Sorry, y’all, I’ve been remiss this week. I haven’t felt well for the past several days. So I’m hermitting at home this week. Next week, regularly scheduled programming will return.
Alan is a tenured cultural psychology professor. When one of his undergraduate classes submits a letter of complaint about a paper of his destined for publication, which he shared with them during a class, the dean, Michaela, challenges her former lover because she uncompromisingly rejects his research on female circumcision being performed in Africa. She dismisses his work as being credible, stating that he, as an American white male, could not reliably procure this information and claiming that the intangible nature of his field cannot provide actual facts.
His findings show that the majority of the women having the procedure embrace it as sacred because it is an initiation into the empowering women’s secret society of Bondo. They feel they are claiming their bodies’ femininity, and it forms bonds of sisterhood among them. Michaela also accuses Alan of stealing her similar research idea and of fetishizing black women. However, her own vitriol seems to be moored more in her own anger as a woman scorned (even ten years later) and in her own cultural superiority complex. Michaela has arranged to have the study repeated, headed up by a highly recommended graduate student at the university, who is from Sierra Leone, Lydia—a young black woman.
Rob Johansen, as Alan, and Milicent Wright, as Michaela, are both well-known, accomplished presences on Indianapolis stages, and they do not disappoint here. Under guest director Lavina Jadhwani, their body language, facial expressions, and line delivery create a realistic portrayal of a couple at odds both personally and professionally. Given their shared history, Johansen’s initial awkwardness and Michaela’s cold reception of him make their elevating, heated confrontational debate more personal.
They are joined on stage by Paeton Chavis, as Lydia, who is also a force on stage. Her character holds her own, chin high, when faced with her educational “superiors.” In this role, she exudes the passion and strength of conviction that is often most evident in a younger generation. She also adopts a lilting accent to reiterate her character’s heritage. (Whether it is authentic or not, I cannot say, not being a student of African language, but dialect coach Chelsea Anderson pulled a musical cadence from Chavis.)
The show’s uses the hot-button issue of female circumcision, but through this, it also takes to task people’s inherent if subconscious belief of their own culture’s superiority. While the show is intense, there are brief moments of levity to break up the swirling rush of intellectual discourse. The emotionally charged verbal sparring can be overwhelming, but the inclusion of these breathers deters mental overload in preparation for the next onslaught of academic and personally fueled arguments.
Phoenix’s lower stage is moved almost to the center of the room, designed by Bernie Killian, allowing audiences an even closer and immersive experience.
Seth Rozin’s new play is based on actual accounts, not just speculation, which expands the play’s purpose, challenging audiences to examine their own emotional reactions and cultural prejudices.
The show is ninety minutes with no intermission, so get your drinks and cookie bars before it starts.
For an interesting read on the subject, check out https://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2015/04/female-genital-mutilation-cutting-anthropologist/389640/.
- Through August 13, Thursdays at 7 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m., $27; Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., $33
World premiere of Human Rites at the Phoenix Theatre
Old wounds split open as former lovers tackle new relationship dynamics amid boiling controversy. Michaela, now dean of Alan’s university years after their affair, challenges the claim that his paper is “based on actual, reputable, methodical research” by accusing him of sexualizing black women for personal gain. Alan, a white man, scrambles to defend his findings while fighting a re-surging lust for the couple’s passionate connection. The new play is written by Seth Rozin.
- July 20-August 13, Thursdays at 7 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m., $27; Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., $33. Tickets for July 20-23 are only $20 each.
Producer party Friday, July 21 with complimentary food and Sun King beer directly following the performance
Eclectic Pond presents J. Eyre: A New Musical Adaptation at Grove Haus
Based on Charlotte Bronte’s epic novel, J. Eyre tells the story from a contemporary set of eyes. Told by six women and one man, be swept away by this new musical and on to the mysterious grounds of Thornfield Hall. You may find love there, but you may find something else…
- July 21-20, Fridays-Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 6 p.m.
- $15; $12 student/senior/educator
Riot: A Comedy Variety Show at Theatre on the Square
A monthly 90-minute non-stop Riot of talented improv comedy troupes and variety acts, both local and from out of town, bring to the stage an unexpected mixture of joy and happiness. From the team that brought you the show Up Yours Indianapolis and the improvised comedy troupe Fleece Academy comes an evening of entertainment you’ll be talking about for its uniqueness and audacity. Every Riot show is a fundraiser for Theatre on the Square with 100% of ticket prices and concession sales kept by the theater.
- Saturday, July 22 at 9 p.m.
Nickel Plate Players present Ten Pin Alli at Theatre at the Fort
This “Girl Power” musical is about ace bowler extraordinaire, Bernie Bostock, who has been killed in a motor cycle crash. His girlfriend, Alli (they call her Ten Pin Alli because she is an amazing bowler too), is the only one who can replace him if the men’s team is going to win the city-wide tournament this year. One problem: no girls allowed on the men’s team. So, she disguises herself as a man. The rest is history …
- July 21-30, Fridays-Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. and Sundays at 2:30 p.m.
- $15; $13 students/seniors; $10 military
And How Does My Garden Grow? written by Rita Kohn
From directors Angela Jackson-Brown and Ashya Thomas:
This play is about a group of young teens who are struggling to find their way in the world. They are runaways. They are abused. They are pushed outside of the margin, BUT they are not broken. They have heart, they have humor, and they have a drive to succeed. This play will make you cry and smile as you see their journey. Rita wrote this play 17 years ago, and it is STILL relevant today. In the words of Rita, “All these years later and we are still struggling with the same issues.”
- July 8, 4:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.; July 9, 2:30 p.m.; July 14, 7:30 p.m.; July 15, 4:30 p.m.
- Indy Eleven Theatre
- Click here for tickets
Ring of Fire at Beef & Boards
This unique show has been inspired by Johnny Cash’s legendary, iconic songbook and covers everything from love and faith, struggle and success, rowdiness and redemption, and home and family. Famous songs include “I Walk The Line,” “A Boy Named Sue,” and of course the title tune, all celebrating the Man in Black.
- July 6-Aug. 13
PARADE2017 presented by NoExit Performance
The event is part of Garfield Park Arts Center-Indy Parks and Recreation “Pack the Parks Day.” PARADE2017 is a cumulative, outdoor performance inspired by dance history, community resistance, and the joyful pageantry of American parades. In 1917, the Ballets Russes premiered Parade (1917), a collaboration between Leonide Massine, Pablo Picasso, Eric Satie, and Jean Cocteau, a critique of modernity and the uncouth American. One hundred years later, PARADE2017 revisits this collaboration, marching through one hundred years of artistic history and asking if moving forward is always progress?
- July 8 at 10 a.m. and 7 p.m.
- It will begin near the flagpoles outside the Sunken Gardens at Garfield Park
- Free and suitable for all ages
Belles at Epilogue Players
Belles is told in “two acts and forty-five phone calls.” It visits six Southern sisters who, over the course of an autumn weekend, seek to bridge the physical and emotional distance between them via the telephone and in the process come to terms with their shattered family history.
- July 7-23
- www.epilogueplayers.com or 317-926-3139
On Broadway presented by Indiana Performing Arts Initiative
The show is a cabaret-style musical review featuring some of American musical theater’s most popular songs. The review features selections from Broadway classics such as Chicago, Phantom of the Opera, Cabaret, Pippin and Les Miserables as well as current Broadway hits such as Wicked, Hamilton, Book of Mormon and Waitress.
This summer-stock musical theater training program is under the umbrella of local non-profit theater organization Claude McNeal Productions. In 2016, Claude McNeal Productions launched the inaugural season of its IPAI as an expanded performing arts training program. True to its mission of placing students alongside working theater professionals, the program had over fifty participants from local high schools and area college working to further develop their skills in the performing arts.
- July 7-16, Fridays and Saturdays at 7 p.m.; Sunday, July 9 at 4:30 p.m.; and Sunday, July 16 at 2:30 p.m.
- Herron High School, Russell Hall
- $5 for all Herron High School faculty, staff or students; $8 for children 6 to 18 and all area college students (I.D. required); $12 for adults.
- http://www.theipai.com or call 317-340-4258
Big Fish, a Young Adult Production, at Footlite Musicals
The show features performers aged 18-25. Every man wants to be a hero to his son. Big Fish is the heart-warming musical about a dying man’s efforts to justify an ordinary life. A father tells his life story as a tailored fairy tale. His young son believes the mythic, larger than life stories until time goes by and the boy grows up to question whether or not he’s being led on. The adult son refuses to buy into his dad’s self-glorifying tall tales until the tear-jerking finale when he recognizes his father truly lived a big life.
- July 7-23, Thursday-Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday, 2:30 p.m.
- $23; $15 youth
First Folio Productions and Catalyst Repertory collaborated to present Shakespeare’s story about one of England’s most devious villains, Richard III. And oh, what a deliciously bloodthirsty production it is!
Richard, who was killed in 1485, orchestrated the death of anyone who stood in his way to take the English throne. His hatefulness even drove him to killing children, contracting to have his two young nephews murdered in cold blood.
While not as misshapen as he is written in Shakespeare’s play, Richard was afflicted with scoliosis, which likely caused him to be minimally hunchbacked. This could have added to his “discontent,” a benign word to describe his sly viciousness, but in no way could justify it.
The play was adapted by Ben Power, Glenn L. Dobbs (who also directed), and Casey Ross, intriguingly bookending the production with the discovery of Richard’s remains in 2012 in Leicester, England.
What makes this production so riveting is Matt Anderson’s superlative performance. He masterfully embodies the eerie monarch in such a way that makes your skin crawl. The evil seeps off his character to pool into a noxious flood at the audience’s feet. From cunning conspirator, to simpering pretender, to paranoid madman, Anderson manifests them all. And while there is a large, and good, cast, the focal point is always Anderson. Not to slight anyone else, but he simply owns the stage.
Atmospheric costumes (Linda Schomhorst) help set the mood, as does sound designer Brian G. Hartz’s modern selections.
Everyone does an excellent job of maneuvering the Early Modern English that literature students bemoan. It’s easy to understand the dialogue (and monologues), so don’t feel as if you need to read the Cliffs Notes before seeing the show. And while Shakespearean productions are notorious for being long, don’t worry; this one is only a little over two hours. Totally worth it.
For a quick video about the discovery of Richard III’s remains, you can check out this video on YouTube.
- Through July 9, Fridays-Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m.
- $15 adults/$12 students and seniors in advance; $18 at the door
Bobdirex, the vehicle for Bob Harbin, producer and director, has taken on the ambitious project of The Hunchback of Notre Dame: A New Musical, a haunting success.
Thank the gods that Victor Hugo won’t have to roll in his grave quite as much, given the saccharine Disnification of the 1996 animated movie. Instead, I was pleased to find that not only is much of the music that made the original soundtrack, one of the most under-appreciated Disney works, included in the stage musical, but also the dark aspects that are only hinted at in the animated version (for obvious reasons) are further addressed on stage.
AND NO GOAT.
I’m assuming that most people know the basic plot of the story, so I’m going to skip it and move right into the show’s presentation.
In addition to the traditional commentary, expertly delivered by Keith Potts as Clopin, the king of the Gypsies (who also has a strong singing voice), the performance also includes spoken choral narration—always an engrossing element in productions. And speaking of all things choral, the large choir gives the production the necessary weight for many of the numbers (even if they sometimes overpower the principle singers), and their Entr’acte is absolutely beautiful.
Jacob Butler makes an excellent Quasimodo, conveying the tentativeness and insecurity that this man has been smothered by all his life. A couple times, he struggles with a high note, but his rendition out “Out There” is still arresting with all the emotions behind this song.
Shelbi Armstrong as Esmeralda is a knockout. Not only does the girl know how to shimmy, but her powerful and lovely singing voice is on excellent exhibit, most notably in “Someday,” a duet with the also talented Logan Moore as Phoebus, and “God Help the Outcasts.” She can also cop an attitude and then become a caring friend whenever the need arises.
Bill Book as Dom Claude Frollo is good in his authoritative position, though I found him a too unaggressive in his exploitation of Quasimodo and his carnal attraction to Esmeralda. I was hoping for more of a villain. (You can check out the Disney version of “Hellfire” here.)
The riot of colors used in costuming (Peachy Keen Costuming) and smoky effects are set well against the black stage, which is only adorned with a large rose window and minimal props. The Gargoyles (Curtis Peters, Matt Rohrer, and April Armstrong-Thomas) are amusing, but their costumes, while elaborate, are a little off-putting, as their googly-eyes and the breastplate on Armstrong-Thomas are a little strange. The lighting (Matthew Ford Cunningham) set a particularly ominous mood.
Nitpicking aside, I still find the production more than worthy of accolades.
- Continues through July 7-9
- $25 with discounts available for seniors and students
- Marian University Theatre, 3200 Cold Spring Road
- 317-280-0805, bobdirex.com