Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: St. Louis

Spirits to Enforce
The Midnight Company
Review by Richard T. Green

Miranda Jagels Felix, Spencer Lawton, Will Bonfiglio,
Ash Arora, Cassidy Flynn, and Joe Hanrahan

Photo by Joey Rumpell
There's something horrifying about the theatre, on one level or another, for anyone who works in it. Every theatre person has a story of some fearful moment of live entertainment: nightmarish and in slow-motion, like an unstoppable shipwreck, usually when the stage illusion suddenly falls apart. But (most of the time) you realize you've managed to survive it. And most of the time, you're ready to go back and try it again the next night.

This sense of horror, of theatrical shipwreck, can exist at any level: from hanging the lights high above, to pacing back and forth between your scenes in the passages down below the stage during a performance. And so it is with Mickle Maher's Spirits to Enforce, which first debuted at Theatre Oobleck in Chicago in 2003. This latest eighty-minute revival is directed by the magical Lucy Cashion for the Midnight Company at the Kranzberg Arts Center in midtown St. Louis. But this time, the horror comes right out of the front row: from the anguish of squeezing money out of skeptical patrons, over the phone. So you know it's going to be a rough ride.

Spirits to Enforce is knotted together with William Shakespeare's The Tempest, his greatest shipwreck play. And though director Cashion didn't oversee the devising of this performance piece herself (unlike a lot of her recent shows), the sense of desperately sinking, and of a world inside-out, and of staring into the modern version of a funhouse mirror (owing, in this case, to a lot of superhero secrets), all come ablaze in the same lineage.

Here, a comical band of superheroes, The Enforcers, must work the phones to raise money for a new staging of the tale of Prospero, the banished duke of Milan, who finally gets his revenge. This production of The Tempest would come as a sort of "victory lap" after the Enforcers have subdued their arch-enemy Professor Cannibal and saved Fathom Town from enslavement yet again. But, like the 1999 movie Mystery Men, the Enforcers' super powers are seemingly not very formidable. But they're pivotal in the transformation soon to come.

Midnight Company founder Joe Hanrahan plays The Untangler, an irascible father figure whose mesmerizing rope knots will confound any adversary. And director Cashion's frequent collaborator Will Bonfiglio plays the superheroes' leader, Ariel. But he and The Untangler are rendered powerless as they ring-up a series of skeptical backers.

Crucially, Mr. Hanrahan will gradually morph into Shakespeare's wretched Caliban; and Mr. Bonfiglio, into the Ariel of The Tempest. And everything will start looking up, from down in their undersea lair, a forgotten submarine. On the night I attended, Morgan Schindler was adorably funny stepping into the role of The Bad Map, a superhero who can barely navigate her own apartment without running afoul of the cat. (The Bad Map is normally played by Kayla Bush.) The whole cast's strange journey, from an amalgam of desperate fundraisers in a darkened boiler-room setting, and into mighty legends, is fresh and touching and very satisfying.

Starting out like embittered Gen Xers, or anguished but exceedingly well-mannered Millennials, the faces of this band of heroes begin to glow with idealistic fervor as the play develops its furious momentum. A strange choreography takes over, as telephone handsets are uniformly dropped to the floor again and again to signify phone connections lost at the depths of the ocean. Coiled cords get caught up in top-knots. And go-cups and post-it notes and loose papers flutter into chaos, as each pitch-master seems on the verge of closing a deal. Comic soliloquies are interrupted (but never tripped up) by a lot of earnest cross-talk, serving to burnish their superhero legends.

The tangled stories race toward completion in the final 30 minutes, as the show blossoms with strength and romance in a kind of rising personal majesty. Miranda Jagels Felix presents a thrilling rush of emotions as the shadow-puppet mistress, The Silhouette, and Rachel Tibbetts is incandescent as Memory Lass, whose powers of recall sadly do not include any particular individual.

Cassidy Flynn is comedically perfect as The Tune, whose musical abilities no longer interest him. Alicen Moser is electric as The Page, and also as Shakespeare's Prospero in the final scenes. Celeste Gardner has a wonderful oddball presence, sincere and improbable, as Fragrance Fellow. And Ross Rubright and Spencer Lawton are unexpectedly heartwarming as The Pleaser and The Intoxicator.

I must confess that I was getting over a bad head cold this particular night, and a couple of times during the show I briefly felt as though I were trapped inside a steel drum with maniacs banging on the outside of it with hammers. But the overall effect is very positive, and Ash Arora is exotic and languid and irresistible as The Ocean. Joey Taylor provides outstanding keyboard accompaniment throughout, and also plays a funny (but not-so-competent) stage carpenter in their woven-in telling of The Tempest.

Every step of the way, the whole thing seems to be coming apart, and the nightmare of theatrical shipwreck exists at every level–until the cast is swallowed up by an even greater leviathan: the indescribable joy of performance.

Spirits to Enforce runs through May 18, 2024, at the Kranzberg Arts Center, 501 N. Grand Blvd., St. Louis MO. For tickets and more information, please visit

Cast (Secret Identity/Superhero Identity/Character in The Tempest):
Miranda Jagels Felix: Donna Adams/The Silhouette/All Masque Characters
Rachel Tibbetts: Susan Tanner/Memory Lass/Miranda
Joe Hanrahan: Wayne Simon/The Untangler/Caliban
Celeste Gardner: Oliver Kendall/Fragrance Fellow/Sebastian
Alicen Moser: Cecily Gray/The Page/Prospero
Cassidy Flynn: Randell James/The Tune/Ferdinand
Kayla Bush: Donna Blake/The Bad Map/Trinculo
Will Bonfiglio: Emory Lawson/Ariel/Ariel
Spencer Lawton: Dale Clark/The Intoxicator/Stephano
Ross Rubright: Craig Cale/The Pleaser/Antonio
Ash Arora: Rebecca Lloyd/The Ocean/Gonzalo
Joey Taylor: Brad Allen/The Snow Heavy Branch

Production Staff:
Director: Lucy Cashion
Stage Manager: Jimmy Bernatowicz
Costume Designers: Liz Henning and Eric Widner
Assistant Stage Manager: Morgan Schindler
Lighting Designer: Jayson Lawshee
Music by Joey Taylor