Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

Patrick Ball: “Come Dance with Me in Ireland: A Pilgrimage to Yeats Country”

Patrick Ball

Patrick Ball is a master of weaving stories. Between his Irish characterizations and Celtic harp music, he submerges his audience into another world. Saturday’s show “Come Dance with Me in Ireland: A Pilgrimage to Yeats Country” was no exception. Framed around a Yeats tour in Ireland, Ball interjects copious amounts of Yeats’ poetry into his story. His main characters, Ellie and Jim, are an elderly couple originally from Ireland and now back to seek inspiration from the same sources as Yeats did. Jim, who has started to become a little befuddled in the mind, only seems able to communicate through poetry now. But he always finds verses that are apropos to any setting or situation and Ball communicates the sentiment in his fine Irish lilt.

While not my favorite of Ball’s impressive repertoire, this is an appropriate addition that pays homage to arguably Ireland’s most favorite poet. Ball is a regular at Storytelling Arts of Indiana, and any chance to see him live on stage is an experience not to be missed. www.patrickball.com.

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Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

Indiana Repertory Theatre: “12 Angry Men”

Indiana Repertory Theatre”s “12 Angry Men”

What could potentially be a static and tedious production is instead a dynamic, enthralling courtroom drama thanks to director James Still and 12 excellent actors. Set in the jury room, one brave juror declares “not guilty,” going against the rest of his peers. Heated debates and even a brawl break out over the next 90 minutes as the lone juror does the job the defense attorney should have and digs deeper into the prosecution’s often-faulty arguments.

Underlying the case is the fact that the defendant is “other.” It’s never outright stated, but you can infer that he is probably black, given the play is set in 1957. Sadly, this prejudice holds true today, making the play just as current as it was when it was first produced.

Seth Andrew Bridges, Scot Greenwell, Craig Spidle, Henry Woronicz, Demetrios Troy, Casey Hoekstra, Michael Stewart Allen, Mark Goetzinger, Robert Ierardi, Patrick Clear, and Charles Goad create distinct, dynamic characters that work with and against each other to create realistic, emotional, and spirited interactions.

Still keeps his actors in motion instead of having them sit still throughout, and the table is set on a turntable, so we aren’t always faced with the backs of half the actors’ heads. Instead, we can catch facial expressions and gestures that emphasize the dialogue.

While there is no intermission, the time flies by because the cast keeps you invested in the process of evaluation and their individual philosophical musings.

This is a top-notch opening for the theater’s 48th season.

  • Dates and times vary
  • Check the website for special events related to the show
  • Tickets start at $25
  • Irtlive.com

https://www.facebook.com/irtlive/videos/909022882803949/

Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

Indianapolis Men’s Chorus: “Journey to Hell” (IndyFringe 19)

Hell yes.

Journey To HellThe IMC rock the hell out of the District Theatre with their program dedicated to the dark side. Starting off with black robes and Latin chanting sets the mood for the homage to all things scary. Their energetic choreography exhibits their incredible stamina. Sometimes the musicians override the vocalists, a pet peeve of mine, but it wasn’t enough to make this a must-see-or-die show. Just some of the songs include “Renegade,”a Journey Mega Mix, “Devil Inside,” “Hell’s Bells,” “Spooky Mormon Hell Dream,” “Hope It Gives You Hell,” and so many more. Don’t overlook this one!

  • Friday, Aug. 23, 10:30 p.m.
  • Saturday, Aug. 24, 9 p.m.
  • Sunday, Aug. 25, 1:30 p.m.
  • indyfringe.org
Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

“Footlose” (IndyFringe 2019)

Take Footloose and add improv. Audience members contribute blind lines from movies and dance moves to buckets, and as the story progresses, the actors pick from the appropriate bucket. Hilarity ensues. Be creative, please. The night I went there were multiple “I don’t give a damn” and “We’re gonna need a bigger boat.” The cast went with it, though, no matter what they were given. If you are a fan of the movie, you won’t want to miss this.

Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

Uindy Theatre Company: “Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind” (IndyFringe 19)

Twenty-four mini plays in 48 minutes. Timed. If they can’t do it, you get free pizza! On your table is a menu of play choices, and the audience gets to shout out which play they want to see next. Some are a few seconds, some are about two minutes. Some are brilliant, and each one has a comedic element. Highlights are “Poultry-geist,” “How to War,” “These Things Are True,” “Memorial Day,” “and Honesty.” Beware No. 8, Sudden Death and Resurrection.” Kudos to Katie Carter, Destiny Heugel, Morgan Jackson, and especially Clayton Rardon for having to wear a dildo on his head because of “stage direction.”

Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

“Is Your Brain Still Cooking?” (IndyFringe 19)

Is your brain still cookingWelcome to the Nursing Home Channel, where octogenarians remember useless information in the game show Is Your Brain Still Cooking? Jim Banta as the game show host is a bit frazzled, as he just happened to land the gig as host. He’s unprepared, especially when his two contestants arrive. Edmund (Dan Flahive) is covered in Post-It notes because he can’t recall even the simplest of everyday things, but ask him about something 50 years ago and he can go into minute detail. The other contestant, Roby Flo (Case Jacobus) is well-centered in the now. But her past profession, porn star, keeps her mind otherwise occupied. This is a funny of slightly long program. All three cast members nail their characters, and the jokes go beyond just the gross and old.

 

Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

“The Phantom of Fountain Square” (IndyFringe 2019)

Phantom in Fountain Square PRINT (1)Poor Fountain Square. The revitalization that never was. In this story, a couple, Samantha (Kerra D. Wagener) and Danny (Thom Johnson) have bought a space in The Square to open a restaurant. But the gremlins of Fountain Square strike, removing electrical components and even pooping on the counter. The only person not bothered by the ghostly presence is Katie (Jacquiline Rae), their daughter.

This is a musical without much music, and sitting on the right side of the audience, the vocals were often overpowered by the music. Similarly, a small screen showing old photos of Fountain Square is placed to the far left, making it hard for us on the right to see.

Owen Harp as the Phantom is downright goofy in his exaggerated movements, all long, sweeping arms and long strides inside a large black cloak. His monkey companion is downright disturbing.

Rae is a natural on stage, however. I hope to see her again in the future.

  • Saturday, Aug. 24, 10:30 p.m.
  • Sunday, Aug. 25, 4:30 p.m.

 

 

Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

aMUSEd (IndyFringe 2019)

amusedNikki’s apartment is haunted by a Muse. A very unwelcome one. He’s stuck on this plane until he fulfills his promise to his last companion: find someone to finish their last story. Nikki won’t budge because this apartment is supposed to be a haven for her to escape her own pain. An odd couple indeed.

Kyle Dorsch and Megan Ann Jacobs take the acting over the top a little, but overall they give us a sweet and funny story.

  • Thursday, Aug. 22, 6 p.m.
  • Saturday, Aug. 24, 4:30 p.m.
  • Sunday, Aug. 25, 3 p.m.
Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

Emerging Artist Theatre: “The Cookie Dough Show” (IndyFringe 2019)

Cookie dough show 300_0Thank you, Paige Scott, for making my night. (As opposed to the Diet Coke going up my nose in Is Your Brain Still Cooking? See seperate review.) Paige on a toy piano singing the song “Not in Nottingham” from Disney’s 1973 classic Robin Hood was one of the best experiences of my life. I know every. single. word of that song. Using the Robin Hood theme as a segue into a Kevin Costner homage, Paige also serenaded us with Bryan Adams’ “(Everything I Do) I Do It for You.” Besides Paige’s musical prowess, the show is a mishmash of half laughs and some more serious scenes. A little girl wants to kill Santa. Then there is a series of awkward retail exchanges, a somber set where a daughter runs into her estranged father, and a sweet scene about a pregnant Army wife. Billed as a “variety” show, The Cookie Dough Show seemed a little too schizophrenic in its widely varied vignettes, but it has its high points. Like the plinking of tiny piano keys. tumblr_ml2dn9giLJ1rkx03vo1_400

  • Saturday, Aug. 17, 9 p.m.
  • Sunday, Aug. 18, 3 p.m.
  • Tuesday, Aug. 20, 9 p.m.
  • Thursday, Aug. 22, 7:30 p.m.
  • Sunday, Aug. 25, 7:30 p.m.
  • ComedySportz
  • www.indyfringe.org
Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

Be Out Loud Theatre (BOLT): “The Only Thing Worse You Could’ve Told Me” (IndyFringe 2019)

swinfordYou do not need to be gay or a man to appreciate this show. As a straight woman with many gay friends, I loved it.

Written by Dan Bulter (Frazier), the show looks at what it means to be a gay man. Michael Swinford’s masterful characterization and colorful inflection make these vignettes both serious and seriously funny. He is so energetic and expressive that you are right there with him when “Leslie” falls for a man dying of AIDS, or when 10-year-old Tommy asks his friend what fucking is. Watch as a guy reacts to his best friend coming out, which is followed by one of the weirdest conversations ever. The commentary on just what is the “gay community” is a conversation starter. Do they speak for all gay people? Should they?

This is a must-see on your Fringe list for its entertainment value and its depth.

  • Saturday, Aug. 17, 6 p.m.
  • Wednesday, Aug. 21, 6 p.m.
  • Thursday, Aug. 22, 9 p.m.
  • Friday, Aug. 23, 7:30 p.m.
  • Sunday, Aug. 25, 4:30 p.m.
  • The District Theatre
  • www.indyfringe.org
Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

Approxima Productions: “Vinny the Pooh” (IndyFringe 2019)

It’s Mafia Pooh!

They all had to grow up eventually, so why not make their family a Family? Sniglet and Pooh had a deal go south, and The Boss, Franga, isn’t going to be happy. Sniglet (Kelsey VanVoorst) has a filthy mouth and anger issues — and an eclectic sex drive. Of course, Christa MaBobbin (Morgan Morton) is the one who has been screwing toads. Franga (Carrie Ann Schlatter) keeps her furry puppet Little Schmoo in a golden belly pouch, which the unintelligible Jowl (Joshua C. Ramsey) seems to be into. Eyesore (Clay Mabbit) may have his tail’s ribbon tattooed to his neck, but now he’s managed to lose an eye. And Stagger (John Kern) appears with visual conformation of his bouncy goodness <sniff>. As for Vinny (Steve Kruze), he seems to be the only one who hasn’t degraded into mafia madness with his honey snacks and rumbly tummy. Not to mention those shorts and dress shoes he’s rockin’. (Speaking of, VanVoorst’s boots are awesome.)

Director Christine Kruze has quite the handful of characters (they have a violence supervisor), and the group gets its weirdness on. The cast knows it Pooh, but Jowl, Sniglet, and Stagger ham it up the most for a giggly romp through the 50 Hectare Forest.

Sunday, Aug. 18, 6 p.m.
Wednesday, Aug. 21, 7:30 p.m.
Friday, Aug. 23, 10:30 p.m.
Saturday, Aug. 24, 7:30 p.m.
Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

“Ubrella” (IndyFringe 2019)

Ubrella (not a type-o) is a one-woman show about Ginger Thimlar’s observations on life and its perception. It’s almost stream of consciousness in that it jumps subjects or repeats itself. Such as, Ginger lets us know several times that she hates technology. Vehemently. The way she see it, tech has destroyed our communication skills and social interaction. She also exhibits quite a bit of bitterness having never used her vocalist/fine art/film direction degree. Then she moves on to her estranged father and her eventual malaise for Indianapolis. Where she is at any given time is nebulous. Sometimes she seems to be at work, sometimes on the bus, and sometimes no place in particular at all — just monologuing. In the background are the noises of a city, which come and go at random.

Her entire show is read straight from a script in a binder, often sitting or else shambling around the stool. There is little or no eye contact and expression. Instead, it resembles a first table read for a new play. This production is nowhere near ready for a stage.

  • Saturday, Aug. 17, 10:30 p.m.
  • Monday, Aug. 19, 9 p.m.
  • Friday, Aug. 23, 9 p.m.
  • Saturday, Aug. 24, 6 p.m.
  • Sunday, Aug 25, 1:30 p.m.
  • $15 adults / $12 seniors (over 65), students (with ID), and children
  • Indianapolis Firefighters Museum
  • www.indyfringe.org

 

Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

Openings for the weekend of 8/15

FringeFest, ya’ll

That’s the big deal for the next two weeks. I just got back from the preview night, where performers were given two minutes each to hawk their shows. Not everyone participated, but of those who did, here are my “promising” picks:

  • Beyond Ballet
  • Lady Lives
  • Fallen from the Toy Box
  • The Madwomen’s Late-Night Cabaret
  • The Adventures of Crazy Jane and Red-Haired Annie
  • and one other I didn’t catch the name of about being transgender

Sixty-seven show at $15 bucks a pop. Go to http://www.indyfringe.org.

Garfield Shakespeare Company: As You Like It

For something completely different: Break out your leg warmers and your mix tapes and head over to Garfield Park for one of Shakespeare’s most celebrated plays with a new, bodacious twist. Its the 1980s, and the Forest of Arden is home to the raddest summer camp around. But trouble abounds as two brothers fight over control of the camp, young counselors disguise themselves for love, and the campers are left to fend for themselves. Enjoy beer from Garfield Brewery on the lawn of the beautiful MacAllister Stage as Garfield Shakespeare Company takes it to the max with a totally tubular production of As You Like It.

Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

Monument Theatre Company: “1984”

Michael Gene Sullivan’s stage adaption of 1984 loses the tedium and ups the tension of what is now considered a prescient novel. Monument Theatre Company takes this new look at the novel and embraces how it’s been pared down: matching uniforms, sparse setting and props, multipurpose actors. His leaves your uninhibited focus on Winston Smith (Nathan Thomas).

The entire story is told from the infamous Room 101 where Smith is being held. As O’Brien (Michael R. Tingley) forces Smith to confess his story from beginning to end — and you must be precise — many of the scenes are reenacted. Four “party members” (Riley Leonard, Raven Newbolt, Kim Egan, and Deont’a Stark) are interrogators as well as actors in Smith’s flashbacks.

Monument really delved into the darkness inherent in this book and brought it out in concise and emotionally tactile ways. You can feel as well as see the despair, the hate, the desire, the psychosis. And when the rat cage comes out, the anticipation is bone breaking. Thomas’s Smith is a depleted man in the beginning, but then we see how someone can reach a whole new plane of desperation. He is ably backed by the other five cast members (six if you count Karen Sternberg as the telescreen announcer) who take on various roles and personas.

Director David Ian Lee with Monument’s cast and crew have created the best presentation of 1984 I have seen. Sadly, its second weekend will likely be eclipses by Fringe. So, if you want to avoid the madhouse of Mass Ave this weekend, go west instead.

Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

Summer Stock Stage: “Into the Woods”

Summer Stock Stage’s “Into the Woods”

Last weekend, Summer Stock Stage presented another show that proves this program is for the best of the best in the Indianapolis-area student theater community — and the theater community at large. Their Into the Woods, a musical hodgepodge of fairy tales, was absolutely delightful.

  • Produced by founder Emily Ristine Holloway
  • Directed by longtime local theater staple Constance Macy
  • Scenic design by longtime accomplished artist Kyle Ragsdale
  • Sound design by wunderkind Zach Rosing
  • The witch’s (Julia Murphy, Brownsburg High School) tongue-tying spiel about her greens, and then just being an overall diva, including her performance of “Last Midnight.”
  • A most excellent rendition in find comedic form of “Agony” by Cinderella’s Prince (Jacob Crow, Purdue University) and Rapunzel’s Prince (Nate Schlabach, Bishop Chatard High School).
  • And overall superlative performances by Amelia Wray (Little Red Riding Hood), Elly Burke (Jack’s Mom, North Central High School), Michael Krauter (Jack, Herron High School grad), Abby Anderson (Baker’s wife, University of Michigan), and Cora Lucas (Cinderella, Carmel High School).

Congratulations to the entire cast and crew for closing out SSS’s season with yet another resounding success.

“Agony” from SSS’s “Into the Woods”
Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

Carmel Community Players: “Failure to Zig Zag”

This is not a glowing review. I state this because a few weeks ago I received a comment that stated it was rude to talk about the script more than the actors. However, this was an avoidance tactic. I was unimpressed with the show, and the script was weak to boot, so I put a lot of the blame on the script. I don’t like ripping actors apart, especially when it’s a volunteer situation.

So to begin with, the script of Failure to Zig Zag is not particularly riveting. It’s the story post the sinking of the USS Indianapolis. (If you don’t know that story, just move on to something else.) What is different about this particular tragedy is that the captain, Charles McVay III, was court martialed, something that had never happened in the history of the Navy. The fact is, the Navy was looking for a scapegoat for many mistakes it had made. There are many well-done documentaries out there that examine this case.

The cast showcases a large range of talent, but together their presentation as a whole is short of dynamic. It actually resembles an actual court proceeding, which is good for believability but bad for entertainment value. Many of the actors are stilted and seem uncomfortable. While the audience was enthusiastic come the end of the play, I found it odd because I could hear many loud sighs and yawns throughout the show. My eyes glazed over a couple times.

If you are a hardcore follower of the USS Indianapolis, I doubt you will find anything enlightening here. If you are a novice, I doubt you’ll leave feeling entertained — more like you just sat through a history lecture.

 

Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

Summer Stock Stage: “Thoroughly Modern Millie”

Summer Stock Stage’s Eclipse’s “Thoroughly Modern Millie”

Summer Stock Stage has proven again that a “young adult” production can be on par — or even surpass — traditional volunteer theaters and even on occasion an Equity house.

Their production of the 1920s-based Thoroughly Modern Millie last weekend was thoroughly spot on — acting, vocals, and in-sync choreography were superlative.

Standouts were Cynthia Kauffman (Syracuse University) as Millie, Abby Anderson (University of Michigan) as Muzzy, Christian Barda (North Central High School) as Ching Ho, Faye Coy (Herron High School) as Bun Foo, Jack Ducat (Carmel High School) as Jimmy Smith, Eva Scherrer (Ohio State University) as Mrs. Meers, and Samantha Shelton (Herron High School) as Miss Dorothy

A huge ensemble and a live orchestra backed up the principals with energetic support.

Catch Summer Stock Stage’s next production, Into the Woods, opening July 25. Summerstockstage.com.

Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

Phoenix Theatre: “White City Murder”

Amanda Hummer and Ben Asaykwee in “White City Murder”

Ben Asaykwee is leaving an indelible tint of the macabre on the Phoenix Theatre’s Basile Theatre, first with his Cabaret Poe and now with White City Murders.

Much like Cabaret Poe, White City Murders has jaunty musical numbers with twisty lyrics. The music itself is unusual, as the instrumentation is Asaykwee and Amanda Hummer’s vocalizations that are recorded, layered, and played back to accompany a number.

The setting is the Chicago World’s Fair and the protagonist, the infamous H.H. Holmes. Asaykwee and Hummer are all too happy to extoll the merits of being a showman and a serial killer. Bits of Holmes are revealed as we also learn about the Fair itself and many of the people who visited it.

And there are dance breaks. And tomfoolery. And, of course, murder.

Asaykwee’s trademark smirk and glint in his eye—you know the one, as if he is about to do something bad that’s really funny—are on display. Hummer is more earthy to Asaykwee’s ethereal, creating a complementary and wholly entertaining set of strange.

  • Extended through July 14, Thursdays–Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. and Sundays at 2:30 p.m.
  • $24–$37
  • www.phoenixtheatre.org

 

https://www.facebook.com/indyfirebird/videos/456059394967833/

Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

Summer Stock Stage’s Eclipse: “Violet”

Summer Stock Stage’s Eclipse: “Violet.” Photo by Michael Camp.

Summer Stock Stage has proven again that its program molds amazing performers. While SSS is geared toward middle- and high-school students, its professional arm, Eclipse, continues to fill stages with some top-notch talent, this time in Violet.

Leads Elizabeth Hutson (Violet), Leah Broderick (Young Violet), Mark Maxwell (Flick), and John Collins (Monty) bring vigor and some sass to this musical set in the South about a young woman traveling to a faith healer in the hopes of having a grossly disfiguring scar removed from her face. It’s a story of personal awakening and self-reliance.

I had rows of stars next to musical numbers that stood out, so I’m just going to make the sweeping statement that everyone is noteworthy, and, as I’ve said in previous Eclipse reviews, the show rivals any professional productions here in town.

Director/producer/SSS founder Emily Ristine Holloway is on a roll. Let’s keep it going this summer.

  • Through June 15; various times and dates
  • $20 opening weekend; $30 thereafter
  • Phoenix Theatre
  • summerstockstage.com

Check out the video for “On My Way” here.

Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

Buck Creek Players: “Disaster: The Musical”

Buck Creek Players’ “Disaster: The Musical”

You have to work for it, but when Disaster: The Musical hits a good gag, it makes the wait worth it, all while cleverly inserting songs from the ‘70s.

The setup is the opening of a new floating casino. Chad (Scott A. Fleshood) is hoping to meet some “Hot Stuff” and so he accompanies his pal Scott (Jamison Hemmert) to the opening as a server. Professor Ted Scheider (Joe Wagner) is looking for “hot stuff” in the water; as a disaster professional, he has predicted a series of natural disasters heretofore unheard of. Marianne (Allie Buchanan), a reporter, is there to get the scoop on owner Tony Del Vecchio (Corey Yeaman), who allegedly cut some safety corners to save some money. Sister Mary Downy stands as a single protestor with a one-note guitar, letting everyone know they are going to hell, even though she is “Torn Between Two Lovers,” God and a new Hawaii 5-0-themed slot machine, herself. Shirley and Maury Summers (Laura Duvall-Whitson and Michael Davis) are the decades-long married couple still in love and off to celebrate his retirement; but Maury doesn’t know his wife is terminal with a grocery list of bizarre symptoms, like inappropriate pelvic thrusts. Levora Verona, a washed up disco star, shows up at the pier avoiding her cab fare; this is her last chance to win back some of her faded fortune. Already onboard, Jackie (Jessica Crum Hawkins), a lounge singer, also has her life on the line. She tells her twins Ben and Lisa (Ava Lusby) that if all goes well tonight, Tony might “possibly” ask her to marry him.

And there are piranha puppets. Oh the piranha puppets.

There are genuinely funny or ew, or “oh hell” moments here, such as a particularly good piece with Jackie and her “kids,” where Ava gets to play the Susan-Sharron-Parent-Trap shtick with the aid of some fake hands. And did I mention the piranhas?

The B-grade special effects are an apt reflection of the source material as Disaster is meant to be a spoof of all 1970s disaster movies. As I said, there’s down time between good sight gags, but when they come up, they are worth it. The dedicated cast and crew with director D. Scott Robinson put their all into this goofy farce.

  • Through June 16, Fridays–Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2:30 p.m.
  • $20; $18 for students (through college) and senior citizens (aged 62 or older)
  • http://www.buckcreekplayers.com

 

Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

LAFFShows: “Fly You Fools!”

Butt-chin?

I never realized that Aragorn has a butt-chin. Now, that’s all I see when I look at Viggo Mortensen.

Fly You Fools is a shot-by-shot parody of The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Rings. As with the other LAFFShows, Hold on to Your Butts and Golden Girls: The Lost Episodes, it helps tremulously if you have a sound grip of the source material. Thankfully, I can almost recite it myself, so when there was an intentional deviation for effect, I got it.

Unfortunately, not a lot of comedic opportunities were gleaned from LOTR. It takes quite a while for the actual parodying to get started beyond the physical representations of Middle Earth history and hobbits, but THE EYE is mimed brilliantly.

Jim Banta, Pat Mullen, Christian Condra, and foley artist Olivia Schaperjohn are all-in even if the jokes aren’t. There are, of course, some laugh-worthy nuggets though, such as Arwyn’s raging river represented by a squirt bottle and Galadriel’s fear of becoming Beyonce. And why didn’t they all just fly to Mordor on Eagles anyway? Huh.

Alas, of the LAFF trio, this one falls short a few, comparatively.

  • Through June 8, 8 and 10 p.m. every Friday and Saturday
  • $15
  • The District Theatre

 

Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

Footlite Musicals: “Children of Eden”

childreneden
Mitchell Hammersley, Allen Sledge, and Nina Stilabower in Footlite Musicals’ “Children of Eden”

If you’re OK with biblical source material being altered, then continue. If you are a Bible purist, look away.

The first thing you need to know about the musical Children of Eden is that the playwrights took a few key parts of the Adam and Eve story, Cain and Abel, and the story of Noah’s Ark and replaced them with something more dramatic. The depiction of Eve is even more misogynistic than in the Bible, and Noah’s son, Japhath, is wifeless at embarkment. Instead, she is replaced by a forbidden servant girl, whom he stows away.

By intermission, I was pretty pissed by the depiction of Eve. I am no Bible-thumper — hell, I’m not even Christian — but I was flabbergasted by the changes. By the end of the show, I was disappointed that the idea of accepting someone for who they are was glossed over. Noah had to remove the mark of Cain from the servant girl for her to be part of the clan even though she was the one that stopped two of Noah’s sons from committing Cain’s sin. The overarching theme of the show is family dynamics, but, meh.

However, this mini-rant has nothing to do with the show’s production values. As for that, all I can say is that the cast is competent if inconsistent. Some of the performers have exceptional moments, including Mitchell Hammerersley, Nina Stilabower, Keane Maddock, and, the best of all, Yasmin Schancer. Stilabower ends the show with a high note, literally, as does the ensemble. But just as often cast members miss notes that are just out of their range.

Set designer (and director) Lauren Johnson’s background is nice, and Chris Grady’ s costuming is OK.

Footlite has produced musicals in the past that blew me away. Sadly, this isn’t one of them.

Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

The Phoenix Theatre: “The Children”

The Phoenix Theatre’s “The Children”

The Children: cerebral with punchlines. While it questions one’s willingness to sacrifice their life for another’s, it also contains tidbits like “I don’t need the blood of virgins [to stay young]. I do yoga.”

A nuclear meltdown has affected the town that Hazel (Donna Steele) and her husband Robin (Charles Goad) live in — a reactor where they both worked. Now, they are living in a small cottage on the outskirts of the affected area. Out of the blue, an old co-worker they haven’t seen in 38 years, Rose (Diane Kondrat), appears. There is some weird blood between the three of them, who are now all in their 60s. Rose’s ulterior motive for her visit is eventually brought to the fore, however: Groups of scientists are fixing the reactor at great peril to themselves due to the radioactive contamination. These are people in their 30s, many with families. Rose wants to recruit the older generation to replace the young ones, but in doing so, those in their retirement years would forfeit the remainder of their lives.

So the question again: Would you lay down the rest of your years to allow the next generation to survive? Most people would immediately say yes, but when actually confronted with the reality, it’s not such an easy choice.

The relationships of the three are intricate and intriguing. They are fleshed out in their faults, especially the passive aggressive banter between Rose and Hazel.

Bill Simmons brings the trio into a tight group that plays remarkably well off each other. There’s no denying the friction inside the bond they share. This is some excellent acting in a compelling play. Highly recommended.

Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

Civic Theatre: “Newsies”

newsies
Civic Theatre’s “Newsies”

Newsies, the Disney film turned stage musical, is a riot of exquisite choreography. The show was inspired by the New York City newsboys’ strike of 1899, and the adaptation captures the spirit of the boys’ (and girls’) determination to be paid a fair wage. It won four Tony Awards in 2012 for Alan Menken’s score and Christopher Gattelli’s choreography. Music director Brent Marty and choreographer Anne Beck make this community theater production just as musically and visually exciting.

Ensemble numbers are powerful explosions of these two elements, given heft by a huge cast showcasing both singing and dancing abilities. Director Susan Fleenor molded the cast into a cohesive unit.

Given the large cast, I won’t reprint the playbill here, but some names must be included in their outstanding performances, including leads Jake Letts as union leader Jack Kelley, his friend Crutchie played by David Cunningham, Ani Arzumanian as Jack’s love interest Katherine, and Steve Kruze as newspaper mogul Joseph Pulitzer.

The downside, except for the audio booms Saturday night? The plot is somewhat boring. I sometimes found myself glazing over between musical numbers. But if you are a fan of the movie, this will be a fulfilling retelling for you.

Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

IndyFringe LAFFShows: “The Golden Girls: The Lost Episodes”

goldengirls
“Golden Girls: The Lost Episodes”

The new IndyFringe series LAFFShows aims to spoof. First, there was Hold on to Your Butts, which took Jurassic Park to task. Now, it’s The Golden Girls: The Lost Episodes.

There’s a reason these episodes are lost, as Sophia pulling dildos out of her purse or Blanche’s beau popping out of the bedroom wearing a mesh onesie and giant codpiece would not make it onto TV — even cable — in the late ’80s and early ’90s.

There are two episodes split by an audience participation spot of “Guess that Girl,” where two people are chosen to vie for Golden Girls prizes. Brush up on your trivia — these aren’t throwaway questions. The skits are anchored in dick jokes, and some of it seems a little forced, but when it’s funny, it’s outrageous stuff.

Pat Mullen really takes the ubiquitous cheesecake in this show, vamping up the Southern belle Blanche. Donning Golden Girl drag alongside him are Jim Banta as Rose and Dave Ruark as Dorothy, with Olivia Schaperjohn as Sophia and Christian Condra as a very revealing, very enthusiastic multipurpose male.

Next up in the LAFF series is Fly You Fools!, a Lord of the Rings rip-off, May 3-25.

  • April 5-27, Fridays and Saturdays, 8 and 10 p.m.
  • $15
  • The District Theatre
  • www.indyfringe.org

 

Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

Indiana Repertory Theatre: “Amber Waves”

 

Playwright in residence James Still’s Amber Waves focuses on the dwindling lifestyle of family farming. What makes this a beautiful portrait of Heartland culture, given the tense circumstances around this family’s life, is that they do it for love. With corporate farming being the primary supplier of so many foodstuffs, love of the land is what keeps many of these farms alive even while so many other family farms collapse around them.

Lisa Rothe’s cast, Jordan Pecar, Mary Bacon, Torsten Hillhouse, William Brosnahan, Riley Iaria, and Charles Dumas play out the regular lives of regular people that tell a story many of us would never be privy to. Reading about the decline of family farming is much different from witnessing the stress and sacrifice needed to keep seed in the ground.

Musicians Tim Grimm and Rachel Eddy accompany the performance with a melodic soundtrack that evokes the “amber waves” of the Indiana countryside. These seemingly simple songs are as evocative as the characters onstage.

Amber Waves returns to the IRT after premiering in 2000, launching the IRT’s Indiana Series. Since then, Still has contributed seven plays to the series.

Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

Storytelling Arts of Indiana: “Silence: The Adventures of a Medieval Warrior Woman” told by Dolores Hydock 

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Dolores Hydock in “Silence: The Adventures of a Medieval Warrior Woman”

Dolores Hydock crafts a vivid tale that examines gender fluidity before there was vocabulary for such a thing. Based on the 13th century poem “The Roman de Silence,” the story is about a girl raised to be a boy during a time when women had no rights and they were destined to live their lives over a sewing needle. Hydock takes on the narrator figure of a stooped old woman of the time relating the tale to her listeners. Her performance is as mesmerizing as the story. She is accompanied by PanHarmonium, a trio that specializes in early music. Their haunting tunes enhance the performance and bring the production to a deeper submersion.

This performance was March 23. Catch Andy Offit Erwin, whom I’ve seen perform and is hilarious, April 27.

storytellingarts.org

 

Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

Civic Theatre: “The Importance of Being Ernest”

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Carrie A. Schlatter, Sabrina Duprey, Ethan Mathias, and Bradford Reilly in Civic’s “The Importance of Being Ernest.”

Michael J. Lasley and Parrish Williams have trimmed the Oscar Wilde play The Importance of Being Ernest into a fast-paced romp through Victorian England. All of Wilde’s sharp wit is intact, and Lasley, who directs, inserts some quirkiness into the already silly-fun show.

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Matt Anderson, Carrie A. Schlatter, and Sabrina Duprey in Civic’s “The Importance of Being Ernest”

To sum up, John Worthing is in love with Gwendolen Fairfax, who thinks his name is Ernest. To facilitate his comings and goings as he pleases, he is Ernest in London, but at his country home, he is John and has a fictional roguish brother Ernest. Gwendolen is adamant that the name Ernest is key to her love, so John is faced with procuring a hasty name change. John’s friend Algernon Moncrieff thinks marriage is a worthless institution and can’t understand why John is pursuing it. When “Algie” finds out that John has an 18-year-old ward in the country, he decides to investigate as John’s brother Ernest. There he meets Cecily Cardew and immediately decides he must marry her. However, Cecily has similar ideas regarding the name Ernest as Gwendolyn does, and so he too is faced with an imminent name change. There’s more, but this gets you started.

If all of this seems ridiculous, that’s because it’s supposed to be. The show’s subtitle is “A Trivial Comedy for Serious People.” But Wilde’s writing is so astute, and Lasley’s pacing keeps us focused on the language.

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Ethan Mathias and Bradford Reilly in Civic’s “The Importance of Being Ernest”

Matt Anderson as Lane/Merriman, Bradford Reilly as Algernon, Ethan Mathias as John, Vickie Cornelius Phipps as Lady Bracknell, Carrie A. Schlatter as Gwendolyn, Sabrina Duprey as Cecily, Miki Mathioudakis as Miss Prism, and Craig Kemp as the Rev. Chasubtle. The cast is perfectly competent in their roles. During scene changes, Anderson directs the actors in moving set pieces by ringing a bell and he bops along to jazzed-up pop songs. A little stroke of brilliance there. Cornelius Phipps presents a supercilious Lady Bracknell, and Schlatter, as Bracknell’s daughter, is as entitled as a young lady of wealth would be. Duprey is a lovely if spacy Cecily.

Reilly is a quandary, however. He crosses the line from fop to effeminate in his affectations. Given his performance, it would not be a stretch to think he is in love with John and jealous of Gwendolyn, hence his anti-marriage attitude. His pursuit of Cecily could be a way of getting John’s attention. Given the ending, this could be a very hellish outcome for him. Wouldn’t that be a twist on the play? And was it really necessary for him to talk with his mouth full of cucumber sandwich?

Quibble aside, this is an excellent period piece for modern audiences.

  • March 22-April 6, Wednesdays-Saturdays at 7 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m.
  • $43
  • civictheatre.org

 

Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

Indiana Repertory Theatre: “A Doll’s House Part 2”

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Tracy Michelle Arnold and Nathan Hosner in the IRT’s “A Doll’s House Part 2”

The slam heard ’round the world in 1879 is now followed up by a simple knock on that same door. Fifteen years after Nora snubbed social convention by leaving her husband and three young children, she is back on that doorstep seeking a divorce that never happened, which has left in her an awkward legal situation.

While A Doll’s House Part 2 by Lucas Hnath, which was recently on Broadway, is touted as being able to stand alone from its precursor, A Doll’s House by Henrik Ibsen, I am hesitant to say that’s 100 percent true. Torvald is too easy to forgive, too sympathetic in this setting without knowing how he treated Nora in the original. One other small quibble: The modern playwright uses language and phrasing that we do instead of maintaining the language of the play’s time period. Hearing someone from the early 1900s say they are “pissed” can be confusing because normally that would mean drunk. So, it made my brain stumble when a fuck would fly.

Otherwise, the play is extremely engaging, quick and funny and hard and sad and angry and so, so many more emotions all at once because there is so much going on here. Both Nora and her husband Torvald have their newfound places in society on the line, and then there is the onslaught of feeling when confronting the family you abandoned and the wife and mother who abandoned you. Part 2 could stand alongside the original regarding its commentary on family, society, and awareness of the self.

IRT playwright in residence James Still directs Tracy Michelle Arnold as Nora, Nathan Hosner as Torvald, Kim Staunton as Anne Marie, and Becca Brown as Emmy. And what a ride. It’s tangled and messy, both domestically and morally, making Nora’s the perfect cautionary tale against getting married in the first place.

Still uses the word “engaging” in his program notes, and that is the perfect way to describe the entire production. No matter who is on stage, they are engaging in quick-fire succession — ideas, feelings, hostilities, forgiveness, determination, defeat. The stage is so full of engagements that the spare set feels ready to burst. The cast does an exemplary job of keeping up with it all and making it funny just when you need a break from the drama.

Highly recommended regardless of my small nitpicks.

  • Through April 7, various dates and times
  • $25+
  • IRTlive.com

 

Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

Fonseca Theatre Company: “Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill”

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Monica Cantrell as Billie Holiday in the Fonseca Theatre Company’s “Lady Day”

1957. Segregation is still in full swing, but Billie Holiday isn’t letting patrol officers dampen her “blues feeling with a jazz beat.” Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill recreates Holiday’s last concert, which was held in a small bar much like The Linebacker, giving the audience a fully immersive experience, complete with a cameo by a tiny little ball of white fluff.

Monica Cantrell’s blues staging engulfs you in her sultry performance that combines vocals and body language. As Holiday lets the music drive her song set, she inserts anecdotes about life while her accompanist, Jimmy Powers (Jon Stombaugh), remains mostly silent.

This is a concert-driven piece of theater that does, of course, include the iconic “God Bless the Child.” The intermission splits the show at an odd place, and the show itself seems to end abruptly, but any Holiday or blues lover in general will find this to be a smooth way to spend an evening.

  • Through April 7, various dates and times
  • $25 or $15 for Near West residents. Individual tickets are $30 for the April 7 performance, which includes a special tribute and reception to commemorate Billie Holiday’s birthday. The special price does not impact Flex Pass holders.
  • The Linebacker, 2631 W. Michigan on the same block as Indy Convergence
  • All audience members must be 21 or older.
  • fonsecatheatre.org

 

Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

Openings for the weekend of 3/15

Fonseca Theater Company: Lady Day

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Monica Cantrell as Billie Holiday in the Fonseca Theatre Company’s “Lady Day”

1959. A seedy bar in Philadelphia. You’re about to witness one of Billie Holiday’s last performances, given four months before her death. More than a dozen powerful musical numbers are interlaced with salty, often humorous reminiscences to project a dynamic portrait of the lady. As she shares the ups and downs of what it meant to be a powerful woman of color in 1950s America, you can’t help but fall in love with the iconic Lady Day. Lady Day will be a truly unique production, lending even more weight to an already powerful script because it will be held at the Linebacker for a site-specific experience.

  • Through April 7, various dates and times
  • $25 or $15 for Near West residents. Individual tickets are $30 for the April 7 performance, which includes a special tribute and reception to commemorate Billie Holiday’s birthday. The special price does not impact Flex Pass holders.
  • The Linebacker, 2631 W. Michigan on the same block as Indy Convergence
  • All audience members must be 21 or older.
  • Tickets here

Indiana Repertory Theatre: A Doll’s House 2

The Indiana premiere of one of the most produced shows across the country by Lucas Hnath. Straight from Broadway, this is a scaldingly funny and deadly serious exploration of divorce, family, and lost love. The inspiration for Hnath’s work is Henrik Ibsen’s 1879 A Doll’s House, a revered, controversial, and groundbreaking play focused on feminism, marriage, and societal expectations — themes which continue in Part 2 and are still relevant today, 140 years after the original was written. Ibsen’s version ends with the “slam heard around the world” as the main character Nora leaves behind her domestic life in pursuit of identity and independence, and A Doll’s House 2 starts with a knock at that same door 15 years later. What happens throughout the play is a fierce and funny five-round boxing match as the characters explore and engage their feelings and each other during an unexpected reunion. The production does not require its original to exist wholly on its own.

  • Through April 7, varios dates and times
  • $25+
  • IRTlive.com

Also at the IRT, more weekday and weekend performances of Elephant & Piggie’s “We Are in a Play!” have been added through March 31.

Discount for Beef & Boards’ 42nd Street

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Footlite’s Got Talent

This is a family friendly variety show competition presented by Entr’acte on Sunday, April 7 at 2:30 p.m.. This event is a fundraiser to support Entr’acte’s continuing efforts to raise money for the purchase of a MacBook to be used by the all volunteer orchestras. Come be entertained as local performers showcase their vocal, dance, and instrumental talents. Join the fun by donating to vote for your favorite act. Interested in performing? Register by March 22.

 

Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

LAFFShows: “Hold on to Your Butts”

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Jim Banta and Pat Mullen in “Hold on to Your Butts”

Before I say anything else, you need to know that in order to get the most out of the show, you have to be a fan of Jurassic Park (the first one). If you aren’t, most of what’s happening onstage will leap right over your head. That being said, I am a dino-sized fan of all the films (and books), to the point that I can recite right along with the actors the chunks of dialogue lifted from the film for this show.

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Jim Banta and Pat Mullen in “Hold on to Your Butts”

The parody takes Jurassic Park and condenses it into a one-hour marathon with two actors (Jim Banta and Pat Mullen) and a sound artist (foley Olivia Schaperjohn). Banta and Mullen take on all the characters, including the dinosaurs and even props, and you haven’t seen prehistoric comedy until you’ve seen a strap-on traffic cone used as a T. rex tail. The use of an umbrella to represent a Dilophosaurus is also brilliantly apropos. And the actors run (often literally) with it.

Over-the-top impressions, crazy props, and the frenetic pace make for a show as deadpan as a living dinosaur. Best of the best are impressions of the intense park keeper Muldoon and the skeevy Ian Malcolm, who sounds like a high Dory. (Why WAS Malcolm’s shirt undone like some ‘70s gigolo?) Banta and Mullen look like a couple of nutters up there, and it’s awesome.

butts4Using a foley artist was cool at first, but after a while, it gets grating, like those creaky doors opening and closing. Personally, I would cut back on that. Not that it subtracted from this fangirl’s fun. As Samuel Jackson says in the movie, “Hold on to your butts.” This is going to be an unpredictable ride.

This is the first troupe to perform the show since Recent Cutbacks premiered it. It’s also part of the LAFFShows series, which includes The Golden Girls: The Lost Episodes and Fly You Fools, a Lord of the Rings parody.

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Jim Banta and Pat Mullen in “Hold on to Your Butts”

 

Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

Fat Turtle Theatre Company: “Letters Sent”

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Becky Lee Meacham, Lexy Weixel, and Victoria Kortz in Fat Turtle Theatre Company’s “Letters Sent”

Letters Sent explores the aftermath of a suicide attempt and its effects on friends and family. Claire (Lexy Weixel), a young adult living on her own, sent out nine confessional letters before slashing open her arm. Somehow, her mother received her letter in the mail soon enough to find her daughter still alive and got her to the hospital in time to save her life. Now, Claire is living in her mother’s home while she recovers from the attempt and undergoes therapy, both talk and pharmaceutical.

Anyone who has dealt with major depressive disorder with suicidal tendencies, either in themselves or loved ones, will recognize Claire’s emotions (anger, frustration, failure, worthlessness, fatigue, isolation) and erratic behavior (lashing out, mood swings) as they are pretty textbook. As are her mother’s emotions (Kathryn Comer Paton): frustration, helplessness, overprotectiveness, anger, hurt, and betrayal.

With Becky Lee Meacham, Joe Barsanti, and Victoria Kortz as Claire’s friends; Wendy Brown as her therapist; and Doug Powers as her father, the show, directed by Brandi Underwood, doesn’t broach anything new or have any revelatory moments. It feels long and drawn out. The characters aren’t particularly interesting or individualistic so there’s little to invest in them.

This is the world premiere of Letters Sent by Janice Hibbard, and I feel it needs to be kicked back to workshopping for character development and story arc.

Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

Footlite Musicals: “Singin’ in the Rain”

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Footlite Musicals’ “Singin’ in the Rain.” photogary.net

For me, the best part about Singin’ in the Rain is the real rain onstage for the titular song. And at Footlite, the first row is a sprinkle zone, so heads up. Another important element is the tap dancing. Let me tell you something: Tapping is hard. So I bet choreographer Trish Roberds had her hands full getting all these volunteer performers in sync. But she did, and they did, and it was super impressive. Juddson Updike as Cosmo Brown and Grant Russel as Don Lockwood have some great moves in “Moses Supposes.”

As for the leads, Sydney Norwalk is beautiful as love interest Kathy Selden, and Updike combines slapstick humor with his solid vocal numbers. Unfortunately, Russel is flat at times, but his overall performance makes up for a few missed notes. And in a one-off performance, Russell Watson gives a stunning performance of “Beautiful Girl.”

Costume designer Curt Pickard outdid himself with the chorus girls’ costumes, and he the cast in general gave off the 1920s vibe.

Kathleen Clarke Horrigan directs this classic in such a way that any fan will be thrilled with the production.

  • Through March 17, Thursdays-Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. and Sundays at 2:30 p.m.
  • $15-$25
  • footlite.org

https://www.facebook.com/Footlite/videos/1155357184630711/

 

Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

District Theater: “Yank: A WWII Love Story”

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District Theater’s “Yank: A WWII Love Story” photo by Gary Nelson

It’s hard to believe that in the past, being gay in the Army could land you three years of hard labor. This boggles my mind. How does that aspect of your life affect your ability to do your duty? If the government drafted you, they should be glad you are there anyway. But instead of just making you kill people, which is heinous enough, they also harshly punished anyone suspected of homosexual activity. This is ironic because their justification for their treatment of gay people was that homosexuality was a mental illness. So I suppose they though hard labor would cure you. In 1982, gay people were official banned from the military, and any currently serving were discharged. This remained in effect until 1993, with the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, which forced gay service people into the closet. Finally, in 2011, homosexuality was no longer registered as a crime.

Yank: The Musical is set during World War II. Stuart (Jonathan Krouse) is starting basic training, and he keeps a journal, which he plans to publish once the war is over. Stuart is immediately drawn to one of the men in his squad, Mitch (Tanner Brunson). But Stuart is confused and awkward. He doesn’t really understand or acknowledge the feelings he has. Mitch takes a shine to Stuart as well, and semi-innocently flirts with him in a nebulous sort of way. Until the kiss. And things go downhill from there. Stuart is given an out by joining up with Yank Magazine under the guidance of Artie (D. Scott Robinson), who shows him the ins and outs (so to speak) of being gay in the military.

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District Theatre: “Yank: A WWII Love Story.” photo by Gary Nelson

This is a superlative show in its acting, singing, and emoting. You are sincerely invested in the fates of these young men — even the auxiliary characters. From funny to heart wrenching, the show runs the gamut, and the musical numbers are iconic. The production is engrossing, and the performances are standing ovation worthy.

Brunson has a dreamy voice that is reminiscent of 1940s crooners, whereas Krouse’s equally talented chords sing to us in a much more mellow way that reflects his personality. A personality that we see grow from an introverted klutz to a man assured of his worth in the world. That’s some serious character growth.

Authentic historical slides take the place of a backdrop, which I found to be much more effective, reminding us that this is more than just a story — the war was a real, catastrophic event.

Under director Tim Spradlin, Krouse, Brunson, Robinson, Jessica Hawkins (as literally Every Woman), Isaac Becker, Dominic Piedmonte, Scott Fleshood, Joshua Cox, Bryant Mehay, Jerry Beasley, Lance Gray, and Kevin Bell, with vocal director John Phillips and a live orchestra, have created a show that will take you back in time. It’s a love story that reminds us where we’ve been, where we are, and that we still have a ways to go.

  • Through March 24, Thursdays-Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. and Sundays at 4 p.m.
  • $25 general admission; $20 seniors & students; $15 for active & retired military (with ID)
  • www.indyfringe.org/theatre-show/yank

 

Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

Phoenix Theatre: “The Hotel Nepenthe”

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Ben Asaykwee in Phoenix Theatre’s “The Hotel Nepenthe”

The phrase “dream state” is used in the program notes to describe The Hotel Nepenthe, and there is not a more accurate descriptor. The show could have come straight from playwright John Kuntz’s Chantix- or Valium-induced lucid dreams.

Fourteen scenes are staged using four actors: Ben Asaykwee, Jolene Mintink Moffatt, Betsy Norton, and Scott Van Wye. From hard-to-find dead babies, to whore(r) stories, to the purple human pincushion, to burial with Eggo waffles, eccentricity abounds. Oh, and the statement that smoking menthols is like sucking on a candy cane’s ass. Or how one minute you’re making goo-goo eyes and the next you are fucking a camel.

Eccentricities.

With Bill Simmons at the helm, the production celebrates dark and/or grotesque humor but also puts the audience on edge. All four actors seamlessly transition from character to character, giving each one just what he or she needs to make them real.

And there is a through line if you squint.

This is a challenging show. It’s not for everybody. You will leave either blown away or confused as hell. Decide how far you will let your mind take you.

 

Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

Indiana Repertory Theatre: “Elephant and Piggie’s ‘We Are in a Play!’”

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Carlos Medina Maldonado and Devan Mathias in the IRT’s “Elephant and Piggie’s ‘We Are in a Play'”

Elephant and Piggie’s “We Are in a Play!” is an adorable musical adaptation of the books by Mo Willems featuring the titular characters. (Sorry, no Pigeon here.) Devan Mathias as Piggie and Carlos Medina Maldonado as Gerald the elephant bring the characters to life in this romp through a day in the life, with Brianna Milan, Tiffany Gilliam, and Jaddy Ciucci backing them up as The Squirrelles in an impressive showing. Director Benjamin Hanna keeps the focus squarely on the target audience of ages 3 to 8 (though my 9-year-old loved it) in the fifth installment of the Indiana Repertory Theatre’s Exploring Stages program.

Kids and their adults can sit on the floor with their coloring book program or opt for chairs if the storytime seating threatens grow-ups’ joints or backs. The crazy adventures are milked for kid-centric silliness, and the children are engrossed from the start. From a mom’s point of view, I thought the storyline was a bit off centered, but my son wanted to go again after it was over. No higher recommendation is possible, especially from my little wiggler.

  • The show is approximately 75 minutes, including pre- and post-show activities.  
  • Through March 24, various times
  • $8+
  • www.irtlive.com

 

 

Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

Carmel Community Players: “I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change”

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Christian Condra and Brenna Whitaker in Carmel Community Players’ “I Love You, “You’re Perfect, Now Change”

Oh, this crazy little thing called love.

I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change is a series of stand-alone musical numbers covering relationships from the first date to widow(er) funeral pickups — and all the exploits that come in between. Dee Timi directs Libby Buck, Christian Condra, Jonathan Scoble, and Brenna Whitaker, with musical director Sandy Baetzhold, through what can only be described as the comedic, awkward, embarrassing, and exhausting pitfalls of relationships and marriage.

However, don’t assume this is a family musical. It’s often blatantly sexual, and one number is devoted to sex itself. Sing it. “We’re married, and we’re gonna have sex.” That excitement that comes when the kids are in bed (for now), the laundry is done (for now), and the house is picked up (for now), and Mommy and Daddy are gonna do it.

There are some tender moments, such as “Shouldn’t I Be Less in Love with You,” in which Scoble sings about his enduring love for his wife, and there is an intense monologue by Whitaker, “The Very First Dating Video by Rose Ritz,” in which she ends up relating the intense hurt she suffered in her divorce.

Men seem to be the butt of the jokes more often than women are, and the females of the cast outdo the male ones vocally, especially in a note-takingly beautiful “I Will Be Loved Tonight” by Buck. But the guys make up for it in their sheer determination to take every potential gag as far as possible — and then take it one step more.

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Brenna Whitaker and Libby Buck in Carmel Community Players’ “I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change”

Pitch perfect or not, this is a show worth seeing — especially with a date.

  • Through March 10, Fridays-Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. and Sundays at 2:30 p.m.
  • $18-$20
  • The Cat theater
  • www.carmelplayers.org
     
Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

Mud Creek Players: “Almost, Maine”

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Kyrsten Lyster and Matt Hartzburg and Mud Creek Players’ “Almost, Maine”

Though Almost, Maine is a series of short love stories, Mud Creek’s production is not sappy. Instead, it’s (mostly) embarrassingly funny — embarrassing, that is, for the characters on stage who find themselves in awkward or just odd situations. Said situations include a literally broken heart, a literal shoe drop, ironing board as a literally potential lethal weapon, literally falling in love, and literal sacks of love. Among all this comedy there are some poignant moments, such as the dashing of hope, but even these vignettes are done elegantly so that they don’t feel like a Lifetime snippet.

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Mason Odle and Jennifer Poynter in Mud Creek Players’ “Almost, Maine”

The name, Almost, Maine, comes from the small community the play is set in. Nine couples have unusual interactions under the Northern Lights one Friday night. Could be something supernatural? Could be just plain silly playwriting.

Andrea Odle directs a multipurpose cast that does spot-on jobs for each of their various characters: Matt Hartzburg, Jackson Stollings, Kyrsten Lyster, Mason Odle, Lexi Odle, and Jennifer Poynter are all consistently on point, taking each scene quite seriously regardless of the circumstances, making the weird seem normal somehow.

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Jackson Stollings and Lexi Odle in Mud Creek Players’ “Almost, Maine”

Don’t let the love story theme deter you. This show is hilarious and well worth the trip through BFE to get to the little barn theater.

  • Through March 2, Fridays-Saturdays at 8 p.m. plus Sunday, Feb. 24 at 2:30 p.m.
  • $15 evenings; $13 matinees
  • www.mudcreekplayers.org
Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

Civic Theatre: “To Kill a Mockingbird”

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Steve Kruze in Civic Theatre’s “To Kill a Mockingbird.” Photo by Zach Rosing.

As reclusive as Boo Radley is, To Kill a Mockingbird is as ubiquitous, being a favorite among theater-goers and school groups alike. Civic Theatre’s rendition is the quintessential live production, with all the heart that goes into Harper Lee’s classic story.

The adult Jean Louise (Michelle Wafford) narrates the story about her father Atticus’s (Steve Kruze) trial defense of a black man, Tom Robinson (Antoine Demmings), back when she was a little girl called Scout (Bridget Bingham) in 1935. She, her brother Jem (Dalyn Stewart), and out-of-town friend Dill (Ben Boyce) had been especially speculating on the hermit Boo Radley (Colby Rison) since his brother Nathan (also played by Rison) had returned to take care of him, and Scout had been finding small gifts in the knot of a tree that separated their property.

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Bridget Bingham in Civic Theatre’s “To Kill a Mockingbird.” Photo by Zach Rosing.

That summer, Scout and Jem, and by extension Dill, learn a lot about the nature of people — the unseen things that make people more than a one-dimensional caricature — and what it means to do the right thing.

The large cast does a lovely job of bringing the townspeople of Maycomb, Alabama, to life. The children are charming, and Kruze effectively conveys both the fortitude and weariness of a man besieged by honor.

Emily Rogge Tzucker directs a show that brings the life-changing events home for the audience. The show is both shrewd and sympathetic as it reveals the best and worst of humanity.

  • Through Feb. 23, Thursdays-Saturdays at 7 p.m. (except the last Saturday at 5 p.m.) and Sundays at 2 p.m.
  • $43; $25 students
  • http://civictheatre.org

 

Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

Catalyst Repertory: “Arcadefire! The Redemption of Billy Mitchell”

The Man, the Myth, the Tie

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The real Billy Mitchell at Tappers Arcade Bar before the 2018 Fringe premiere of “Arcadefire!”

Just being “Billy Mitchell” is a job.

It’s the tie.

Those star-spangled monstrosities that are part of his persona’s costume are also the on-and-off switch for Billy the Video Game Player of the Century versus Billy the normal if nerdy 53-year-old husband, father, and restaurant owner. At Thursday night’s final dress rehearsal of Arcadefire! The Redemption of Billy Mitchell, I think the tie loosened up some, but I don’t think it ever really left that phantom-noose-like position around his neck. After the show, a few people retired to Tappers Arcade Bar. Even though my companion and I arrived at least 30 minutes before Billy and set up camp next to the Donkey Kong machine, the 6-and-a-half-foot Billy managed to elude me and bee-lined to the game cabinet.

While not on par with Just Jared celebs, Billy still has a, granted small, retinue to keep track of things like Twitch feeds and costuming, not to mention appearances and such. His right-hand man Neil Hernandez dresses up as Mario. It’s adorable. And not long after Billy got going on the pixelated apeman at Tappers, there was Neil with the camera to capture each of Billy’s moves. I think I got in the way of that. Sorry not sorry. As I said at the time, it’s a game. It seems to me that it’s not a lot of fun anymore.

But that’s the job of being Billy Mitchell, Video Game Player of the Century.

Billy is affable regardless of his reputation for being kind of an asshole. The first time I met him was at the Sunday afternoon 2018 IndyFringe Festival weekend premiere of Casey Ross’s Arcadefire! At the time, I didn’t know what a Billy Mitchell was. All I knew was that the show was written by Casey, which put it on my to-see list, and that it was a musical about video games. As I moved forward in the queue to enter the theater, I saw a giant man with long dark hair wearing a white suit and an American flag tie who was standing at the entrance greeting the audience. I didn’t think too much of this anomaly. It was the Fringe, after all. Crazy shit happens. When it was my turn to enter, Billy shook my hand and he and his fellow greeter (Walter Day) said some flattering things to me, and then I was on my way. As I was leaving, Billy took my hand again and paid me another compliment. And that was that.

So I thought.

And I had STILL not put two and two together because I am, occasionally, an idiot.

As I sat in the Firefighters Union Hall lobby waiting for my next show, I Googled Billy Mitchell to verify if this was a real person. And that’s when I discovered that the flirtatious snowdrift was, in fact, the real Billy Mitchell. And here he came again, even taller now that I was seated. (I’m just shy of 5-foot-2.) My first response: “Are you really Billy Mitchell?” So he pulled out his driver’s license to verify that yes, he was in fact the real Billy Mitchell. We chatted for a few minutes, a conversation in which he admitted to being an unapologetic flirt, and later he came back over to give me a few of the trading cards that Day had designed for the event that was to take place later that night at Tappers.

All this struck me as funny. So I had to text one of my best friends who happens to have enough knowledge about 1980s pop culture that he could rival the Recordkeeper in Ready Player One. (This happens to be the same person who accompanied me to the show Thursday, my fellow journalist and best friend of 20-odd years, Paul Pogue.)

Me: Do you know who Billy Mitchell of Donkey Kong fame is? I think he was [censored].

<radio silence>

Paul: I think you broke my husband.

Yeah, that was from his wife, another best friend of mine, Katrina, responding because Paul was on the floor laughing, with tears running down his face.

Billy is more than happy, eager even to talk to you — he is very fan-centric — so long as you focus on positivity … and you aren’t a journalist. Billy is notorious for his hatred of journalists because he doesn’t think there are any real ones left. Which is funny since 1) I am a journalist, and 2) he did an interview with these guys this week. Sure, they aren’t Variety, but still. However, on Thursday, Billy and I kept up running conversations before the show and afterward at Tappers, before everyone was booted for the night. He was fun to talk to, as was Neil and some of Billy’s other friends who had come out in support of the show. I got some interesting insights, and I had fun. I should have been recording.

I think Billy’s reticence towards journalists stems from his perfectionism. It’s the old mantra, if you’re going to do something, do it right. Go big or go home. I think that attitude is what led him to competitive video game playing in the first place. Who knew that he’d still be chasing those ghosts —both pixelated and metaphorical — 30-odd years later?

Arcadefire!

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Andy Sturm and Luke McConnell (seated) in Catalyst Repertory’s “Arcadefire!”

This isn’t the first show that is based on Billy. When Casey began working on the it, there were four others in existence, including a musical, Fistful of Quarters, based on the documentary of the same name. This is also the docu-drama that her now-boyfriend attempted to stump her with, and it was her initial inspiration for the show. She and her boyfriend are both documentary buffs, and he was trying to find one she hadn’t seen. Well, she had seen it, but that was OK. She was looking for material to craft a new show for the 2018 Fringe, and it fit. After that, she became “Billy’s Indiana stalker.”

Then again, this isn’t Billy’s first brush with actors slash directors since he was in movies such as King of Kong: Fistful of Quarters and Chasing Ghosts: Beyond the Arcade. Here, Casey has taken the basic premise of events surrounding the accusations that Billy cheated to achieve his record-breaking scores and turned it into a campy musical. Does Billy see himself up there on stage? No, he says. Not the comedy.

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Kayla Lee and Anthony Nathan in Catalyst Repertory’s “Arcadefire!”

But the comedy is what the audience comes for — if you aren’t just coming to see Billy himself (back for the show’s second premiere) during opening weekend and partaking in the video game extravaganzas that are planned.

This production is an extended version of the short Fringe Festival offering. It’s the 1980s — the heyday for cabinet video games. Billy Mitchell (Luke McConnell, original) is the King of Kong, holding the world record for the highest score in Donkey Kong. His self-described “nemesis,” Steve Wiebe (Anthony Nathan, original), is obsessed with beating Billy. Fast forward a few decades. Steve remains obsessed, and his long-suffering wife (Kayla Lee, original) is on the edge. Brian (Andy Sturm), who always came in second to Billy’s scores, informs him that he is being accused of cheating and stripped of his titles. To redeem his gaming reputation, Billy holds a Kong Off and brings in his old gaming referee, Walter (Craig Kemp). Devilry is planned, loyalties are weighed, and priorities are amended.

Unfortunately, the new version feels less cohesive than the original even with expanded storylines and exposition. I love the glimpses we get of Billy’s first meeting with Brian and his early interactions with Walter, but these relationships aren’t further explored. Nor is his transition from pinball to cabinet gaming or the source of his determination. The relationship between Billy and Brian becomes nebulous.

The dynamic I love best is the Wiebes. They have the choicest dialogue, and Nathan is such a fruitcake in the face of Lee’s deadpan delivery.

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Andy Sturm and Craig Kemp in Catalyst Repertory’s “Arcadefire!”

Ultimately, this show is neither fish nor fowl. The music numbers to acting ratio barely makes it a musical, and so much camp in the face of a very serious McConnell makes us wonder why Nathan is so seriously disturbed, like when he gets his Smeagol on with a quarter. Add to that an intense, emotionally sincere monologue from Sturm in the second half, and the over-the-top elements lose their charm.

What musical numbers are left don’t hold any power. Sadly, a few people in the cast can’t sing, and the choreography still needs a lot of work, as do some scenes, both from a director’s and a writer’s point of view. For example, the scene in Billy’s restaurant feels almost superfluous, and what is the purpose of the dance “Do the Donkey Kong”? And there really, really needs to be a screen for the projections.

Am I saying don’t see the show? No. I am critiquing a work in progress. Plus, there are so many exciting elements to this event. Not only are you witnessing the evolution of a show, but you can also meet the man it is based on. Plus, the event’s venue is the badass 666 historic Irvington Lodge, and the show’s producers have partnered with the new Level Up Gaming Lounge on the first floor for events. The Level Up is a story in itself. It’s a neat little business inside an under-used Irvington building, and it deserves our support after the crazy bullying they received right before opening.

And, at the show, there’s HOT SAUCE.

  • Through Feb. 17, Fridays-Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. and Sundays at 2:30 p.m.
  • $20. This ticket allows you into ONLY the production Arcadefire! This ticket does not include access to extra events and meet & greets.
  • Tickets for Play-Play POPcade Passes are $35. These weekend passes allow you full access to the Level Up Gaming Lounge events and after-parties, as well as your entry for any desired tournaments and meet & greets. Team Scorechasers creator Sid Seattle will moderate fast-paced tournaments, while legendary gamers play and stream … for a good cause!
  • Historic Irvington Lodge
  • Tickets here
  • https://www.facebook.com/events/382834905822051/

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Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

Actors Theatre of Indiana: “Ruthless: The Musical”

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Cynthia Collins and Nya Skye Beck in Actors Theatre of Indiana’s “Ruthless: The Musical”

Ruthless: The Musical camps up film noir and spoofs Broadway musicals in an homage to the little homicidal brat in the 1950s film/play/novel The Bad Seed, here known as the 8-year-old wanna-be drama queen Tina Denmark. Tina will just KILL to get the lead in the school play.

Judy Fitzgerald plays Judy Denmark, a dim, stereotypical 1950s housewife who loves her solitary role in life: being “Tina’s mother.” While Fitzgerald is amusing as the clueless mother figure, she gets much more interesting as her past catches up to her and Judy’s buried personality takes over.

The true onstage diva is John Vessels as Sylvia St. Croix, talent agent. Vessels gets the best parts, owning the stage in heels and turbans, acting superior and fabulous, and he belts out many of the best musical numbers. While not onstage as often, Cynthia Collins is equally over the top and pounding those vocals as washed-up actress-turned-school-teacher Miss Thorn.

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John Vessels in Actors Theatre of Indiana’s “Ruthless: The Musical”

Critiquing kids always leaves me feeling mean spirited — much like theater critic Lita Encore, played by Suzanne Stark with flamboyance and a careless ego. But there’s no avoiding it here since fourth-grader Nya Skye Beck tackles Tina in in all her curly blond, darkly saccharine self. While Beck certainly gets the camp like any good Girl Scout should, vocally I feel she is inconsistent — a sharp here, a flat there. She does tap prettily though.

Laura Sportiello starts as Tina’s nemesis in Act 1, but she gets to strut her stuff in the second half as Judy’s personal assistant. Finally, there’s a guest cameo for each weekend, so check out ATI’s website to see who will storm the door at each performance.

Overall, the show has its moments, but I wasn’t doing the proverbial rolling in the aisles. However, the guy sitting next to me was. Blame the drink (or my lack thereof)? Or am I just being too Lita?

Check out ATI’s Facebook page for lots of preview videos.

  • Through Feb. 17, Wednesdays-Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m.
  • $20-$45; all tickets $25 on Wednesdays
  • The Studio Theater at the Carmel Performing Arts Center
  • www.ATIStage.org

Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

Buck Creek Players: “After the Fair”

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Buck Creek Players’ “After the Fair.” Photos by photogary.net.

After the Fair is a little musical based on the Thomas Hardy short story On the Western Circuit. (If you don’t know the name, Hardy’s most well-known work is Tess of the d’Urbervilles, written in 1891.) I’m not a big Hardy fan, even if I was an English major, but After the Fair is sweet and funny if not fast-paced.

Anna (Tara Sorg) is an illiterate maid in the Harnham household. Both she and the lady of the house, Edith (Lori Ecker), feel smothered in their sequestered, humdrum lives, and so Edith, hoping to live vicariously through Anna, allows Anna to go to the fair. Anna meets a man there, playboy Charles (Zachary Hoover), and after a tryst with him the next day, finds herself pregnant and Charles 100 miles away. Before discovering she is pregnant, Anna and Charles had been writing to each other, but since Anna is illiterate, Edith had been the one writing the letters for her. Through these letters, Edith begins to remember what is missing from her life … and her marriage: passion. Charles thinks he has finally fallen in love, and Edith certainly has, but what of Anna and the baby, not to mention the deceit of the letters’ author?

Vocally, I have to say that I felt I caught Ecker and Hoover on a somewhat off day this past Sunday afternoon. (I was having an off day too.) While certainly good, neither rose to the level I have heard from them before. Character-wise, however, they were spot on. Hoover only has to switch on that panty-poofing smile to make you believe he could get a Victorian lass out of her drawers. Ecker takes Edith on a subtle transformation as she reclaims her youth.

Alongside Ecker and Hoover, Sorg holds her own as the dim Anna, as does Scott S. Semester as the narcoleptic Arthur Harnham. A nice touch was the onstage orchestra, something you don’t see  at BCP often.

Directed by D. Scott Robinson with musical director Jill Stewart and period costumes by Cathy Cutshall and set by John Walker, After the Fair is a pleasant diversion, but it’s not something that will stick with you much past the final bow.

  • Through Feb. 10, Fridays-Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2:30 p.m.
  • $20; $18 for children, students, and senior citizens. Use coupon code LETTER online to get $2 off each seat.
  • www.buckcreekplayers.com  
Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

Indiana Repertory Theatre: “The Diary of Anne Frank”

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The IRT’s “The Diary of Anne Frank.” Photo by Zach Rosing.

Most people are familiar with the story of Anne Frank’s diary, so since the audience already knows how it ends, the challenge for a stage (or film) version becomes the presentation. It’s an opportunity to take some liberties with Anne’s fellow inhabitants of the Annex and make them feel more like real people instead of auxiliary placeholders in Anne’s diary. Of course, the diary itself serves several literary purposes. Not only does it give a first-person account of Jews in hiding during the Holocaust, but it’s also a coming-of-age story of a typical teenage girl. Anne used much of her time—and there was two years’ worth of it—in the Annex writing down her thoughts both for posterity (she hoped to have it published someday) and as practice to become a journalist. Her desire to become a writer created a richer diary than most young girls’ are.

So the playwrights add detail, the director and actors give characters more depth, and the crew creates the atmosphere—all with poetic license. Such as, the real Annex was three levels, which is not conducive to viewing on a stage’s set.

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Ryan Artzberger as Otto Frank in IRT’s “The Diary of Anne Frank.” Photo by Zach Rosing.

This version of The Diary of Anne Frank is the 1955 Tony Award-winning adaptation by Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett. After the unedited version of Anne’s diary was released after her father, Otto’s, death in 1989, Wendy Kesselman adapted this adaptation in 1996 to include some of the previously censored material. In the unedited version of the diary, Anne is a little more catty, a little more graphic, but Kesselman uses these elements sparingly. She includes that, as a normal teenager would, Anne starts to become sexually aware and that Anne often viciously disliked her mother.

Directed by the IRT’s artistic director, Janet Allen, the stage becomes full of relatable people. Miranda Troutt starts 13-year-old Anne off as flighty and slightly annoying, occasionally sweet — the definition of a 13-year-old with ADD. But after two years, Troutt lets Anne mellow out a little. The combination of isolation and natural maturation affect Anne’s personality but don’t squash it. Even after 25 months, Anne remains a ray of sun in a crypt-like environment.

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Miranda Troutt in IRT’s “The Diary of Anne Frank.” Photo by Zach Rosing.

Idiosyncratic details such as Mrs. Van Daan’s (Constance Macy) attachment to her chamber pot, the deadpan way Mr. Dussel (Rob Johansen) states cats give him “ass-ma,” or Mr. Van Daan’s (Robert Neal) crippling shame at being caught snatching food make this production both funny and horrific. By the time the Annex is discovered, you genuinely care about the eight people living there, not just Anne.

Yao Chen’s smart costumes aptly capture the times, and Bill Clarke’s scenic design, with lighting design by Andrew D. Smith, reflects the claustrophobic conditions the two-families-plus-one (and a cat) lived in.

The small world of the Annex on stage is just as rich as Anne’s diary.

  • Jan. 25-Feb. 24, times and dates vary
  • Tickets start at $25
  • Many programs will be presented in conjunction with the show.
  • www.irtlive.com

 

Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

Two in One: Phoenix Theatre’s “Apples in Winter” and the IRT’s “Every Brilliant Thing”

I’m always impressed by one-person shows because of the stamina required of the actor, but also, from the audience’s perspective, the entire performance lays on their shoulders. No pressure, eh? (Of course, anyone who’s ever looked at a program knows that a production is much, much more than just its actors. But they are the focus, regardless.)

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Jan Lucas in the Phoenix Theatre’s “Apples in Winter”

In the Phoenix Theatre’s Apples in Winter, Miriam (Jan Lucas) is making an apple pie for her son’s last meal before his sentence of death by lethal injection. Her double entendre isn’t lost in this situation: If you follow the rules, you end up with a good, or at least decent, pie. While Lucas bakes a real pie from scratch, start to finish, we are told stories of her son’s life and her own doting parenting. However, the scourge of drug addiction isn’t examined, and her son’s addiction is only vaguely addressed. Hell, we don’t even know exactly why he is on death row until far into the show. There’s some downtime while we just watch her work or stand contemplatively, and as the play progresses, empathy becomes tedium.

But Lucas sincerely conveys the emotional upheaval of a devoted mother whose unconditional love remains fully intact. Lucas and director Jolene Mentink Moffatt are both longtime presences in the Indianapolis theater community. Both work to make Miriam as interesting as possible, but the confessional setup pulls us in only to let us slowly fade back out.

By the way, you can buy a raffle ticket before the show to win the pie.

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Marcus Truschinski in IRT’s “Every Brilliant Thing.” Photo by Zach Rosing.

The Indiana Repertory Theatre’s Every Brilliant Thing features a character simply labeled The Man (Marcus Truschinski) and how he responds to his mother’s multiple suicide attempts, the first of which happens when he is 7. In response to this initial attempt, Marcus begins a list of things that make life “brilliant,” like ice cream and water fights, and later in life, falling in love and the prospect of dressing up as a Mexican wrestler.

The list grows, but it doesn’t save his mother — nor does it save him from falling into depression in his adult years. Because the fact is that for those who suffer from major depressive disorder — not just the occasional blues or a hard period in life, such as a divorce — things that make life worth living just … don’t. While the list is a sweet gesture from a 7-year-old and a fun game for college kids, in the end, it falls short of effective. A heavy-duty dose of an SSRI would be more suitable.

Regardless of the dark genesis of the story, the script’s redeeming quality is that it’s more funny than funereal. Even the reenactment of putting his beloved dog to sleep is more silly than it is weepy sentimentality.

Beware audience participation, some innocuous, such as shouting out one of the items on the list, some more involved, such as portraying Marcus’s girlfriend. One audience member gets to stick their hand in their sock to make a puppet. And because I am the definition of a shrinking violent, I was terrified when I found myself seated on the stage with four others. But Truschinski is encouraging and good-natured toward his drafted actors.

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Marcus Truschinski in IRT’s “Every Brilliant Thing.” Photo by Zach Rosing.

In fact, Truschinski himself (directed by Tim Ocel) is what makes the show recommendable. I already knew Truschinski was a comedian given his antics in The Mystery of Irma Vep: A Penny Dreadful with Rob Johansen at the IRT in 2016. Here he reminds me of Matt Smith as the 11th Doctor, not just in a passing resemblance but also in his excitable and playful mannerisms. His character has personality to work with, and little quirks are written in, such as his penchant for vinyl records.

In the program, artistic director Janet Allan likens the show to storytelling, and she couldn’t have put it better. The intimacy of the setting, interaction with the audience, and Truschinski’s delivery make this crazy train worth the ride.

  • Through Feb. 10
  • $21-$78. Use promo code FRIEND10 and save $10 off each ticket
  • irtlive.com
Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

BOLT: “and Tell Sad Stories of the Death of Queens”

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BOLT (Be Out Loud Theatre) presents “and Tell Sad Stories of the Death of Queens”

The new Be Out Loud Theater (BOLT) premiered with the obscure Tennessee Williams play and Tell Sad Stories of the Death of Queens. And I mean really obscure. Google it. There ain’t much there. According to BOLT, the play (written in 1955) was never staged during Williams’s lifetime due to its themes of homosexuality and transgenderism.

This is a play that deserved to come out of the closet. The storyline is heart wrenching, but it is infused with humor, which the cast runs with merrily. Candy (Lance Gray) (a “queen”) is still hurting over the end of her longtime relationship. Her ex-husband walked out on her for a younger man, and Candy’s self-worth has plummeted. She is desperate for attention, so she brings home a broke, straight, drunken sailor, Karl (Chris Saunders), and basically offers to be his sugar mamma as long as he stays with her — no other strings attached.

Gray makes Candy both lovely and pitiful — like a wilted Southern belle. Candy is no steel magnolia; Gray carries Candy’s vulnerability like a red V emblazoned on her crinoline-lined frocks. Gray’s characterization captures the inflection and delivery needed to emphasize much of the script’s both humor and distress.

Saunders’s Karl is just … an ass, an oaf. Saunders makes it clear just how little Candy thinks of herself if this is the man she chose to bring home.

A loveable gay couple live upstairs. Gossipy and flamboyant, Joe Barsanti and Christian Condra are often comic relief and occasional commentary.

BOLT premiered with a profound play and an arresting production of it. The new company, initiated by longtime thespian Michael Swinford (who also directed the show), was created as an outlet for LGBTQ plays. Swinford summarizes it as “Remember. Honor. Celebrate.” Remembering the past and honoring those who fought the battles that pushed the community to its current status. But it also reminds us that there is still work to be done to insure that progress continues.

  • Jan. 4-20, Fridays-Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2:30 p.m. Opening night reception Jan. 4. Talkbacks on consecutive Fridays.
  • $25; $20 seniors; $5 discount at door for Indy Pride members with proof of membership. 
  • The District Theatre
  • http://www.indyfringe.org
     
Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

IndyFringe: “Souvenir: A Fantasia of the Life of Florence Foster Jenkins”

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John Phillips and Lori Ecker in “Souvenir”

Florence Foster Jenkins was the laughing stock of the New York socialites. The true-life figure sincerely thought herself a highly gifted singer when in fact she couldn’t carry a note in a hermetically sealed container. Her friends indulged her, attending her recitals for the comedic entertainment, though Florence thought they were genuine in their support. She hired an accompanist, Cosme McMoon, who took the job because, as a struggling young musician, he needed rent money, though he was appalled by her voice. Her performances took on a cult-like following, with audience members shoving handkerchiefs in their mouths to muffle their laughter or even fleeing the hall because they were just going to lose it. Slowly, her performances got out of hand, with the audience growing and growing until the duo found themselves performing at Carnegie Hall in 1944.

Souvenir is ridiculously hilarious. This under-publicized show needs attention because not only is it a riot, but it’s also so well-done.

Of course, the play isn’t strictly biographical, as the conversations between Florence and Cosme can’t be recreated, and there is some conjecture about whether or not she really knew how bad she was. But, poetic license.

The story is told to us by Cosme, who is now working at a supper club. In between his flashbacks to his time with Florence, John D. Phillips gives us snippets of a few ditties, such as “One for My Baby” and “Crazy Rhythm,” a nice counterpoint to Florence’s unspeakable noises.

Lori Ecker is the flamboyant and melodramatic Florence. I don’t know how Ecker mangles her beautiful voice into Florence’s caterwauling, but at the end, we get to see what Ecker is really capable of in a moving “Ava Maria.” Ecker is endearing, even childlike in her comical enthusiasm, confidence in her talent, and flighty personality. At one point, she practically (and gleefully) assaults the audience with maracas and flowers. The Carnegie experience comes complete with equally absurd outfits by costume designer Susan Sanderock.

Phillips as Cosme is the picture of a pianist in pain, even frightened at times by the sounds emitted by Florence, but he slides in sly comments without Florence’s notice, which, with a bottle of wine, seem to help him though their rehearsals. The over-the-top looks on his face are just as outrageous as Florence herself.

The play explores friendship, loyalty, passion for the arts, and musical interpretation. The (NOT romantic but almost familial) relationship that evolves between Florence and Cosme over their 12 years of working together is deeply touching and a testament to the power of friendship. Camilla Upchurch has directed a hit that deserves to be supported. Go see it! You will love it!

  • Through Nov. 25, Fridays-Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 3 p.m.
  • $25
  • IndyFringe Basile Theatre
  • www.indyfringe.org
Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

NoExit: “The Mutilated”

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Gigi Jennewein and Beverly Roche in NoExit’s “The Mutilated.” Photo by Daniel Axler.

Tennessee Williams is one of the best-known American playwrights, having penned the smashing successes The Glass Menagerie, A Streetcar Named Desire, and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. However, in the 1960s and ’70s, his work took a downward turn, as did his personal life. Drugs and alcohol severely affected the quality of his work, so those plays became unpopular and obscure. 1965’s The Mutilated is one of those plays, and while I find no fault with NoExit’s production, I am not going to defend the script. (However, the use of some really nasty rose incense at the end had my best friend on the edge of a full-blown asthma attack and left me with a headache from hell.)

Ryan Mullins directs fallen-out friends Gigi Jennewein as the self-conscious, pent-up Trinket and Beverly Roche as the shoplifting, washed-up prostitute Celeste. Roche is particularly interesting in her portrayal of a woman on the rock bottom, willing to eat Vanilla Wafers from a box containing a dead cockroach, and Roche and Jennewein play well off each other.

The supporting cast includes Zachariah Stonerock, Matthew Walls, Doug Powers, Mark Cashwell, Dan Flahive, Abby Gilster, and Elysia Rohn, all of whom help add interest, including very nicely done a cappella breaks (musical composition by Ben Asaykwee).

Mullins uses the space’s balcony to great effect, and Kipp Normand’s set and prop design includes some intriguing pieces. I love the hats that costume designers Kat Robinson and Traci Snider put on the ladies.

If you are up for a challenge, NoExit’s presentation is quality. But don’t expect anything close to the genius of The Glass Menagerie.

Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

Fonseca Theatre Company: “Hooded, or Being Black for Dummies”

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Fonseca Theatre Company’s “Hooded, or Being Black for Dummies”

A mixture of comedy and commentary, Hooded, or Being Black for Dummies by Tearrance Arvelle Chisholm is about two black boys portrayed with the kind of broad stereotypical characteristics that would comfortably land them in The Breakfast Club. The title alone makes you want to laugh, but then you feel guilty immediately, knowing in this uber-PC world you shouldn’t laugh. And that intentionally placed tension is a hallmark of the show, immediately marked by the “laugh light.” A brutish police officer (Warren Jackson) instructs us, among other things, to laugh when the light comes on, but we soon learn that it lights up at inappropriate comments that are progressively less funny and more jaw-droppingly shocking.

Tru (Joshua Short) and Marquis (Chinyelu Mwaafrika) meet in jail. Tru was picked up for “loitering,” and Marquis is in for trespassing. He and his friends were in a cemetery taking photos of them “Trayvoning,” a social media thing where kids mimic the dead posture of Trayvon Martin, including a bottle of Arizona tea, Skittles, and a hoodie. While both black, they are polar opposites. Marquis attends an exclusive, all-white prep school and his adoptive parents are white. He is bookish and almost effeminate in his sunny attitude and mannerisms. Tru is more street-smart, living in a lower-class inner-city area with his single mother.

Marquis’s lawyer mother (Mara Lefler) shows up to collect Marquis and immediately demands that Tru be released as well. She takes Tru home with them, thinking how exciting it is that Marquis has his first cultural (i.e., black) friend. His mother spins scenarios in her mind, giving Tru an increasingly more depressing background, to the point where Marquis says Tru better watch out for a “hostile adoption” due to his mother’s well-meaning but misplaced fervor to give Tru a better upbringing. Fawning over her son and in extension Tru, as she is too excited to see Marquis form a friendship with another black boy.

Tru decides that Marquis is too white, and he writes a manual for Marquis on how to be black. Some of the advice is amusing, such as ending each statement with “bitch” so the other person will take you seriously, but it also addresses race-based social issues, such as how much harder it is to be black than white in many situations. When the manual lands in the hands of Marquis’s friend Hunter (Patrick Mullen), the transformation is at first ridiculous but then tragic, as we reflect on the often insurmountable stresses that are placed on black people.

Short gives Tru an ease and confidence that translates into both authority and entertainment. Though he is set up to be just a template, Short creates a much richer character in his manifestation of Tru through line delivery and body language. The sarcastic and coy Tru is accessible and approachable no matter your race. Mwaafrika’s milquetoast Marquis has no defining characteristics because Marquis has never tried to be his own person. He is an outsider in both races. Through either his innately submissive personality or his subconscious reacting to his all-white environment, he has never developed himself as an individual, merely reflecting the thoughts and attitudes of those around him. Is this nature versus nurture? Mwaafrika must take Marquis through this delicate revelation, but alas, the play ends before Marquis has the chance to make much progress. In the meantime, Mwaafrika gives us an endearing if somewhat clueless teen that you kind of feel sorry for in his awkwardness and naiveté.

Lefler as Marquis’s mom is an overbearing caricature of maternal instinct gone haywire, but she also gets to hang with the cool girls at school as the ditzy Prairie, along with Ivy Moody, the bitchy Meadow, and Dani Morey, the sweet Clementine. James Banta as school chum Fielder is so much more hilarious as Dionysus.

Directed by Ben Rose, the play elicits strong emotional reactions, from unbridled laughter to insuppressible exclamations of “ohhhhh” from the audience. Packaging hard truths in a piece that is truly entertaining is a hard match, but Hooded, or Being Black for Dummies does it. Highly recommended.

  • Nov. 9-Dec. 2, Fridays at 8 p.m., Saturdays at 5 and 8 p.m., and Sundays at 2 p.m.
  • $25; $20 for students; $15 for Near Westside residents
  • Indy Convergence
  • fonsecatheatre.org

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From the Fonseca Theatre Company Facebook page: Ben Rose, in the middle between Josh Short as Tru (l) and Chinyelu Mwaafrika as Marquis (r), is the director of our next production “Hooded or Being Black for Dummies.” He has a deep connection with this play having been raised, like the character Marquis, as a trans-racial adoptee. What makes a person black or white has dominated Ben’s thoughts for as long as he can remember. As Marquis invades the life of Tru and his friends and starts injecting slang and black culture into his life it reminds Ben of his own journey joining a Black Fraternity and experiencing what had essentially been lost to him in his formative years. What he loves most about this play is its use of comedy to ease the audience into a number of very crucial conversations that we as a society are struggling with. Ben has been enjoying making his directorial debut working with a cast that has tremendous energy and talent.

Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

Zach & Zack: “The Rocky Horror Show”

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Zach & Zack’s “Rocky Horror Show”

There’s a light … over at the Athenaeum place …

If you are going to Rocky Horror, if nothing else, do the fucking “Time Warp” for god’s sake. I hope like hell that Zach & Zack’s official opening weekend was raucous because the Thursday night preview audience was so limp I was pining for Viagra confetti poppers. This is not a passive show!

That night was tragic for me because Zach & Zack (producer Zach Rosing and director Zack Neiditch) put on a rocking, uninhibited, flamboyant staging of the cult classic. But just watching the show isn’t the whole experience. Since no audience props are allowed, the callback audience participation (and Time Warping) is crucial. I highly suggest Zach/k insert a plant into the audience for that reason.

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Dave Ruark and Joe Doyel in Zach & Zack’s “Rocky Horror Show”

Dave Ruark gets his distinctive “sweet transvestite” on as the corseted, pansexual Frank N Furter. This is the best vocal work I have heard from him in a long time, and he wraps his mouth around those syllables and spits them back out with a smirk.

Adam Tran’s Brad is a soupy mix of dweebery and discombobulation, like a nerd in the corner at a 1950s prom wearing high waters. But by the floorshow, Brad’s well into this “folk dancing.” His fiancée, Janet, played by Andrea Heiden, does her Stepford whine until trou starts dropping and she can’t get touch-a touched enough. She still seems innocent somehow even when she is climbing Rocky (eye candy Joe Doyel) like a monkey.

Davey Pelsue’s Riff-Raff is a show within himself. He takes what is usually portrayed as an unwashed undertaker and makes him sexy-grungy and quirky-funny. Anna Lee as Magenta and Alexandria Warfiel as Columbia also get their own looks but play out their characters more to book, with satiating results, as does Josiah McCruiston as Eddie (and Dr. Scott) with his “Hot Patootie.” Adam Crowe is very serious onscreen as the Narrator with no neck.

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Davey Pelsue in Zach & Zack’s “Rocky Horror Show”

The ensemble drips with various incarnations of sexuality in its eclectic costuming (Ashley Kiefer and Andrea Bear) and choreography (Mariel Greenlee). Other super heroes feasting on the show include scenic designer Andrew Darr, lighting designer Michael Moffatt, sound designer Mathew Ford Cunningham, makeup/wig designer Andrew Elliot, and many others. Read the program.

And you gotta love Brent Marty (music director). Hot Patootie, bless my soul! I really love that rock ’n’ roll!

 

 

Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

Catalyst Repertory: “Popular Monsters”

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Jamie McNulty and Tom Weingartner in Catalyst Repertory’s “Popular Monsters”

Bumbling journalist Greg is fan-boying. He’s interviewing one of his idols, horror monster moviemaker Ephraim Knight. It’s almost reminiscent of a scene in the movie Gods and Monsters, without the weird striptease. And instead of the 1950s, it’s 1978 — Halloween has just been released and the movie Rocky Horror is getting its heyday. Greg is writing an “all-Knight” issue for the magazine Popular Monsters (a nod to the movie-monster magazines that were prolific at the time). However, the magazine is in dire straits. Its owner is on his deathbed, and his daughter, Elsa, has no intention of keeping the magazine alive.

Actually, the show shares some of the topics touched on in Gods and Monsters, specifically the philosophy of the horror-movie-making industry, the evolution of the genre, and the fates of those left behind as they are supplanted by the next generation.

But then Lou Harry’s play, which is directed by Zachariah Stonerock, adds a plot twist concerning paternity. The addition is jarring in that there is no lead-in — the revelation seems pulled from the ass — and from there the story just loses its interest. There’s a metaphor there, but it’s lost in the lack of subtle. Instead of letting the audience ruminate on its deeper meaning, we are barraged by family drama.

Tom Weingartner as Greg is endearingly geeky. Jamie McNulty could have been an impressive presence in his approach to the characterization of Knight if he hadn’t fumbled so many lines on Friday night. Miranda Nehrig is fine as the emotionally maxed-out Elsa, and she is a cute drunk. Alexandria Miles plays Shawna, a brusque, abrupt, and annoying character that helps inject motivation for dialogue.

Before the show, my friend and I had a ball looking at Stonerock’s set, a hodgepodge of memorabilia reminiscent of an I Spy game.

There is some good stuff here, but IMHO, I think the script for Popular Monsters still needs some tweaking.

 

Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

Indiana Repertory Theatre: “Pipeline”

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Aime Donna Kellyn in the IRT’s “Pipeline.” Photo by Zach Rosing.

A powerful cast coupled with a controversial play makes for an evening of thoughtful and hard questions.

Pipeline is about Omari, a black student attending a private, mostly white school. His mother and father wanted him to have his best chance at a good life, so they bypassed the public high school where Omari’s mother teaches. However, Omari has had trouble at his school, and his “third strike” happens when he slams a teacher into a wall — and it’s surreptitiously videotaped by a student. Now Omari not only faces expulsion but also could face charges.

The story is about Omari as the stand-in for the African American males who are driven into the school-to-prison “pipeline,” but it’s also about the US school system and its inability to effectively teach our children while also providing them a safe environment.

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Cole Taylor in the IRT’s “Pipeline.” Photo by Zach Rosing.

Cole Taylor plays the troubled Omari. Omari is conflicted because he knows what he did was wrong and he doesn’t want to hurt his mother, but he admits that he has a rage inside that he can’t suppress. Taylor communicates both sides of Omari, creating the whole teenager that has so much at stake. And while Omari’s physical assault of the teacher can’t really be justified, Taylor’s portrayal allows us to sympathize with the struggling boy. Jasmine, Omari’s girlfriend at school, played by Renika Williams, is his sounding board, but even she, as what she calls a “token” poor black girl at their prestigious school, can’t handle Omari’s mood swings anymore.

Aime Donna Kellyn as Omari’s mother, Nya, is losing her own battle with her rage. She has no idea what to do next as she sees her son’s future potentially being destroyed. Kellyn boils on stage — a barely contained geyser of emotions and helplessness. Omari’s semi-estranged overbearing father, Xavier, played by Andre Garner, offers no realistic help and only exacerbates Nya’s already overstressed state.

Constance Macy as Nya’s white colleague Laurie rails against the unrealistic expectations laid upon the staff. Macy is dynamic in that her performance is so vitriolic you can’t help but be cowed by her rants. Toussaint JeanLouis as Dun, a school security guard, is an example of those expectations. He is genial and upbeat, but though he is diligent, he makes little more than minimum wage at a demanding and dangerous job.

Visually, the staging takes on stark and then haunting presentations through the work of scenic designer Junghyun Georgia Lee and lighting designer Xavier Pierce. The ubiquitous fluorescent lighting of classrooms gives way to the projected words from “We Real Cool” by poet Gwendolyn Brooks — words that echo in the minds of Omari and Nya.

Directed by Raelle Myrick-Hodges, Pipeline asks questions that are relevant to everyone — white or black, parent or not. The repercussions of these kids’ experiences will affect the entirety of society. No one has solutions, but they are imperative. Pipeline helps get the dialogue going.

  • Through Nov. 11, various dates and times
  • $25+
  • http://www.irtlive.com
  • When you book tickets for a show with a post-show discussion, use the code CICF for a $10 discount.

POST-SHOW DISCUSSIONS

Friday, Oct. 26 following the 7:30 p.m. performance

Alicia Collins, community collaborations director at the Central Indiana Community Foundation, will facilitate a discussion with community leader panelists to relate the themes highlighted in Pipeline to Indianapolis.

Saturday, Oct. 27 following the 5 p.m. performance

Brian Payne, president and CEO of the Central Indiana Community Foundation, will facilitate a discussion with community leader panelists to relate the themes highlighted in Pipeline to Indianapolis.

Friday, Nov. 2 following the 7:30 p.m. performance

Tamara Winfrey-Harris, vice president of marketing & communications at the Central Indiana Community Foundation, will facilitate a discussion with community leader panelists to relate the themes highlighted in Pipeline to Indianapolis.

Saturday, Nov. 3 following the 5 p.m. performance

Pamela Ross, vice president of opportunity, equity, and inclusion at the Central Indiana Community Foundation, will facilitate a discussion with Jacob Allen, co-founder and CEO of pilotED Schools, and Dr. David Hampton, pastor of Light of the World Christian Church and deputy mayor of neighborhood engagement for the City of Indianapolis. They will focus on the effects and disparaging outcomes of African American males driven into the school-to-prison pipeline.

Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

Civic Theatre: “Anything Goes”

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Civic Theatre’s “Anything Goes”

Hoosiers love their hometown heroes, and one of the best and most beloved is Cole Porter. With good reason. His infections tunes helped shape the sound of an era. Hence why his musicals continue to attract theaters and audiences some 80 years later. Songs from Anything Goes such as “I Get a Kick Out of You,” “You’re the Top,” “It’s De-Lovely,” “Let’s Misbehave,” and “Blow, Gabriel, Blow” are ageless.

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Susie Harloff and Parrish Williams in Civic’s “Anything Goes”

Civic Theatre’s production captures that signature Porter spirit, anchored by the indomitable Susie Harloff as Reno Sweeney. There are many good reasons to see Civic’s show, but Harloff is the top. Her stage presence and pro vocals are everything you would expect from the confident Sweeney.

Kari Baker is lovely as Hope Harcourt, though Juddson Updike is hit and miss as love interest Billy Crocker. Of course, Anything Goes is really more comedy than love story, and Matt Bays as the effusively effeminate Lord Evelyn Oakleigh and Parrish Williams as the goofy gangster Moonface Martin provide in spades. Natalie Cruz is a firecracker as Erma.

Anything Goes wouldn’t be complete without the tap number to the titular song, and again, Civic doesn’t disappoint.

Everything comes together here — direction (Michael Lasley), choreography (Anne Beck), lighting (Ryan Koharchik), and music (Brent Marty) — to make this a delightful and de-lovely staging of a classic musical.

  • Through Oct. 27, Thursdays-Saturdays at 7 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m.
  • $25-$48
  • civictheatre.org

 

Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

Q Artistry and the Phoenix Theatre: “Cabaret Poe”

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Georgeanna Smith Wade, Ben Asaykwee, and Jaddy Ciucci in “Cabaret Poe” at the Phoenix Theatre. Photo by Zach Rosing.

Combine Edgar Allan Poe with Tim Burton and Edward Gorey, add a heaping scoop of self-aware, eccentric humor, and hit puree.

You now have Cabaret Poe: The Musical.

Sing: “It’s dark. It’s very, very dark …”

This is the 10th iteration of Ben Asaykwee’s comical take on some of Poe’s best-known works. However, this was my first time seeing it, so I came into the show with no preconceived notions, except knowing that my fellow critics raved about it. I came out of the show thinking this is one of the most bizarre, blatantly and unapologetically irreverent abuses of an author’s words since Disney desecrated Victor Hugo’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame — and given my penchant for the bizarre and irreverent, that is the highest compliment I can dole out. You have won my black heart.

If you like weird, you. must. see. this.

(Please note that I do not, however, have any love for the talking gargoyles, goat, and happy ending in that vapid Disney cartoon.)

Asaykwee plays fast and loose with the stories, as I believe Poe never said someone had “the wit of an artichoke” or that a body was being exhumed so her lover could once more “run [his] hands through her nappy red wig.” The macabre is set to often upbeat music. Then there’s the shadow dancer (Rebekah Taylor) with Freddie Kruger-like hands. Poe’s melodrama is spoofed. Even blips are smoothly handled with improv-ish humor. (Oops, I forgot to grab my umbrella while I interred you. Throw that to me through the wall.)

Even the opening announcements are forebodingly funny, such as the threat to kill you if you don’t turn off your cell phone.

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Georgeanna Smith Wade, Jaddy Ciucci, and Ben Asaykwee in “Cabaret Poe” at the Phoenix Theatre. Photo by Zach Rosing.

Asaykwee and Taylor are constants but the actresses portraying the two female characters trade off nights (Renae Stone, Georgeanna Smith Wade, Julie Lyn Barber, and Jaddy Ciucci), so the show you see could be slightly different from the one I saw Thursday night. All of the actors wear garb designed by Kat Robinson that looks like Victorian-goth shabby chic. I don’t know if Smith Wade’s costume was meant to have a tag marked “9” on the back, but even if it didn’t, it made me smirk, thinking of the animated, steampunk-ish movie 9. Asaykwee’s hair defies gravity.

Michael Lamirand’s gothic scenic design — reminiscent of the arches found at the entrance to cemeteries — sets the mood, and Zac Hunter’s lighting fleshes (or de-fleshes it, as the case may be) out the otherwise sparse stage.

Good stuff here for people like me who unashamedly have twisted minds and a warped sense of humor.

  • Through Nov. 4, Thursdays-Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. and Sundays at 2:30 p.m.
  • $24-$39
  • Phoenix Theatre Basile Stage
  • www.phoenixtheatre.org

Check out a preview here:

Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

Indiana Repertory Theatre: “Holmes and Watson”

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Rob Johansen, Nathan Hosner, and Michael Brusasco in Indiana Repertory Theatre’s “Holmes and Watson.” Photo by Alexis Morin.

Where is Sherlock?

Well, there seems to be three of him.

Years after Sherlock Holmes went missing and he was presumed dead, John Watson gets a call from the supervisor of an insane asylum located on a remote Scottish island. He has three patients who each claim to be the Sherlock Holmes. Dr. Evans asks Watson to come to the asylum and determine if one of these men is, in fact, the real deal.

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Torrey Hanson in the IRT’s “Holmes and Watson.” Photo by Alexis Morin.

Murder, machinations, mistaken identities … all the good elements of a Sherlock Holmes story, but this one was penned by Jeffrey Hatcher.

The IRT opened its 2018-2019 season with a masterful production. Directed by Risa Brainin, Watson and Holmes is an imposing kickoff for the season.

Everyone is the cast does a stellar job of creating intriguing characters, effectively pulling you into their world. And as should be expected for such a play, each cast member carries an aura of mystery about him or her.

Dr. Evans presents Watson with the three Sherlock candidates (Michael Brusasco, Nathan Hosner, and Rob Johansen), and each has a very different, very distinct personality.

As amicable as Dr. Evans seems, Henry Woronicz subtly injects an unsettling feeling in his demeanor and interactions with Watson, a telltale sign of things to come. Torrey Hanson gives us a somewhat pompous and blustery Watson, though his mannerisms speak of efficiency and intellect. Jennifer Johansen as the asylum’s matron has a stink-eye that is visceral yet amusing — as long as you aren’t on the receiving end. Even the orderly (Ryan Artzberger) gives off a creepy vibe with his disciple stick.

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.Henry Woronicz and Jennifer Johansen in the IRT’s “Holmes and Watson.” Photo by Zach Rosing.

Robert Mark Morgan’s brilliant stage design consists of clean, layered curves — fitting for a story that reveals layers upon layers as it unfolds — and mimics the operation of the renovated lighthouse in which the asylum resides. The modern angles seamlessly complement the Victorian characters. Michael Klaers’ lush lighting design washes over the stage and gives the set even more depth.

This is most certainly a show that is worth its ticket price, but it has a relatively short run, so be sure to book before you miss it.

Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

Buck Creek Players: “37 Postcards”

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Buck Creek Players’ “37 Postcards.” Photo credit: photogary.net

You really can’t beat a gnome-like grandma with Tourette’s. I say this so that you won’t skip over this show and wave it off as just another family comedy. Gnome. Grandma. Tourette’s.

Thirty-seven postcards over eight years are only about four a year. When your only son is wandering Europe listlessly, that small amount of communication could wreak havoc on a mother. Especially one that’s already a little … off.

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Dave Hoffman in Buck Creek Players’ “37 Postcards.” Photo credit: photogary.net

This makes it especially awkward when Avery (Dave Hoffman) brings his fiancée Gillian (Letitia Clemons) home to meet his family. His mother Evelyn (Marie McNelis) is aflutter with her anticipation. Avery had prepped Gillian on his “eccentric” family, but neither of them was ready for the incredulity that awaited them, beginning with a house that is sinking, a full-sized moose, his mother’s perpetual confusion,” and Aunt Ester’s (Tracy Brunner) geriatric phone sex “cottage industry.”

Hoffman’s progressively shocked expressions and reactions are priceless. You can almost hear, “Oh. My. God,” from his eyes alone. McNelis as his spacy mother is a convincing resident of the ether, a foil for Brunner’s unshakable ability to just roll with the bizarre, maintaining a matter-of-fact attitude and a straight face no matter what is happening around her.

And oh, there is bizarre.

That would be Avery’s grandmother, who has been living in “a little room off the kitchen” while Evelyn thought she was dead and even (she thought) attended her funeral. Wendy Brown is hysterical as the almost feral Nana, who has devolved into a stooped old woman in red feather slippers and a stunted vocabulary — much of which consists of curse words that she hurdles at Gillian.

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Wendy Brown in Buck Creek Players’ “37 Postcards.” Photo credit: photogary.net

Clemons as Gillian bravely tries to keep it together in the face of this amusement park fun house, including being chastised as the maid due to Evelyn’s Dory-like memory. Gillian even acquiesces to Avery’s dad, Stanford (Mike Harold), taking her out for midnight putting with glow-in-the-dark balls. But Gillian inevitably reaches a (deserved — or, given the outcome, maybe not) breaking point.

Of the strange household, Stanford’s eccentricity is the most normal. Harold is congenial and upbeat, probably the most innocuous of the family.

The story and its production, directed by Jan Jamison (who also designed the slightly tilted set), is lots of fun and well-done. Take the drive way out on Southeastern for this one.

  • Saturday and Sunday, Oct. 5-6 at 8 p.m. and Sunday, Oct. 7 at 2:30 p.m.
  • $18 adults; $16 children, students, and senior citizens (62+)
  • http://www.buckcreekplayers.com

 

Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

Footlite Musicals: “Brigadoon”

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Kristen Tschiniak (center) in Footlite Musicals’ “Brigadoon”

Brigadoon is a magical tale of a Scottish village that only appears every 100 years, leaving its residents safe in the 1700s when, for them, only one day has passed. Due to a poorly navigated hike, present-day travelers Jeff (Ethan Mathias) and Tommy (Charlie Metzger) are lost in the Highlands and happen to stumble upon Brigadoon.

This is a relatively well-known story, and for good reason. It’s funny and sweet, and it contains many enchanting musical numbers. Footlite captures the otherworld feel of the musical, and the cast’s impressive talent fills the stage. Each cast member holds his or her own, creating a well-put-together production.

Mathias and Metzger complement each other, with Mathias’s unapologetic pessimism and Metzger’s indecisiveness. When Tommy meets the charming Fiona (Sydney Norwalk), you can see that Tommy has found the meaning he has been searching for in his life.

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Sydney Norwalk and Charlie Metzger in Footlite Musicals’ “Brigadoon”

Norwalk’s sassy “Waitin’ for my Dearie” is soon overridden by her flirtatious duet with Metzger, “Heather on the Hill.” Donald Marter as Charlie gives a foot-stomping performance of “I’ll Go Home with Bonnie Jean,” and Kristen Tschiniak brings out Meg’s sauciness in “The Love of My Life.”

The prettily executed choreography by Linda Rees is accentuated by the women’s lovely twirling skirts designed by Karen Frye Knotts. A special nod to the exceptional choreography in “Sword Dance and Reel.” Set designer Bill Phelan imagined an area of isolated but lush landscape for the village.

Occasionally, the mikes need to be turned down, and the ensemble’s vocals are overridden by the leads or the orchestra in a few numbers. But these are minor quibbles for what is a lively and engaging show.

Director Paula Phelan and vocal director Damon Clevenger have created an experience that takes you along on their mystical journey.

  • Through Oct. 14, Thursdays-Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. and Sundays at 2:30 p.m.
  • $10-$25
  • Footlite.org
Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

Bard Fest: “The Merchant of Venice”

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Ryan Ruckman and and Zach Taylor in Bard Fest 2018 “Merchant of Venice”

First Folio Productions puts a small twist into their production that interprets a few lines, a few interactions in a completely different way. It’s not an unheard of approach, but it’s the first time I’ve seen it utilized.

This isn’t a spoiler alert because it’s revealed early: Antonio (Ryan Ruckman) and Bassanio (Zach Taylor) are lovers. This, for example, makes the last line of the play, spoken by Bassanio’s wife Portia, an “oh shit” moment: “Let us go in and charge us there upon inter’gatories, and we will answer all things faithfully.” This is accompanied by A Look from Portia.

I love it when people fuck with Shakespeare.

The women’s costuming by Danielle Buckel is prettily done in a 1940s style, but otherwise, the production is straightforward (sorry, I just can’t get around the word “straight”), and the company doesn’t shirk the anti-Semitism, so, just a heads up on that.

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Emily Bohn in Bard Fest 2018 “Merchant of Venice”

If you need a synopsis, here are the bare bones: Bassanio needs money, so Antonio co-signs a loan from Shylock. Bassanio wants to marry Portia, but her suitors must choose the right chest that contains her as the prize, like in a Cracker Jack box. Antonio’s investments go bottom up, and Shylock wants his payment in manflesh. Portia saves the day dressed in men’s clothes.

Shakespeare really liked crossdressing.

The whole cast does an admirable job of capturing the cadence and expression of Shakespeare’s language, making this an accessible production that novice or adept alike will enjoy thanks to Doug Powers’ direction and the actors’ commitment.

Emily Bohn as Portia is a classy, smart spitfire, the most colorful character besides Ryan Reddick as Shylock, who practically spits through his part. Ruckman mostly maintains a stoic persona — even as Shylock confronts him with a giant knife to get the infamous “pound of flesh” — until that “oh shit” moment. He fears for Bassanio under Portia’s wrath more than his own impromptu heart surgery. In contrast, Taylor is softer, more emotional.

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Ryan Reddick in Bard Fest 2018 “Merchant of Venice”

Dwuan Watson Jr. as the prince of Morocco and Ben Mathis as the prince of Arragon provide entertaining reactions to their opportunities to open the chests, and Mathis is also just funny, period, as Gratiano, as is Pat Mullen as Launcelot.

This is another good one to catch as Bard Fest continues into next weekend.

  • Friday, Oct. 5, 8 p.m.; Saturday, Oct. 6, 8 p.m.; Sunday, Oct. 7, 1:30 p.m.
  • $15 adult, $12 student/senior
  • IndyFringe building
  • www.indybardfest.com

 

(Side note: I often feel bad about not mentioning many of the crew — the people behind the scenes that help make the magic happen. But as is the case with many jobs, their best performances are the ones that you don’t notice … where lighting and sound blend seamlessly into the show. It’s easy to get distracted by, say, an erratic spotlight and call someone out on it, but when everything goes right, we sometimes forget to consciously admire the work of these invaluable people. So to ALL production crewmembers of any show on any stage, you rock.)

 

Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

Bard Fest: “Romeo and Juliet”

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Eli Robinson and Kayla Lee in Catalyst Repertory’s “Romeo and Juliet” at Bard Fest 2018

The best part of this staging of Romeo and Juliet is the fight choreography, so thank you fight choreographer Sarah Tam (who also plays Benvolio) for keeping my eyes from glazing over.

But the most important thing that I want to say about Catalyst Repertory’s production: slow. down. Under director Zachariah Stonerock, some of the actors speak so fast that I felt I was watching Romeo and Juliet on fast forward. This leaves little room for the actors to emote properly. Kin to this is enunciation, especially at that speed. I’ve seen at least a dozen incarnations of this play, but sometimes I still had a hard time keeping up with the dialogue. However, even at this furious pace, the show clocks in at almost exactly two hours to the minute, with no intermission. That’s grueling for both the actors and the audience. I can’t help but think that one of the 90-minute abridged versions may have been a better choice, allowing more engaging character portrayals and a more streamlined production overall.

While Mercurtio (Kelsey VanVoorst) gets to go crazy, everyone else is relatively tame in his or her deliveries and interactions with other characters. Physicality gives the audience important insight into what is being said (and more importantly, what is being implied). Too often, the actors are merely speaking while just looking at each other.

The black-and-white, modern costuming and non-period music doesn’t live up to the initial promise of an edgy version of a play that is already over-produced.

  • Sunday, Sept. 30, 5 p.m.; Thursday, Oct. 4, 8 p.m.; Saturday, Oct. 6, 7:30 p.m.; Sunday, Oct. 7, 5 p.m.
  • $15 adult, $12 student/senior
  • IndyFringe building
  • www.indybardfest.com
Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

Bard Fest: “Much Ado about Nothing”

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Steve Kruze and Christine Kruze in “Much Ado about Nothing” at Bard Fest 2018

Many people find the antiquated language of Shakespeare hard to grasp, but The Carmel Theatre Company’s cast, under the direction of Laura Kuhn, does a marvelous job of delivering the lines in such a way that we can easily track the story. CTC plays Shakespeare straight, but their copious use of body language translates the words, helping us grasp even the subtlest jibes or phrases, such as gestures that illustrate sexual innuendos, making the play more enjoyable and humorous. Many people don’t even realize just how funny and even raunchy Shakespeare’s comedies can be when done right.

Much Ado about Nothing is one of Shakespeare’s most famous comedies, but if you need a synopsis, it can be boiled down to two sets of lovers combatting different obstacles. Claudio (Jeffrey Bird) rejects his bride Hero (Elysia Rohn) because she has been framed to look less than virtuous. Benedick (Steve Kruze) and Beatrice (Christine Kruze) see each other as archnemeses, but a plan is made by their friends to get the two together.

The best at bringing his character to life is Steve Kruze as Benedick. He is flippant, theatrical, and oh so expressive. He works well against the sharp-tonged Beatrice played by Christine Kruze (who also happens to be his wife in real life). Both have appeared on many stages around the Indianapolis area, so you may recognize them.

Costuming is inspired by the time period, and Jake Peacock’s set design is utilitarian, but it moves around more than the actors do, which, really, is unnecessary.

The cast is huge, so I won’t go into each and every actor’s performance, but as you have probably already deduced, this is a Bard Fest show well worth bookmarking.

  • Saturday, Sept. 29, 7:30 p.m.; Sunday, Sept. 30, 1 p.m.; Friday, Oct. 5, 7:30 p.m.; Saturday, Oct. 6, 1:30 p.m.; Sunday, Oct. 7, 1 p.m.
  • $15 adult, $12 student/senior
  • IndyFringe building
  • www.indybardfest.com

 

Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

Carmel Community Players: “Forever Plaid”

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Carmel Community Players: “Forever Plaid”

There’s nothing quite like crooning by four dead guys.

The Plaids are a (fictional) group from the 1950s whose short career was cut even shorter by a car crash with a bus full of parochial high school girls. The students survived; the group didn’t. Now, the stars have aligned and they have their ticket out of limbo: In order to complete their unfinished business, they have the chance to perform the concert they never got to in life.

Darren Gowan as Sparky, Syd Loomis as Jinx, Rich Phipps as Frankie, and Howard Baetzhold as Smudge joke and harmonize their way through some of the best-loved hits from that era. Their goofy banter, distinct personalities, and on-stage bumbling are endearing.

Some of the highlights include The Ed Sullivan Show in three minutes and eleven seconds, “Crazy ’Bout Ya Baby” with giant toilet plungers, and a Jamaican mix complete with straw hats and party lights. Each of them gets to showcase his particular vocal talents, and they don’t disappoint. Baetzhold’s “Shangri-La / Rags to Riches” had me particularly impressed with his rich bass. The overall enthusiasm and vocal talent on stage can’t be denied.

They are backed by Sandy Baetzhold (who also directs) on piano and percussionist Richard Leap. The choreography sometimes stumbles (some intentionally as a gag — the guys have been dead for decades), but it’s a minor quibble given the plaid-tastic fun being had.

  • Through Oct. 7, Fridays-Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. and Sundays at 2:30 p.m.
  • $18-$20
  • The Cat
  • www.carmelplayers.org

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Carmel Community Players: “Forever Plaid”

 

Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

Epilogue Players: “Becoming Dr. Ruth”

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Diann Ryan in Epilogue Players’ “Becoming Dr. Ruth”

Most people are familiar with the name “Dr. Ruth,” immediately connecting her to her famous media appearances and series of books (and even a board game). What most people aren’t aware of is the arduous path the diminutive, spunky woman had to take to eventually become the famous sociologist-turned-sex therapist. Just some of these events include being part of the Kindertransport at the age of 10 during WWII, being a rebel spy, and working toward her degrees as a single mother.

While Becoming Dr. Ruth includes her expertise and commentary in the field of sexology, with her matter-of-fact style that makes her advice so humorous, most of the play is her first-person account of her history: how she lived it, anecdotes, and observations. And it’s simply fascinating.

The audience are visitors to her home. It’s 1997, and her third husband, Fred, died three months ago. After 35 years in her apartment in Manhattan, she has decided to move. As she packs, she tells us about her experiences and obstacles—in between phone calls from movers and various family members. She’s chatty and affable, but you also get glimpses of her pain from some ordeals, such as losing her family to a concentration camp.

bookIn this one-woman show directed by Ed Mobley, Diann Ryan is a powerhouse buzzing with life. She never lets her energy level drop, maintaining Dr. Ruth’s perpetual motion and personality. She pulls the audience in, thoroughly creating the suspension of disbelief—you feel as if you are in the room with this plucky woman. I can only image Ryan bolting down Red Bulls during intermission.

Set designer Ron Roessler’s apartment is a cluttered mess, as Dr. Ruth admits she is a packrat. The window in her living room doubles as a screen for photos and graphics that illustrate her stories. The scenes of Jews during WWII are haunting, but we also see her joy in her grandchildren and her accomplishments.

This makes for both a history lesson/biography and a funny and moving show that has you leaving the theater inspired by Dr. Ruth’s durability and gift of positivity.

  • Through Sept. 30, Thursdays-Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m.
  • $15; $13 for seniors 65 and older; $12 for Epilogue members
  • www.epilogueplayers.com
Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

Phoenix Theatre: “Bright Star”

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Phoenix Theatre’s “Bright Star”

The Phoenix Theatre opened its 2018–2019 season with a musical that takes the hoedown to a new level but also tells a story full of both sorrow and hope. And there’s a lot of light-heartedness in between.

Molly Garner as Alice Murphy opens with a rousing number that says this is her story — a tale that is full of the material she later tells an aspiring writer that a good piece needs: one of loving, losing, and living. The musical, written and composed by Steve Martin and Edie Brickell, is set in North Carolina, primarily during the mid-1940s but with flashbacks to Alice’s life in 1923.

It’s 1946, and Billy Cane (Ian Laudano) has returned home after serving in World War II. He reunites with his father (Joey Collins) and his childhood friend Margo (Betsy Norton). Billy has always wanted to be a writer, and Margo has consistently encouraged him, even while he was overseas. So Billy decides to move from their rural community and goes to the city to submit his work to a prestigious magazine. There, he meets Alice, the force behind the magazine, and her assistants, Daryl (John Vessels) and Lucy (Ashley Dillard).

Garner dominates the show with a striking performance, moving between country bumpkin with dreams of college to sophisticated executive with an intimidating reputation. But Laudano is the bright star with the richest voice and a sweet disposition, with Patrick Clements as Jimmy Ray, Alice’s beau during her time in the country, as a close second. Rae and Garner perform a gorgeous duet in Act 2.

We don’t see Charles Goad in the role of villain often, but he convincingly makes Mayor Josiah Dobbs, Jimmy Ray’s father, a cold-hearted bastard. Vessels is a riot as the effeminate Daryl. Dismissive arrogance to drunken happy dance, his scenes are always entertaining.

The actors are directed by Suzanne Fleenor and backed by an impressive nine-piece orchestra (nine!) under the musical direction of Brent Marty.

The choreography sometimes gets a little crowded, and occasionally the band overwhelms the vocals, but I’m still giving the show a full endorsement. While I am partial to musicals in general, the Phoenix’s production inspired me enough to get the Broadway soundtrack. 

  • Through Oct. 7, Thursdays at 7 p.m., Fridays-Saturdays at 8 p.m., and Sundays at 2 p.m.
  • $24-$39
  • www.phoenixtheatre.org

Check out a preview here:

Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

Mud Creek Players: “Exit the Body”

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Mud Creek Players’ “Exit the Body”

Crane Hammond, a famous mystery writer, just wants some quiet time in the New England countryside. She rents a house up the hill from her friend Lillian, and everything seems lovely. Until a Narnia-like closet keeps producing dead bodies.

Exit the Body contains all the aspects of a classic farce, scene-chomping characters, mistaken identities, close-call entrances and exits, a missing treasure, madcap chases, and even a Scooby-Doo-like ending.

Barcia Miller Alejos directs this romp with a cast that’s enthusiastic and having infectious fun. Crane, played by Linda Eberharter, takes the growing intrigues around her with alacrity—when she’s not fainting. Her friend Lillian, Judy McGroarty, is a rascal, being a polygamist and pranking her friend by placing the first “dead” body in the closet. The housekeeper Jenny (Savannah Jay), the real estate agent Helen (Ann Ellerbrook), and sheriff/taxi driver/man of all trades Vernon (Kevin Shadle) provide the over-the-top silliness.

But the best is Crane’s assistant, Kate, played by Barb Weaver. Her consistent, deadpan snark is excellent.

While the production may not be absolutely perfect, the experience is nonetheless enjoyable. Mud Creek makes you feel like family, and their production teams and actors practically are in their combined love of and commitment to live theater. This quaint little company puts the “community” in “community theater.”

  • Sept. 14-28, Fridays-Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sunday, Sept. 23, 2:30 p.m.
  • $15 (Sunday $13)
  • www.mudcreekplayers.org
     
Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

Fonseca Theatre Company: “Building the Wall”

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Clay Mabbitt in the Fonseca Theatre Company’s “Building the Wall”

The new Fonseca Theatre’s inaugural show is a political gut-punch. Robert Schenkkan’s Building the Wall portrays a potential future under the Trump Administration where radical measures are taken to eliminate the “threat” of illegal immigrants. The gruesome potential is laid out with no spin-doctor to soften the blow.

Set in a prison visiting room, the play is an intense conversation between Rick, a former prison supervisor—the one now wearing the orange jumpsuit—and a college professor, Gloria, who wants to pick his mind for answers about the events that led to his incarceration, giving Rick the opportunity to tell the world his side of the story.

Rick is defensive, fierce, and a Trump supporter. Gloria is appalled by him and self-righteous in her own liberal viewpoints. They volley accusations about Trump vs. Obama, but no one wins any of these numbers games.

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Milicent Wright in the Fonseca Theatre Company’s “Building the Wall”

Clay Mabbitt’s Rick is torn apart. We get (too much) information on Rick’s past, but the integral parts of the dialogue show us how he was snowballed into a situation similar to those who ran the Nazi death camps. Mabbitt knows Rick is inherently aware of his culpability in the events, but he also has Rick firmly in the self-justified position of “just following orders.” Mabbitt’s agitation reflects both Rick’s anger and the weight of his guilt.

Milicent Wright as Gloria takes her character from certainty to incredulity to horror as she takes in Rick’s story. She comes into the room expecting one thing and instead is left reeling when faced with unfiltered realties. But in the play, Gloria’s character is really used as a sounding board for Rick’s cathartic admissions.

The series of events leading up to the immigrant camps is easy to believe—too easy to believe. It is a future that feels too chillingly possible.

The show drags some, but this isn’t necessarily director Bryan Fonseca or the actors’ faults. There is a lot of lead-up that bogs the show down, even with its short 90-minute run time.

This is Fonseca’s fourth time as a founding member of a theater. This and the next production will be held at their temporary spot at Indy Convergence, but the theater company has just closed on a permanent location, which will hopefully be open by their third show.

  • Through Oct. 7, Fridays at 8 p.m., Saturdays at 5 and 8 p.m., and Sundays at 2 p.m.
  • $25; $20 students; $15 for Near West residents
  • Indy Convergence
  • https://fonsecatheatre.org/
Posted in Indianapolis theater: previews, Indianapolis theater: reviews

Openings for the weekend of 8/24

As far as I can tell, it’s still all Fringe this weekend. There are new Fringe shows opening, though, so be sure to check out http://www.indyfringe.org/ for details.

There are over 70 shows offered at Fringe. I only got to see 15 — I wish I had been able to see more, but every free moment I had last weekend I devoted to Fringe shows. So, of those I saw, I thought I would pick my favorites (that are still playing this weekend).

No. 1: Jollyship Whiz-Bang

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“Jollyship the Whiz-Bang” at IndyFringe 2018. (Ryan Ruckman, center)

If you like weird and crass and inexplicable humor with puppets and music, this is it for you.

And the rest, in no particular order …

They Shall Take Up Serpents: a look into personal power and the subculture of snake-handling

The Pope Walks into a Bar, Father Ned!: an homage to the TV show Father Ted, but hysterical whether or not you’ve ever seen Father Ted

Queen Day: a concert by the Indianapolis Men’s chorus of hard-rockin’, high-energy awesome

Intrusion: a riveting look at rape culture through the eyes of those we don’t usually associate with it

Broadway’s Leading Ladies: a concert of three women wowing you with show tunes both old and new

 

 

Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

IndyFringe Festival: “Jollyship the Whiz-Bang”

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“Jollyship the Whiz-Bang” at IndyFringe 2018. (Ryan Ruckman, center)

Imagine an amalgamation of Avenue Q, Jake and the Never Land Pirates, and Pirates of the Caribbean. Except a lot dirtier. And with more of a random plotline. And a floating chalice of blood. And a treacherous talking crab wearing a derby. And if Jake were a closet homosexual in love with Cubby. And witches are men with no vagina.

If you found any of that offensive, turn back now.

If you found any of that funny, then let me make this clear, as I am saying it now instead of at the end: Go. See. This. Show. This is what Fringe is all about for me: stumbling upon the so brilliantly deranged it almost defies description. The show immediately spoke to my sick sense of humor.

Whimsical meets idiosyncratic in a singular spectacle that is described as “a pirate-puppet-rock odyssey” created by Nick Jones and Raja Azar. Cocaine-fueled Captain Clamp (Ryan Ruckman) outstrips the worst of Jack Sparrow while pushing his crew relentlessly toward the fabled Party Island. Ruckman chews up the scenery (I love that phrase, so piss off) and spits it out. Skeevy (Dave Pulsue) is his determined if ignored voice of reason, a loyal yet frustrated first mate. (I can’t help this … I have a KID. I know the damned SONGS. And Pulsue plays the GUITAR. Bones from JNLP — but not an imbecile … and hella cooler … and hot.)

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Paige Scott and Dave Peluse in “Jollyship the Whiz-Bang” at IndyFringe 2018

Paige Scott goads the crew toward mutiny while sporting Viking horns on her derby, spreading her own ubiquitous humor, and Leah Brenner controls the creepy crab that insinuates itself into the crew by killing, laying eggs in, and eating the parrot that was meant as a peace offering for the captain.

So much great fuckery here.

The entire cast deserves mention because they add so much to the show, so here are those I haven’t noted: Aaron Stillerman, Kallen Ruston, Chris Brown, and Dan T. Directed and produced by Callie Burk-Hartz.

Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

IndyFringe Festival: “Haunted: Tales Told and True”

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Laura Packer

I love storytelling, so this show immediately made it into my list of must-sees. I’m glad it did because Loren Niemi and Laura Packer can twist a tale that makes you shiver, sigh, or even sad, and sometimes all at the same time.

Each session is different, so the stories I heard could be different from what you get. One constant is that each session includes a storytelling improv. Suggestions are taken from the crowd, and one of the tellers will spin a yarn on the spot.

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Loren Niemi at Patrick’s Cabaret in 2017. hwww.patrickscabaret.org.

The night I attended, Loren regaled us with a story about his time in the Boy Scouts. This was not the modern Scouting we know today; his Scout days were probably 50-odd years ago. His pack master’s creed? “It’s good for boys to suffer; it makes them men.” But what started out as scary stories told in the dark during a secluded camping trip ended in a sobering experience.

Laura told a story she found when doing some research into Indianapolis. (Both are from Minnesota.) Bypassing the most well-known stories from Indy — the House of Blue Lights, Hannah House, etc. — she told a tale I had never heard about a thieving milkmaid in Crown Hill Cemetery in the 1940s. She also told us about her first-person experiences while living in two haunted houses.

I thoroughly enjoyed this presentation and recommended this show. But if you don’t make it, I highly suggest checking out Indianapolis’s own Storytelling Arts of Indiana, which has a full season of storytellers from across the nation.

Produced by Niemi and Packer Productions

Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

IndyFringe Festival: “Hers Is the Head of a Wolf”

This is a confusing play.

wolfWhile mental health and sexual assault are both worthy topics of discussion, the script for Hers Is the Head of the Wolf is sketchy and unorganized, with no character development, and the audience is left wondering just what the story was about. We are given little initial information about main character Elise’s situation, and it remains that way for much too long. What has caused Elise (Raven Newbolt) to be in a state of constant fear? What does Danny (Riley Leonard) have to do with it? Why is her therapist, Dr. Hamilton (Michael Tingley), so forthcoming and accommodating? Does Elise suffer from PTSD, schizophrenia, or both? Slowly feeding the audience tiny morsels of information over time is an often-used playwright’s convention to keep us engaged, but there isn’t enough substance here to use that tactic. We are left frustrated and hungry.

The actors aren’t given much to work with. Elise and Hamilton are one-note characters, and Danny gets two: concern and anger. The conclusion is just as bewildering. One moment Danny is on the phone, and the next, he’s on the ground. When did he even get inside her home?

I’m sorry to say it, but there are too many other good shows playing at Fringe to give this one a recommendation.

Produced by Monument Theatre Company

Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

IndyFringe Festival: “ARCADEFIRE! [The Redemption of Billy Mitchell]”

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Kayla Lee, Anthony Nathan, Luke McConnell, Jim Banta, and Ryan Powell in Catalyst Repertory Theatre’s “ARCADEFIRE! [The Redemption of Billy Mitchell].” Photo by Gary Nelson
It’s the 1980s — the heyday for cabinet video games. Billy Mitchell (Luke McConnell) is the King of Kong, holding the world record for the highest score in Donkey Kong. His self-described “nemesis,” Steve Wiebe (Anthony Nathan), is obsessed with beating Billy. Fast forward a few decades. Steve remains obsessed, and his long-suffering wife (Kayla Lee) is on the edge. While Billy still holds the record for the highest Donkey Kong score, he has moved on with his life, opening a chain of hot-sauce-centric restaurants. But then Brian (Jim Banta), who always came in second to Billy’s scores and now appears to be something of a personal assistant, informs him that he is being accused of cheating and stripped of his titles. To redeem his gaming reputation, Billy decides to hold a Kong Off and brings in his old gaming referee, Walter (Ryan Powell). Devilry is planned, loyalties are weighed, and priorities are amended.

The show is cheesy as hell, but it’s supposed to be. After all, what wasn’t cheesy in the ’80s? And to sharpen that cheese flavor, the show is a musical.

Casey Ross wrote the play’s book, inspired (with liberties … lots of liberties) by the true story of Billy Mitchell, and Christopher McNeely created the original music. What the cast lacks in vocal talent they more than make up for with how seriously they take the silliness. Intentional overacting and ridiculous dance moves are executed with perfectly straight faces (after all, Billy is obsessed with perfection in all things). The plot gets really nuts as Steve becomes more and more intent on exacting his personal revenge.

Nostalgia and quirky entertainment coalesce into an over-the-top musical with its own kind of record scores — no barrels needed.

(Technical note: I do recommend eliminating or moving the screen that hangs to the right of the audience. Those of us on that side can’t see anything that is going on. I’d also love to see Steve initially drinking Jolt and then progressing to Red Bull.)

Produced by Catalyst Repertory Theatre

Addendum: At some point, I will post about my encounter with Billy Mitchell at the Sunday performance, but right now, getting the rest of my Fringe reviews up takes precedence. I’ve been told it’s a funny story simply because I went into the show having no idea whatsoever who Billy Mitchell is or that I was meeting him at the theater’s entrance. This caused much hilarity for one of my nerd friends.

Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

IndyFringe Festival: “Two M@therf#ck*rs on a Ledge”

Two MFers on a LedgeAllyn (Ronn Johnston) is, quite literally, out on a ledge. His therapist, Mattie (Veronica Wylie), finds him there and pleads with him to come back inside, but instead, he ends up coercing her out onto that ledge with him.

Allyn has narcissistic personality disorder, which causes exaggerated feelings of self-importance. This is very closely related to hero syndrome, in which people think they are actual heroes and put themselves in dangerous situations because they believe they can survive them. As Allyn says, “Heroes don’t stay where it’s safe.” Mattie is a PhD candidate whose dissertation is on the pathology of heroism, most likely why she is Allyn’s therapist since his treatment could add to her research.

In the end, the ledge is a metaphor for vulnerability — facing the things that scare us or have scarred us and taking chances in life. And Allyn and Mattie discover that we become our own heroes.

Johnston is immediately sympathetic as a mental health patient who is trying to cope with his manic stream of thoughts. He oscillates; is he a real hero or not? Are heroes even real at all? This mental struggle makes him twitchy, agitated. Allyn works through this with an impromptu therapy session on the ledge with Mattie that includes discussions of heroes ranging from comic book characters to Jesus.

Mattie slowly moves from the role of therapist to a similarly vulnerable person searching for her own answers as to what makes a hero. Wylie lets this transition happen incrementally so that in the end, Mattie’s personal stories and confessions are realistic experiences.

But while the show is insightful, I felt that it dragged, as if it was too long. I kept anticipating the resolution only for the story to take another turn. By the time it did end, I was more than ready for it to wrap up.

Produced by Wisdom Tooth Theatre Project

Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

IndyFringe Festival: “Broadway’s Leading Ladies”

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Rayanna Bibbs

Broadway’s Leading Ladies? Yes, yes they are.

Another Fringe concert offering, this tour de force gives their target audience just what they want: show tunes performed with presence and panache.

Shelbi Berry, Rayanna Bibbs, and Virginia Vasquez infuse their songs with passion and vocal dedication — and even sometimes with humor. From their opening, “The Schuyler Sisters” from Hamilton, you are pulled farther in with each note, each number, all the way to the end.

The show combines the well-known (“Defying Gravity”) with lesser-known selections (“Gimmie Gimmie”) for an eclectic showcase of musical soundtracks. The tenor of each song is taken into account and performed accordingly, from the powerfully emoted “And I’m Telling You I’m Not Going” from Dreamgirls by Bibbs to the playful “What Is this Feeling” from Wicked by Berry and Vasquez. The show closes with a beautiful melding of the trio’s voices in “Climb Every Mountain” from The Sound of Music. And each song is pitch-perfect — as is the sound system (kudos to the tech team for pulling that off, especially with the inclusion of live musicians).

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Virginia Vasquez

Other standouts are Berry on “Don’t Rain on My Parade” from Funny Girl; “Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man” from Showboat and “Daddy’s Son” from Ragtime by Bibbs; “No One Is Alone” from Into the Woods and “Gimmie Gimmie” from Thoroughly Modern Millie by Vasquez; and the duet “In His Eyes” from Jekyll and Hyde by Berry and Vasquez.

Austin Schlenz gets some giggles as the placard changer. He struts on stage in a gold outfit reminiscent of Rocky in The Rocky Horror Picture Show. (Strangely, that is the second time I have referenced Rocky Horror in a Fringe review this year …)

This is the second concert I have seen at Fringe (the other being Queen Day) that has blown me away with the talent on stage. Proof positive that the Indianapolis area has some top-quality singers in our midst.

Yup, this is another one you must see.

Song list:

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Shelbi Berry

  • “The Schuyler Sisters” from Hamilton
  • “Don’t Rain on My Parade” from Funny Girl
  • “Someone to Watch Over Me” from Oh, Kay!
  • “Anything Goes” from Anything Goes
  • “Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man” from Showboat
  • “At the Ballet” from A Chorus Line
  • “I Have Dreamed” from The King and I
  • “No One Is Alone” from Into the Woods
  • “Daddy’s Son” from Ragtime
  • “Gimmie Gimmie” from Thoroughly Modern Millie
  • “In His Eyes” from Jekyll and Hyde
  • “What Is this Feeling” and “Defying Gravity” from Wicked
  • “And I’m Telling You I’m Not Going” from Dreamgirls
  • “Climb Every Mountain” from The Sound of Music

Produced by Magic Thread Cabaret

Check out their “The Schuyler Sisters” from Hamilton: 

https://www.facebook.com/MagicThreadCabaret/videos/705594489795642/

Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

IndyFringe Festival: “Intrusion”

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The one-woman show performed by Qurrat Ann Kadwani is intense and eye-opening — and riveting.

Twenty years in the future, rape has been eradicated — or so everyone thought. One night, the story’s narrator sees a woman enter the hospital across the street. She is compelled to follow her and discovers that this woman has come to the ER because she has been raped. Kadwani’s narrator relates the event in a rapid-fire delivery that emphasizes the urgency of the topic.

Over the next 50 minutes, Kadwani takes on eight characters — narrator, reporter, prosecutor, day trader, psychologist, politician, school kid, and professor. Each has a unique viewpoint of rape culture and some expose alarming facts or attitudes that drive home how vital education and awareness of the topic are and how it reaches into societal aspects no one thinks about it affecting.

The show also touches on how women are still seen as “less than” — the word “rape” could apply to many actions that are set against women, even in an idyllic world that is supposedly rape-free.

Kadwani creates distinct characters, showcasing her quick-change versatility. The heavy subject matter is counterweighted by its top-notch presentation and fascinating content. This is another IndyFringe show that should not be missed.

Produced by QK Company Inc.

To make this show even more interesting, it is playing Off Broadway!

Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

IndyFringe Festival: “Betsy Carmichael’s BINGO Palace”

Let there be Bingo.

betsyI never thought “interactive Bingo” could be so much fun, but Betsy Carmichael’s BINGO Palace is a high-camp trip. Reverence for the art that is Bingo, lots of stand-up comedy, and actual Bingo games (with prizes!) come together for a show that even the most introverted (such as myself) can enjoy (even if I am glad that I wasn’t one of the audience members brought on stage for Bingo balls arts-and-crafts or the Bingo wedding).

The actual Bingo games take second seat to Betsy’s Bingo commentary, storytelling, and and sexual innuendo — balls are a big deal, of course — with backup from her ex-brother-in-law Chip. 

But the interactive part is when the audience gets to join in. During Bingo play, certain letter-number combinations require actions or phrases — think Rocky Horror but with Bingo and flying candy instead of rice.

It’s a shame that you only have one more chance to see Betsy before she flits off to Bingo halls unknown, so do your best to squeeze in some ball time before they’re gone.

Produced by Betsibu Productions.

Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

IndyFringe Festival: “Puddin Tane”

Puddin TaneTwo high schoolers sit side by side outside the principal’s office awaiting their fates for skipping school. One, Lisa, has no parents and a lonely hymen. The other, Angel, aka Crystal Queer, has a dad so far up his ass that his mustache started to tickle his ass. Of course, they become fast friends.

Both are known for their dumpster diving outside of the church because cool stuff can often be scavenged there. Lisa, especially, likes sifting through the trash to find objects that she can use in her art projects. As much as she hates high school, she desperately wants to go to art school — not “solve for X.” It’s at this dumpster that Lisa meets Puddin Tane, a creepy priest who smokes pot and wears sunglasses all the time.

The acting is somewhat clumsy, and the storyline isn’t focused. (Is this about being an outcast or a dysfunctional family — neither is fully explored.) This one still needs some work.

Produced by Theatre Sleuth of Indianapolis.

Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

IndyFringe Festival: “Paper Swords: A Musical”

Paper Swords A MusicalAny member past or present of the SCA or fan of LARPing will sympathize with the characters in Paper Swords. Named for the homemade armaments ubiquitous in such groups, the play depicts two factions within a single kingdom being forced to fight over their land, cleaving the kingdom after the battle.

The drama, the rivalries, the friendships, and the politics of these self-contained worlds all play parts, especially when a group has an organized hierarchy over a long period of time.

If you have never been a part of or known someone who was a part of this scene, you might not “get” the people who immerse themselves into these fantasy worlds. Their alter egos are just as real and vital to them as their mundane lives — often the fantasy can even bleed into the reality in their personal interactions. And often they take themselves very, even too, seriously.

Paper Swords ups the ante by putting all this conflict into a musical setting — and a surprisingly good one. Donovan Whitney plays Avery, knight of Ferndrake, who falls for Elena, knight of Silvemore (Alicia Hamaker), both part of the kingdom of Eleren. Avery initially approaches Elena’s courtship by what he calls “wooing with 1500s lingo” before they finally settle on laser tag. The relationship is going well until the imminent battle is upon them.

Within Ferndrake is another tentative, awkward relationship that is building between Liz (Jordan Brown) and Will (Clarke Remmers) that makes for more comic relief than conflict.

With Sarah Tam as the Silvemore knight Bren, the main players in the show exhibit some solid singing and acting, and they are backed by a band behind the curtain. The show is just as sweet as it is entertaining, funny, and worth a spot on your Fringe stops.

Written by Matt Day and Kelsey Tharp.

Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

IndyFringe Festival: “The Globe”

The Globe ProgramThe Globe is an all-female Shakespeare company. Out of the blue, its founder, Bella (Fawzia Istrabadi) is fired, soon to be replaced by a man coming in from out of state, James. Coincidentally, that night she has a Tinder date with Jackie (Spencer North), who happens to be a friend of James and is helping him get settled into his new apartment.

Bella’s initial reaction? Dial assassinationstation.gov.

While she does back down from the assassin idea, with the advice from said assassin (Ky Doyle), she is still intent on dislodging James from his new position while not telling Jackie that James is her replacement. She’s also trying to avoid the subject with her friend and stage manager, Mel (Lucy Fitzgerald).

The script has real potential, and the actresses performing it show talent. The concept is great, but the show feels truncated, short even for a Fringe setting, but that gives it plenty of space to be workshopped and refined into what can become a funny and thoughtful piece of theater.

The show is presented by the Earlham College Fringe Company, and the aforementioned actresses are joined on stage by Briana Miller and Grace Nickeson as members of the theater company.

Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

IndyFringe Festival: “Queen Day”

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There is so much f*cking awesome in this show.

It’s not a “theater” production in the sense that it’s not a play. It’s actually a concert performed by members of the Indianapolis Men’s Chorus, an homage to the band Queen and other music that falls into a similar genre. I was fan-struck by the opening number, “We Will Rock You,” and they had my heart when Hedwig took the stage.

These guys put on a full-energy, sexy, goofy performance even at the 10:30 p.m. show. And that powerful presentation remained consistent throughout.

The singers showcase some voices that leave you in awe of their talent, and the choreography — a mishmash of headbanging, grunge-y style movements, and song-synced steps — adds more strength and even some humor to the numbers. Hedwig’s costuming is perfect, and the cameo by Marie Antoinette is hysterical. They also perform with a backing band, which gives the show more substance than if they had merely been singing with prerecorded music.

Just fantastic stuff going on here.

Sure, there are some tech issues, but really, with the quick turnover of stages for different productions, you have to give them some leeway. Lots of sound equipment, mikes, amps, etc.

This is another not-to-be-missed opportunity.

Song list (hope I didn’t mess this up because I was too taken in by the show to keep consistent notes):

  1. “We Will Rock You”: Queen
  2. “American Idiot”: Green Day
  3. “Somebody to Love”: Queen
  4. “Don’t Stop Me Now”: Queen
  5. “Basket Case”: Green Day
  6. “Origin of Love” from Hedwig and the Angry Inch
  7. “Fat Bottom Girls”: Queen
  8. “Gethsemane” from Jesus Christ Superstar
  9. “What You Own” from Rent
  10. “Boulevard of Broken Dreams”: Green Day
  11. “Wig in a Box” from Hedwig and the Angry Inch
  12. “Killer Queen”: Queen
  13. “Another One Bites the Dust”: Queen
  14. “21 Guns”: Green Day
  15. “Jesus of Suburbia”: Green Day
  16. “Bohemian Rhapsody”: Queen
  17. “We Are the Champions”: Queen

 

Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

IndyFringe Festival: “The Pope Walks into a Bar, Father Ned!”

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Blake Mellencamp, Jeff Kirkwood, David Molloy, and Kate Duffy Sim in “The Pope Walks into a Bar” at IndyFringe

While The Pope Walks into a Bar was inspired by the TV show Father Ted, I assure you that you don’t have to have seen the TV series to appreciate this howlingly funny production.

Perpendicular Island is a remote Irish isle that boasts 75 residents. It’s also the location of a Viagra factory, which spews its own special kind of fumy pollution. Take a whiff to get you stiff. The island also houses the Perpendicular Island Parochial House, a sort of exile in the wastelands for wayward priests. Father Ned (Jeff Kirkwood) gambled away funds that were meant for much-needed repairs to a convent — yet he is the most responsible and level-headed member of the household. Father Dermott (Blake Mellencamp) is a sweet man but seriously touched in the head. Father Finn (David Molloy) is downright feral. He communicates mostly in grunts and drinks his whiskey from a Hello Kitty water bottle. His favorite pastime seems to be looking at women in bikinis, whether in magazines or on his ViewMaster, followed by a close second of running around in his knickers … or nothing at all.

When Bishop Brannigan (Jim Lucas) arrives to oversee an impending visit from the pope, things start to get even more interesting.

The housekeeper, Mrs. O’Boyle (Kate Duffy Sim), is described by the bishop as coming from the sixth ring of hell, but as the show progresses, she moves down another ring — and her mind deteriorates along with her into buckets of crazy. While her cooking skills are questionable, she does play a mean bodhran.

Clerical Error Productions gives us a full storyline and characters bursting with personality. Even some backstory slips in to flesh them out. The entire cast is fully invested, with Molloy and Duffy Sim getting the most outrageous.

This is a must-see. Prepare yourself for priest-on-leash, playing “pocket rosary,” ecclesiastical rapping (Nate Burner), a bobbing journalist (Kyrsten Lyster), and lots of fecking fun.

  • Sunday, Aug. 19, 7:30 p.m.; Tuesday Aug. 21, 9 p.m.; Thursday, Aug. 23, 7:30 p.m.; Saturday, Aug 25, 4:30 p.m.; Sunday, Aug 26, 1:30 p.m.
  • $15
  • The District Theater stage 2
  • http://www.indyfringe.org/theatre-show/pope-walks-bar-father-ned
  • Written, directed, and produced by Clerical Error Productions: K. Duffy Sim, J. Kirkwood, and D. Molloy

Watch a preview here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GA9SfhI_v6A

 

Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

IndyFringe Festival: “They Shall Take Up Serpents”

Note: Apologies. WordPress decided to publish the very rough first draft of this review instead of the complete one I (thought) posted last night. Hence the double posting. Sadly, this one isn’t as detailed as the original complete review, due to time constraints.

They Shall Take Up SerpentsGarret Mathews (Carmel, Indiana) took a subject most people find insane — snake handling — and crafted a funny and thoughtful piece of theater from it.

Mathews has seen this phenomenon first-hand, having written a column about it (and many other subjects) for Evansville’s Courier & Press before his retirement from the journalism world. His main character in the play, Cindy, is based on one of his interviews.

Snake handling is a rare subculture within the Pentecostal church and is most often found in rural areas in the South. The practice stems from a verse in Mark 16: “They will pick up snakes with their hands; and when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all; they will place their hands on sick people, and they will get well.”

You have to admit: tempting deadly snakes and drinking poison certainly take faith.

They Shall Take Up Serpents is set in Jolo, West Virginia, outside the Church of the Lord Jesus. Cindy (Hannah Jo Black), a new congregant, is a young woman deprived of power — her domineering father (Thom Johnson) bleeds her dry, saying she owes him for his financial investment in her. His demeaning verbal abuse over the years has turned her inside out, siphoning off all her perceived worth. But for the past eight weeks, Cindy has made the two-hour drive to Jolo to attend the services of a snake-handling church. Now, she is on the cusp of stepping up and taking her turn with the rattlers and, in effect, taking back her personal power.

Black plays the painfully introverted Cindy with a demure voice and restless hands. Cindy continuously tries to bury herself farther into her sweater, almost subconsciously trying to hide herself or protect herself from the world. In contrast to Cindy’s character, Maryanne Mathews plays the lively if eccentric one-eyed Velma, a life-long member and matriarch of the church. Velma’s character is bizarrely entertaining. If the show had scenery, I would say Mathews chews on it. Velma is country through and through, and she exudes the love for life and faith that is sorely lacking in Cindy’s world. Velma’s fun-loving, unfiltered, and infectious nature is what helps Cindy finally decide to take that step and come into her own.

The two are intruded upon by a bumbling young journalist, Ran (Kyle James Dorsch). Dorsch is a cute and gawky Ran, and Velma gets to poke some fun at him, eliciting a smile and eventually a laugh from Cindy. But his sudden and passionate concern for Cindy’s potential future is too abrupt, making that scenario unrealistic.

Overall, Garret Mathews manages to show us the growth of Cindy from withering wallflower to blooming self-confidence within 50 minutes. That is certainly an impressive feat.

Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

IndyFringe Festival: “Act VI Scene I (Shakespeare and Zombies)”

Act VI Scene I (Shakespeare and Zombies)So, if Shakespeare hooked up with the writers of Dawn of the Dead …

“The Lord Chamberlain’s Men” tell the tale of a zombie apocalypse with all the Shakespearean trappings (such as a gooey, lovestruck couple, narration, and soliloquies) and tongue-tripping language.

And clogging … and condoms … and a soused, lustful priest … and shotguns … and boxed wine … and a Swashio to get them all through this alive.

While the show certainly has its moments of hilarity, it can also get a little dark, like when Swashio tells his tale of having to shoot his zombified mother. But it also has long stretches where it’s not funny, or dark, or much of anything — just filler dialogue.

More zombie conflict, please.

But the acting is laudable — Swashio by far my favorite — and the anticipation of what crazy might come next helps gets you through those slow parts.

Do keep an ear out for cameos of some of Shakespeare’s most famous lines or references.

You can watch a preview here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zjjLmUFpWy8

Starring Pat Mullen, Audrey Stonerock, Dave Ruark, and Nathan Thomas. Written and directed by Matt Walls.

Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

Phoenix Theatre: “Cry It Out”

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Sally Scharbrough and Lauren Briggeman in the Phoenix Theatre’s “Cry It Out.” Photo by Zach Rosing.

If you are not a mom, you probably won’t fully appreciate the humor, grief, and even anger that are part of the first few months post-childbirth. If you are a mom, you might want to occasionally yell out, “Amen, sister!” during Cry It Out—a compulsion I had to quash several times.

Cry It Out, directed by Chelsey Stauffer, explores many of the raw and real facts and feelings of being a first-time mom that override the What to Expect series. You can read about bladder leakage, postpartum, breastmilk-soaked bras, depression, and sleep issues, usually in clinical terms, but the reality of them are much, much messier. Until you have experienced momhood firsthand, you have no idea what’s coming.

When a move is added to the life-rocking experience of bringing a little slave driver into your world, things get even more complicated.

Which is how Jesse meets her fellow new mom and neighbor Lena. When a readymade support group of family and fellow parents isn’t waiting for you at home, the feeling of isolation can be crippling. Which is what prompts Jesse to practical pole vault over a grocery store aisle to ask Lena to meet her for coffee during naptime. Once they find a spot in Jesse’s backyard where both their baby monitors can reach, they have their own first tentative playdate while sitting on a tiny outdoor playset.

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Sally Scharbrough and Lauren Briggeman in the Phoenix Theatre’s “Cry It Out.” Photo by Zach Rosing.

Lauren Briggeman (Jessie) and Sally Scharbrough (Lena) are very different people from very different backgrounds. Briggeman’s character, a lawyer and Manhattan transplant, is more reserved while Scharbrough, whose character’s credit score is 0, is completely uninhibited. But for their friendship, this is irrelevant. They become fast friends because nothing makes people bond like mommy yoga pants and 20 minutes of sleep per night. But while their motherhood escapades unite them, their socioeconomic statuses force them to make hard choices about going back to work after maternity leave.

I wish Lena had been my best friend postpartum. Scharbrough is hysterical and full of life—just what Jesse needs even if she seems befuddled by Lena’s behavior at times. Jesse’s little happy dances make you remember the exhilaration over small miracles, like a long nap, taking a shower, or wearing actual jeans. Each woman, in her own way, eloquently conveys the grit of stumbling through motherhood.

The women’s daily coffee klatch is crashed by a father from the super-rich neighborhood on the hill who is concerned about his wife’s disconnect from their new daughter. Michael Hosp plays Mitchell, a concerned, befuddled dad who needs someone to turn to for help. His wife Adrienne, played by Andrea Heiden, explodes with the kind of anger that can come with an uprooted lifestyle. The wealthy aren’t immune to their own challenges when it comes to parenthood.

This is a great show for a mom date. Leave the kids with Dad and commiserate with a fellow mom. You’ll feel better—and not so alone.

 

Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

Buck Creek Players: “The Rainmaker”

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Joe Wagner, Tim Latimer, Matt Spurlock, Jenni White, and Steve Jerk in Buck Creek Players’ “The Rainmaker.” Photo by photoGary.net.

The drought is devastating for the Curry family—the lack of both rain and marriageable prospects for Lizzie, the only girl in the family. There is little the Currys can do about the rain, so H.C. and his oldest son Noah focus their efforts on finding a husband for Lizzie, who is headed for spinsterhood because she is considered “plain” (e.g., unattractive) and she eschews the ridiculous art of flirting. The family’s dying cattle is a parallel to their receding hopes that they will find a husband for Lizzie.

But this is a romantic comedy—so we don’t get bogged down by their expectations of women. This attitude toward Lizzie may seem antiquated, but the story is set in a rural area out West during the Depression era. For us, given the decades of changing views of women, their concern for Lizzie is both off-putting and heartwarming—a paradox born of their concern for her future combined with the mindset of the time. The menfolk think they are doing the right thing.

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Steve Jerk and Jenni White in Buck Creek Players’ “The Rainmaker.” Photo by http://www.photoGary.net.

Enter the so-called “rainmaker.” For $100, he promises to bring the rain. He may be full of bull, but he does bring hope to Lizzie, giving her the confidence she needs to embrace her potential for the life she dreamed of but always thought was out of reach. He heals her insecurities. This makes the rainmaker a hero in a way.

Tim Latimer (H.C., the father), Matt Spurlock (Noah), Joe Wagner (Jim, the other sibling), and Jenni White (Lizzie) create a completely believable family dynamic. They don’t just deliver their lines—they mean them. This is some of the best acting I have seen on Buck Creek’s stage.

Spurlock is intense. He projects Noah’s unyielding rationality and fierce protectiveness of his family. He’s intimidating. His words to Lizzie are often harsh, and Spurlock doesn’t soften them, but it’s because he needs Lizzie to face reality—he believes false hope will leave her heartbroken again and again. Spurlock never backs down when showing us Noah’s personality or his disdain of hair-brained ideas. But he also leaves us with no question that he loves his family.

Noah runs most of the family as well as the farm, and H.C. is willing to let his second in command take charge until Noah takes it too far. Latimer’s H.C. is laid-back, open-minded, and observant, but he is also still the patriarch. When it counts, Latimer overrides decisions with a firm hand or gets in Noah’s face without backing down. Latimer crafts a complex personality and gives us a father figure that is fun and supports his children with a loving hand that only a father can provide. He’s Dad with that capital D.

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Tim Latimer and Jenni White in Buck Creek Player’s “The Rainmaker.” Photo by photoGary.net.

White’s Lizzie is strong but vulnerable at the same time—neither overrides the other completely—and White consistently expresses this dichotomy through her speech and body language. Confident words are belied by her nervous movements. Lizzie knows she is not the best candidate for a good match, but she won’t change who she is just to catch a husband. White manages these qualities simultaneously, creating a character you can’t help but admire and sympathize with.

Jimmy is the warm-hearted, happy-go-lucky counterpart for Noah—if a little dim. He loves his sister but doesn’t have the gumption to really take on his brother. Wagner’s fun-loving, sweet, and gullible character offers much of the comic relief, and Wager play it up wholeheartedly. You can’t help but smile when he’s on stage.

And of course, there’s Bill Starbuck, aka the rainmaker. Steve Jerk is just enough crazy and radiates the confidence of any good con man. But he surprises us with a serious side. He takes exception with Lizzie’s treatment by her family, and Jerk lets us know it. His disapproving looks and clipped comments ingratiate him to the audience and to Lizzie. Jerk’s gentle touch and encouragement for Lizzie make us forgive his cons.

Corey Yeaman as Deputy File, an insecure potential beau for Lizzie, and John Joyner as Sheriff Thomas round out the cast.

John Walker’s set design includes beautiful umbrella lights suspended from the ceiling, and his detailed farmhouse takes us firmly into the Currys’ environment.

Tim Spradlin directs, and he brings together a powerful piece of theater. An enticing story combines with a stellar cast to make this show an exciting opening for Buck Creek’s season.

Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

Summer Stock Stage: “The Secret Garden”

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Summer Stock Stage’s “The Secret Garden.” Clockwise from top left: Sydney Meyers, Sally Root, Davon Graham, and Weston LeCrone

When the song “Lilly’s Eyes” began, I found myself holding my breath. Fair or not, this was the song that was going to have a disproportionate amount of influence over my reaction to the show. It was unavoidable. This is the song that made me see Mandy Patinkin as more than just Inigo Montoya. It is the most haunting song in The Secret Garden’s often eerie, eidolic soundtrack. I was already impressed by Weston LeCrone, but this duet with Davon Graham was crucial to me.

By the time it was finished, breath released, I was misty eyed and ready to jump to my feet in a spontaneous standing ovation. Every tone of devastating heartache, every note of loss and longing that makes this song so emotionally fundamental to The Secret Garden was beautifully, eloquently expressed.

I want to say thank you to LeCrone and Graham for giving me the chance to experience this—a song that has affected me every time I have heard it—in a live setting again. And for doing it so very, very well.

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Amelia Wray (center) with Weston LeCrone in Summer stock Stage’s “The Secret Garden”

Producer/director Emily Ristine Holloway must hold some of her own magic because for the second time this summer, I have been impressed by a young-adult Summer Stock Stage production that could hold its own against many adults’ local theater productions. As I said in my review of SSS’s Urinetown, I usually don’t cover young-adult shows because I believe these programs are learning opportunities for the kids involved—not something that should be held to particular expectations or standards. But SSS is becoming my exception.

Again, the stage is packed with teenagers from many schools in the area, and this time around, they are joined by younger kids from the elementary-age Summer Stock Academy. This put up to 45 bodies on stage, making for rich and powerful ensemble numbers, proven early on in “The House Upon the Hill.”

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Sally Root and Weston LeCrone in Summer Stock Stage’s “The Secret Garden”

Amelia Wray brings to life the petulant 10-year-old Mary Lenox who slowly begins to open up to the world—and the people—around her again, and she has a pretty voice. But LeCrone, as Archibald Craven, Mary’s uncle, is the one who consistently, unobtrusively draws your interest. He does not demand it. This would not be part of his character, the reclusive hunchback. His hold on you is subtle until you find yourself captivated and anticipating his every scene. LeCrone is a recent graduate of Zionsville Community High School, and in the fall, he is headed for Elon University to work toward a BFA in musical theater. If he is this good now, he will be Broadway bound after four years of university training. His vocals and emotive acting abilities—a true subversive performance—are already superlative. Sally Root, as Archibald’s late wife Lilly, and LeCrone deliver an especially poignant “How Could I Ever Know,” which is unsurprising in that Root has a gorgeous, ethereal voice as well.

Bright spots in Mary’s dreary world are her jovial, optimistic chambermaid Martha, played by Cynthia Kauffman, and Martha’s brother Dickon, played by Keith Smith Jr. Smith and Wray come together for the sweet, whimsical song “Wick,” and Smith has a good solo turn in “Winter’s on the Wing.” Kauffman lightens the dire mood of Mary’s arrival to Misselthwaite Manor with her playful rendition of “A Fine White Horse,” and then she gets to shift to the more somber but still hopeful “Hold On” in Act 2. Versatility and another exemplary voice on display.

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Amelia Wray and Cynthia Kauffman in Summer Stock Stage’s “The Secret Garden”

While I focus primarily on the music in a musical—because it seems natural, after all—it does occur to me that in addition to the previously mentioned performance by LeCrone, I should include that there is a great deal of just, well, straight forward acting happening on stage, creating believable, sympathetic characters, and this is what really pulls you into the story itself.

This was a good choice for the SSS students, as it also gave them a chance to tinker with accents. And like Urinetown, the show is visually striking, this time through costuming by Aaron Wardwell and choreography by Cherri Jaffee and Brandon Comer.

Another production that SSS can add to their growing list of smashing successes.

PS: If you haven’t read this childhood classic, shame on you. Hence no story synopsis. If you need a summary, this is great. For “Lily’s Eyes,” fast forward to 2:25.

Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

Saltbox Theatre Collective: “In the Soundless Awe”

At one point in The Soundless Awe, an actor portraying Mochitsura Hashimoto, captain of the Japanese submarine that torpedoed the USS Indianapolis, reverently holds a small potted bush while circling the stage, often presenting it in such a way as if it were Simba from The Lion King.

It pains me to say this, given the unfathomable tragedy of the USS Indianapolis and the deteriorating mental health that mercilessly dogged its captain, Charles McVay III, leading him to take his own life, but this show falls into the top five of the most pretentious pieces of theater I have ever seen in my almost two decades of theater-going.

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Charles McVay III, captain of the USS Indianapolis

I was intrigued by what the show promised: “The Soundless Awe is a horrific and heart-breaking imagining of McVay’s final nightmare before he pulls the trigger [killing himself].” I expected insight into McVay’s life and mindset post-Indianapolis. Instead, the play is bogged down by too many ostentatious metaphors and disjointed scenes. It can’t even compare to the stunned silence that rips through one’s soul during the three-and-a-half-minute speech in Jaws—even if that monologue is inaccurate.

There is material with so much potential that could have been mined for the play—all of it true. One of the most controversial aspects of the Indianapolis’ demise is McVay’s court martial, in which he was found guilty—a subject many laypeople know little if nothing about. This injustice (which was reversed posthumously), his barrage of letters from family members of dead servicemen, and overwhelming survivor’s guilt all led to his suicide. While we get snippets of the court martial trial in which McVay was charged with negligence, examples of the letters from family members of the deceased, and scenes from the servicemen in the water, none of this leaves enough of an impression—or even gives enough information—to make the show particularly compelling. Surprisingly, his court martial is only treated on the surface level, and as for his eventual exoneration, it is merely a footnote. I was so distracted by that little bush that I can’t even tell you if Hashimoto’s support of McVay, both during and after his trial, was even mentioned.

As for McVay, the only dynamic scene written for him that truly brings out his humanity is the complicated familial interaction between him and his father, including an explanation of the toy sailor he carried with him.

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Jason Narvy (bottom) in “The Soundless Awe,” Saltbox Theatre Collective

Leaving most of the emotionally riveting parts of the show the handful of period photos and video footage from the era.

As for presentation, watch your step, as a shallow pool of water is set in the center of the stage, which the actors get to roll around and splash in.

When allowed, most of the acting is quite good. The show opens with Jason Narvy, alone, sitting in a chair aimlessly watching Lawrence Welk. The raw emotion and haunted expression draw you in immediately. He remains in the spotlight long enough that it begins to make you uncomfortable—a smart device. However, as the show progresses, the other actors are often subjected to affectation through director Brian Fruits. Movements, such as slow, high steps, are used … why? Are they meant to add gravity? The story is grave enough already; this is unnecessary. It is particularly painful in The Gray Woman (Katie Zisson), a character used for multipurpose symbology as well as a lounge singer—and she also gets to be a weird shark.

And oh God, what is up with the voice modulation?

This show was brought to IndyFringe from Chicago as part of the USS Indianapolis Survivors Reunion happening this weekend, and I believe when I was there Friday night, the vast majority—if not entire—audience was made up of reunion attendees. As we were leaving, I heard some audience members say a genuine “thank you” and I heard one “amazing.” But I just can’t.

  • IndyFringe Theatre
  • Continues though Sunday, but sold out except July 20, 12:30 p.m. show
  • $10 general admission; 50 percent of ticket sales and donations will go directly to the USS Indianapolis Survivors Organization
  • http://www.indyfringe.org/

narwhalAuthor’s note: I am the wife of a Navy veteran. However, he was lucky enough not to serve in wartime (and he did serve before our relationship). So this is not me being callous. Just the opposite. Thinking that something similar to this could have happened to him if the circumstances of his service had been different freaks me the fuck out. Thankfully, the worst thing that happened during his enlistment was that he hit a whale while “driving” the submarine. Needless to say, this is something that my friends and I have mined for many, many jokes at his expense.

 

Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

Actors Theatre of Indiana: “Forbidden Broadway”

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Actors Theatre of Indiana: “Forbidden Broadway”

Sometimes, there is brilliance—an idea that is truly groundbreaking, pushing and challenging fellow artists to the next level. Let’s use Les Miserables as an example. When it premiered, it was considered a musical masterpiece. Now, 30-odd years later, if I ever have to sit through another production of Les Mis, I am going to throw myself on that barricade in the hope that a stray kitchen chair takes me out. As declared in another over-produced piece of music (part of a current Broadway production—because originality is dead), Let it go.

For those of us who can’t take another rendition of that lazy Susan musical, as well as other musicals that have descended into the tedious (or just WTF, ahem, SpongeBob), there is Forbidden Broadway.

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Logan Moore in Actors Theatre of Indiana’s “Forbidden Broadway”

The inaugural production at the District Theatre, formerly Theatre on the Square, is a (literally) nose-snubbing show presented by Actors Theatre of Indiana. The cachinnating-worthy performance parodies and bullies musical theater in ways that go beyond irreverent and into territory that some mainstream musical-lovers would find blasphemous. And it’s divine.

Granted, this means that a working knowledge of musical theater history and present trends is a necessity to cachinnate at—or even “get”—this show. Various popular show tunes have been re-lyriced to indulge in how hokey and/or hackney their sources really are.

Since its inception in 1982, Forbidden Broadway has continued to evolve. As new musicals/actors/producers hit the stage, many ripe with potential parody material, they have been incorporated into the show. Hence, we have the unbelievably hilarious Lion King with a demented Rafiki and neck-braced actors forced into costumes the Inquisition would have envied. There are some classics in there too, rehashes that won’t die, making the “saucy Fosse” number hysterical in its truth.

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Judy Fitzgerald and Cynthia Collins in Actors Theatre of Indiana’s “Forbidden Broadway”

Director Billy Kimmel is the mad Hatter to this insanity. With the fab-u-lous Brent Marty on piano, Don Farrell, Logan Moore, Cynthia Collins, and Judy Fitzgerald outdo themselves in their sheer glee of the devastatingly ludicrous. Special goof awards do need to go out to Farrell and Moore for the foolishness that so often falls to them. Donning those Mamma Mia costumes is a tame example, but they take to them like cats to chlorinated swim trunks. Farrell also belts out some awesome notes, and Moore was born for this kind of show (see my review of Edwin Drood, which contains many of the same descriptors I use here).

And Terry Woods’ costuming is absolutely brilliant. These are not merely costumes—they are a fifth actor, as essential as the cast wearing them. Some are infected with details a keen eye will appreciate. And while props are sparse, the itty-bitty baby chandelier for the Phantom is adorable.

This is an excellent opening for the District Theatre. A standing ovation to ATI for making it so.

  • Through July 29; dates and times vary
  • $30 general admission / $25 seniors (65 and over) / $20 students
  • District Theatre (formerly Theatre on the Square)
  • http://atistage.org

Special events:

  • July 12 ATI Industry Night. Are you an actor or artisan? Show your Equity card or a show program with your name and get a discounted ticket.
  • July 19 Favorite Broadway Star Night. Come dressed as your favorite Broadway star and enter your name for a drawing for two tickets to opening weekend of Comedy of Tenors in September.
  • July 29 SunKing Sing-along Night. After the show, ATI will host a five-song sing-along with lyrics and beer.

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Actors Theatre of Indiana’s “Forbidden Broadway”

Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

Summer Stock Stage: “Urinetown: The Musical”

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Summer Stock Stage: “Urinetown: The Musical.” Photo by Zach Rosing.

Usually, I avoid reviewing young-adult productions because the focus of these programs is the kids’ experience of theater, not necessarily putting on a production-perfect show. It’s supposed to be fun and educational. However, I love Urinetown: The Musical; it’s hysterical. But more important, I was recently so impressed by Eclipse, the young-professional arm of Summer Stock Stage, that I made an exception.

An exception that proved to not just raise the bar for all theaters in Indianapolis but that will require some of them to pole-vault over the bar.

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Summer Stock Stage: “Urinetown: The Musical.” Photo by Zach Rosing.

SSS’s production was gorgeous, almost flawless in its execution. Granted, the “kids” (roughly 13 to 19) have longtime theater veterans supporting them, but the best director can’t pull off a show this good without having the raw talent to work with.

And raw talent was abundant.

Eva Scherrer as Pennywise was outstanding. Chase Infiniti as Hope Cladwell and Nicholas Dunlap-Loomis as Officer Lockstock were also exceptional, both vocally and in characterization. Very close seconds were Jack Ducat as Caldwell Cladwell and Natalie Schilling as Little Sally—both of whom created the silly caricatures of their characters while maintaining quality vocals. Cameron Brown as Bobby Strong took some time to warm up but nailed “Run Freedom Run.” Minor characters Chinyelu Mwaafrika and Sally Root, backed by the Rebel Ensemble, delivered a major punch with “Snuff that Girl.”

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Summer Stock Stage: “Urinetown: The Musical.” Photo by Zach Rosing.

Which is actually a good segue into how amazing the choreography was. Mariel Greenlee (The Martha Graham Center for Dance, et al.), Lily Wessel (12 SSS and Eclipse shows), and Brandon Comer (a longtime member of Dance Kaleidoscope) created it, but the huge cast performed it like pros. Seriously. I think my jaw dropped a few times at just how good they were.

More mentors with serious credentials: Emily Ristine Holloway, a founder and artistic director of SSS, produced and directed, with Charles Goad as assistant director. Chuck Goad, people. If you follow Indianapolis theater, your eyes should pop just as mine did when I read the program. And the art director? Kyle Ragsdale. He’s not just a staple of the local visual arts community, but you may know his work from the posters for the Indiana Repertory Theatre, which he has painted for the last two seasons.

And the lighting! Michael Moffatt’s (Phoenix, Zach and Zack, et al.) lighting was dynamic and complemented Kristopher Steege’s set design.

All this and a live band!

I’m leaving people out, I know, but I’m running out of synonyms for “fantastic.”

Sadly, this show closed July 1, but SSS’s next production, The Secret Garden, is coming up July 25-29.

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Summer Stock Stage: “Urinetown: The Musical.” Photo by Zach Rosing.

This production represented students from 34 different schools. Here are the ones I mentioned (though Dunlap-Loomis’s is not noted).

  • Eva Scherrer: North Central High School senior
  • Chase Infiniti: recent grad of North Central High School
  • Jack Ducat: Carmel High School sophomore
  • Natalie Schilling: North Central High School sophomore
  • Cameron Brown: recent grad of Franklin Central High School
  • Chinyelu Mwaafrika: recent grad of Shortridge High School
  • Sally Root: recent grad of Park Tudor School

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

Summit Performance Indianapolis: “Silent Sky”

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Summit Performance Indianapolis: “Silent Sky.” Photo by Emily Schwank.

Summit Performance Indianapolis, a new women-based theatrical group, introduced themselves to us with a (have to say it) stellar staging of Silent Sky. The choice is apropos. The play by Lauren Gunderson is based on a little-known female astronomer, Henrietta Leavitt, who fought for equal recognition for her work while she also balked against social convention, single-mindedly immersing herself in a career at a time when most women were relegated to being wives and mothers.

Henrietta takes a post at the Harvard Observatory in the early 1900s, traveling from her home and family in Wisconsin, but when she arrives, she is surprised to find that she isn’t allowed access to its telescope, which for her is an awe-inspiring object she yearns to wield. Instead, she is placed with two other women in what the astronomy department calls “Pickering’s harem,” Edward Charles Pickering being a renowned Harvard astronomer. The women are referred to as “computers,” in that their only job is to “compute” data that has been collected by the men. Her own ideas are rebuffed and even discouraged, so Henrietta uses her off time to explore her own theories, ultimately making a breakthrough that changes the astronomic perception of the universe and later influences Hubble’s Law. She did receive some recognition for her work, but if she had been male, her discoveries would have been lauded as genius.

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Summit Performance Indianapolis: “Silent Sky.” Photo by Emily Schwank.

Henrietta isn’t the only member of the team who made a mark on the scientific world. Annie Cannon created the Harvard Classification Scheme, though most of the credit was taken by Pickering, and she remains with her fellow computers regardless. Women’s advances weren’t given as much credit as they should have, and they were often downplayed by men, who took their research and built on it.

Sadly, society hasn’t advanced as much as it should have since this time period. In 2016, The New York Times reported, “Women’s median annual earnings stubbornly remain about 20 percent below men’s. Why is progress stalling? It may come down to this troubling reality, new research suggests: Work done by women simply isn’t valued as highly.”

This is further illustrated in Mr. Shaw, Pickering’s apprentice, who oversees the women’s work. He and Henrietta immediately clash during their first meeting. As a man, he sees himself as her superior, not her colleague, though they hold equal academic degrees, and Henrietta calls him out on his subconscious misogyny. Shaw isn’t even particularly divested in his work, whereas Henrietta is passionate—a word she has to illustrate for Mr. Shaw.

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Summit Performance Indianapolis: “Silent Sky.” Photo by Emily Schwank.

Rounding out the “harem” is Williamina Fleming, Pickering’s former housekeeper whom he brought on because the “boys” tended to take the work and then move on to apply it to their own projects. The chipper Williamina gets away with more lip because she has been around the longest, but she always makes her unapologetic statements funny even when they are the bald-faced truth.

Henrietta is too focused on the stars to take much notice of the life that is happening around her. Above everything, her priority is the stars until her father’s stroke pulls her back home, at which point she continues to work remotely. While her sister Margaret and Henrietta see heaven vs. the heavens, Margaret isn’t a complete foil for Henrietta, as she harbors and delicately feeds her own passion for music.

With Lori Wolter Hudson directing, the cast and crew for Silent Sky come with impressive credentials all around, and their talent is on full display. Carrie Ann Schlatter captures Henrietta’s hard-headed dedication and her wonder in an energetic, sympathetic, and likable performance. Schlatter gives Henrietta a fully developed personality. Her character pushes on, growing with each new obstacle she encounters. She is always in motion, a parallel to her perpetually working mind.

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Summit Performance Indianapolis: “Silent Sky.” Photo by Emily Schwank.

Henrietta’s co-workers, Annie and Williamina, bookend her personality. Molly Garner as Annie is the perfect depiction of a straight-laced, aloof, somewhat intimidating woman who knows her place in the hierarchy. Watching her slough off that stone face and evolve into a suffragist keeps time for the audience and allows Garner to take her character in a different direction, with often-amusing results. Williamina is a constant, an anchor in Henrietta’s and Annie’s lives, and Gigi Jennewein provides the support and levity needed during Henrietta’s challenges and Annie’s new interests. Her whimsical Scottish persona is delightful.

Schlatter, Garner, and Jennewein develop a tactile bond among the three women that is beautiful to witness. Their dialogue and interactions combine wit and resilience for a truly entertaining and touching trio.

Adam Tran was recently seen as Elvis in Actors Theatre of Indiana’s Million Dollar Quartet, and his performance here is a testament to his versatility. Mr. Shaw’s air of authority deteriorates under Henrietta’s influence, finally settling on an adorable flutter as his attraction to her increases.

Devan Mathias as Margaret is a sweet and supportive sister to Henrietta, even in their goading, teasing sibling repartee. Though Margaret chose a domestic life, Mathias gives Margaret strength and perseverance, but she also allows vulnerability. Their sisterly bond never breaks through time or distance.

Lighting by Laura Glover plays an important part in the show, and her designs are ethereal, taking audiences into the cosmos. Abigail Copeland’s scenic design and props are smartly done, which is a must in a black-box stage. The set is a mix of the utilitarian practical with bits of shine to reflect the story’s subject. The silver adornments look like shooting stars. Especially impressive is a cunning table that transforms into several variations. And Brittany Kugler’s period costume designs are lovely.

This is an exceptional premiere for Summit. More, please.

Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

Storefront Theatre of Indianapolis: “Prowess”

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Storefront Theatre of Indianapolis: “Prowess”

When does fear become aggression? Self-defense becomes an attack? Heroics become vigilantism? When does drawing blood become an addiction?

Prowess explores all of these concepts and more through an intense staging by Storefront Theatre of Indianapolis, which has just announced that it will be moving into a permanent space in the former Crackers Comedy Club in Broad Ripple.

While its situations and subjects seem grim, it isn’t emotionally exhausting because it gives the audience breaks to relax, to take a breath, most often at the expense of the sole white character, Andy. You can’t help but laugh when he duct-tapes a tank of wasp spray to his back and charges into battle with squirt nozzles. The show has a little Kick-Ass feel to it.

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Jamaal McCray and Paeton Chavis in Storefront Theatre of Indianapolis’s “Prowess”

Mark, played by Jamaal McCray, advertises self-defense classes on Craigslist. Zora, played by Paeton Chavis, takes a chance on that ad. She has Mark come to her office after hours and enthusiastically begins training. But Zora’s motivations aren’t just self-defense. She wants retribution. But Mark won’t train her to fight offensively. He is still experiencing personal healing, and the classes are a sort of penance for past transgressions. But when Andy, played by Zachariah Stonerock, stumbles upon Mark and Zora mid-class, he insists on joining the sessions. Once Andy tells them his own story, Mark relents and begins teaching them how to actually fight. Safety in their Chicago neighborhood is elusive, and both Andy and Zora’s lives have been crippled in some way. They want their power back.

Near the office, a graffiti artist, Jax, played by Donovan Whitney, memorializes each killing that has occurred in the neighborhood, but he keeps his head down and away from potential trouble. His chosen outlet is his spray can. He thinks he is a realist. “What’s your color?” he asks Mark so that he can have the right can on hand when Mark is inevitably murdered. Watch for those colors.

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Donovan Whitney and Zachariah Stonerock in Storefront Theatre of Indianapolis’s “Prowess”

Chavis is a little ball of perpetual motion, a direct contrast to the focused demeanor of McCray. McCray’s character is like a guru, trying to guide his relentless students, but you can tell his character is holding something in—something dark he is trying to run away from just as much as Zora and Andy are trying to face their demons. It informs his reluctance to fight. Stonerock plays Andy as a loveable goofball—there is just no better way to describe him. Whitney’s character feigns indifference, but Whitney gives him more depth than that in his body and facial language. Each character is a survivor and distinctly reacts to that in his or her own way.

Director Ronan Marra’s cast and crew grasp the grit of Chicago and transfer it to the small stage. Much of the play hinges on violence, and fight director Rob Johansen does a remarkable job of making those hits realistic.

Storefront Theatre is still a new company, having only staged one other production. After seeing Prowess, I’m challenging them for an equally impressive follow-up.

  • June 21–July 1, Thursdays and Sundays at 7 p.m. and Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m.
  • $15-$25
  • IndyEleven theater inside the IndyFringe building
  • www.storefrontindy.com
Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

Phoenix Theatre: “Indecent”

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Phoenix Theatre’s “Indecent.” Photo by Zach Rosing.

In order to understand the Phoenix Theatre’s current production, Indecent, a little must be said about The God of Vengeance, a Yiddish drama by Sholem Asch, because Indecent is a play about a play set as a play.

The God of Vengeance was unlike anything of its time—it was groundbreaking in its subject and presentation. However, it didn’t incite any protest during its plentiful performances in Europe, but then, it made its way to the U.S. via Broadway in 1923, at which point—surprise, surprise, welcome to the hypocritical U.S.—the cast and producer were arrested for obscenity because the play depicts a lesbian relationship and a single kiss between two women.

Martha Jacobs directs a beautifully staged show, with lush lighting (Jeffery Martin) and elegant movement (Esther Widlanski). As with the other two shows that have been staged at the new Phoenix Theatre Cultural Centre, the cast contains many Phoenix-familiar faces (as is Jacobs): Jolene Moffatt, John Goodson, Mark Goetzinger, and Bill Simmons (also the new artistic director). Joining them onstage are Abby Lee, Courtney Spivak, and Nick Jenkins. The cast portrays a troupe of actors telling the story of The God of Vengeance, from its inception all the way to the 1950s.

Portions of the show are spoken in Yiddish with projected translations, or if the actors are supposed to be speaking in Yiddish but are speaking in English (for the audience’s sake), it is noted on the screen. This keeps the experience of reading subtitles limited, which can get tiresome after a while. But the inclusion of Yiddish and Jewish cultural references give authenticity to the production. I do wish that some information, perhaps in the program, would have explained a few of these traditions, such as why Lemml refuses to cross the threshold into Asch’s home or why it is abhorrent to throw the Torah on the ground.

Overall, the presentation of the show is lovely, with a real rain shower for the infamous kiss-in-the-rain scene, and the actors give fine performances. An especially well-staged, intense scene with the company huddled in an internment camp is breathtaking.

  • Through July 8, Thursdays at 7 p.m.; Fridays-Saturdays at 8 p.m.; Sundays at 2 p.m.
  • $27-$33
  • www.phoenixtheatre.org

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Phoenix Theatre’s “Indecent.” Photo by Zach Rosing.

And now, the following will have me run out of town on a rail … and has nothing to do with the Phoenix’s production values in staging Indecent.

I try not to do this too often, but I need to get this out of my head because it was too distracting to me when trying to write this. (Part of the reason why this review is coming out so late.) I’m going to talk about the script and structure of the play.

Paula Vogel’s Indecent may be about a controversial play, but the lead-up to the actual events that marked it as something of note is unnecessarily long, making its pace painfully slow, and it makes the story somewhat dull. By the time the lawsuit happens, I wasn’t invested in the characters enough to feel sympathetic—until that internment scene, which I attribute to the vision of the Phoenix’s cast and crew.

However, I am in the minority with this opinion, as Indecent was nominated for the Tony Award for Best Play in 2017.

Of course, SpongeBob the Musical was nominated for Best Musical this year, sooooooo …

This is the second of the three shows the Phoenix has produced at its new facility, and only one, The Pill, has been the kind of edgy show I have come to associate with the Phoenix.

I find it confusing that two rather tame shows, God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater and Indecent, were chosen to christen the new Cultural Centre’s mainstage. Not edgy. I expected the Phoenix to come out strong, to make a statement with its opening shows, to prove it’s still the theater that will take a chance on unusual, unknown, and controversial works that you won’t see anywhere else in Indy.

Sure, Indecent is having its Indiana premiere, but meh.

While acknowledging the deeper themes behind Rosewater and Indecent uncovers social commentary—and as a critic, that is part of my job, I know—as a casual audience member, that’s a lot of work in an ambiguous and sometimes confusing play. This is why I like having a companion at shows. A layman’s opinion. And hers backed up what I just wrote. So, I know I am not totally alone.

After all that, I now fear being banned from the Phoenix.

I intentionally did not read any of my peers’ reviews before writing this, and I have no doubt that some if not all contradict what I have written. If you go to my homepage, you will find links to their websites (scroll to the bottom). So, if I have pissed you off, click on those links and feel vindicated that I have no idea what I am saying. I expect hate mail, too, so, go ahead. It won’t be the first time, and probably not the last. Years and years (and years and years, since I started writing about theater circa 1998 or so) ago, Bryan Fonseca himself wrote me one. So you will be in good company.

 

Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

Carmel Community Players: “Is He Dead?”

In 1898, Mark Twain was depressed. He used playwriting as therapy, and the result was Is He Dead? After a failed attempt at getting it on stage, the script languished in the UC Berkley archives until it was unearthed in 2002. David Ives adapted the play, cutting it down to more manageable theatrical perimeters, and it hit Broadway in 2007.

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Carmel Community Players’ “Is He Dead?”

Twain fictionalizes Jean-Francois Millet, an actual French Realism painter, 1814-1875, to spoof post-mortem celebrity. Millet, played by Jaime Johnson, is dirt poor because no one will buy his paintings. His work isn’t worth anything because he isn’t dead. So his students, Matt Hartzburg as “Chicago,” Adam Powell as “Dutchy,” and Kelly Keller as O’Shaughnessy, devise a plan: Millet will fake his death and they will all get rich. But in order for Millet to actually be able to enjoy his posthumous wealth—and avoid the arch villain, moneylender Bastien Andre (Larry Adams)—he needs a new identity. To avert suspicion as much as possible, he is coerced into donning drag and becoming Daisy Tillou, his widowed twin sister. Farce ensues.

Witnesses to the zany con are Millet’s landladies, Lucinda Ryan and Susan Hill, a sympathetic duo willing to accept paintings as rent. Keven Shadle as Papa Leroux is also indebted to Andre, who wants Leroux’s daughter and Millet’s lady love, Marie, played by Morgan Morton, as payment. Her huffy sister, Cecile, played by Monya Wolf, has her eye on Chicago, and she gets nosey when he and Tillou seem a little too close. Rounding out the cast is Dave Bolander in various roles that help accent the silly.

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Carmel Community Players’ “Is He Dead?”

The cast chomps up the scenery, embracing their characters enthusiastically. Johnson hits all the comedic expectations of man-in-a-dress with aplomb, and Adams well-milks his moustache-twirling, boo-hiss, melodramatic character. With Hartzburg as their mastermind, Powell and Keller are free to gleefully play up their characters’ over-the-top stereotypes, including Keller’s accented “Well, you can go to hell” interjections and Powell’s bluster and obsessive love of Limburger cheese. The cast gives us fine performances all around. Cathie Morgan provides eclectic costumes; the ladies’ frocks are especially fetching—including the intentionally ridiculous ones for Tillou. Mike Mellott’s sets—from a poor man’s flat and then a post-financial-windfall posh residence—are impressively realistic.

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The cast of CCP’s “Is He Dead” took a walkabout — in costume — through downtown Carmel.

Mark Tumey directs this circus, a show that he performed in previously and was eager to bring to Indy.

Is He Dead? certainly isn’t what would be considered a Twain classic, but it does its job as a laughable little distraction.

  • Through June 24, Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m., Sundays at 2:30 p.m.
  • $16; $14 for seniors (62+) and students
  • Studio 37 inside Ji-Eun Lee Music Academy, 10029 E. 126th St., Fishers
  • www.carmelplayers.org

 

Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

Broadway Across America Indianapolis: “Rent”

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“Rent” 20th Anniversary Tour, credit Carol Rosegg, 2017

Let’s just say that Rent doesn’t seem to have aged well.

It will maintain its status in the musical history books because when it debuted, it initiated rock opera in a time infested with Andrew Lloyd Webber. It intimately explored the lives of people snared in the AIDS epidemic. Many of its Broadway cast members became performance gods (Idina Menzel, Anthony Rapp, Adam Pascal, Taye Diggs). And the tale of its creator, Jonathan Larson, who died of an aortic dissection immediately preceding its first Off-Broadway preview, is a tragic parallel with Angel’s death—both so young with so much unfulfilled potential.

But over the last 20 years, its original audience has grown up. For us, it is a piece of nostalgia. But after the advent of hundreds of shows since then, the storyline has become a commonality (though still tragic in Angel’s death), and its music is less interesting and lacks tonal variety. And for the next generation, this particular production is a lackluster introduction to what could be considered a classic.

While the cast is capable, there are no superstars here, and most are still paying their dues in a professional capacity. Javon King as Angel does have a great voice and captures your attention and your heart in his colorful characterization and sweet persona, but the rest are pale imitations of others whom I have seen in many (many) other stagings. They are just not that impressive, and their characters’ relationships suffer for it. Logan Farine as Roger is a particular disappointment in his twitchy performance. But one ensemble member (sadly, uncredited) does hit a particularly beautiful note during a “Seasons of Love” reminiscent of the emotion embodied in the original version.

Marlies Yearby’s choreography is unimaginative and repetitive, and Evan Ensign’s direction is monotonous in that everyone moves and emotes in too-similar ways. A relatively insignificant quibble is that Mimi would have a minimal amount of moonlight in her hair with costumer Angela Wendt’s choice to not wig Deri’ Andra Tuckers’s close-cropped style, though many pieces of costuming are homages to one or another Rent production from over the years. (Going with Maureen’s embroidered, flared jeans for “Over the Moon,” IMHO, could have better been replaced with the original skinny pants that more often appear for this number.)

And at one point Tuesday night, the spotlight hit Mark square in the torso before quickly and shakily adjusting to include his face.

But why in the world is the sound so muddy? Clowes is a quality concert hall, yet the lyrics were often hard to catch even for me—someone who knows every word of every song.

Fingers crossed for the upcoming tour of The Lion King coming to the Murat in September.

 

Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

Actors Theatre of Indiana: “Million Dollar Quartet”

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Actors Theatre of Indiana: “Million Dollar Quartet”

That. Was. So. Much. Fun.

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Brandon Alstott and Don Farrell in “Million Dollar Quartet” at Actors Theatre of Indiana

Million Dollar Quartet is the story of an epic studio recording/jam session with the rock/country legends Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash, and Carl Perkins at Sun Records. The studio was on the cusp of change. Sam Phillips was about to find out that Cash was moving to Columbia Records, Elvis wanted to come back to Sun, and Jerry Lee was still relatively unknown. Perkins was in the studio to make a new record, hoping to reignite his career, accompanied by newcomer Lewis. On this one auspicious night in 1956, the four superstars spontaneously came together—the only time—for one of the most amazing sessions in music history.

The show combines the most famous and some lesser-known music from these four performers with a little bit of background, a little bit of banter, and a whole lot of rockin’. The context and glimpses into each personality are nice segues into what we really all come to see (or hear, as the case may be): the music.

milliondollar3And the cast doesn’t disappoint. Brandon Alstott as Cash, Sean Riley as Perkins, Gavin Rohrer as Lewis, and Adam Tran as Presley nail the mannerisms, personalities, look, and sound of their characters. They recreate these immortal names. If you open your ears and let your eyes slightly unfocus, you can believe you are there in the studio with the real lineup. And not only are their vocals spot-on, but they also play their own instruments. Think about it—lines, songs, blocking, direction, characterization, and performing the score. That’s an impressive load. An impressive heavy load. And they’ve got it. Grok it. On every single song.

Backing them are Kroy Presley on the upright bass and Nathan Shew on percussion to fill out the sound. Betsy Norton as Presley’s girlfriend Dyanne gets to take the mike too in a sultry “Fever” and rousing “I Hear You Knockin.’”

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“Million Dollar Quartet” at Actors Theatre of Indiana

But the brightest star has to go to Gavin Rohrer as the buckets-of-crazy Jerry Lee. He is all over that piano in quintessential Jerry Lee fashion and captures the manic Jerry Lee vibe. He is a hoot.

Don Farrell as Phillips, the star maker, gives us much of the narrative insight. His night is emotionally turbulent as he gleefully sees the talent in his performers as he catches them on tape, but he is faced with choices and obstacles that leave him uncertain about the future.

While the show is set in a recording studio, Marciel Irene Green’s lighting design transports you to a concert stage when the songs really kick up a notch. Music director Taylor Gray keeps the sound real, and costumer Donna Jacobi provides iconic outfits. Director/choreographer DJ Salisbury brings it all together for a concert performance that will get you out of your seat and movin’ to the music.

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“Million Dollar Quartet” at Actors Theatre of Indiana

It’s worth including the song list because you’re going to love it.

  • “Blue Suede Shoes”: company
  • “Real Wild Child”: Jerry Lee Lewis
  • “Matchbox”: Carl Perkins
  • “Who Do You Love?”: Carl Perkins and Jerry Lee Lewis
  • “Folsom Prison Blues”: Johnny Cash
  • “Fever”: Dyanne
  • “Memories Are Made of This”: Elvis Presley and company
  • “That’s All Right”: Elvis Presley
  • “Brown Eyed Handsome Man”: Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins
  • “Down by the Riverside”: company
  • “Sixteen Tons”: Johnny Cash
  • “My Babe”: Carl Perkins and Johnny Cash
  • “Long Tall Sally”: Elvis Presley
  • “Peace in the Valley”: company
  • “I Walk the Line”: Johnny Cash
  • “I Hear You Knocking”: Dyanne
  • “Party”: Carl Perkins and company
  • “Great Balls of Fire”: Jerry Lee Lewis
  • “Down by the Riverside (Reprise)”: company
  • “Hound Dog”: Elvis Presley
  • “Ghost Riders in the Sky”: Johnny Cash
  • “See You Later Alligator”: Carl Perkins and company
  • “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On”: Jerry Lee Lewis and company
  • June 1-17, Wednesdays-Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m.
  • Carmel Center for the Performing Arts
  • $25+
  • http://atistage.org
Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

Summer Stock Stage’s Eclipse: “Dogfight”

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Leela Rothenberg and Patrick Dinnsen in Eclipse’s “Dogfight.” Photo by MIchael Camp.

I don’t know how Eclipse passed under my radar last year when they produced Spring Awakening, but Friday night, I was floored by their current production of the musical Dogfight.

Eclipse, now in its second year, is the young-professional arm of the youth-centric Summer Stock Stage, and it exclusively features alumni of SSS, providing paid opportunities for college and post-college artists. SSS has been providing theater experiences for teenagers for 15 years, and judging by the talent I witnessed from Eclipse, SSS is a damned good program.

Dogfight opens in 1967, with Eddie Birdlace, a U.S. Marine who has just returned from Vietnam, riding a Greyhound bus home. A fellow passenger asks him about his tattoo of three bees. Flashback to 1963. A trio of friends refers to themselves as the three B’s. They are fresh-faced, exuberant Marines about to ship out for Vietnam: Patrick Dinnsen as Birdlace, Joey Mervis as Boland, and John Collins as Bernstein. They are so young, so naïve—they have no idea what they are about to endure overseas. To celebrate their last night before being deployed, they, along with some fellow jarheads, decide to have a “dogfight.” This is a game where each participant adds his bet to the pool and then sets out to find the ugliest girl he can and bring her to the party as his “date.” The lounge singer is in on the gamble, and during a predetermined dance, he rates each girl. Whoever gets the highest score wins and walks away with the pot, the girl usually none the wiser. However, Birdlace’s “dog” throws him for a loop—he actually starts to respect and even like her.

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Joey Mervis, John Collins, and Patrick Dinnsen in Eclipse’s “Dogfight.” Photo by Michael Camp.

The show is performed in IndyFringe’s Basile Theatre, which is a pretty sparse space to begin with, and the simple set for Dogfight is two sets of stairs leading up to a second level, with the live band underneath. But I quickly discovered that the lack of color or copious props was completely irrelevant. The male leads, along with the backing ensemble and dynamic band, immediately knock you out of your bobby socks with their intensity, exceptional voices, unwavering energy, and immersive characters. Equally stunning is female lead Leela Rothenberg as Rose, Birdlace’s “dog,” a thoughtful but inexperienced girl whose inner strength captures Birdlace’s attention.

Seriously, everything about this production is awesome. Thinking that the cast potentially had somewhat limited performance experience, I set my expectations accordingly, but they blew away that unwarranted preconceived notion immediately. The show’s execution is top quality, and every single performer completely engages with his or her character. Just two ensemble examples of note are, at the party, Courtney Krauter as Ruth Two Bears (a fellow “dog”) and Aaron Huey as the lounge singer—both of whom are hysterical, with Krauter’s articulate WTF facial expression and Huey throwing himself into the singer’s flamboyant persona.

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Leela Rothenberg in Eclipse’s Dogfight.” Photo by Michael Camp.

Emily Ristine Holloway is a founding member and artistic director of SSS, and she produced and directed Dogfight. Forget the traditional bouquet of roses; she deserves the whole flower shop—as do the cast and crew of the show.

Coincidentally, another production of Dogfight also opened this past weekend, this one at Buck Creek Players. Sadly, I was not able to squeeze that performance into my schedule.

  • Through June 17, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2:30 p.m.
  • $20 adults; $18 children, students, senior citizens (62+)
  • Buck Creek Playhouse
  • www.buckcreekplayers.com
Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

The Phoenix Theatre: “The Pill”

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“The Pill” at the Phoenix Theatre. Photo by Zach Rosing.

It turns out that The Pill, the second production to open at the new Phoenix Theatre Cultural Centre, provides what I had been anticipating for the theater’s premiere. While Rosewater was fine, The Pill is everything I have come to associate with the Phoenix over the years: edgy, controversial, smart, unapologetic, funny, and, especially in this case, emotionally violent. It’s psychologically visceral; its characters are real; its subject matter messy. And it’s orgasmic in its ability to blindside and entertain at the same time.

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Constance Macy in “The Pill” at the Phoenix Theatre. Photo by Zach Rosing.

Playwright-in-residence Tom Horan has captured the tumultuous personal interactions of the people who were most relevant in the advent of the birth control pill. His characters are intense but with an amusing dynamic. Primary among them is Margaret Sanger, who was also the driving force behind Planned Parenthood. Her friend, Katherine McCormick, was also a birth control advocate, so much so that she smuggled diaphragms into the U.S. from Europe by sewing them into her clothes. She ended up financing the pill’s progress. Dr. Pincus worked out the biological logistics, but because of his medical practice’s spotty reputation, Dr. John Rock, a Catholic OBGYN, was also brought in to lend the project legitimacy. Sanger hooks Pincus with the idea of acclaim, but both men are drawn in by the science. Finally, Sadie Sachs is an everywoman representing the nameless, countless women who suffered and even died due to bigoted laws and anti-women morals that kept effective birth control unobtainable.

The show is set in the smaller Basile Theatre, a flexible black-box space. For this production, the audience is seated on all four sides, surrounding the small space the actors populate. Like Rosewater, several of Indy’s most well-known actors are cast.

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Jen Johansen and Constance Macy in “The Pill” at the Phoenix Theatre. Photo by Zach Rosing.

The story begins with a cackling Constance Macy riding a rolling wingback chair pushed by Jan Lucas. Sanger, played by Macy, is now in her 80s. While having done so much for women’s rights already, she admits to McCormick, played by Lucas, that if she could have accomplished anything more, it would have been a form of birth control that was inexpensive, easy to use, and accessible to any woman who wanted it. She says her accomplishments are like teaching starving people about nutrition but giving them nothing to eat. McCormick convinces Sanger to seek out Dr. Pincus, who is known for his unconventional thinking.

Horan’s dialogue is snappy, and director Bill Simmons gets it snappily delivered. Macy and Lucas bring the unapologetic aspect to the stage in their characters’ brash personalities—Macy’s more so than Lucas’ because McCormick has maintained a more level head, whereas Sanger is still a bulldozer. Their fuck-you attitudes are almost anomalous given the time period. It was the 1950s, and even after WWII, most of society still saw women as wives and broodmares first, people second. Sanger spent most of her life defying that pigeonholing and championing change, and Macy gives her that steel spine and intimidating demeanor that made Sanger so effective. But neither woman will back down when she knows what she wants. Macy and Lucas show us tough women who did what needed to be done.

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Jan Lucas in “The Pill” at the Phoenix Theatre. Photo by Zach Rosing.

Arianne Villareal portrays Dr. Pincus, a brilliant squirrel-like man burdened by the attention span of a goldfish for anything non-academic. Her character is perpetual motion of mind and body, but he’s also funny in the way an eccentric can be somewhat infuriating to others. Villareal gives Pincus manic characteristics and a fascination for the science behind the project.

Johansen as Dr. Rock, whom Sanger claims smells of “incense and shame,” carries herself with the confidence of a man who thinks himself superior both intellectually and morally—and a dapper man at that—but she allows him to become intellectually and, eventually, emotionally invested too, though Rock often just doesn’t know what to make of Sanger.

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Arianne Villareal in “The Pill” at the Phoenix Theatre. Photo by Zach Rosing.

Horan wrote imperfect characters that communicate the stress and humanity inherent in the project. It was a brutal struggle. The team was working on something that was illegal in 30 states at the time, but it was also vital not only to women’s health but to families and society as a whole. Sanger falls further into alcoholism; Pincus uses questionable testing methods. Rock admits to performing a hysterectomy on a woman who begged to escape further childbearing. This imperfection mirrors the imperfect pill itself with its potential side effects, most notably blood clots, which are still listed as a possibility today. But the need for the easy-to-use, unobtrusive contraceptive trumped everything that stood in their way.

Entwined into this story is Sadie, played by Jenni White. In her letters to Sanger, she first speaks of her admiration for the pioneer, and she is cheerful and optimistic in her outlook for the future. Sadie, 17, has just married her high school sweetheart, and she plans to go to nursing school as Sanger did. But several months later, a letter informs Sanger that Sadie is pregnant. Sadie tries to maintain her optimism, saying she’ll just put off nursing school for a year. But as Sadie faces pregnancy after pregnancy, she devolves into hopelessness, even anger at Sanger’s ineffectiveness to save her. After 11 children by the age of 40, Sadie’s body and mind are wrecked. When she asked for family planning advice from her doctor, he told her to sleep on the roof to avoid her husband’s advances.

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Jenni White in “The Pill” at the Phoenix Theatre. Photo by Zach Rosing.

Sadie is the manifestation of Sanger’s desperation—and the desperation of so many women who were (and are) enslaved by a single ambiguous biblical verse. White is Sanger’s feelings of responsibility and failure toward these women—each woman she was too late to save, each woman whose dreams and bodies were crushed by the weight of too many unplanned pregnancies. Women who used poison and taken coat hangers to their wombs in their desperation; women who died because their bodies finally just wore out.

See this. It’s amazing. Yes, it’s challenging, but the most important parts of life—and the best theater productions—always are.

Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

The Phoenix Theatre: “God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater”

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Patrick Goss in the Phoenix Theatre’s “God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater.” Photo by Zach Rosing.

Well.

That was weird.

In a nutshell: Crazy rich man abandons wife to fight fires and throw money at poor people. And sings about it. As do other cast members.

The Phoenix Theatre brought together a combination of beloved Phoenix veterans and new faces for its inaugural production in its new location, starting with producing director Bryan Fonseca as the director for God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater, a musical based on a book by Kurt Vonnegut.

Dance-like movements with office furniture open the show, and then it moves into a strong opening number, “The Rosewater Foundation,” from the ensemble.

Patrick Goss as Eliot Rosewater, the above-mentioned eccentric, carries Eliot’s buckets of crazy in an endearing manner, capturing Eliot’s naiveté even in his occasionally questionable self-centered behavior. Emily Ristine as his long-suffering wife, Sylvia, endures prettily until the building mental strain reaches its breaking point and Sylvia has a breakdown while cowering under a table amidst a shower of Cheese Nips.

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Emily Ristine in the Phoenix Theatre’s “God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater.” Photo by Zach Rosing.

The most striking scene in the show involves these two talking on the phone, miles between them physically and metaphorically. Eliot has learned that Sylvia is seeking a divorce. As they sing their hesitant words to each other, Goss and Ristine slowly move around each other, and by the end of the song, they are entangled in each other’s phone cords. It’s a remarkably touching visual that communicates their snarled lives, both individually and as a couple.

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Wellhauen, Greenwell, and Arnold in the Phoenix Theatre’s “God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater.” Photo by Zach Rosing.

Charles Goad as Sen. Rosewater is a commanding presence. Isaac Wellhauen, as the financial advisor Norman Mushari, a comical melodramatic villain, is an artist with the single-eyebrow raise. I didn’t even know such a pronounced gesture was possible.

Rob Johansen has an especially impressive performance of “Rosewater Foundation (2nd Reprise).” Scot Greenwell and Jean Childers Arnold as Fred and Caroline Rosewater do “The Rhode Island Tango” with help from Wellhauen in another exceptional scene.

Suzanne Fleenor, Devan Mathias, Josiah McCruiston, Deb Sargent, Peter Scharbrough, Diane Boehm Tsao, and Mark Goetzinger round out the cast with solid backup characters.

The Phoenix’s stage virtually drips with talent in something akin to an all-star cast.

But I will state this: The show, as in the songs and script, is … well, like I said, weird. Normally I like weird. No, I LOVE weird. Absurd, dark, bizarre, challenging. Bring it on. I am also a manic fan of sci-fi and fantasy. I am not, though, a fan of Vonnegut. (Gasp! Blasphemy! Burn her!) While I have not read this particular book (I have, though, read others), I still can’t help but feel something was lost in the adaptation—as if it were watered down to a thin broth.

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Rob Johanson in the Phoenix Theatre’s “God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater.” Photo by Zach Rosing.

So, if you go, there are several possible outcomes. Like me, you might exit the theater with the thought “What the hell did I just see?” Or you may love it, hate it, be enraged by the treatment of the book’s material, or dote on how well it translated to the stage. This one is really up in the air. So you’ll just have to take your chances.

Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

NoExit Performance: “Nickel and Dimed”

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NoExit’s “Nickel and Dimed.” Photo by Daniel Axler.

It was the hotdog buns.

There are some images that stick with you. For me, it was the hotdog buns. That’s when I was sure that I had seen this show before. Because seeing someone eat hotdog buns for lunch because that’s all they can afford is something that stays with you.

That review, which was produced  by a different company, is so old that it doesn’t even exist electronically, but what I find ironic and sad is that I can relate to this story even more now than I did then. I know how accurate the food bank box that Barbara gets is. I’ve been one of those people who work three jobs and still can’t make ends meet. Sometimes I still can’t.

Many people who can afford theater tickets have never personally experienced these situations. That’s why it’s important for them to see it spilled* out for them onstage (or in the round, in this case).

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NoExit’s “Nickel and Dimed.” Photo by Daniel Axler.

The play Nickel and Dimed is based on the best-selling book by Barbara Ehrenreich, Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting by in America, which was published in 2002. Ehrenreich, who was very comfortable financially by working as a writer, took on an investigative project that would require her to live on minimum wage—that meant rent, food, transportation, clothing … all of it. The play distills her experiences and commentary from the book, but the message rings out: People can’t live this way. No matter how hard they work—and they work very, very, VERY hard—they will never get ahead. It’s simply a matter of numbers. Everything costs more for the poor because they have nothing to start with, so, for example, they end up living in seedy motels—or their car—because they can’t afford a deposit on an apartment.

For NoExit’s production, the audience sits in relatively comfy office-type chairs in the middle of a currently empty office space that is easily imagined to become a cubicle hell. Scene by scene, minimum-wage workers bust their asses off around you.

Barbara, played by Bridget Haight, never really has to feel the full pain of poverty because she starts with a slush fund, and she can bail when she wants to and return to her posh apartment that she shares with her boyfriend. She tries out several different states, starting off each time with no job and no living space of her own. By the time she finishes her project, Barbara has a much clearer view of the working poor’s backs that support the upper-middle-class and upper-class lifestyles.

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NoExit’s “Nickel and Dimed.” Photo by Daniel Axler.

“Malmart” workers are required to put in unpaid overtime. Their managers are stuck in a similar rut because they are under the thumb of quotas and budgets set by suits that have never walked into a discount store. Or the owners of a cleaning service or restaurant are so intent on making a any profit that they don’t mind pulling it from the life force of their employees. These workers rarely if ever get to sit down. They are subjected to the verbal abuse from customers and sometimes-unsafe working conditions. Waitresses are given crap tips, and their paychecks reflect only a $2+ wage because the government expects them to make up the difference in those tips.

NoExit’s production brings these people to life. Carrie Bennett, Kallen Ruston, Tracy Herring, Latoya Moore, Elysia Rohn, and Ryan Ruckman play multiple roles under the direction of Callie Burke Hartz. The actors embody each person’s different circumstances, heritage, and mindset. Their characterization flexibility is remarkable. The team of actors creates convincing characters who really think getting a raise to $7.35 an hour is a big deal or working in a factory for $9 an hour is a small miracle. Haight builds Barbara’s frustration and helplessness in the face of these revelations as she encounters each new and appalling workplace and story from her co-workers.

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NoExit’s “Nickel and Dimed.” Photo by Shannon Samson.

At the end, the workers stand on one side of the room and Barbara, back in her Florida apartment where her boyfriend recently bought an $800 couch, stands at the other, the literal space emphasizing the symbolic one. This last scene makes a poignant silent statement. We are not the same, and no matter what, we never really will be. Even a living wage isn’t going to bridge that divide. A living wage is a great place to start, but it will take generations and scores of other governmental changes to truly lessen the gap between the working poor and everyone else.

Hopefully, the message will make people think more about those waitresses, those customer-service people, those wage slaves.

  • Through May 19, Thursdays-Saturdays at 8 p.m.
  • $12-50-$25
  • The Bingo Hall, 3633 E. Raymond St.
  • Industry Night: Half price tickets May 10
  • https://nickeldimed.bpt.me

“Work is what you do for others; smoking is what you do for yourself. I don’t know why the anti-smoking crusaders have never grasped the element of defiant self-nurturance that makes the habit so endearing to its victims—as if, in the American workplace, the only thing people have to call their own is the tumors they are nourishing and the spare moments they devote to feeding them.” —Barbara Ehrenreich

Amen to that.

* This is in repsonse to an e-mail I got questioning the choice of “spilled out.”

“Spill” is intentional. Yeah, the typical phrase is “spelled out,” but for a subject like this, I felt spill was more visceral. You can read something on paper and still not get it. I had another paragraph that was really personal and I cut it. Part of it had to do with me being a weekly food banker myself — St. Vincent de Paul off 30th and Gleaners on the west side. Always these two because of all the food banks in town, these are the best ones because you get the best quality and selection. I also know what times and days are best to go. If you hit St  V on the wrong day and the wrong time, you can wait upwards of 3 hours to get food.

So, I went with the phrase “spill” because sometimes you will get produce that has gone bad. Sometimes it’s manageable. Oranges that are green outside but still OK if you cut them open. A pineapple where about half can be salvaged. But sometimes, it’s not so great. The worst two times involved potatoes and salad. I got a bag of potatoes one day. When I got home and unloaded I noticed one of my bags was leaking. All that was in the bag were the potatoes. When I emptied the bag, I found that one or two of the potatoes was so rotten it had liquified. It smelled so horrible that I had to throw away the bag (I had put the bag of potatoes into one of my own re-usable shopping bags). And I had to throw away the rest of the potatoes because once that sludge had started spilling out, it contaminated the entire lot of them. A potato can’t really come back from something like that. Not as easy to wash as an orange.

The salad was a similar experience. If they aren’t past-due pre-bagged from grocery stores, then the food bank gets it in bulk. (Places like restaurants or other mass food producers will donate expired produce and other products. This is most often seen at St. V.) So large bags of cut lettuce aren’t unusual. Actually, if St V has a surplus of anything that is really in bad shape, it’s a “freebie.” (Gleaners does this sometimes too.) Once you are checked in, according to household size you get a number of “points” to go “shopping.” Different items are worth different amounts of points. Anyway, one of these bags of salad ended up being a mass of similar sludge. This was a bag I had even spent one of my points on. I put it in the crisper drawer of my fridge. Let’s just say bleach was involved later, as there were small air holes in the packaging.

One of my friends got a watermelon there once. (There are 3 of us who carpool on a regular basis. Maybe the poor run in packs?) It looked fine, but when she cut into it, the entire inside was sludge.

So instead of the issues in the play being “spelled out,” I saw them as being “spilled out.” Again, a far cry from reading about something versus having a bag of rotten potatoes or lettuce spilled out at your feet. The sight, the smell, the feel on your hands of cleaning it up …

I had gone on in the review so much about the subject matter in the play as opposed to giving the majority of the space to the (very well-done) production that I cut all this stuff out before I posted it. Maybe I should have left it. Admitting that I go to food banks is embarrassing. I suppose it shouldn’t be, but the social stigma is there. Akin to the smoking thing. Lots of people get indignant when “poor people” smoke because it’s expensive, but it really is a matter of control. I quit when I was pregnant, but the stress of the situation my family was in (it was pretty dire) drove me back about 3 months after my son was born. I needed that break, that time, and the nicotine really *is* a stress reliever to boot. There is so much that we can’t control that it feels like a small act of defiance to do so. And it *is* a chance to step away and let the rest of the world go on without you for three minutes. It’s a relief, an escape, an oasis. And other people leave you alone while you do it … unless they are other smokers, in which case an immediate comraderie occurs because you are all social outcasts, rebels in this one way.

I feel being a reviewer is a privilege in so many ways. Theaters put their trust in me to evaluate a production. And in the end, who am I, really? I’m just one person. Any critic is, no matter what paper or blog or whatever they are affiliated with, whether it’s wordpress or the New York Times. And it’s not unusual for other critics to disagree with me. So, given my own circumstances, being afforded comped tickets is my own small miracle — like that daydream of $9 an hour the “Malmart” employee talks about. There’s no way I could see shows without those comps. So when someone takes the time to actually read let alone respond to something I wrote, it means a great deal to me.

Sorry about the novelette I’ve written here. 🙂 I think writing all this out was somewhat cathartic for me — to put into words things I have rarely even said out loud, even admitted to myself or tried to ignore.

A song from Avenue Q comes to mind:

What do you do with a BA in English?
What is my life going to be?
Four years of college and plenty of knowledge
Have earned me this useless degree.

I can’t pay the bills yet,
‘Cause I have no skills yet,
The world is a big scary place.

But somehow I can’t shake,
The feeling I might make,
A difference
To the human race.

Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

Footlite Musicals: “Priscilla, Queen of the Desert”

priscilla2Footlite Musicals spent a small fortune to rent the costumes for Priscilla, Queen of the Desert from the Broadway show, and they are just as fab-u-lous as you would expect from a musical about three drag queens. So visually, Priscilla is a riot of color and outlandish styles.

The bad part is that the ensemble looks hesitant, off-balance, or just terrified in the costumes. My first thought is that it’s fear of destroying something that cost, most likely, more than my house. I would be freaked out too. Or perhaps they just didn’t get the opportunity to wear the costumes enough before opening night to really get a feel for them. After all, 4-foot-high headwear and the like can take some getting used to.

But whatever the cause, it just didn’t look as if the ensemble was having fun. And that’s what the show is really about—it’s an excuse to be campy as hell and sing some reinterpreted classics from the ’70s and ’80s. Arguments can be made that it is a reflection on societal issues such as homophobia, but really. It’s too Mamma Mia.

Set in Australia, the thin plot begins with Michael Howard as Tick/Mitzi, who has never seen his son. His act in Sydney is stale, and after his young son Benji pulls a promise out of Tick to visit, Tick recruits two other performers, Chris Jones as Adam/Felicia, and John Phillips as Bernadette, to accompany him to Alice Springs, where they will put on a show at his wife’s casino. Felicia acquires an RV for the two-week journey that she christens “Priscilla,” which looks like a Gay Pride Mystery Mobile. Beware of stuffed roadkill too.

Howard portrays Tick as a character at odds with himself. His heart is in drag, but he is still skittish about admitting it outside the safety of the theater. When not onstage, he is always dressed in more “normal” clothing. In addition, he has guilt over being an absentee dad. Howard communicates these conflicted feelings well. Somewhat ironically, though, his strongest song is “Always on My Mind,” which he sings with his son, played by Rocco Meo. Although the “MacArthur Park” abandoned cake bit was pretty funny.

Jones is by far the queenest of the queens, overflowing with sass and unapologetic about it. His performance is the most entertaining and animated, and his songs are the best. He also leads a slo-mo effect for “Hot Stuff” that is riveting.

Bernadette, who is transgender, is old school from when performers appreciated the art of lip-synching. Phillips acts as the matron of the trio, a lady in many ways, but she doesn’t back down when a one-liner or a good kick is needed to put someone in his or her place. A burgeoning love interest between her and Bob, a backwoods mechanic played by Dan Flahive, makes for some sweet feels.

While the spotlight wasn’t as schizophrenic as it often is at Footlite, the sound was an issue. Bad mikes or overwhelming orchestration made for lost lyrics.

But I will end this with a positive note: An unexpected moment of pure hilarity from a mullet-ed redneck, Shirley, played by Lauren Johnson, was actually the highlight in laughter for me. Her unabashedly grody state and pelvic gyrations are so obscene they simply have to be seen.

  • Through May 20,  Thursday-Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. and Sundays at 2:30 p.m.
  • $5-$23
  • Sign language-interpreted performance: May 12
  • Sing-Along performance Saturday, May 12 at 2:30 p.m.
  • Priscilla’s Closet Fashion Show Saturday, May 19 5, p.m. Feast your eyes on a 45-minute fashion show extravaganza showcasing the Tony Award-winning costume designs.
  • www.footlite.org
Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

Civic Theatre: “Hairspray”

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Nina Stilabower in Civic Theatre’s “Hairspray”

It’s likely you’ve seen the movie, the musical, the movie-musical, and/or the “live” TV-musical of Hairspray, but Civic Theatre’s production is so much fun you will be glad you went ahead and saw it again.

First, the choreography. I was blown away by the choreography.

Sometimes, in a community theater setting, especially when working with a large ensemble, you are lucky to get a few synchronized steps and call it a success. Here, the choreography isn’t just well-executed, it is dynamic, and more than just high-energy, it is intense. And it is flawless. Anne Beck’s choreographer is challenging, but the cast, over 40 total, owns it. I can only imagine the rehearsals and the sweat. Acknowledgement should also be given to the hard work of the dance captains, Michael Humphrey and Melissa Mellinger, for coaxing out dance moves of such high caliber.

Second, the sets. The shadow effects that are used, the backdrop of colorful lights, the details in the joke shop, the use of scaffolding as layers … Scenic designer David Rockwell and lighting designer Ryan Koharchik crafted an above-par, changeable environment for the story.

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Evan Wallace, Nina Stilabower, and Company in Civic Theatre’s “Hairspray”

And so on to Tracy Turnblad, the high-haired star of the show. Nina Stilabower delivers in a performance that any fan of the soundtrack would find impeccable. And as a character, Stilabower keeps Tracy’s backbone intact. Tracy stays strong in her resistance to bigotry in any form in any situation.

Stilabower and Zachary Hoover, as Link Larkin, complement each other vocally in “It Takes Two,” and Hoover is adorable as the pretty boy who learns to see the bigger picture, so to speak.

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Justin Klein, Zachary Hoover, and Nina Stilabower in Civic Theatre’s “Hairspray”

So many high-caliber scenes and songs deserve mention, but I am just going to give you my personal faves. One standout for me is “Mama, I’m a Big Girl Now,” with Stilabower, Evan Wallace (Edna), Mikayla Koharchik (Velma), Emily Hollowell (Amber,) Robyne J. Ault (Prudy), and Jenny Reber (Penny). They just mesh so well together, it left me impressed. Joyce Licorish as Motormouth Maybelle performs a rousing “I Know Where I’ve Been.” And Michael Hassell has some sweet moves as Seaweed Stubbs. Two unnamed standouts are the scatting prowess of the Prison Matron and the aerial moves of the photographer in “Welcome to the ’60s.” Wallace and J. Stuart Mill (Wilbur) combine the funny yet sweet in “Timeless to Me.” And Hollowell is the manifestation of a teenage-y temper tantrum as Amber.

The show’s message is still vital, but it is wrapped up within such a lively show that the heavy stuff—the situations of those perceived as “different”—begin to sink in later. Then, you can continue the conversations that started decades ago. Maybe someday, we won’t have to. Until then, you have Hairspray.

  • Through May 11, Thursdays-Saturdays at 7 p.m.; Sundays at 2 p.m.; final Saturday at 5 p.m.
  • $24-$45
  • http://civictheatre.org

Side note: There were a couple little kids in front of me at the performance I attended; they looked to be around the age of 8 give or take. I was impressed that they cheered more for the announcement of Newsies as part of Civic’s next season than they did for Shrek and that they not only sat through the performance but also seemed to truly enjoy it. However, I do want to caution parents that if you choose to take your youngsters, be prepared for some funny looks and/or questions, such as explaining the correlation between circumcision and Judaism. Just saying.

 

Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

Actors Theatre of Indiana: “The Mystery of Edwin Drood”

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Actors Theatre of Indiana’s “The Mystery of Edwin Drood”

Who knew that Charles Dickens could be so funny?

I didn’t. His writing always made me go “blah,” and after a few pages, I would toss the book across the room, never to be seen again.

But … The Mystery of Edwin Drood, the final, unfinished novel by Dickens, was adapted into a hilarious musical melodrama, and Actors Theatre of Indiana is staging a sidesplitting production of the choose-your-own-adventure show.

This is the second play-within-a-play production that opened last weekend, but this one most definitely has a different feel to it. For starters, it’s in the small Studio Theater in the Carmel Performing Arts Center, so you are in a more intimate setting. Speaking of intimate, if you are one of the lucky few to have a table in the front row, don’t be surprised if you end up with a “lady of the evening” on your lap at some point. Aisles are fair game for interaction, but lap sitting is limited for obvious logistical reasons.

The story is set in a pub, where the patrons and bar wench perform their sad tale, which, incidentally, isn’t so much about Drood but his fiancé, the lovely Rosa Bud, who is the picture of propriety, and Drood’s uncle, John Jasper, a creepy man who desires Rosa for his own. The point of Drood’s character is to decide who killed him.

The show starts off strong with a company number, and from there just gets funnier and funnier and better and better. This is melodrama at its best weaved with crackerjack songs. Everything is gloriously ludicrous—characters are overplayed to create the most absurd personas possible.

It. Is. Awesome.

Everyone in the cast takes on multiple roles … except Flo, the barmaid, played by Karaline Feller, whose poor character is often left in the sidelines despite her vivacious if lowbrow personality.

Drood (before he is offed) is played by Alice Nutting, who is played by Cynthia Collins. “Alice” is introduced as a famous “male impersonator” and given the role of Drood. Collins’ Drood is a happy if clueless little chap; audience sympathy for Drood runs high when his bloodied coat is discovered and the worst is assumed.

One who is not sympathetic is what should be an intimidating force known as Neville Landless, played by Logan Moore. Moore’s character is just deliciously ridiculous. Neville tries to look aggressive, but his outrageous movements and facial expressions just make him look like a fool. His equally bizarre twin sister Helena, played by Jaddy Ciucci, is fluid where Neville is stiff, gliding around the stage in her Middle Eastern-dance-type garb and looking mysterious. Both are from abroad with accents of “indeterminate origin.”

Another is John Jasper. Eric Olson as Jasper is by turns deranged and slightly less deranged. His pursuit of Rosa Bud, played by Harli Cooper, an innocent little bird in a cage, is so creepy.

This article does not cover the entire character list or cast, but I’m not leaving anyone out just to be kind. Really, everyone is exceptional here, so kudos to director D.J. Salisbury for this wonderfully campy show.

  • April 27-May 13, Wednesdays through Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m.
  • $25+
  • Carmel Center for the Performing Arts
  • http://atistage.org/

 

Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

Indiana Repertory Theatre: “Noises Off”

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Indiana Repertory Theatre’s “Noises Off.” Photo by Zach Rosing.

Have you ever wondered what is happening backstage during a play? Oftentimes it is all typical show work, such as prop handling, costume changes, etc. But sometimes, things can start to go terribly wrong, as is the case in Noises Off, and if those somethings snowball, they can cause the production to implode.

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Indiana Repertory Theatre’s “Noises Off.” Photo by Amber Mills.

Guess what happens here.

It’s the final dress rehearsal (or technical rehearsal—there is no agreement) before opening night of Nothing On, a silly little farce. The opening‘s trouble is leading lady Dotty, played by Hollis Resnik. It’s nearing midnight, but Dotty still cannot make it through her scene without flubbing lines or misplacing her plate of sardines. Director Lloyd Dallas, played by Ryan Artzberger, has reached, retreated, and reached his breaking point several times. He barks orders at the poor assistant stage manager Poppy, played by Mehry Eslaminia, a mousy woman who looks terrified each time Lloyd makes demands. His verbal abuse is made even more inexcusable when we find out that he is sleeping with her. But he is also sleeping with Brooke, played by Ashley Dillard, a spacy blonde who can’t seem to fully comprehend what is happening around her. She also seems to lose her contacts as often as Dotty loses her sardines. But Dotty isn’t the only one causing trouble, as issues such as motivation are brought up by other cast members—questions that should have been explored waaay before this moment.

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Indiana Repertory Theatre’s “Noises Off.” Photo by Zach Rosing.

The cast’s peculiarities continue with the persistently and annoyingly optimistic Belinda, played by Heidi Kettenring. Leading man Garry, played by Jerry Richardson, seems to have a unique speech disorder; he cannot complete a sentence, instead ending each one with the phrase “you know,” as if you are supposed to know. He is romantically involved with Dotty, which will make for some good backstage comedy later. Freddie, played by Robert Neal, has his own strange disorder in that the mere insinuation of any kind of violence causes a nosebleed. Selsdon, played by Rob Riley, is supposed to be a seasoned actor, but he’s also a drunk, and when he is actually around, he spends most of his time playing “find the whisky bottle”—which he always inevitably does. Finally, the stage manager Tim, played by Will Allan, is barely conscious from overwork and lack of sleep but finds himself in some very strange predicaments.

With a set of characters this idiosyncratic, mayhem is bound to happen.

While the first act is good for laughs, Acts 2 and 3 are where the farce really takes off. Yes, there are two intermissions, but I am certain the second one is for the actors’ benefit. You’ll understand why. Scenic designer Bill Clarke’s set rotates as if it is on a giant lazy Susan (think the Les Mis barricade), exchanging the front of the stage for backstage. The next two acts are then set during the actual run of the show.

Over the next two acts, the slapstick escalates and Nothing On deteriorates.

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Indiana Repertory Theatre’s “Noises Off.” Photo by Zach Rosing.

One of the most entertaining of the shenanigans involves Gary, who is incensed when he thinks something is going on between Freddie and Dotty. Of course Freddie gets pulled into the middle, one incentive being misunderstood fellatio. Accidental dry humping, a fire ax, dropped trousers, shrinking bouquets, missing sheets, missing sheiks, and so much more over the next two acts lead to the show’s inevitable demise. Richardson, as Gary, especially is subjected to physical humor, climbing and rolling around on the two-level backstage with his shoelaces tied together while he attempts various attacks.

It’s likely the “audience” for the last performance of Nothing On was either very confused or highly amused.

I was highly amused.

The cast, with director David Bradley, has a field day with this play. In their hands, it’s hysterical, horrifying, and fascinating to watch. The cast lets the tension rise until everyone and everything just snaps. It seems as if I’ve used this word a lot lately, but it is too apropos to not use again, and it actually defines the whole play: schadenfreude at its best.

 

Posted in Indianapolis theater: previews, Indianapolis theater: reviews

Theater marathon

It’s not unusual for multiple theaters to open shows on the same weekend.

What is unusual is that every single show was fantastic.

This week, I started with Wicked on Thursday, Noises Off at the Indiana Repertory Theatre on Friday, The Mystery of Edwin Drood at Actors Theatre of Indiana on Saturday, and then I concluded my whirlwind weekend with Hairspray at Civic Theatre.

I’m trying my best to get my thoughts about the last three up here as quickly as possible (I already posted Wicked), but how many synonyms can you come up with for “fantastic” before you just sound unbearably repetitive?

I’m hoping for a minimum of one review per day, in the order that I saw them. So bear with me.

Interesting side note: The Mystery of Edwin Drood and Noises Off are both play-within-a-play structures. I just thought that was a funny coincidence.

 

Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

“Wicked” presented through Broadway Across America Indiana

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The cast of “Wicked” presented by Broadway Across America — Indiana. Photo by Joan Marcus.

It’s all about the spectacle.

For many of us, touring productions of big-name shows are the closest we will ever get to Broadway. While I am confident that there is talent here in Indianapolis that could pull off Wicked’s book and songs, the awe-inspiring sets, scenery, lighting, costumes, and special effects are what really make those expensive tickets worth every cent. (Interesting side note: Local musicians are incorporated into the traveling orchestra.)

And this tour of Wicked is no exception.

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Mary Kate Morrissey and Ginna Claire Mason in “Wicked.” Photo by Joan Marcus.

This is not to say that the quality of this troupe is lacking. The very opposite. And the people onstage are what the audience predominantly focuses on after the cascade of green lights or flying monkeys pass. Mary Kate Morrissey as Elphaba and Ginna Claire Mason as Glinda must have a rapport that runs deeper than just being co-stars. They play off each so well when the girls begin to form their friendship. Thursday night, Morrissey had Mason almost losing her character at one point; Morrissey must have thrown in an improv move during one of their popularity lessons. Over time, both actresses realistically develop their characters, as flighty Glinda matures and is exposed to the darker side of reality and angsty Elphaba’s anger coalesces into the persona of the Wicked Witch that we are familiar with. But of course, Elphaba is never completely wicked, just as Glinda never completely turns on Elphaba. Both actresses give us those clandestine glimpses before tucking them back behind the masks they wear.

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Mary Kate Morrissey and Ginna Claire Mason in “Wicked.” Photo by Joan Marcus.

Glinda is exceptional in her role, but while Morrissey is equally talented, hand gestures that look forced and so-close-but-not-quite-there notes in both “I’m Not That Girl” and “Defying Gravity” were distracting. However, most audience members wouldn’t even notice these unless they were analyzing details.

Jody Gleb as Madame Morrible and Tom McGowan as the Wizard give their roles the weight the cunning characters deserve. The only other person I’m going to mention—you can read the program—is Jon Robert Hall as Fiyero. (Another interesting side note: He played the beat box Warbler in Glee.) His presence as Fiyero (as written in the musical, not so much the book) is spot-on, as are his vocals. And he’s hot.

Bottom line: The ticket price is worth it. This is an excellent rendition of what will eventually be considered a classic.

 

Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

Mud Creek Players: “The Amorous Ambassador”

I hadn’t been out to see a show from Mud Creek Players in years, but I remember their theater always being packed. This trip was no exception. The theater has a loyal following, which is a testament to the productions they produce.

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Ronan Marra (Harry)Tom Riddle (Captain South, standing) and Katie Carter (Marian) in Mud Creek Players’ “Amorous Ambassador.” Photo by Duane Mercier.

The Amorous Ambassador is a fun, silly comedy. It’s the sequel to The Sensuous Senator, which Mud Creek also produced in 2016. However, if you didn’t see The Sensuous Senator, pay it no mind. The premise of The Amorous Ambassador is very easy to pick up. Harry Douglas, played by Ronan Marra, has become the American ambassador to Great Britain after losing a presidential race in which he ran on a “morality” platform. Seeing as how Harry is known as “Hormone Harry,” this is no surprise. The man is a horn dog. He and his family are still settling into their new life abroad and enjoying their country house, but Harry has already found himself a mark: the very willing next-door neighbor Marian, played by Katie Carter. Each member of the family is supposed to be leaving for the weekend, but Harry and his daughter Debbie, played by Sara Castillo Dandurand, each think they have the perfect plan: empty house means getting laid.

Harry is having Marian over for the weekend, complete with role-playing costumes. Carter looks great in her sexy French maid costume, but Marra in his Tarzan outfit … just … yikes. (This is the point, though. Remember: fun, silly comedy.) Debbie is planning to spend the weekend with her boyfriend Joe, played by Colin C. Landberg. Joe seems to be the most reserved of the four, which is interesting given the situation he will find himself in later. At first, Joe seems to be an auxiliary character, but in fact, Landberg gets the most fluid and animated role, and he is absurdly entertaining in each persona.

Perkins, the proper English butler, played by Craig Kemp, is stuck in the middle of Harry and Debbie’s drama. And while Perkins may be a professional, I was amazed that Kemp was able to keep a straight face throughout all the madness he gets dragged into. Perkins gets as much action as Joe in the sight gags and turns of phrases, but Kemp never lets Perkins lose his cool, even when he is trapped in Debbie’s cleavage. Quite convincingly, I might add.

When the American Embassy receives a bomb threat, the country house goes on lockdown—no one in or out. Which then introduces us to Marine Captain South, played by Tom Riddle. (I’m so sorry, Tom. I can only imagine the number of Harry Potter jokes you must have to endure.) Harry’s secretary Faye, played by Ann Ellerbrook, arrives with South. Ellerbrook’s Faye elevates the “dumb blonde” caricature to a new base-camp high, to the point where Faye could easily have brain damage from extended oxygen deprivation. Unfortunately, South is always the victim of Faye’s clumsiness, and Riddle has to be manhandled several times due to Faye’s uncanny ability to inadvertently knock him out cold.

Rounding out the cast is Harry’s wife Lois, played by Sherry Compton. Compton is seen only briefly, but she gives the show an unexpected last laugh.

Director Arlene Haskin balances the over-the-top characters with the more straightforward depictions of others, keeping the show from being too ridiculous. Instead of being bombarded, you can enjoy the crazy without feeling overstimulated.

Landberg and Kemp get the gold stars, but the entire cast is solid and commendable. The show is proof of why Mud Creek has that loyal following.

Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

Carmel Community Players: “Ragtime, the Musical”

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Carmel Community Players’ “Ragtime, the Musical.” Photo by Charles Hanover.

For its first production after being uprooted from its home in Clay Terrace, the Carmel Community Players prove the move is no setback, knocking it out of the park with Ragtime, The Musical. For Ragtime, CCP takes the stage at the Ivy Tech auditorium in Noblesville, which is a really nice venue. And judging by audience size when I attended, CCP’s move didn’t hinder ticket sales. Seats in the auditorium are plentiful, and a great deal of them were occupied.

CCP’s production of Ragtime is a streamlined version, known as Version 2, but you won’t notice. All the music is there. Version 2 is designed for a smaller cast and/or orchestra with little to no scenery, making this a better fit for CCP. But to successfully stage this show, strong direction is a key, and Doug Peet delivers. A few props and minimal set pieces are used effectively, but the choreography, colorful costuming, and well-populated stage come together to create the look and feel of the show. The large ensemble fills out the stage, creating a moving backdrop of humanity, which is apropos given the issues of inequality the show is built on. Since both costumes and choreography have such an impact on the show, costume designer Stephen Hollenbeck and choreographer Maureen Hiner-Akinx must be congratulated.

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Carmel Community Players’ “Ragtime, the Musical.” Photo by Charles Hanover.

And the excellent talent on this stage will keep you focused on the cast. To pair off, Heather Hansen and Rich Phipps as Mother and Father both perform with dynamic vocals. Angela Manlove, as Sarah, with Ronald Spriggs as Coalhouse, has a moving, eloquent voice, and Spriggs holds his own as well. Individually, Benjamin Elliott as Younger Brother and Clarissa Bowers as Emma Goldman both perform impassioned numbers. And Detra Carter steps out of the ensemble to perform an equally intense solo. All of the aforementioned sounded pitch-perfect at the performance I saw. Thom Brown as Tateh has a little trouble with the upper registers but still gives an impressive performance overall.

There were some minor sound and light mishaps, but, hey, it was opening weekend in an unfamiliar venue …

Carmel Community Players is proving that it will be just fine as it moves through the available performing spaces around town while looking for a new permanent home.

  • Through April 29, Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. and Sundays at 2:30 p.m.
  • $18; $16 for seniors (62+) and students
  • Ivy Tech, 300 N. 17th St., Noblesville
  • www.carmelplayers.org
Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

EclecticPond Theatre Company: “J. Eyre: A New Musical”

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Abby Gilster and Tim Hunt in EclecticPond Theatre Company’s “J. Eyre: A New Musical.” Photo by Derek Martin.

Full disclosure: I have not read Jane Eyre. I feel this statement is necessary because the show I am writing about is J. Eyre: A New Musical, so, obviously. Which segues into … Last month I went off on the bastardization of A Wrinkle in Time because the movie played too loose with the book.

So I’m feeling some guilt.

If you are a fan of Jane Eyre, I’m sorry that I can’t compare and contrast the book and this adaptation by Paige Scott (music, lyrics, and book). I also can’t compare this production and the one that EclecticPond also staged in July of 2017 because I didn’t see that one.

More guilt.

So, those of you who have read the book need to let me know if the character of Jane really does have a stick the size of a tree trunk up her ass.

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Abby Gilster and Tim Hunt in EclecticPond Theatre Company’s “J. Eyre: A New Musical.” Photo by Derek Martin.

I can understand the puritanical, sometimes painful naiveté given Jane’s upbringing, but her interactions with Rochester here are practically clinical. Wasn’t she supposed to actually be in love with him in the book?

This could be why Abby Gilster’s default expressions are confused and confused outrage. Sadly, Gilster’s Jane is as bland as artificially flavored vanilla ice cream. HOWEVER, this could be a byproduct of Jane as a character just being boring. In contrast, Tim Hunt as Rochester is a chocolaty emo manwhore with a mohawk. Whereas we see Rochester vaguely (because he’s emo) start to see Jane as the antithesis of his self-centered, shallow lifestyle, there is no indication that Jane’s feelings are evolving or softening—because there is no indication that Jane has feelings beyond confusion and confused outrage. While Hunt is fun to watch in his ridiculous self-induced despondence, there is just no chemistry between him and Gilster.

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Miranda Nehrig in EclecticPond Theatre Company’s “J. Eyre: A New Musical.” Photo by Derek Martin.

But this adaptation is a musical, so let’s move on. I encountered a lot of raised eyebrows when I told people I was seeing a production of Jane Eyre that is a musical, but it works. The numbers provide needed exposition, complement the events, condense plot lines, move the story forward, and/or introduce characters. Just one example is Miranda Nehrig distilling and elucidating Blanche’s motivations and personality within a single number, a wickedly sexy “Hot to Trot.”

Vocally, the cast is striking and decidedly impassioned. While not absolutely perfect on absolutely every note, they are close, and they are singing with no mics, no fancy auto-tuning—just the accompaniment of pianist Jacob Stensberg (and kudos to you, too, for being the sole instrumentalist). This makes their musical numbers acutely dramatic.

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Mary Margaret Montgomery in EclecticPond’s “J. Eyre: A New Musical.” Photo by Derek Martin.

Gilster and Hunt are the only two actors who don’t work multiple characters. In addition to Nehrig, Mary Margaret Montgomery, Andrea Heiden, Chelsea Leis, and Carrie Neal effectively create the many auxiliary characters, giving each one distinct traits and mannerisms that manifest even the most minor characters.

The language is tweaked in this production to add an unexpected modern word or phrase, so there are the occasional throw-ins such as “kinky” and “bat shit.” The costuming is also a blend of styles with nods to the time period. Most are an elegant mish-mash, except for poor Jane, who is dressed in a remarkably unflattering outfit with a skirt that looks as if she pulled a Scarlett O’Hara.

The staging area is ringed with electric votive candles, containing the action and appropriately setting a somewhat gothic mood. Lighting designer Patrick Weigand gets the most out of the limited lighting effects available.

Does the show make me want to peruse the literary moors of Thornfield? No. But I will give credit where it’s due, and this production of J. Eyre does contain some notable acting and eloquently arranged music.

Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

“The Matchmaker” at Buck Creek Players

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Brigette McCleary Short and Gloria Bray in Buck Creek Players’ “The Matchmaker.” Photo by photoGary.net.

The best part of Buck Creek Players’ The Matchmaker is Gloria Bray. As Dolly Gallagher Levi, Bray can spit out dialogue at a breakneck speed like a caffeinated puppy with ADD on fast-forward.

Bray makes Dolly demand your attention whether she is central to the scene or not—Dolly will find a way to make it about her. She’s not one to stand by idly while other people talk—unless she is eavesdropping. And while Dolly cloaks her matchmaking duties in beneficence, each maneuver is part of a strategic plan to land her the rich merchant Horace Vandegelder (C. Leroy Delph).

Bray keeps Dolly smart and sly without comprising her character’s reflection of the times, the 1880s. In that era, intelligence wasn’t a characteristic many men were interested in for a wife. So Dolly manipulates Vandegelder into thinking her ideas were actually his ideas. She knows what kind of lifestyle she wants, and she immediately pivots when necessary to make it happen.

Dolly is a complex meddler, and it’s no wonder she was given her own musical, Hello, Dolly!

Bray’s closest contender is the taking-no-shit whip-cracker Brigette McCleary Short as Irene Molloy, with her impertinent, unapologetic ways when it comes to men. Molloy takes what she wants, the best demonstration of which is McCleary Short roaring a declaration with a finger almost shoved up the other person’s nose. I wouldn’t have been surprised if Molloy had declared,” Fuck off!” at that moment. Of course, Molloy was drunk at the time, but I think McCleary Short would have allowed it sober.

  • Through April 8, Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2:30 p.m.
  • $18 for adults; $16 for children, students (through college), and senior citizens (aged 62 or older)
  • http://www.buckcreekplayers.com
Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

“And Then There Were None” at Civic Theatre

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“And Then There Were None” at Civic Theatre. Photo by Zach Rosing.

It’s all fun and games until someone drops dead.

Well, even then it’s still fun and games for one person. The question is, who is that person?

Hence, And Then There Were None, the Agatha Christie murder mystery on stage at Civic Theatre. Ten people have been invited to Soldier Island off the coast of Devon, England; the goal is to successively pick them off following the pattern in the poem “10 Little Soldier Boys” — sort of like a checklist. The killer sees this as redemption for the alleged murders each guest is accused of, which are recited on a recording so the others can know each other’s sins.

Once Anthony Marston (Bradford Reilly) chokes to death, the threat finally seems real. The group is completely cut off from the mainland, and there is little for them to do but accuse each other and wait to die next.

Completing the list of potential victims are Matt Anderson, Christy Walker, Carrie A. Schlatter, Joshua Ramsey, Steve Kruze, Tom Beeler, Christine Kruze, David Mosedale, David Wood, with Dick Davis as the ferryman.

The actors’ performances were guided by their characters’ superficial descriptions — the righteous old maid, the flighty young woman, the defensive cop, the swaggering soldier, etc. I didn’t really care when one of them got picked off. It felt as if the cast was just going through the motions.

From a technical standpoint, Ryan Koharchik’s set design was spot-on, and director Chuck Goad had everyone hitting his or her marks. But overall, I wasn’t as impressed as I could have been by the Civic or the cast and crew involved.

  • March 23-April 8; Wednesdays-Saturdays at 7 p.m.; Sundays at 2 p.m.; last Saturday at 5 p.m.
  • Prices vary
  • http://civictheatre.org
Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

Phoenix Theatre: “Fairfield” (4 stars)

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

Playwright Eric Coble shows an almost wicked sense of humor in his play Fairfield, a portrayal of Black History Month at Fairfield Elementary School that goes horribly wrong. Far from being a dig at the commemorative month, however, the play’s farce highlights what can be an equal opportunity clusterfuck when people are hyper-aware of being politically correct or aren’t aware of their own prejudices or lack of actual education.

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

Fairfield Elementary considers itself a diverse, liberal school, touting “Peace. Love. Respect for all.” But a young, clueless, and overeager first-grade teacher’s attempts at what she considers educational lesson plans for Black History Month — the most benign of which is a spelling list including the words “chitlins” and “booty” — set off a chain reaction of misguided escapades that deteriorate in almost diabolical ways. (The teacher genuinely seems lacking in good judgment based on her wardrobe choices alone. She’d win any ugly sweater competition hands down.) The lynchpin comes when the parents of two boys —one black, one white — go tête-à-tête after the white boy “role plays” master and slave by trying to flog the black boy with a chain he crafted out of linked paperclips. The poor principal is on the verge of a heart attack by the time it all comes to a head in a raucous and so gloriously offensive assembly.

fairfield2Directed by Ansley Valentine, Milicent Wright, one of Indianapolis’ most multi-talented actors, takes on the role of Principal Wadley. (She was most recently seen in the Indiana Repertory Theatre’s superlative staging of Romeo and Juliet and participated in an educational capacity in the IRT’s children’s production of Town Mouse and Country Mouse.) While Wadley isn’t a novice in the principal’s seat, she finds herself floundering during her first year at Fairfield, and Wright renders the descent of Wadley’s patience and professional sanity. Her nemesis is the young teacher Laurie Kaminski, played by Mara Lefler, who gives Kaminski a determined petulance that could rival her pupils’. She manages to straight-facedly and earnestly recite Kaminski’s mother’s words of wisdom that carry excellent double entendres: “If you pull out early no one is satisfied.”

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

Wadley gets no help from the superintendent, who is fixated on the word “dialogue,” played by Doug Powers, who also portrays the father, Scott, of the white boy in a well-done definement of the two characters. Dwuan Watson also splits his characters, as the black boy’s father, Daniel, and Charles Clark, a participant in the civil rights movement who gives an, ahem, impassioned presentation at the school. Watson enthusiastically gives us some of the meatiest comedy in the show.

Jean Arnold, as Molly, and LaKesha Lorene, as Vanessa, are the mothers of the two boys. Arnold plays up the self-congratulatory aspects of Molly who thinks she is so nonracist but is, just…not, while Lorene’s character is self-righteously more combative if actually more rational. But, wow, Lorene’s death glare would stop an ax murder in his tracks.

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

Sadly, the show’s design isn’t the most conducive to line of sight for the audience. The rounded stage area is set too far forward in the black-box theater, and for those of us sitting on the far sides, we were often staring at the actors’ backs. I felt this was a real detriment from my (obstructed) point of view. The night I was there, though, the theater was packed by the time I arrived, so my seating choices, granted, were limited.

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

The show is the Phoenix’s last in its current building, so audiences are seeing a bit of the theater’s own history in the making. The last hurrah is a concert of “Pure Prine,” which you can still catch Friday, March 16, at 7:30 p.m.

  • Through April 1; Thursdays at 7 p.m.; Fridays-Saturdays at 8 p.m.; Sundays at 2 p.m.
  • $20-$33
  • www.phoenixtheatre.org
Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

Indiana Repertory Theatre: “Appoggiatura” (5 stars)

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“Appoggiatura” at the IRT. Photo by Ed Stewart.

Ah-podge-uh-TOO-ruh. That’s the first question most people ask when faced with the title of the Indiana Repertory Theatre’s current production, Appoggiatura: How do you say that? And then: What? “Appoggiatura” is defined as “a type of musical ornament, falling on the beat, which often creates a suspension and subtracts for itself half the time value of the principal note that follows.” For the non-musical among us, that’s not a concept easily grasped. The IRT’s descriptive blurb about the show’s plot doesn’t give a lot away either.

So let me elaborate. Appoggiatura is about three people taking a vacation to Venice hoping to outrun their heartache back in the States. Helen (Susan Pellegrino) and “Aunt Chuck” (Tom Aulino) are mourning the recent death of Gordon, Helen’s ex-husband and Chuck’s husband. (Yes, Gordon left Helen for Chuck and Chuck and Helen are friends, just to clarify.) Accompanying them is Sylvie (Andrea San Miguel), Helen’s granddaughter, who is dealing with her own emotional confusion toward her girlfriend, whom we only meet via Skype.

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“Appoggiatura” at the IRT. Photo by Ed Stewart.

The vacation is immediately soured by Chuck’s incessant complaining over typical international-travel snafus: lost luggage, missing hotel reservations, and, most fun, an incompetent but genial “travel guider,” Marco (Casey Hoekstra). Chuck’s grousing is met by Helen’s equally grating and unyielding optimism. For the most part, Sylvie tries to stay out of the middle. There must be something funky in the canals’ water, because come the second act, both Chuck and Helen are having some interesting time-travel hallucinations (and it’s not from the pot that Marco acquired for Chuck). In the end, what we witness is each of the characters’ coping mechanisms for confronting dreams and expectations unfulfilled, but Helen and Chuck learn to hang on to the good parts too.

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“Appoggiatura” at the IRT. Photo by Ed Stewart.

The way the show is written and executed makes it ridiculously funny. And not in a guilty-laughing, Schadenfreude-kind of way. These characters’ interactions and surrounding events are just plain silly at times. Street musicians—Andrew Mayer, Paul Deboy, and Katrina Yaukey—add comedic support, and they provide some enchanting music that enhances the setting. The show’s tone is set right from the opening scene as Mayer and Pellegrino play a sort of violin tag. And there are mop dogs—as in real mops. Anyone who has been to Venice will appreciate the all-roads-lead-to-San Marco, as well as a pigeon cameo.

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“Appoggiatura” at the IRT. Photo by Ed Stewart.

Director Peter Amster guided Aulino, Pellegrino, San Miguel, and Hoekstra into sympathetic and genuine characters. This is actually quite a feat because without balance, any of them could fall into an empty stereotype—queen, martyr with a brave face, angry lesbian, and clown. (This is actually an ironic statement because at one point, every conceivable nationality of tourist is parodied. OK, maybe there is some guilty-laughter there …) Instead, the characters are relatable, enjoyable, even with their flaws—and because of them.

All of this action takes place on a set that is gorgeous. Scenic designer Lee Savage’s concept is a work of art that captures Venice’s sense of otherworldly claustrophobia. Chuck and Helen are hopelessly lost on their quest to find for San Marco plaza, which is really the only open space in Venice, even though all roads lead there. So, insert a psychoanalytic comment here.

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“Appoggiatura” at the IRT. Photo by Ed Stewart.

Appoggiatura is actually part of a trilogy by IRT playwright-in-residence James Still: The House that Jack Built (which the IRT produced in 2012) and Miranda (2017). I didn’t see The House that Jack Built, but Miranda was dark. But I assure you, it’s not going to affect your understanding of the story if you haven’t seen one or both.

  • March 7-31; days and times vary, so check the IRT website for a full schedule
  • Tickets start at $25
  • Recommended for patrons ninth grade and older
  • irtlive.com
Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

Footlite Musical: “The Bridges of Madison County” (4 stars)

bridgesSo, I kept telling myself it was hyperbole to use this word, and kind of cliché really. But then I thought about Footlite Musicals as a theatrical entity: “Footlite Musicals is an all-volunteer organization administered by a Board of Directors and several committees with the support of a loyal membership paying nominal yearly dues. Productions are cast from open auditions, and no one in the cast or on staff is paid. [emphasis added]

You get it?

The cast and crew (and orchestra, which is so often overlooked) are doing this for nothing more than the joy of being onstage, telling a story, and sharing their talents with audiences.

So I’m gonna say it.

The leads, Lori Ecker and Rick Barber, are superstars.

Ecker and Barber gift Footlite’s production of The Bridges of Madison County with their superlative voices in the most captivating and emotional performances I have seen onstage in years—no matter if the show was volunteer, Equity, touring, whatever.

Barber’s vocals are majestic in a way that belies his character’s humble persona. Robert’s strength is born of his growing love for Francesca. His a cappella is enchanting. Ecker vocally and physically manifests Francesca’s yearning to yield to her soul’s starvation for living, but ultimately she is shackled to her obligations as a wife and mother. Together they perfectly depict the bumbling, unsure, but eager interaction of two people drawn to each other in a guilty but inevitable way.

Barber’s credentials include both local (including other Footlite shows) and traveling gigs, such as cruise ship performer, and he graduated from IU’s Jacob’s School of Music. Time and effort that was well-spent to hone his talent. Ecker is also a veteran of Footlite’s stage, and she was also in the intriguing production of The Golem of Havana at the Phoenix Theatre. She has worked with the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra and the Indianapolis Opera, and has her MFA in acting from Ohio University. But even with all this experience, talent such as theirs remains something special.

Darrin Gowan as Francesca’s husband, Bud, gets a chance to impress, especially in the moving song “When I’m Gone,” sung with Daniel Scharbrough and the company. Joseph Massingale, as Francesca and Bud’s son Michael, also gets a deserved chance in the spotlight for the song “State Road 20/The Real World.”

But a special mention needs to be made of Jeanne Chandler as Francesca’s nosy neighbor Marge. In a hilarious and unexpected turn in such a somber show, Chandler gets to strut her stuff in “Get Closer,” sporting a muumuu and headwrap and using a strainer spoon as a microphone. Seriously, this was a riot.

Director Tim Spradlin, an Indianapolis directing and acting force in his own right, has overseen a beautiful piece of stagecraft for Footlite.

Admittedly, I was hesitant about seeing the show at first. I have never read the book or seen the movie, and the only impression I had about the plot was that it was sad and dealt with adultery, neither of which appealed to me. And while yes, the story is downright heart-wrenching, this production makes the chest pain worth it.

So why only four stars? There was a lot of prop rearranging, and sometimes it took too noticeable an amount of time. This movement was really distracting. However, the backdrops that took audiences from the farm to the bridge are lovely—understated but effective, just as these elements should be.

And that damned spotlight. I’ve said my piece about it before. So, yeah, that.

  • March 2-18, Thursday,  Friday, and Saturday at 7:30 p.m.; Sunday at 2:30 p.m.
  • $25; 17 and under $15
  • Come a half-hour early to the show and enjoy live music performed on the beautiful two manual, eleven-rank Page Theater Pipe Organ at most performances.
  • http://www.footlite.org
Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

Indiana Repertory Theatre: “Town Mouse and Country Mouse”

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Indiana Repertory Theatre: “Town Mouse and Country Mouse”

The beloved children’s story Town Mouse and Country Mouse has been adapted by Vicky Ireland and brought to the Indiana Repertory Theatre stage as part of its Exploring Stages program, and it’s absolutely adorable.

Exploring Stages targets ages three to eight as a way to get kids to experience live theater. Every facet of the production is created with this target audience in mind. The program doubles as an activity book, and crayons can be found for coloring pre-show. Two seating options are available: sprawl out on the floor for the more wiggly kids or take a chair in the back (for those who need a more comfy place to sit their butt). Pre-show announcements help ground the kids for what they are about to experience, and post-show discussion with an IRT teaching artist and cast members actively engages the children to reflect on what they have seen and understand the story’s life lessons. There is even a study guide available for parents and teachers.

In case you aren’t familiar with the story, the mouse William lives with his grandmother in a cozy if shabby little boot in the country, and they are happy. One day his fancy cousin Monty arrives to tell William that he has inherited a posh boot in the attic of a nice house in the city, where she is from. William decides to take this adventure to the city and see what it is like.

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Indiana Repertory Theatre: “Town Mouse and Country Mouse”

Benjamin Hanna directs the dedicated cast of Paeton Chavis as Monty, Carlos Medina Maldonado as Snowey, Brianna Milan as Silver, Grant Somkiet O’Meara as William, and Claire Wilcher as Granny. They all dive enthusiastically into their storybook characters and make them come alive in a way children rarely get to see outside of their imaginations, encouraging a new perspective. Chavis is a hoot in her mousy finery and high-life affectations, and Maldonado and Milan make a great devil-angel set as “the twins.” Wilcher is everything you would want in a loving and supportive grandmother, and O’Meara, as the only kid in the cast, holds his own admirably.

When my eight-year-old son was asked what his favorite part was, he immediately responded with the fight between Monty and the cat, in which Monty defends himself with a button for a shield and a sewing needle as a sword. But I know for fact that he also loved the songs that the kids participate in. In fact, about halfway through the one-hour show, he turned to me and declared with a grin, “This is great!” I can’t think of a better compliment than that.

  • Feb. 24-March 25
  • Children Storytime Seating $8; adult Storytime Seating $15; all chair seating $25
  • www.irtlive.com

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Indiana Repertory Theatre’s Exploring Stages production: “The Town Mouse and the Country Mouse”

Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

Carmel Community Players: “American Buffalo” (4 stars)

buffaloCarmel Community Players is currently producing its last show on its Clay Terrace stage: David Mamet’s American Buffalo. Buffalo was a special addition to the company’s season, and it was slated to run only two weekends, a coincidence that is almost prescient of CCP’s unexpected upcoming move. CCP is looking for a space to complete its season—Ragtime, Is He Dead?, and Kitchen Witches—as well as a permanent home.

The play is typical Mamet style: exclusively dialogue driven with bow-string-tight tension. Set in a little junk shop, its proprietor, Donny (Larry Adams), is agonizing over a buffalo nickel he recently sold. He feels he was grifted into letting it go for far less than what it was worth. So Donny is planning to remedy the problem by taking the nickel back. He’s been having his employee, Bobby (Daniel Shock), stake out the mark’s house, and Bobby has just reported that the man has left with a suitcase, which means he will be gone for some time. Donny is ready to put his plan into motion when his friend Teach (Earl Campbell) shows up. Teach wants to be the one to pull off the burglary (and a cut of the profit), and he uses Bobby’s naiveté as his argument. Donny agrees to let Teach do the deed but only if he takes their other friend, Fletcher, with him. However, best laid plans and all that …

Director Lori Raffel has the toughnut trio moving at a quick clip, never letting the audience get mired down by the deluge of words. Keep up! There is character commentary to be found if you dig deep enough for the prize, like in a Cracker Jack box, that also invites people to confront their own ineptness.

Adams and Campbell create lowbrow braggadocios that are comical in their complete conviction that they can pull this plan off. Each approaches his character differently however. Adams’s Donny sees himself as the intellectual, the mission control of the heist so to speak, while Campbell is all action and swagger. Adams gets to exhibit some common sense in his treatment of Shock’s character, Bobby, who is a bit dim but means well, but Campbell gets to serve his Teach with a side of sleaze.

My only quibble is that sometimes it’s hard to hear what the actors are saying. In a show where language is key, projection and enunciation are paramount.

If you are up to Mamet speak, this is a well-done production that deserves a last hurrah in Clay Terrace.

  • Feb. 23-March 3, Fridays-Saturdays at 7:30 p.m.; Sunday, Feb. 25, 2:30 p.m.; Sunday, March 4, 3:30 p.m.
  • $16; $14 students/seniors
  • www.carmelplayers.org

 

Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

Civic Theatre: “Sense and Sensibility” (4 stars)

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Indianapolis Civic Theatre: “Sense and Sensibility.” Photo by Fierce Little Bird Productions.

Jane Austen. Either you love her or you don’t. There’s really no middle ground. So even though Civic Theatre chose the playful 2016 minimalist adaptation by Kate Hamill to produce, it’s still Jane Austen.

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Emily Bohn in Indianapolis Civic Theatre’s “Sense and Sensibility.” Photo by Fierce Little Bird Productions.

While I am not a Janeite, I can appreciate a well-done production, which is what Civic delivers. In the spirit of Hamill’s take on the staging, a single background is used for all the scenes (a set of wrought-iron gates behind a rotating section of stage). Actors mime most of the actions that would normally involve props (eating, playing the harpsicord, etc.). Actors also take on multiple roles; in addition to covering several characters, they often are props themselves, acting out parts such as dogs, trees, or a horse. Justin Klein is especially amusing in his enthusiastic clipity-clopping, which brought to my mind Monty Python and the Holy Grail. These inclusions may seem small, but they really help lighten up the often-tedious interaction of the characters (Sorry, again, not a Janeite.) and engage the audience’s imagination.

Overall, the large cast makes a laudable effort. Foremost, of course, are the two eldest Dashwood girls, 19-year-old Elinor (the sensible one), played by Emily Bohn, and 16-year-old Marianne (the sensitive one), played by Morgan Morton. The two women create perfect foils for each other’s characters while maintaining the underlying sisterly bond they have. Bohn lets Elinor respect propriety without sacrificing Elinor’s personality or making her stuffy or uptight. There is strength under her fragility. Morton’s Marianne indulges her character’s flighty tendencies. Marianne is impulsive, and Morton channels that over-emotional state common to teenagers.

The over-the-top “gossips” that comment on situations are caricatures of busy-bodies, which endure to this day, but their exaggerated affectations do become grating. Of course, all the characters are shallow to a point—they, after all, aren’t meant to be much more than vehicles for commentary on the social and gender issues of the day.

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Morgan Morton in Indianapolis Civic Theatre’s “Sense and Sensibility.” Photo by Fierce Little Bird Productions.

Even so, the cast still manages to make distinctions between each of their various characters. One good example is Klein, in his dual roles of John Dashwood and Willoughby, sets the two apart—one vacantly carefree and the other smooth and self-serving. Joshua Ramsey is so sweet as Ferrars, the other beau of note; Ramsey knows he is vulnerable, and Ferrars genuinely wants to follow his heart but his honor won’t allow him.

If you are a fan of Austen, this this is an opportunity to enjoy Sense and Sensibility, which is directed by John Michael Goodson, in a compelling way.

  • Feb. 2-17, Thursdays-Saturdays at 7 p.m.; Sundays at 2 p.m.; final Saturday at 5 p.m.; student matinee Wednesday, Feb. 7 at 10 a.m.
  • $24.50-$40.50
  • Receive a discount for your Sense & Sensibility ticket when you purchase a ticket to the Sisters & Spirits event.
  • civictheatre.org
Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

Buck Creek Players: “The Rink” (4 stars)

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Buck Creek Players: “The Rink”

The Rink has an impressive by-line. Terrence McNally (Love! Valour! Compassion!, Master Class, Kiss of the Spider Woman, etc.) wrote the book, and the duo best known as Kander and Ebb (Cabaret, Chicago, Kiss of the Spider Woman, etc.) created its music and lyrics. Despite its impressive pedigree, the show doesn’t boast the kind of songs that so many of the other musicals associated with these names often do. However, it is a sweet story about family and home.

Set in a dilapidated skating rink in the 1980s, Anna (Georgeanna Teipen) is on her way out the door and headed to Florida for retirement after selling the rink. The wrecking crew is onsite and ready to go. At this eleventh hour, her estranged daughter Angel (Miranda Nehrig) shows up and goes ballistic when she finds out the rink is being demolished. Verbal warfare and threats of lawyers bounce between the two like a Super Pinky ball.

Teipen has a voice made for a Kander and Ebb production. Her single-note stamina is impressive, and her Jersey accent is catching. Nehrig also has a powerful voice with several good numbers, but she does show some vocal strain at times. The two work well together in a mother-daughter head-to-head relationship. Some of that typical teenage hostility lingers in Angel, and Anna confronts it with a mother’s exasperation. But there is love hidden underlying that friction.

The two are backed up by a surprisingly large cast, and there’s a little drag thrown in for a laugh. In fact, for a show that sounds overly emotional plot-wise, the cast and director D. Scott Robinson make sure that there are some good guffaws to break up the mother-daughter hostility on stage. The wreckers get to do a little skating, which turns out to be really cute, but I assure you this is no Starlight Express.

The set (Aaron B. Bailey) looks authentic, and both the sound system and the live band sounded awesome. Woot!

  • Through Feb. 11, Friday-Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2:30 p.m.
  • $20; $18 students and seniors
  • Recommended for ages 13+
  • www.buckcreekplayers.com

PS: If you want to read something short and fun, follow the Super Pinky link.

Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

Indiana Repertory Theatre: “Romeo and Juliet” (5 stars)

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Indiana Repertory Theatre: “Romeo and Juliet.” Photo by Zack Rosing.

Most—if not all—of Shakespeare’s plays are cut down for performing to keep the run-time more suitable for modern audiences. There are many different ways to shorten them, but for a 90-minute show, even when abridged, you have to put Shakespeare on fast-forward. And you feel it in the Indiana Repertory Theatre’s Romeo and Juliet, which speeds along at a breakneck pace. I’m not saying this is a bad thing. It keeps your attention laser-focused. You don’t have time to think about the potentially confusing language. Instead, you find yourself slipping into it, as if you are absorbing it on a subconscious level. This is how it should be.

Director Henry Woronicz’s goal is made clear from the beginning: make the show relevant to teenagers. This production, with funding by the National Endowment for the Arts, is aimed at middle school and high school audiences, allowing them this theatrical experience.

All elements of the show combine to appeal to this—and every—age group. Sound designer Todd Reischman’s opening beats immediately jar the audience to attention with the loud, thumping music. The teenage characters in the show are clothed in contemporary, punkish outfits, designed by Courtney Foxworthy and Linda Pisano. Benvolio even has pink hair. Intense, exciting fights are riveting (which are choreographed by Rob Johansen).

Woronicz has coxed such expressive body language from the actors that translation is effortless. The show’s physicality is daunting. The language becomes clear. Plus, you can catch a lot more insults and sex jokes that way. (Really, I never thought I would see crotch-grabbing on an IRT stage.)

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Indiana Repertory Theatre: “Romeo and Juliet.” Photo by Zack Rosing,

Aaron Kirby is the angst-ridden Romeo, and Sophia Macías is the childish Juliet, complete with foot stomping. Their characterizations emphasize that the two were just teenagers—Juliet a mere thirteen and Romeo not much more than that. Woronicz’s choice harkens back to the target audience.

Millicent Wright is a pleasure as the fussy, funny, and lovable Nurse for Juliet. (And really, when is Wright not great?) Ashley Dillard’s Benvolio gives the character a multidimensional personality. Rounding out the cast are Ryan Artzberger as Friar Laurence, Logan Moore in multiple roles, including Tybalt, Robert Neal as Lord Capulet, and Jeremy Fisher in multiple roles. Saturday afternoon, Chelsea Anderson stepped into the role of Lady Capulet in lieu of Constance Macy, and Anderson did the role proud.

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Indiana Repertory Theatre: “Romeo and Juliet.” Photo by Zack Rosing,

Charles Pasternak, who also plays multiple roles, is getting his own little paragraph here. Pasternak’s hyperactive, raunchy Mercutio steals every. single. scene. he is in. You can’t help looking at him. He demands your attention. He’s a foul-mouthed comedy show of one.

All of this is contained within a minimalist environment designed by Eric Barker. Most intriguing is the backdrop. Examine it closely. It appears to be bleeding. A foreshadowing of things to come?

  • Through March 4
  • Tickets $25-$60
  • Save $10 when you book tickets using promo code VERONA1. Valid through Feb. 10 on individual seats priced $35 and higher.
  • Post-Show Discussions immediately following each performance
  • Valentine’s Day: This special one-time offer includes two tickets, two beverages of your choice (each valued up to $7), and sweet treats from DeBrand Fine Chocolates  for only $60. To book this deal, contact the IRT Ticket Office at 317-635-5252 or book online using promo code RJLOVE.
  • irtlive.com
Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

Carmel Community Players: “Other Desert Cities” (4 stars)

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Camel Community Players: “Other Desert Cities”

Jon Robin Baitz’s Other Desert Cities delves into family dynamics that are often left lying. But eventually, these issues tend to surface even with the most careful of burials. Here, estranged daughter Brooke returns to her family home after having published a successful novel several years ago, but nothing else was forthcoming. At least, that’s what her family thinks. In fact, she has drafted a tell-all memoir about her uber-right-wing mother and father and about her older brother’s suicide, a death that left her scarred.

The Christmas “celebration,” set in 2004, includes her mother, Polly, her father, Lyman, her other brother, Trip, and her aunt, Silda. As soon as Brooke arrives, the verbal sparring begins. The script is packed with details about these characters, and sometimes it feels as if you are watching a particularly volatile tennis match.

What initially drew me to the production is the inclusion of two of Indianapolis’s best-known veteran actors: Ronn Johnstone, as Lyman, and Miki Mathioudakis, as Silda. Johnstone doesn’t get to exercise his acting chops much because his on-stage wife, Vickie Cornelius, as Polly, controls (or tries to) her family with the proverbial iron fist. Lyman often buckles under Polly’s arrogance, which is peppered with egotistical name-dropping. They accentuate each other’s character’s weaknesses (but few strengths).

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Carmel Community Players: “Other Desert Cities”

Mathioudakis is, of course, awesome as the eccentric, drunk Silda. She brings much-needed levity to often-tense scenes. Silda sloshes through the family’s imminent implosion without even a nod to propriety. Mathioudakis waves off her sister and brother in-law easily. She’s the cool aunt to Trip and Brooke, a supporter that their mother is incapable of being, even if her idiosyncrasy leaves irritation and exasperation in its wake, respectively.

Opening night, Shannon Samson, as Brooke, took a while to settle into her role, but once she did, the intensity of her character’s emotions pour through However, she sometimes comes off as a whiny, peevish teenager instead of the well-educated, passionate woman she insists she is. Jeremy Tuterow, as Trip, plays a supporting role most of the time. His character is also a disappointment to the family matriarch; he produces a B-grade reality TV show. Tuterow’s Trip tries to lighten the mood; he’s the playful youngest. But often his character just wants to keep the hell out of it. There’s not much depth there, but he does try to defend his sister.

Director Jim Lamonte has brought together a cast that feeds off each other to reveal the deeply emotional and dysfunctional structure of the family. At first, it can be hard to keep up because the audience is bombarded with a lot of information. But hang in there. It will pay off in the end.

  • Through Feb. 11, 7:30 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays; 2:30 p.m. Sundays
  • $16; $14 seniors and students
  • carmelplayers.org
Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

Indiana Repertory Theatre: “A Raisin in the Sun” (5 stars)

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Indiana Repertory Theatre: “A Raisin in the Sun.” Photo by Zach Rosing.

Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun is considered an American classic, but it was also groundbreaking when it opened on Broadway in 1959. It was the first play produced on Broadway that was written by a black woman (and Hansberry was the youngest at 29); it also was the first with a black director. Sidney Poitier was cast as Walter, a role that helped push his career forward. Even with the potential for controversy, in 1960 the play was nominated for four Tony Awards. Then in 1961, a film version was released featuring its original Broadway cast, including Poitier, and Hansberry wrote the screenplay. This was the first of many adaptations.

The story is about the Younger family that lives in a tiny, dilapidated tenement on the South Side of Chicago. Three generations live in the two-room, no-bathroom apartment: the family’s matriarch, Lena (Kim Staunton), her son Walter Lee (Chiké Johnson), his wife Ruth (Dorcas Sowunmi), Walter’s sister Beneatha (Stori Ayers), and Walter and Ruth’s young son Travis (Lex Lumpkin). Lena receives $10,000 from her recently deceased husband’s life insurance policy. She and Ruth want to use the money for practical purposes, such as paying for Beneatha’s college, creating an account at the bank, or buying a house (this last one becomes pivotal later). Walter Lee is belligerent and unwavering in his insistence that they use the money to invest in a liquor store that two of his buddies are going in on.

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Indiana Repertory Theatre: “A Raisin in the Sun.” Photo by Zach Rosing.

Staunton’s transformation into the elderly, old-fashioned Lena is completely convincing. She is the picture of a grandma who can walk the line between doting and stern. Sowunmi is also superlative as the weary Ruth. She carries the weight and worry of her family’s well-being like a mantel. She has no time for dreams, unlike her overenthusiastic, self-centered, and self-assured husband. Johnson’s Walter Lee is jovial but obviously irresponsible, and he doesn’t accept being told “no.” Johnson has his character occasionally slip into mental overload in Walter’s inability to handle real life.

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Indiana Repertory Theatre: “A Raisin in the Sun.” Photo by Zach Rosing.

Ayers is a source of much entertainment in her brassy, sassy character Beneatha. At turns superior and insecure, Ayers’s Beneatha also walks a line between a self-confident adult and a college kid who is still trying to “find” herself. Her back-and-forth with her brother hits all the aspects of aggravating siblings. But for all her bluster, Beneatha is too easily influenced by her beaus: the rich, mainstreaming, but emotionally cool George Murchison (Jordan Bellow) and the charmingly sweet, warm, thoroughly African man from Nigeria with a beautiful accent, Joseph Asagai (Elisha Lawson).

Director Timothy Douglas molds the characters into a realistic, relatable unit. While the play does include reflections on race relations, the comradery we feel with the people on stage makes these messages so much more personal. No matter what race, anyone can understand the kind of dynamics and dreams presented here.

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Indiana Repertory Theatre: “A Raisin in the Sun.” Photo by Zach Rosing.

Scenic Designer Tony Cisek takes all this action and encases it in a set that is stunning in its disrepair—tattered ceiling, peeling paint, scratch-and-dent appliances. The many stairwells behind the Youngers’ apartment create the claustrophobic feeling of too many people squeezed into sub-standard housing. It hardly seems possible that so much could happen in a space so small.

 

Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

Phoenix Theatre: “Halftime with Don” (5 stars)

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“Halftime with Don” at the Phoenix Theatre. Photo by Zach Rosing.

Professional football and its players are big money (see: Colts). But many fans don’t acknowledge the repercussions of the profession. In Halftime with Don, written by Ken Weitzman and part of a rolling world premiere in the National New Play Network, ex player Don is riddled with permanent damage, including extensive spinal degradation and chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a condition that occurs after a large number of head injuries and can contribute to dementia and mood swings. (However, CTE, in real life, can only be diagnosed via autopsy. It can be suspected though. See: https://concussionfoundation.org/CTE-resources/what-is-CTE.)

Weitzman uses Don’s condition to set a dual story: one of fan hero worship and one of family. Don (Bill Simmons) has estranged himself from his single, pregnant (adult) daughter Stephanie (Lauren Briggeman). Don has made himself a recluse, even scaring off his home nurses. In an attempt to break this isolation, Stephanie takes the opportunity to sic one of his fans, Ed (Michael Hosp) onto Don when Ed’s wife, Sarah (Chelsea Anderson), who is also pregnant, contacts Stephanie about Ed getting to meet his life-long obsession.

Simmons is funny and tragic in turns. His demeanor can snap from friendly in his insistence to partake of Pringles and Gatorade to brutal, angry, and raw regarding realities about his condition. Simmons, per usual, is exceptional, creating a completely believable character in all his moods and shuffling around with a walker.

Hosp comes across as gawed—gawky and awed simultaneously. His initial reactions to meeting Don are flustered disbelief and gratitude, but as his relationship with Don evolves, he begins to exude a non-threatening confidence and loyalty in his friend, eventually giving Don exactly what he needs to ground himself. Plus, Hosp’s reaction to Xanex is great. Cake—a natural bonding tool.

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“Halftime with Don” at the Phoenix Theatre. Photo by Zach Rosing.

Stephanie strikes up an unlikely friendship with Sarah that begins with the ridiculous, new-agey description of birth as the unfurling of a rose, a concept Sarah was subjected to during a birthing class. (Yeah, my friend and I groaned. A lot. Thankfully, the two women thought it was stupid too.) Briggeman is abrasive and blunt in contrast to Anderson’s more demure character. The two work well together, bouncing off each other’s character personality to bring out the best in them both.

The staging for the show, which is in the Phoenix Theatre’s smaller black-box theater, is neat. Set designer Daniel Uhde created two areas, in opposite corners of the (kinda) square theater, one for Stephanie’s house and one for Don’s house. Director Bryan Fonseca was a bit nostalgic as this is the last production he will direct in this space. (The opening of the Phoenix’s new building is imminent.)

Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

Footlite Musicals: “Brooklyn: The Musical” (4 stars)

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Footlite Musicals: “Brooklyn: The Musical”

Brooklyn: The Musical is a rather obscure show that opened on Broadway in 2004. Information on it is scarce, and the soundtrack even more so. Which is a shame. The numbers are poignant and dynamic. The script is flawed, but it’s still a good story with great music.

Set on a street corner near the Brooklyn Bridge, a group of street performers who call themselves the City Weeds tell a “sidewalk fairytale” about a tragic love story. A Parisian woman and an American man enjoy a fleeting but passionate relationship. The man, Taylor, leaves, promising to return to France for Faith, but he never does. Unbeknown to him, he also left behind their unborn daughter, whom Faith names Brooklyn in remembrance of her lost love. While Brooklyn is still a small girl, Faith commits suicide, leaving Brooklyn’s upbringing to a convent. As an adult, Brooklyn, who is an up-and-coming singer, searches for her father, hoping he will recognize her through his “Unfinished Lullaby.” But the young Parisian is confronted by Paradice, an established performer who feels Brooklyn is a threat to her career.

And I will stop there. I already gave you a good piece of the plot.

But another element of the story makes it even more interesting. Mark Schoenfeld, who co-wrote Brooklyn, experienced homelessness himself. When a friend from his past, Barri McPherson, found him singing on the street, she invited him to stay with her and her family, and the two collaborated to create Brooklyn, including songs based on Schoenfeld’s experiences.

Footlite Musicals has done an impressive job of transforming the theater for the show. After you pass through the side door leading to the stage, which is set up cabaret style, you are immersed in the set—you continue down a darkened ally with panhandlers, graffiti, and even a dog. The stage’s main set is a suburb accomplishment, designed by Stephen Matters, mimicking an inner-city sidewalk against a warehouse-like building. In the spirit of street performers, the imaginative costumes and props consist of cast-offs and trash. One of Curt Pickard’s most ingenious designs is a headpiece for Paradice made from potato chip bags. The live band is tucked away on the side with an open guitar case for donations.

Individually, not every single note from the singers may be perfect, but overall the effect is moving and powerful. Full-cast numbers are some of the strongest I have heard on the Footlite stage. (Sadly, the endemic sound issues are still present, and occasionally, the singers drown out narrative.)

Shelbi Berry as Brooklyn has the sweet face and demeanor, with a voice to match, of a girl not looking for super stardom, just her father. Her nemesis, Paradice, played by Kendra Randle, on the other hand, is the epitome of a sassy, sexy, diva star. Stevie Jones is smooth as the Street Singer. Donny Torres as Taylor exhibits his character’s broken emotions, and Paige Brown as Faith has an especially pretty duet with Berry called “Once Upon a Time.”

Director Kathleen Clarke Horrigan was passionate about bringing this show to Indianapolis, and her determination and persistence paid off, for audiences and for the production.

From Footlite: Homelessness is a growing problem in Indianapolis. In 2016, a staggering 12,055 individuals experienced homelessness in Indy…and that number continues to grow. In an effort to raise awareness about this epidemic, Brooklyn: The Musical has partnered with The Coalition for Homelessness Intervention & Prevention in Indianapolis. CHIP Indianapolis’s goal is to make homelessness rare, short-lived and recoverable. Visit chipindy.org to make a donation or learn how you can volunteer or make a donation during a Brooklyn performance.

  • Jan. 11-14 and 18-21; Thursdays-Saturdays at 7:30 p.m.; Sundays at 2:30 p.m.
  • $23; 17 and under $15; special discount pricing ($10) applies for the first Sunday and both Thursday performances.
  • footlite.org

 

Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

Zach and Zack: “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” (4.5 stars)

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Zach & Zack’s “Hedwig and the Angry Inch.” Photo by Zach Rosing.

Tim Hunt puts all kinds of sugar in his Hedwig bowl.

Zach and Zack—Zach Rosing (producer) and Zack Neiditch (director)—have, once again, created a domineering piece of stagecraft that brings out a show’s strengths, character intimacy, and dark humor. With a show such as Hedwig and the Angry Inch, with a script and book that contains these elements in and of itself, you’d think it would be easy. But no. In fact, if the music or the performers were not fully invested in it, the show would come off as a bad parody of transvestites and/or drag queens. Instead, the cast and crew here create a singular experience that sweeps away any of that nonsense to create a story full of pain, humor, and personal growth combined with immersive rock songs punctuated by Hedwig’s—sometimes throwing shade, sometimes raunchy, sometimes comical—kiki.

Hunt werks through what must be a grueling 90 minutes, as he is always the center, minus one number, “The Long Grift,” that Yitzhak (Kate Homan) picks up after one of Hedwig’s (many) diva tantrums. But he never falters, never shrugs off a single note, and he serves his expressive and energetic physicality throughout. While “Sugar Daddy” is more Neil Patrick Harris than John Cameron Mitchell, his renditions of each song are impeccable. Hunt’s portrayal of Hedwig blends prima donna and broken soul.

Homan, though mostly silent in her interactions with Hedwig, brings out the character’s frustration and hurt at his wife’s “bye Felicia” attitude toward him in her articulate mannerisms and facial expressions, even as his obvious devotion and caretaking bleed insight into his heart. While Homan’s voice doesn’t carry the same weight as Hunt’s, her character was, before Hedwig, after all, a lip-synching drag queen, a different kind of performer.

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Zach & Zack: “Hedwig and the Angry Inch.” Photo by Zach Rosing.

The Gordian duo is backed by their band, Jacob Stensberg (also the music director), Matt Day, Steven Byroad, and Andrew McAfee. Outrageously for-the-gods costumes are thanks to Beck Jones, and the flawlessly beated face of Hunt is by Danile Klingler, who also designed the hair.

A truly remarkable transformation of the Epilogue Playhouse, with an industrial feel—dark, graffiti-smeared walls and a cascade of multicolored lights (Matthew Ford Cunningham and Rosing) that set the mood for each song or irrational tirade from Hedwig.

  • Friday, Jan. 12, 9 p.m.; Saturday, Jan. 13, 7:30 and 10:30 p.m.; Thursday, Jan. 11, 7:30 p.m.; Sunday, Jan. 14, 7 p.m.
  • $30
  • Epilogue Players theater
  • zachandzack.vbotickets.com/events

Read my interview with Zach and Zack here.