounts of interesting details – of the segregation issues across America, how Gussie Busch, who took over ownership of the Cardinals in 1953, led the way in integrating the team. Our Hall of Famers Bob Gibson and Lou Brock joined Ken Boyer, Dick Groat, Curt Flood, Julian Javier, Bill White and a young Mike Shannon in defeating the all-white Yankees dynasty in seven games.
Looking back, it was a seminal moment in American history, and Hanrahan credits David Halberstam’s book, “October 1964,” for the insight into race issues in Major League Baseball.
Hanrahan doesn’t shy away from mentioning the developing racial tensions and progress here either.
The reflections are palpable. He expresses the joys of a halcyon youth 57 years ago with panache, taking us back to the days of hi-fis playing 45s of “Can’t Buy Me Love,” “Twist and Shout,” “She Loves You,” “I Want to Hold Your Hand” and “Please Please Me” – the Beatles scored the top five positions on the Billboard Top 40 singles in America, an unprecedented achievement. Or the LP “Meet the Beatles,” which Joe hijacked from his sister.
The production is deftly directed by Shane Signorino, who has worked with Hanrahan before.
Video designer Michael B. Perkins has enhanced the one-man show with a cultural panoply of the sights and sounds of the day – the Fab Four, MLB players and the front office brass, and snippets of the Bond movie.
It’s a clever multi-media presentation. Kevin Bowman also provides crisp production and lighting design.
While he threads a boy’s look back, Hanrahan delivers dollops of theatrical wisdom. It is, after all, a work of theater – with drama and comedy.
A bonus is a magazine cover display in the lobby, courtesy of Redbirds fan George Venegoni.
Hanrahan has linked the time it was in an engaging way, guaranteed to produce smiles on a warm St. Louis summer night.
The show runs Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m., July 8 through July 24, and a Sunday matinee at 2 p.m. on July 25, at The Chapel, 6238 Alexander. For more information: midnightcompany.com. Tickets available at metrotix.com.
Lynn Venhaus has had a continuous byline in St. Louis metro region publications since 1978. She is a Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic, currently reviews films for Webster-Kirkwood Times and KTRS Radio, covers entertainment for PopLifeSTL.com and co-hosts podcast PopLifeSTL.com…Presents, and writes features and news for Belleville News-Democrat and contributes to other publications. She is a member of CCA, AWFJ and St. Louis Film Critics Association. She is a founding member of the St. Louis Theater Circle.