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Illuminated empty theatre and stage

Story: A middle-age man prone to spasms of anger discusses his life with a wary audience. He talks about his therapy group, which is overseen by a therapist who tells everyone to “call me Bobby,” something our sarcastic host resolutely refuses to do. Everyone in the group has a reason for being there, such as alcohol or drug addiction, dependency, anger issues or, in one case, says our host, “just because he’s weird.”

This forlorn fellow rants and raves about his demonically possessed mother, a father who abandoned the family to join the circus as “the world’s saddest man,” a sister with her own issues who somehow still loves the narrator and a wife who views him with thinly veiled contempt, spending a lot of time talking to “nobody,” going “nowhere” and doing “nothing,” all of which adds up to something suspicious.

Everything hits a pivotal point when this man finally convinces the owner of the waste management company where he works "in the office" to visit his house for dinner. Despite ignoring him for years, his boss seems oddly upbeat about this unusual happenstance. Even though it all sounds promising, an air of foreboding indicates otherwise.

Highlights: Joe Hanrahan, artistic director of The Midnight Company, specializes in one-man performances of bizarre, off-kilter works that keep an audience guessing about what’s about to happen next. His selection of Canadian playwright Daniel MacIvor’s arresting House fits beautifully into the context of the fourth annual St. Lou Fringe Festival, which for the first time is running over two weekends.

Hanrahan’s interpretation of the frenzied, frenetic protagonist is the high-octane fuel that sparks this inspired performance. It epitomizes the best of what a fringe festival of theater, music, dance and art can deliver in a street performance atmosphere.

Other Info: MacIvor’s work, first presented in Toronto in 1992, is an explosively funny rant by a disconnected misfit living on the fringes of society. He doesn’t fit in with the commonplace folks who seemingly inhabit his workplace. Nor does he blend well with the eccentrics or the outliers such as dear old dad and his peculiar occupation under the Big Top.

What this man does best is erupt in volcanic anger, spewing invectives and expletives at anyone who ventures too close, warning one and all that his body is his ‘house,’ and let the intruder beware. In the course of less than an hour, though, his prickly demeanor descends more into pathos and a sad little state of despair more than righteous indignation.

Hanrahan artfully channels every fabric of the man’s frustrations and weaves them into a telling and tormented portrayal with the notable guidance of director Sarah Whitney. And the shrewd musical compositions of Robert Steel underpin the man’s gnawing uncertainties about himself and his life.

This House is a home of torture but the only refuge for its lonely inhabitant.

Another sampling of the 30 acts performing at the 2015 St. Lou Fringe Festival is a piece titled The Unknown, presented by the Holy Upside Down Theatre Company, like The Midnight Company a local troupe.

Also performed at CEL, this 45-minute piece delves into the thoughts and actions of a group of astronauts attempting to land on a planet in another part of the universe that appears from a distance to have the capability to support human life.

When their leader, however, develops a serious medical condition and is jettisoned from the mission, the remaining scientists descend into self-doubts and recriminations that endanger the entire project.

Program notes describe The Unknown as an “entirely devised creation (that) uses only actors and minimal props to delve into the lives of four astronauts as they depart on a ground-breaking mission.”

The players -- Bryan Arnold, Francesca Ferrari, Olivia Foort, Teryl Thurman, Amanda Wales and Jonah Walker -- are described as “employing the teachings of Jacques Lecoq, Ann Bogart and Jerzy Grotowski” as they “shape this piece of visceral theatre.”

It sounds noble, but the end result seems a bit too precious and static to sustain much interest. In some ways, though, that’s the point of Fringe art. St. Lou Fringe Festival executive director Em Piro says that the “voices of the Festival this year are honest, fresh and passion-driven.

“With two weekends,” adds Piro, “we have more opportunities for audiences to experience the Festival…with lots of new opportunities to take workshops with artists, attend discussions and really engage with a uniquely St. Louis cultural adventure.”

The Fringe’s publication, The Ghost Light, contains information about all of the shows, including times, dates and ticket prices, being produced by both local companies and by artists from other cities. Venues all are located within the Grand Center district.

For more information call 314-643-7853, e-mail boxoffice@stlfringe.com, visit the Fringe web site at www.stlfringe.com, check out its Facebook page or just go to the Fringe Central Station in Strauss Park, 3534 Washington.

Play: House

Company: Midnight Company

Venue: CEL (Creative Exchange Lab), 3307 Washington

Dates: June 25, 26, 27

Play:  The Unknown

Company:  Holy Upside Down Theatre Company

Venue:  CEL

Dates:  June 25, 26, 27

Tickets: $5 for Fringe badge, individual shows such as House range from $1 to $15; contact 314-643-7853 or boxoffice@stlfringe.com