Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

“Hir” at the Phoenix Theatre (3.5 stars)

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“Hir” at the Phoenix Theatre. Photo by Zach Rosing.

Hir is the story of a family that is prime for group counseling. The first thing you lock eyes on when the show begins is the father, Arnold. He is in a nightgown, diaper, and John Wayne Gacy-like makeup. Well, that was creepy. He is almost nonverbal and suffering the aftereffects of a stroke. His wife keeps him well-drugged (including estrogen) to make him more manageable. She uses a squirt bottle to keep his hands off his own penis.

Since his stroke, his wife, Paige, has fallen off the manic deep end and is exacting her revenge for the physical abuse she and her children suffered, using the opportunity to reject her husband’s prior commands, such as keeping a clean house and not working, and humiliates him with glee. Her anti-establishment rants include some great images—florescent foods like Cheetos are part of the blame for the country’s ills.

Their son Isaac has just arrived home from the army after being dishonorably discharged for drug use. He served in mortuary affairs, retrieving, collecting, and sorting body parts, so he likely has PTSD too. The blender is a vomit trigger.

Finally, there is Max, Isaac’s younger sibling. Max used to be Maxine and now insists on being referred to by the pronouns “ze” (he/she) and “hir” (him/her). Ze is very aggressive about hir transitional status and seeks companionship through online groups. Max shares most characteristics with any other angsty teenager with anger issues toward hir parents—but with a better vocabulary. Paige latches onto Max’s transition firmly, riding Max’s metaphorical coattails into a more interesting word. She revels in this new diversion and is able to speak in alphabet soup in her excitement. She even homeschools Max, which includes (again) creepy, therapeutic shadow puppet shows that reenact the family’s years of abuse at the hands of Arnold.

While Paige wholeheartedly embraces Max’s transition, she uses Arnold’s wardrobe as part of Arnold’s punishment. That’s a brain twister right there when you begin to contemplate the social statements being made.

Needless to say, Isaac, in his current condition, does not know what to think about his very changed family. In his desire to reinstate normalcy, for theirs and his own benefit, he goes into a cleaning frenzy after having been ordered not to by Paige. He instructs Max to “command the dust” and orders Arnold and Max through how to make a bed military-style—though they do a piss-poor job.

Brad Griffith (Arnold) manages to be both comedic and pitiable at the same time. You laugh but then feel a little guilty about it. But then you think of his past behavior and don’t feel as guilty. Some humor is needed to counter this dark story.

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“Hir” at the Phoenix Theatre. Photo by Zach Rosing.

Jen Johansen (Paige) gets one of my favorite phrases in that she chews through the scenery, even if that scenery seems to be chewed upon already. (The family’s home is trashed.) While Isaac is the recovering drug addict, you would think his mother was the one hopped up on meth. Johansen must be exhausted by the end of the show by Paige’s hyperactivity and non-stop self-justification.

Ben Schuetz (Issac) has the wild eyes and tense mannerisms of both a drug addict jonsing for a hit as well as a soldier in the clutches of PTSD. You could bounce a coin off his physical and psychological tension.

And Ariel Laukins (Max) … well, ze just wants to run away from it all. In the end, Laukins’s character’s posturing dissolves into just the pain of a kid who is trapped in a damaged family.

While none of the characters contains much actual depth, the show, under the direction of Mark Routhier, uses the in-your-face, exaggerated characterization technique to challenge the audience on many different levels.

Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

Catalyst Repertory: “Feral Boy” (4 stars)

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“Feral Boy.” Photo by Gary Nelson.

I don’t know if I will ever look at my happily domesticated and beloved kitties the same.

Cats have enthralled humans for centuries (think Egypt), and they have been “domesticated” for up to 12,000 years. Yet, they stand apart from the other most domesticated pet, dogs, in a way that you have to respect. While dogs will kowtow to their owners, cats push their own agendas unapologetically.

Catalyst Repertory’s production of Feral Boy, the latest from local playwright Bennett Ayres (Mad, Mad Hercules), follows Corbett, a disillusioned frat boy funded by Mommy’s sugar-daddy’s bank account. Newly graduated from college, he is frustrated by the assumptions of his friends and family that he will pursue his future that has been laid before him — a mainstream path of mind-numbing professions (his being Internet advertising). You know something odd is happening from the start when Corbett reflects on how mating cats sound as if they are killing each other, and he shows distracting interest in a feral colony of cats next to his dorm rental. The cats’ independence and lifestyle enthrall him. Corbett becomes engrossed in feline behavior and spends late nights stalking the cats and doing research on Wikipedia (which, as most people know, is just a font of accurate information).

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“Feral Boy.” Photo by Gary Nelson.

The show is a study of how people seek a place to fit in but want something meaningful in their lives, and suffer from a lack of connection — how easy it is to be attracted to a cult-like mentality, whether it’s a gang, religious group, or something similar

Pat Mullen delivers Corbett’s fascination with the cats in a naive, anarchic way. He is a sheltered adult now who is still a little boy going mad, rebelling against society’s expectations in a floundering, blind way. He slowly falls feral himself by ignoring responsibility, not bathing, not working, squatting in his girlfriend’s apartment, and expecting her to provide for him. Almost like an owned cat might — minus the no bathing. Girlfriend Betsy, a convenience-store clerk (Patty Blanchfield), is persistent in her coaxing of Corbett, first affectionately then with a little tough love, but she finally realizes that his mind is deteriorating.

Cats are voiced in a way that you find yourself focusing on the puppets, not their handlers (if you’ve seen Avenue Q, you know what I mean). The cats are creepy, disturbing, both in attitude and in their facelessness. Patrick Weigand’s creations scream otherness. Mafia flare is reflected in Matt Anderson as Striper, the leader; Dane Rogers as Orangey, the enforcer; and Audrey Stonerock as the powerless Calico, Corbett’s love (think West Side Story). They make these fantastical creatures feel real in personality, voice acting, and movement. The colony’s influence even leads Corbett into his own ruthless actions of torture for information and vengeance.

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“Feral Boy.” Photo by Gary Nelson.

The shallowness of Cornett’s previous human relationships is set up by the conversation of his frat brothers, Matt Walls and Donovan Whitney, who argue over the correct categorization of potential bedmates. Corbett begins distancing himself from them as well as from the worried yet tentative approaches by his mother (Sarah Holland Froehlke) and landlord (voiced by Jim Tillett), who seem to progressively infer that something is just not right with Corbett. Dennis Forkel plays Crane, a homeowner with a large aquarium, which Corbett raids to bring tribute to his feline ladylove. In his increasing delirium, Corbett even reaches out to a cat-themed magazine, only to get entwined in a voicemail tree from hell (voiced by Jolene Moffatt).

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“Feral Boy.” Photo by Gary Nelson.

Under the direction of Zach Stonerock, the characters and staging reflect the dark angle of the script that occasional reveals a nimble hand with words, such as describing the indentations left by furniture in carpet as miniature crop circles — a vivid comparison. Projections of cat silhouettes against the back wall invigorate the sparse, black-box environment. However, the play is too long, with no intermission (and hot — be prepared for no AC to speak of in the theater). Some sequences drag. Tightened up and with some workshopping, though, the script could become an even more engaging, compelling work.

 

 

  • May 18-28, Thursdays-Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 5 p.m.
  • Wheeler Arts Center
  • $15
  • For this production, Catalyst Rep will house theme nights in tandem with sponsor the LongShot Theatre.
  • Feral Boy is recommended for ages 16 (strong language, adult situations, implied animal abuse, and sexual content) and up. However, see the flyer for lots of family fun in conjunction with the show’s run.
  • http://www.brownpapertickets.com

feralflyer

 

Posted in Indianapolis theater: previews

Openings for the weekend of 5/18

Beef & Boards: Shrek, The Musical

shrekThe Tony Award winning musical based on the Oscar winning DreamWorks Animation film about an Ogre who finds himself on a life-changing journey alongside a wisecracking Donkey and a feisty princess who resists her rescue. As Beef & Boards’ 2017 Family Show, Shrek, The Musical features $10 discounts off tickets for all kids ages 3-15.

  • May 18-July 2
  • $42.50-$62.50 (All tickets include dinner buffet, plus coffee, tea or lemonade. Full bar service and gourmet desserts are available at additional cost.)
  • beefandboards.com

Phoenix Theatre: HIR

hirWhen Isaac is dishonorably discharged for a drug addiction, he comes home only to find nothing is how he left it. Liberated from the oppression of her marriage, Isaac’s mother leads a crusade against the patriarchy alongside his sister, who is now a trans male anarchist and uses the pronouns “ze” and “hir.” Meanwhile, his abusive father has become ill and downs estrogen pills against his will. An Alice-in-Wonderland look at the traditional family, Hir flips the script on gender power dynamics … but does destroying the past really free you from it?

  • May 18-June 18, Thursdays, 7 p.m. $27; Friday-Saturdays, 8 p.m. $33; Sundays, 2 p.m. $27
  • CheapSeats weekend May 18-21: All tickets for this show will be only $20 on opening weekend.
  • Producer Party May 19: After the performance on Friday of opening weekend, the Phoenix will host a Producer Party. Food and Sun King beer will be provided.
  • Second Sunday May 28: The Second Sunday discussion will take place immediately following the performance.  Come join cast and designers for a lively Q&A and gain a unique perspective of the show.
  • http://www.phoenixtheatre.org

Play reading: West Wildwood Ave or Rita From Across the Street

Constance Macy, Robert Neal, Nina Samaan, and Paeton Chavis will participate in the first public reading of Lou Harry‘s latest play. West Wildwood Ave or Rita from Across the Street concerns Mark, who sold his boardwalk business to take care of his troubled brother, and Donna, who is summering at the shore with her teen daughter while her husband works during the week back in Philadelphia. A lot can happen over two porches during a single summer.

  • The public is welcome to attend this free reading.
  • Wednesday, May 24 at 6 p.m.
  • Lilly Hall 328, Butler University

Khaos Company Theatre: 2017 Dionysia New Play Festival

khaosKhaos Company Theatre ensemble presents five-page excerpts from plays (as far away as Nigeria this year) in the fourth annual international play festival! Audience participants cast their votes, buy additional votes, and help determine what winning excerpt will be fully produced in the 2018 season.

 

Catalyst Repertory: Feral Boy

feralflyerThe world premiere of Feral Boy by Bennett Ayres. May is Catalyst‘s guest artist month. Local writer Bennett Ayres ‘s new show is staged with direction by Zach Stonerock. Feral Boy is the story of Corbett, a recent college graduate, who finds purpose and direction through his friendship with a group of feral cats. But as his attempt to join the cats becomes an obsession, Corbett discovers that total freedom requires extreme sacrifice. Features original, hand-crafted puppets by Indy’s Patrick Weigand. For this production, Catalyst Rep will house theme nights in tandem with sponsors the LongShot Theatre. Feral Boy is recommended for ages 16 (strong language, adult situations, implied animal abuse, and sexual content). However, see the flyer for lots of family fun in conjunction with the show’s run.

We’re Still Here: Stories of the Flint Water Crisis

flintWe’re Still Here is a 45-minute play written based on interviews with more than 40 residents of Flint, Michigan, about the impact of the water crisis. The play features excerpts from those interviews, performed in a one-woman show with the residents’ own words. The evening will begin with recorded poetry readings from Flint resident TaJuana Stokes, followed by the live performance by Sarah Janssen. Recommended for ages 12 and up.

Posted in Indianapolis theater: previews

Openings for the weekend of 5/12

My apologies for being MIA last weekend. My metaphorical plate was piled too high, and I was sorely in need of a weekend to do normal stuff. Sadly, I didn’t think to look ahead, as there are far fewer shows opening this weekend. C’est la vie.

So, to start off with, I have to make mention of an event at a venue that I would not normally frequent (only because I lack the social skills required to take up space at a bar/club — not to mention that you can’t smoke in bars/clubs, and HOW THE HELL DO YOU DRINK ALCOHOL AND NOT SMOKE?!

(OK, OK, vape. I hate these hookah-like ecigs. If anyone has budget-friendly suggestions for a reliable cig-a-like, message me. I was persuaded to give up the Vuses because they were even more expensive than real cigarettes (oh how I miss ye), and half the refill cartridges were duds. Now I feel like I’m smoking a leaky cell phone. OK, rant over.)

Pink Droyd at The Vogue (I have mad love for Pink Floyd.)

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Pink Droyd

Their live performances were both aurally astounding and visually brilliant.  Today Pink Droyd, a tribute to Pink Floyd, brings the look, feel, and sound of those shows to audiences around the country.  Their show is both accurate to the Pink Floyd music and visually stunning with their robotic, intelligent light show, digital video accompaniment (including the Pink Floyd traditional circular video screen), and amazing laser show.

Pink Droyd brings to life the music of Pink Floyd by including theatrical performances of some of Pink Floyd’s most memorable songs.  From building “The Wall” to visiting “The Dark Side of the Moon,” Pink Droyd spans the Pink Floyd catalog including the most memorable hits and some beloved obscure tracks.

With a combined Pink Floyd tribute band experience of over 50 years this all-star cast brings the music and experience of Pink Floyd to audiences at a time when the appreciation of Pink Floyd has never been greater!

OnyxFest: A Celebration of African American Playwrights at IndyFringe

onyxEstablished in 2011, OnxyFest is striving to become, in the words of the late playwright August Wilson, a festival that “informs its viewers of the human condition and its power to heal.” OnyxFest is determined to be the vehicle to promote and expose avid theater-goers to the voices and talent of new and emerging African American playwrights.

OnyxFest is Indianapolis’s first and only theatre festival dedicated to the stories of African American playwrights. IndyFringe developed OnyxFest in response to the lack of diversity both on stage and in audiences of Indianapolis’s theaters. IndyFringe actively embraces diversity in the Indianapolis theater scene and began working with African American playwrights to change the Indianapolis theatrical landscape.

Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus Live! at Schrott Center for the Arts

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“Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus Live!”

This Off-Broadway hit comedy is a one-man fusion of theater and stand-up, and is a lighthearted theatrical comedy based on the New York Times #1 best-selling book of the last decade by John Gray. Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus LIVE! is more than just the book. This hysterical show will have couples elbowing each other all evening as they see themselves on stage. Sexy and fast paced, this show is definitely for adults, but will leave audiences laughing and giggling.

 

One performance left: Riverdance: The 20th Anniversary World Tour at Clowes Hall

The international Irish dance phenomenon is back by popular demand in Riverdance: The 20th Anniversary World Tour. Drawing on Irish traditions, the combined talents of the performers propel Irish dancing and music into the present day, capturing the imagination of audiences across all ages and cultures in an innovative and exciting blend of dance, music, and song. Of all the performances to emerge from Ireland — in rock, music, theater,and film — nothing has carried the energy, the sensuality and the spectacle of Riverdance.

Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

“Beyond the Rainbow” at Actors Theatre of Indiana (5 stars)

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“Beyond the Rainbow” at Actors Theatre of Indiana. Photo by Zach Rosing.

It’s 1961, and Judy Garland is onstage for her Carnegie Hall comeback concert. As if she is seeing her life pass before her, memories of pivotal events take shape around her. She is not the only one on stage during that concert—her ghosts are playing supporting roles. At this moment, she is 38; in only nine years, she will succumb to a barbiturate overdose at the age of 47.

Just as Judy Garland’s life had been punctuated by demands, Beyond the Rainbow uses Garland’s showstoppers as ellipses, setting off the scenes when Garland’s life changed—most often, without her making the decision.

Katy Gentry, as the adult Garland, is magnificent in sound and situation. While completely in control musically, her commentary allows the audience just a vague sensation of Garland’s emotional tumult. As we see through scene after scene, Garland is broken inside, the victim of too many people trying to dictate her life. But she is the consummate performer. The show must go on.

Equally stunning is Annie Yokom as Judy from late teens to late 20s. Yokom has the added benefit of getting to showcase her acting skills in more traditional storytelling as she interacts with supporting cast members (Grace Sell, Dave Ruark, and Roger Ortman, who demonstrate their own superlative finesse by portraying many different yet distinct characters). Yokom reflects the maturing Judy in a striking way, and the audience sees what a firecracker Judy was at that age.

Anjali Rooney portrays Young Judy, and she is adorable for the relatively short time she is onstage.

The setup in the black-box theater is brilliant. Gentry is front and center, as a concert performer would be, while flashbacks have their own space to develop around her—unless they come in for a more personal look … or conversation. The backdrop is a mesh screen, allowing a muted view of the spectacularly talented onstage band (John Bronston, Greg Gegogeine, Steve Stickler, and Greg Wolff) as well as some dreamlike sequences of the show.

Don Farrell has directed another show to add to Actors Theater of Indiana’s recent roster of hits.

  • April 28-May 14; Wednesday-Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m.
  • $43; seniors $37; students $20 (with valid student I.D.); Wednesdays all seats are $25
  • http://atistage.org/

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Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

“Motherf*cker with the Hat” at Theatre on the Square (4 stars)

mfkrThe Hat. It’s a silent, benign character. Rather dapper even, though unremarkable in color and style. There it sits, unobtrusively keeping company with the neat lines of cocaine on the cheap coffee table. It’s easy to overlook—eyes glide over it without registering its presence. At first. It sits its silent vigil, until, finally, its existence is noted. Then its silence takes on a malicious, gloating hue. Suddenly, The Hat isn’t so banal. It’s cock-sure, giving you the eye fuck because you were stupid enough to dismiss it before. Now you know better, motherfucking ass hat.

The premise of Stephen Adly Guirgis’s The Motherfucker with the Hat may seem about as deep as that hat, but, like the hat, what lies underneath is what matters. The show explores hypocrisy and moral irregularities within the mindset of addicts.

Jackie (Eric Reiberg), who has recently been released from prison, comes home to his sweetheart Veronica (Carrie Schlatter) with the celebratory news that he has landed a job. After much rejoicing (yea!), Jackie is effectively cockblocked by … The Hat. Reiberg goes feral, using his canine-like sense of smell to root out the scents of “Aqua Velva” on the pillows and “dick” on the bedsheets. Creative cursing ensues, as do promises of eating pie (you can take that however you like).

In homage of the play’s topic, you could actually make a drinking game out of its first ten minutes. Take a shot every time “fuck” is used. Most of which come from Schlatter, alone on stage, speaking to her mother on the phone. In her exaggerated New Yawkr accent, she doles out advice concerning her mom’s boyfriend, whom she calls a “fuckin’ big-time loser with a head like an actual fuckin’ fish.” “Ma,” Veronica says, “when you see him tonight, take a moment. Take a breath. Take a real good look and just ask yourself, in all honesty, do I wanna fuck him or fry him up with a little adobo and paprika?” Veronica/Schlatter is a multitasker: she cleans, talks on the phone, and snorts coke all at the same time. Efficient.

Poor Jackie never stood a chance: “I swear to God, being in love with Veronica, it’s like feeding your balls to Godzilla every morning. Every morning you go, ‘Yo, Zilla, these shits are very delicate so please chew softly,’ and every morning, the motherfucker just goes crunch!” Reiberg’s Jackie is trying so hard you can see him vibrate. He’s wants to stay on the up-and-up with his parole and his commitment to AA. So in times like these, who do you call? YOUR SPONSOR! (And someone who can loan you a gun to shoot the offending Hat …)

Jackie’s sponsor, Ralph, played by Ben Rose, has rechanneled his addictive tendencies toward healthy food and “nutritional beverages,” as well as other pastimes such as surfing and foreign languages. He’s like the AA Buddha. It’s all cool—you’d think he swapped Jim Beam for Mary Jane—and he self-righteously spews AA rhetoric like a Christian playing Bible challenge. Ralph’s wife, Victoria, played by Chelsea Anderson, is also in recovery but gives his AA preaching the mental middle finger because she is over her husband.

The proverbial voice of reason is Jackie’s cousin, Julio, played by Ian Cruz, an effeminate Puerto Rican spitfire and the only well-adjusted character in the show. He reflects the virtues missing in the others: loyalty and self-worth. Julio isn’t afraid to call bullshit. When confronted by Jackie, Julio dresses him down before stating, “Take the empanadas and leave the gun”—so much more than Jackie deserves. The diminutive health freak is the strongest of them all. He’s also funny (another multitasker), allowing the audience to come down from tense situations for a moment and catch their collective breaths. Julio is serious about going “Van Damme” on the Motherfucker with the Hat. He has the ferocity of a pissed off Chihuahua. While the entire cast fuses under Gari L. Williams’s tight direction, Cruz deserves a triple-snap award for his layered performance. Cruz’s Julio is so much more than an auxiliary character. His reactions and motivations are deeper. I want him to be my new gay best friend.

  • April 28-May 13; Friday-Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 5 p.m.
  • $25/$20 for students/seniors/military.
  • www.tots.org