Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

Storefront Theatre of Indianapolis: “Prowess”

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. The show isn’t emotionally exhausting though. While its situations and subjects can be grim, it gives the audience breaks to laugh, 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 in it.

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.

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 it. Whitney’s character feigns indifference, but Whitney gives him more depth than that in his facial and body 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, but they recently found a permanent home in the old Crackers building in Broad Ripple. 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
Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

Phoenix Theatre: “Indecent”

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
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.

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.

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.

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


Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

Broadway Across America Indianapolis: “Rent”

“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”

Actors Theatre of Indiana: “Million Dollar Quartet”

That. Was. So. Much. Fun.

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.’”

“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.

“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+
Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

Summer Stock Stage’s Eclipse: “Dogfight”

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.

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.

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
Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

The Phoenix Theatre: “The Pill”

“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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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”

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


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.

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.

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.

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”

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).

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.

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.

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

“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.
Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

Civic Theatre: “Hairspray”

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.

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.

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

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”

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


Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

Indiana Repertory Theatre: “Noises Off”

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.

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.

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.

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

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.

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.

WICKED. Photo by Joan Marcus
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.

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”

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.

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
Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

EclecticPond Theatre Company: “J. Eyre: A New Musical”

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.

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.

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.

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

Brigette McCleary Short and Gloria Bray in Buck Creek Players’ “The Matchmaker.” Photo by

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)
Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

“And Then There Were None” at Civic Theatre

“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
Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

Phoenix Theatre: “Fairfield” (4 stars)

“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.

“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.”

“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.

“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.

“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
Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

Indiana Repertory Theatre: “Appoggiatura” (5 stars)

“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.

“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.

“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.

“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.

“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
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.
Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

Indiana Repertory Theatre: “Town Mouse and Country Mouse”

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.

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
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


Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

Civic Theatre: “Sense and Sensibility” (4 stars)

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.

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.

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.
Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

Buck Creek Players: “The Rink” (4 stars)

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+

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)

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.)

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.

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.
Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

Carmel Community Players: “Other Desert Cities” (4 stars)

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).

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
Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

Indiana Repertory Theatre: “A Raisin in the Sun” (5 stars)

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.

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.

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.

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)

“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:

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.

“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)

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 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.


Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

Zach and Zack: “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” (4.5 stars)

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.

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

Read my interview with Zach and Zack here.

Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

Looking back at 2017

Note: Parts of this article can also be found at

2017 has been an exciting year in the local theater community. New faces, familiar faces, new spaces, and a slew of fantastic shows—from tear inducing, to cerebrally challenging, to rib cracking—have made this year’s journey in stories exceptional. Indianapolis’s theater scene is thriving, so go ahead and chew off a piece of it. 2018 looks to be even better. New and improved locations and innovative productions—from both established and new companies—are only the beginning. Below is just a tiny glimpse of what has kept audiences engaged and involved this past year.

2017 News Bits

Theatre on the Square renovations

No, folks, the Mass Ave theater isn’t closed forever! It’s just undergoing much-needed renovations and repairs. In August, TOTS announced that it is partnering with the Central Indiana Community Foundation (CICF) and other community partners to update the venue. The work is underway, the most recent being structural. The theater is slated to re-open early in 2018.

The Phoenix Theatre’s brand-new home is almost done

This has been a much-anticipated, multi-million-dollar investment, the planning of which began back in 2016. The move has been backed by a rainbow of donors, only a few of which include the Allen Whitehill Clowes Charitable Foundation, Frank and Katrina Basile, the Christel DeHaan Family Foundation, and Lilly Endowment. (They still need more! Any contribution is helpful, so go to for a multitude of ways to donate any amount.) Demolition of the old Auto Vault building, located at the intersection of North Illinois Street and South Walnut Street downtown, began in February 2017 with a groundbreaking ceremony on May 2. The new building promises to increase the quality of shows and experiences for all involved. The 20,000-square-foot new building will be the first new freestanding theater built in Indianapolis in the last 100 years. Spaces include a proscenium theater and a configurable black-box theater. New amenities include a grand lobby that opens onto the Indianapolis Cultural Trail and, perhaps best of all for those of us familiar with the current Chatham Arch location, free parking. The new location will open in April 2018 with expanded programming.

The Cat opened in Carmel

The Cat, the newest theater/multipurpose venue in Carmel, took over the old live-music venue The Warehouse in February of this year, and its first performance was in May. The theater has seven resident theater companies, including five brand-new ones, and rents out the space for others performers. The theater’s focus is to serve the greater Indianapolis area.

My favorite hysterically funny moments of 2017

Please remember, I cannot see each and every show staged in Indianapolis. These are my personal faves from this year.

NoExit Performance in association with Zach Rosing Productions: Mad Mad Hercules

“Mad Mad Hercules” from NoExit Performance and Zach Rosing Productions

My frequent theater companion Katrina commented, “The number of shows we’ve been to where people either end up in their underwear or doing weird things with puppets is AMAZING.” And Mad Mad Hercules not only added to that list, in both respects, but also has the distinction of being the funniest effing thing I have seen in years. YEARS. Local playwright Bennett Ayres crafted one of the filthiest scripts I know of in a way that approached a work of art. The crass and degradation was no holds barred, unapologetic, and a thing of beauty.

 Indiana Repertory Theatre: Boeing Boeing

Elizabeth Ledo in “Boeing Boeing” at the Indiana Repertory Theatre

The show is full of excruciatingly funny lines, most of which were delivered by housekeeper Berthe, played by Elizabeth Ledo (who in looks and attitude reminded me of Edna from The Incredibles), and the show’s standout, Chris Klopatek. Klopatek, as the nerdy, nervous, clumsy Robert, stole every single scene he was in. But Ledo was right behind him, delivering her character’s own brand of snarky shtick. Greta Wohlrabe, as the “aggressive German” Gretchen, was absolutely endearing and sidesplitting in turns from one second to another.

Theatre on the Square: The Great Bike Race

“The Great Bike Race” at Theatre on the Square

Writer-director Zack Neiditch expanded the 40-minute IndyFringe version. Overall, its comedic ride was well worth taking. It’s a story about bicyclists racing the Tour de France in 1904, but I assure you, this wasn’t the stage version of a historical documentary. The show was full of dirty tricks and sexual innuendo. Plus, there was a stuffed cat a la the Killer Rabbit of Caerbannog. And a cow. And an angry mob of French hicks. The stage was full of crazy-funny insanity. And ah-maze-balls victory dances.

IndyFringe: The Gab produced by Zach & Zack

“The Gab” at IndyFringe

Chat show-cum-cat fight The Gab features a gaggle of crazy women (and one gay assistant who keeps talking about makeup sex). These women know how to stir some sh*t. The show was packed with laughs, low verbal blows, and physical smack downs that kept it rolling until the cameras cut off for the final time. Lots of silly fun.

Phoenix Theatre: A Very Phoenix Xmas 12: Up to Snow Good

The Phoenix Theatre: “A Very Phoenix Xmas 12.” Photo by Zach Rosing.

I lost all coherent thought when the cast did “Les Miserabelves.” I think I got disruptive because I was in the back cackling so much. CACKLING. At one point, I think my BFF who was with me was considering CPR. I can’t even explain the experience; it was something you had to witness for yourself.

Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

Footlite Musicals: “Best Little Whorehouse in Texas” (3.5 stars)

Footlite Musicals: “Best Little Whorehouse in Texas”

The 1978 Broadway musical The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas along with its 1982 film adaptation starring Burt Reynolds and Dolly Parton made known the story of the infamous Texan “Chicken Ranch.” Yes, this show is actually inspired by a true story, though sensationalized for public consumption. Regardless, it’s a fascinating fact of history that the brothel stayed in business from 1905 to 1973.

Footlite Musicals with director Jim Thorp do the show proud. The huge singing and dancing cast (thanks to vocal director Rick Barber and musical director Will Scharfenberger) fills up the stage with realistic scenic design (Fred Margison, Rich Baker, Therese Burns, and Thorp) and dazzling costumes (designed by Jeff Farley) for that big, powerful musical feel, and the production maintains its high-energy appeal to the end.

Lead Julie Powers is stunning in both her portrayal of Miss Mona and her musical numbers, most notably the closer, “Bus from Amarillo.” She is supported by equally arresting performances by “Twenty-Four Hours of Lovin’” by Eryn Bowser as Jewel, “Doatsey Mae” by Jennifer Kaufmann, and “Hard Candy Christmas” led by Abby Okerson as Angel (ubiquitous sound issues aside). Fun-to-watch ensemble numbers include “20 Fans” and “The Aggie Song.” A surprising addition to the kudos is the engaging narrator (normally a relatively flat part) played by Rick Barber. The live orchestra on stage and in costume is a nice touch.

Footlite Musicals: “Best Little Whorehouse in Texas”

Mike Bauerle as takes on the combustible Sheriff Ed Earl Dodd well, against the effectively nosy Melvin P. Thorpe played by Todd Hammer. Jim Nelms as the Texas governor gets in there with a convincing political “Sidestep.”

This is just a fun, upbeat, (mostly) feel-good show that is consistently entertaining. Some technical issues, off notes, and occasional fumble aside, this is a nice alternative to the overwhelming number of holiday shows on stage around town.

  • Nov. 24-Dec. 10, Thursday-Saturday at 7:30 p.m.; Sundays at 2:30 p.m.
  • $23; youth (17 and under) $15. The first Sunday matinee and all Thursday performances are only $10 each.
Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

Phoenix Theatre: “A Very Phoenix Xmas 12: Up to Snow Good” (4.5 stars)

“A Very Phoenix Xmas 12” at the Phoenix Theatre. Photo by Zach Rosing.

Phoenix Theatre’s Very Phoenix Xmas shows are always a grab bag of songs and skits. You go in relatively blind, not knowing just what you are going to get. I am happy to report that this year’s version, Very Phoenix Xmas 12: Up to Snow Good, has both hysterical and sentimental moments.

While my favorites by far are always the funny stuff, I can’t begrudge a little sentimentality around the season. But just a little.

“A Very Phoenix Xmas 12” at the Phoenix Theatre. Photo by Zach Rosing.

This time around, the last year the show will be performed in the theater’s current building, includes a mix of Very Phoenix Xmas past and present framed by characters from the North Pole University. Who are adorable. Jean Arnold, Paul Collier Hansen, Rob Johansen, Carlos Medina Maldonado, Devan Mathias, Gail Payne, and Nathan Roberts take on sixteen scenes plus the North Pole interludes.

The requisite feel-good holiday numbers include “Walking in a Winter Wonderland” to open the show, as well as “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” including interpretive dance and a painfully blinding backlight, a lovely “Hard Candy Christmas” (ironically, Footlite Musicals opened Best Little Whorehouse in Texas the same weekend), “Wonderful Christmastime” with pretty paper lanterns, a gorgeous mash up of “The Hallelujah Chorus” and “Hallelujah” by Leonard Cohen (excellent vocals by Paul Collier Hansen and backed up by the ladies of the cast), and closing with “Some Day at Christmas.”

OK, so now on to my favorite part. I believe this has been featured in a previous Phoenix Xmas incarnation, but I lost all coherent thought when the cast did “Les Miserabelves.” One of the funniest effing things I have ever seen. I think I got disruptive because I was in the back cackling so much. CACKLING. At one point, I think my BFF who was with me was considering CPR. I can’t even explain the experience; it is something you have to witness for yourself.

“A Very Phoenix Xmas 12” at the Phoenix Theatre. Photo by Zach Rosing.

Of the other skits, you get treated to candy cane machine guns, a Peanuts pity party with a cameo from the creepy twins in The Shining, a chorus of equally disquieting animal puppets being begged to not eat the baby Jesus, a furious Tweeting Trump (complete with Cheetos tie), a dead Santa a la Weekend at Bernie’s, mal-proportioned elves (more creepiness), a romp through a black-and-white film noir parody, an eye-opening look at just how messed up the Rudolph claymation movie really is, the “Tacobel Canon,” and some very impressive aerial silk acrobatics by Rob Johansen.

“A Very Phoenix Xmas 12” at the Phoenix Theatre. Photo by Zach Rosing.

Overall, Bryan Fonseca and Thomas Horan  crafted a show that is a nice balance between traditional and campy material, much more entertaining than your run-of-the-mill holiday show. (And no, I won’t call it a “Christmas show” even if you pull out a semi-automatic candy cane on me.)



Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

“Bill W. and Dr. Bob” by Stage Door Productions (3 stars)

“Bill W. and Dr. Bob” by Stage Door Productions

Bill W. and Dr. Bob is a starkly human look into not only the individual’s ramifications of being an alcoholic but also the extensive, painful toll it takes on his or her family, in this play through the two AA founders’ wives and associates.

Through their own trial and error and witnessing others’ recovery attempts, William Wilson and Dr. Robert Smith learned that treating alcoholism from only a disease or only a spiritual perspective isn’t enough. What the alcoholic really needs is someone who is intimately aware of what the other is going through. As is stated in the play, “Drunks need other drunks, not God.”

Stage Door Productions and The Indiana Addictions Coalition are presenting this 2007 off-Broadway show detailing the two men’s laborious journey toward sobriety set in the 1920s and ’30s

With snatches of dark humor inserted into the men’s struggle, the hopeful message shines through: we can find the strength within ourselves to ask for help and trust others to help us. Wilson and Smith threw themselves selflessly into the task of fine-tuning and passing on their philosophy that AA works.

Kevin Caraher as Bill W. portrays a man beaten down by his addiction and failures. Slumped shoulders and a sour attitude dominate his inebriated state in contrast to Dan Flahive’s Dr. Bob, who is a boisterous, funny, happy drunk. As Caraher’s character works toward finding an effective treatment, he exhibits almost obsessive behavior in his pursuit, leaving his wife, Lois, behind when he moves in with Dr. Bob. Kathy Pataluch as Lois shows the wife’s strength but also anger toward her husband’s condition and then preoccupation—and veritable abandonment of responsibility. Adrienne Reiswerg as Dr. Bob’s wife, Anne, is also a contrast, in that unlike Lois, she takes no initiative of her own, turning first toward her faith to save her husband and then putting similar faith in her husband to heal himself through his fledgling program. While Pataluch portrays grit, Reiswerg is more demur.

Rounding out the cast are LisaMarie Smith and Robert Webster Jr., who each play multiple characters in a very impressive display of individuality.

Under the direction of Dan Scharbrough, the show’s pace does drag at times. Caraher’s character often feels one-dimensional instead of portraying an evolution. His stature, mannerisms, and speech don’t synch with his self-growth.

Overall, this sobering (sorry, could not pass that up, even if it’s in poor taste) staging still captures the conflicts and deep emotions associated with anyone who is affected by addiction, whether it is themselves or loved ones, as well as the tedious road these men bravely forged for those who come after them.

  • Nov. 9-19, Thursdays-Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m.
  • $20; $15 seniors & students
  • IndyFringe building


Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

“1984” by NoExit Productions (3 stars)


Feel the love.

The love of Big Brother.

NoExit Performance’s production of the dystopian novel 1984 by George Orwell and adapted by Matthew Dunster is just as chilling a warning—the bleak possibility of complete control of a populace brainwashed into believing what they are told—now as it was when it was published in 1949. I do suggest having read the novel before seeing the show. If nothing else, Google it to get the gist of the plot, characters, and vocabulary. Otherwise, it could be hard to keep up.

The production is an immersive experience in an industrial warehouse space. Be ready to declare your devotion to the Party after you pay your tithe to Big Brother. After that, when they are ready for you, you will be moved from the initial holding area. Trust Big Brother; trust the Party. The omnipresent Eye of Sauron, I mean, Big Brother is watching you.

The large cast works together to create as realistic an experience as possible. Ryan Ruckman as main character Winston Smith portrays the ideologically fumbling man through hunched shoulders and a despondent expression. He manages to remain stoic and befuddled at the same time until he cracks in the second half. In contrast, Georgeanna Smith Wade as Julia is vivacious. Her joy is simple. She isn’t trying to make a political statement; she just embraces her opportunities—indulging in such things as the black market and sex—and then casually changes faces and goes back to her role as a member of the Junior Anti-Sex League.

Dave Ruark as O’Brien has a coolly intense demeanor as both rebel and, later, as sadist. Adam Crowe as Charrington impressively morphs from a sweet, grandfather figure to an intimidating thoughtcrime enforcer.

While the implementation of a mobile audience helps break up the monotony of what is, regardless of how you present it, an intense story, it can be tiresome and a little confusing for the spectators. However, Ministry agents will flag you down if you go astray. Limited seating is available at each setting (barring the first), so you might find yourself observing from the sidelines occasionally. In some cases, the scenes are short and you are on the move quickly, which is jarring. At one point, I was really glad I had leggings on under my skirt because I found myself straddling a bench and oscillating between locations, choosing to stay put for a shorter migration. That was MY spot, dammit. Centering the seats to limit the amount of scrambling would be helpful.

I like the idea, but some of the logistics are clunky. Set designer Andrew Darr and director Ryan Mullins are headed in the right direction. The path to get there just needs some refinement.

  • November 3-18
  • $25; student/senior $18; Industry Night (Nov. 9) $12.50
  • Ministry Headquarters, 1336 E. Washington St., Indianapolis, IN 46202
  • There is limited parking in an adjacent lot and additional street parking on Oriental Street
Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

“In the Family Way” by Approxima Productions (4 stars)

It’s always exciting to get to see a double premiere. I’ve unabashedly championed the small, independent theaters in my 19 years of covering local shows. So the introduction of a new troupe performing a new play is especially anticipatory.

Approxima Productions: “In the Family Way”

Approxima Productions made its debut last weekend with the staging of In the Family Way, written and directed by Christine Kruze. Set in 1988, Marc and Andrew, a longtime couple, want to adopt a child. Given the time period, when same-sex couples had even fewer—if any—rights than they do now, they keep hitting brick walls. Andrew is more stoic about the situation—and his overall demeanor—than Marc is, who is flighty and lives every emotion without a filter. Marc also is a recovering addict. Their relationship is rocky due to the stress of obtaining a child and their individual approaches and feelings toward the matter—a struggle that a couple of any sexual persuasion is familiar with. Reluctantly, Andrew agrees to approach his sister, Lainie, a divorcee with two kids of her own, to act as surrogate.

Approxima Productions: “In the Family Way”

The relationships between Andrew and his sister, and Marc and Lainie (who were good friends in college), are heartwarming. Lainie is bold and isn’t the type to sugarcoat anything, and both men appreciate her candor and her love. Though brassy, Lainie’s maternal side is forefront when it comes to her brother.

Josh Ramsey, as Andrew, has quickly become one of my favorite local actors. (Incidentally, he appeared in Civic Theatre’s 2015 The Game’s Afoot with Christine Kruse—both of who shined—and in Theatre on the Square’s 2016 Crumble with Clay Mabbitt, which I awarded four and a half stars.) In this show, just as every other I have seen him in, he carries his character consistently and meticulously. While Andrew is emotionally constipated in ways, Ramsey allows his character’s façade to fade just a smidgen with Lainie, making him more sympathetic to the audience.

Really though, Andrew needs little audience sympathy with a partner as emotionally immature as Marc. Clay Mabbitt’s Marc is a drama queen, and he is irresponsible—but love can sometimes blind us to our loved ones’ weaknesses. Again, excellent consistency—including an Irish accent—and spot-on believability. (I actually had a friend whose personality is a dead ringer for Marc, and I immediately saw him in Marc’s character.) At one point, Marc comments that pregnancy isn’t too big of an inconvenience, and a few of us breeders in the audience snickered (OK, I admit I may have made an unladylike noise).

Character actor Carrie Ann Schlatter as Lainie is the linchpin to the show’s 1980s setting in both look and lifestyle. We see Schlatter’s Lainie shouldering too much responsibility toward her menfolk while being a single mom in a male-dominated profession. Schlatter keeps her strong though and maintains her biting personality (until the end when Laine makes a questionable decision). Schlatter also gets to tear into each man at some point, which makes her character endearing to me. And really funny.

Steve Kruze, as Brent, isn’t as impressive here as he was in Civic’s 2016 Young Frankenstein, where he shined. Mostly he, along with Joshua Kruze in his small part as Paul, looked uncomfortable and stiff.

However, I still consider the show (which is, admittedly, a little long) a success for this fledgling company.

Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

“Barbecue” at the Phoenix Theatre (4.5 stars)

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

There is only so much I can say about the setup for Barbecue without giving away a pivotal twist to the show. So I will be as vague as possible. For reasons that become obvious to audience members, the cast’s names are not listed with their characters’ names in the program. Thankfully, for the purpose of writing this review at least, they are all fantastic. And hilarious.

The show begins with a set of siblings preparing a faux barbecue party in the hopes of luring their sister, the methamphetamine-and-alcohol-addicted Barbara, known as Zippy Boom for her outrageous behavior while under the influence, in so that they can stage an intervention. Every member of the family suffers from some form of clinical issues (some of whom aren’t even present), but the eldest, Lillie Anne, has decided that Barbara is out of control and most in need of help.

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

Marie has a problem with drinking and drugs herself, cradling a bottle of Jack Daniel’s like it’s a sippy cup almost the whole show. Adlean claims her painkiller addiction is justified by her recent breast cancer, and James T. is a big fan of marijuana. Lillie Anne has chosen a new-agey treatment center in Alaska for Barbara, much to the disbelief and amusement of everyone—but it’s also hard to run away in Alaska. However, first, they have to convince Barbara to get on the plane and go.

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

Be prepared for some confusion at first. Pay attention and eventually it will all make sense. But in the meantime, enjoy the snark fest that is this bizarre family gathering. (For example, Adlean declares to her Ritalin-infested grandchildren, who are locked in the car, “I will beat you till I see the white meat,” and later, regarding Barbara, “I got cancer in my titty. I ain’t chasin’ her ’round this gotdamned park.”) The creatively foul-mouthed siblings are willing to Taser each other and hold one hostage while she’s assaulted with false, sickly-sweet memories. Go ahead and laugh at all this inappropriate, un-PC, and dark humor. You are safe in the dark theater.

Each scene features a different cast. Family #1 is of the hard-core redneck flavor while family #2 is infused with the spicy attitude often associated with African American stereotypes. Compare and contrast. The unpredictable shifts in the story keep audiences intrigued and even energized to see what happens next. The second half is less entertaining, though it still has its moments and reveals a lot about what is going on, and ends with naked little gold men.

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

The exceptionally talented cast:

Joanna Bennett, LaKesha Lorene, Jeffery Martin, Brianna Milan, Abdul-Khaliq Murtadha, Angela R. Plank, Beverly Roche, Chelsey Stauffer, Dena Toler, and Jenni White. Directed, produced, and designer of lighting (whew!) by Bryan Fonseca.

  • Oct. 27-Nov. 19, Thursdays at 7 p.m. ($27); Fridays at 8 p.m. ($27); Saturdays at 8 p.m. ($33); Sundays at 2 p.m. ($27)
Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

Fat Turtle Theatre Company: “Glengarry Glen Ross” (3 stars)

Fat Turtle Theatre Company’s “Glengarry Glen Ross”

Fat Turtle Productions made a bold choice in its premiere production, Glengarry Glen Ross. The show demands only the most dynamic actors, and while the cast here is good, the show eventually succumbes to its own tedious weight.

David Mamet’s 1984 Pulitzer Prize winner follows four Chicago real estate agents in frenzied attempts to “make the board” no matter what tactics it takes to get there. In typical Mamet mode, the show is talk talk talk, and these men snipe snipe snipe.

As office manager John Williamson, Ryan Reddick consistently gives off a “fuck you” attitude even when Doug Powers as Shelly Levene does an admirable job of ripping into him. His excitement is warranted, as the audience previously saw Powers display his character’s desperation to get a decent lead and get back in the game after a lengthy dry spell. Jeff Maess as George Aaronow also gets to evolve into anger as his initial lost boy countenance, battered by hypotheticals from Luke McConnell as Dave Moss, morphs under pressure.

Tristan Ross as Richard Roma is the most charismatic of the salesmen, and his circular speech is demonstrated on the mousy James Lingk (played by Rex Riddle). Jason Page as Detective Baylen gets to try to strong-arm the men, but in the face of these rash characters, he stands little chance.

Mamet isn’t for everyone, but if you’re a fan of him or the film version of the play, this production, directed by Aaron Cleveland, may be worth checking out.

Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

“Nuts” at Buck Creek Players (4 stars)

“Nuts” at Buck Creek Players. Photo by

In 1979, mental health care wasn’t what it is now (heck, it still isn’t that great in a lot of ways). Women especially were still subjected to condescending attitudes regarding the “weaker” sex.

Playwright Tom Torpor, a journalist, based his play on a story he wrote in the 1970s. High-class prostitute Claudia Faith Draper (Jenni White) has been arrested for first-degree manslaughter for killing a client in self-defense. She was transferred to Bellevue Hospital in New York City, and her mother, Rose Kirk (Miki Mathioudakis), and step-father, Arthur Kirk (Tim Latimer), want her to be declared incompetent to stand trial in the hopes that she would be institutionalized. Claudia, however, wants to stand trial, knowing that if found guilty, prison would be far preferable to the years and treatment she would suffer in the hospital.

The play is set in the courtroom in the psychiatric wing of the hospital. Claudia is represented by Aaron Levinsky (Michael Swinford) while “the people” are represented by Franklin MacMillan (Dave Hoffman), with Judge Murdoch (Ed Mobley) presiding over the court. Only one of the two psychiatrists who examined Claudia appears before the court. Dr. Roesnthal (Graham Brinklow) uses “symptoms” from Claudia’s past—a list that contains typical actions of any teenager—and adds them to her current aggressive personality to declare her a paranoid schizophrenic—after spending fifteen minutes with her. However, Claudia is far from mentally ill. She is a smart, strong woman who knows what she wants; and her past has some damned good reasons for her teenage actions.

Saturday night there was still some stumbling over lines, but overall the cast effectively captures the gravitas of the underlying issues behind the play: preconceived notions, societal expectations, treatment of the mentally ill in general, and the lingering effects of incest. Swinford as Levinsky mercilessly cuts into the prosecution’s witnesses, whittling down Hoffman’s MacMillan, and Roesnthal is made to look like the ass he is.

White only gets one good explosive speech, but all the character’s rage and exasperation come through. But the highlight of the show is Latimer as Claudia’s step-dad. Latimer wraps himself in his messed-up character’s personality like a Snuggie. Every movement, every line delivered is 100 percent convincing. Every word from his mouth is carelessly and obliviously offensive, and Latimer pulls it off start to finish.

Director Tim Spradlin and everyone at Buck Creek get mad kudos for taking on such a challenging work.

  • Sept. 29-Oct. 8, Fridays-Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2:30 p.m.
  • $18; $16 for senior citizens (aged 62 or older)
  •, 317-862-2270
Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

“Sister Act” at Footlite Musicals (4 stars)

“Sister Act” at Footlite Musicals. Photo Credit: Rick Galloway.

Footlite Musicals has yet another hit with its production of the popular Sister Act, which is based on the 1992 movie starring Whoopi Goldberg.

Morgan Webster as Deloris Van Cartier has the sound and the moves for the Reno singer. Once ensconced in the convent, she is joined by her gaggle of new friends and “sisters,” including the adorable postulate Sister Mary Robert (Bailey Jane Williams, who sings an especially memorable “The Life I Never Led”) and the insidiously happy Sister Mary Patrick (Nina Stilabower), among many others.

Donald Marter (as police officer Eddie), in his unrequired love for Deloris, is a riot in his “I Could Be the Guy,” as is Jonathan Studdard as TJ. Studdard, Daniel Draves, and Josh Vander Missen are another highlight in “Lady in the Long Black Dress.”

Director Paula Phelan and musical director Zak Tschiniak have crafted a real crowd-pleaser.

  • Sept. 21-Oct. 8, Thursdays-Saturdays at 7:30 and Sundays at 2:30 p.m.
  • $23; $15 youth. Thursdays and Sundays only $10.
Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

“The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time” at the Indiana Repertory Theatre (5 stars)

“There is a tension between everything that I am and everything that might be conventional for an actor. This is the same tension that makes incredible theater. No one wants to see something if it is too comfortable. Every performance should have a tension between what feels easy and what feels risky. When a grand piano is gracefully lowered out of a window by a rope onto a flatbed truck, slowly spinning and dangling, the tension of the rope is what everyone is watching. In theater, the performer is the rope, making the incredible look graceful and easy, making the audience complicit in every thought, every tactical switch. When the rope goes slack, the show is over.”

—Mickey Rowe, from the program for the Indiana Repertory Theatre’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time


“The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time” at the Indiana Repertory Theatre

Mickey Rowe is the first American autistic performer to portray the main character, also autistic, in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. The story begins with a 15-year-old autistic boy named Christopher who is intent on sleuthing out the murderer of his neighbor’s dog. From there, more than just the crime becomes paramount. Christopher discovers secrets about his family and his own strength and courage.

Through Christopher, the audience is granted a small look into what autism looks and feels like. In Christopher’s case, he is in constant sensory overload. As he describes it, while other people just glance at their surroundings, he instinctively catalogues everything, from the number and color of cows in a pasture to the details of a small village. Physical contact is overwhelming, and metaphor and slang are like riddles for the literal-minded boy. Coping with a differently abled child—especially your own—is a confusing and stress-filled journey. Often, these families disintegrate because of it, as is the case with Christopher’s father (Robert Neal as Ed) and mother (Constance Macy as Judy).

Christopher is lucky to have a special teacher at his school, Siobhan (Elizabeth Ledo), to encourage him and guide him with coping mechanisms that ease his interactions with his environment. When things get too hard to handle, Christopher falls back on numbers—a straightforward language that he easily relates to.

Rowe is a consummate actor, having experience in the Seattle Opera, Seattle Children’s Theatre, Seattle Shakespeare Company, Book-It Repertory Theatre, Washington Ensemble Theatre, and more, as well as being the artistic director of Arts on the Waterfront. With movement coordinator Mariel Greenlee, he uses his own love of physical stimulus to fluidly glide through scenic designer Russell Metheny’s translucent rolling screens, which define spaces and locations. (Rowe also has copious circus skills).

The ensemble cast, under the direction of Risa Brainin, revolves around Rowe, who is always central to whatever is happening around him. They all interact seamlessly to create a story with heartache, truth, hope, love, and even humor.

The play’s title is a reference to Sherlock Holmes in the short story “Silver Blaze.” The book garnered several awards, and the play took home the 2015 Tony Award for Best Play.

  • Sept. 19-Oct. 14
  • $20-$75
  • Friday, Sept. 22, performance at 7:30 p.m. Opening Night: Join the IRT for opening night and experience the theater like you never have before! Immediately following this performance join cast, staff, and patrons in the lobby for appetizers and a celebratory champagne toast. Afterwards, explore the set and connect with the artisans who bring the set to life.
  • Saturday, Sep. 30, performance at 1 p.m. Sensory Friendly Performance: IRT will be hosting a sensory friendly performance including a variety of accommodations designed to help patrons with sensory issues experience an IRT performance.
    Saturday, Sept. 30, performance at 5 p.m. Backstage Tour: Immediately following this performance, join IRT staff for an exploratory and informative backstage tour. Tours typically list 30 minutes.
  • Sunday, Oct. 1, performance at 2 p.m. IRTea Talk & ASL/AD: This post-show discussion is paired with tea and cookies and takes place immediately following the performance. Post-show discussions typically last for 20 minutes. Dr. Carl Sundberg, Chief Clinician at the Behavior Analysis Center for Autism and Cecilia Coble, Fishers City Councilor At-Large, are both honored to be on the panel. Dr. Sundberg received his doctorate degree in ABA from Western Michigan University and has over 30 years of experience using behavioral interventions to teach individuals with autism and other developmental disabilities. Ms. Coble, having a daughter with autism, has experience in being a community activist and volunteer in organizations such as the Fisher’s ADA Citizen’s Advisory Task Force.
  • Thursday, Oct. 5, performance at 2 p.m. Cookies & Coffee and Post-Show Discussion: Coffee, tea, and cookies can be enjoyed before this matinee performance. Doors open at 1 p.m. Join IRT staff and cast immediately after the performance for a post-show discussion that covers a variety of interesting topics related to the show. Post-show discussions typically last for 20 minutes.
  • Tuesday, Oct. 10, performance at 6:30 p.m. Happy Hour: Enjoy complimentary appetizers from Happy Hour series sponsor Weber Grill. New Day Craft, Hotel Tango, Taxman Brewing Co., St. Joseph Brewery, TwoDEEP, and Tastings will also be on site for patrons to sample local libations. Half-price drinks will be available throughout the performance.  Happy hour starts at 5:30 p.m.
  • Thursday, Oct. 12, performance at 7:30 p.m. Post-Show Discussion: Join IRT staff and cast immediately after the performance for a post-show discussion that covers a variety of interesting topics related to the show. Post-show discussions typically last for 20 minutes.
Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

“Fun Home” at the Phoenix Theatre (4 stars)

“Fun Home” at the Phoenix Theatre

Normally, I shy away from commenting on kids involved in a show. It just seems like a catch-22. However, be prepared because farther down I am going to gush.

Fun Home was adapted from Alison Bechdel’s graphic memoir of the same name. Bechdel is the cartoonist behind the comic strip Dykes to Watch Out For, and her graphic novel explores her journey toward discovering her own sexuality and the complicated relationship between her parents. The show won five Tony Awards, including Best Musical, and the soundtrack was nominated for the 2016 Grammy Award for Best Musical Theater Album. I find the accolades most odd because the music seems secondary to the narrative of the show itself, which is not usually the case in a musical. While “Ode to Joy,” er, “Joan,” will always have a new meaning to me, otherwise the songs merely complement the storyline.

“Fun home” is a derivative of “funeral home,” which is attached to the house in which the family lives. Another odd element—this tidbit factors very little in the overall plotline yet captured the title for the show. Add to that the father who works every capacity in the funeral home, teaches high school English, restores the historic home himself, and still finds time to get a little on the side. WTF? Does this man never sleep?

And I wish there had been an intermission.

OK, enough nitpicking.

Almost in a Wonder Years sort of way, the adult Alison (Cynthia Collins) guides the audience through her formative years, first as a child (Amelia Wray) and then as a college student (Ivy Moody). Her mother, Helen (Emily Ristine), is a mother of three and an actress. Her father, Bruce (Eric J. Olson), is the manic patriarch I described above and a closeted homosexual.

Olson effectively captures the bi-polar aspects of Bruce. His obsessive tendencies and covert indiscretions clash brilliantly with his moments of fatherly involvement, such as playing “airplane” with his daughter.

As the college-age Alison, Moody does a good job of capturing the mixture of insecurity and enthusiasm of someone fumbling to find her identity. Given the time period (eighties-ish), this would have been daunting.

But—here comes the gush—Wray as the child Alison is nothing short of perfection. She shows none of the tentativeness or self-consciousness that most young performers (and even some adults) do. Spot-on execution, an amazing voice, and locked-in dance moves make her shine. Seriously, this kid needs to be on Broadway. Like, now.

Overall, this is a well-done production under the direction of Suzanne Fleenor with musical direction by Brent Marty. The exploration of repression and freedom from it are conveyed emotionally and humorously by the Phoenix Theatre’s cast and crew.

Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

IndyFringe: “The Gab” produced by Zach & Zack (4.5 stars)

I got to go to another Fringe show thanks to the generosity of Zach Rosing! And I got to LAUGH! Yay!


The Gab is the brainchild of Zach Rosing (producer) and Zack Neiditch (director/playwright), known as Zach & Zack in theater circles; they also gifted audiences with The Great Bike Race at 2014’s IndyFringe and brought an extended version of that show to Theatre on the Square.

“The Gab” at IndyFringe

The Gab is a morning talk show that’s already eyeing the chopping block. Because of issues on set, today is the first time the show will have no studio audience, but it is still being broadcast live. Poor stage manager Maureen (Devan Mathias) is so stressed she’s vibrating, and her assistant Alex (Chad Woodward) is suffering for it. Things get increasingly tenser as each host takes her place on stage: Dee (Jenni White), Jackie (Vickie Cornelius Phipps), Nadine (Nathalie Cruz), Brianne (Betsy Norton), and Angela (Ericka Barker). The chat show-cum-cat fight subsequently deteriorates with each segment. These women know how to stir some shit, and Maureen and Alex, with no help from The Gab’s director Jim (Rosing), who is safely ensconced in his own God-box, are left scrambling to keep these off-the-leash divas, and the show, going.

The show is packed with laughs at the expense of these crazy women (and one gay assistant who keeps talking about makeup sex). Low verbal blows and physical smack downs keep it rolling until the cameras cut off for the final time. Lots of silly fun makes it worth catching before Fringe wraps on Sunday.

But WTF with the last five seconds?

  • Saturday, Aug. 26, 6 p.m. and Sunday, Aug. 27, 3 p.m.
  • $15 cash at the door, or go online or to the Firefighters Museum if you want to use a card
Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

IndyFringe: “Showehead” produced by Formerly Fuckboy (2 stars)

Note: This was the only Fringe show I attended due to ticketing issues. Yeah, I am disappointed. I was really looking forward to doing some serious Fringe coverage this year.

Warning: potentially very offensive content follows


UntitledThis is a serious what-the-fuck show. Normally, I am all for that. This one, however, manages to be tedious, even in its festival-abbreviated runtime of less than an hour. The jokes have a repetitive nature, and you have to wonder if the whole thing was drug-inspired—and not in a good Muppet Show kind of way.

Ironically, or not, drug use plays a prominent part in the story of a Stepford “housewife” dragged into the underbelly of organized crime by her husband and a degenerate Jesus. Yes, if you have issues with unabashed blasphemy, stop reading now. At one point, Jesus snorts coke off the back of a flasher who has a rubber chicken dick. Plus, there’s the stupefying creepy sex scene where Charlotte (said housewife) is almost raped by a mafia muscle wearing a diaper, in which lube and a phone are stashed. This seems intriguingly funny on paper, but the reality doesn’t live up.

So why give the show any stars at all? Because the cast wholeheartedly throws themselves into the fuckery taking place on stage. Their enthusiasm and willingness in this experience takes precedence in my overall rating. They seem to be genuinely reveling their roles, and even made me laugh several times. But by the end, it just wasn’t enough.

Please don’t let this lackluster review turn you off of the rest of the festival. In the past, I have seen shows here that surpassed any expectations of even fully staged productions. I have faith there is some seriously amazing stuff happening.

Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

“You Never Know” presented by Amalgamated Stage Productions and Vince Accetturo (2 stars)

“You Never Know” by Amalgamated Stage Productions

Known as a “flop” when it was first produced in 1938, Cole Porter’s You Never Know has been dusted off and is being staged by Amalgamated Stage Productions and Vince Accetturo. According to the program, “Amalgamated is drawn to those old things that have lost their luster or fallen out of favor.” However, this “lost musical” may have been better left missing. It lacks the charm and musical strength of Porter’s other works, such as the most notable and well-loved Kiss Me Kate and Anything Goes.

This staging is presented in the small confines of a new performance space in Carmel, The Cat. (For more on The Cat, check out Lou Harry’s story. Also, be forewarned that it’s kind of hard to find because it is set back from the road and there’s a bunch of construction. Google Maps was not my friend.) It’s a lovely space, but for a musical such as this, its setting is too intimate. The show (whose plot is ridiculous) really needs that fourth wall firmly in place to reinforce the audience’s suspension of disbelief, something that cannot be achieved in this setting. Plus, any kind of dance numbers are awkward because of the space restrictions, and for the kind of dancing indicative of a show from this time period, a more traditional separation of actors and audience behooves both.

“You Never Know” by Amalgamated Stage Productions

Under director Will Wood, the cast is solid if not mind-blowing. Darrin Gowan is playboy Baron Ferdinand, who swaps roles for the night with his manservant, Gaston, played by the above-mentioned Accetturo. Perry Accetturo portrays Ida, a starlet and the Baron’s most regular bedpartner, but he really prefers Madame Baltin, played by Brooke Bucher. Madame Baltin’s maid, Maria, played by Brittany Bucher, pretends to be a lady when Gaston’s wrong phone number lands her in the Baron’s apartment with a smitten Gaston. Worth noting is that Brittany Bucher is only seventeen, something I discovered only after checking her bio because of her very pretty voice.

A nice touch is the introductory remarks from Hugh Hefner’s Penthouse playing on the stage’s TV. But the single funniest element of the show is choreographer Anne Martin’s non-verbal and absolutely hilarious depiction of Elsie the housekeeper. Her little stint on a coffee table was the show’s highlight.

“You Never Know” by Amalgamated Stage Productions
Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

“Human Rites” at the Phoenix Theatre (5 stars)

“Human Rites” at the Phoenix Theatre

Alan is a tenured cultural psychology professor. When one of his undergraduate classes submits a letter of complaint about a paper of his destined for publication, which he shared with them during a class, the dean, Michaela, challenges her former lover because she uncompromisingly rejects his research on female circumcision being performed in Africa. She dismisses his work as being credible, stating that he, as an American white male, could not reliably procure this information and claiming that the intangible nature of his field cannot provide actual facts.

His findings show that the majority of the women having the procedure embrace it as sacred because it is an initiation into the empowering women’s secret society of Bondo. They feel they are claiming their bodies’ femininity, and it forms bonds of sisterhood among them. Michaela also accuses Alan of stealing her similar research idea and of fetishizing black women. However, her own vitriol seems to be moored more in her own anger as a woman scorned (even ten years later) and in her own cultural superiority complex. Michaela has arranged to have the study repeated, headed up by a highly recommended graduate student at the university, who is from Sierra Leone, Lydia—a young black woman.

Rob Johansen, as Alan, and Milicent Wright, as Michaela, are both well-known, accomplished presences on Indianapolis stages, and they do not disappoint here. Under guest director Lavina Jadhwani, their body language, facial expressions, and line delivery create a realistic portrayal of a couple at odds both personally and professionally. Given their shared history, Johansen’s initial awkwardness and Michaela’s cold reception of him make their elevating, heated confrontational debate more personal.

“Human Rites” at the Phoenix Theatre

They are joined on stage by Paeton Chavis, as Lydia, who is also a force on stage. Her character holds her own, chin high, when faced with her educational “superiors.” In this role, she exudes the passion and strength of conviction that is often most evident in a younger generation. She also adopts a lilting accent to reiterate her character’s heritage. (Whether it is authentic or not, I cannot say, not being a student of African language, but dialect coach Chelsea Anderson pulled a musical cadence from Chavis.)

The show’s uses the hot-button issue of female circumcision, but through this, it also takes to task people’s inherent if subconscious belief of their own culture’s superiority. While the show is intense, there are brief moments of levity to break up the swirling rush of intellectual discourse. The emotionally charged verbal sparring can be overwhelming, but the inclusion of these breathers deters mental overload in preparation for the next onslaught of academic and personally fueled arguments.

Phoenix’s lower stage is moved almost to the center of the room, designed by Bernie Killian, allowing audiences an even closer and immersive experience.

Seth Rozin’s new play is based on actual accounts, not just speculation, which expands the play’s purpose, challenging audiences to examine their own emotional reactions and cultural prejudices.

The show is ninety minutes with no intermission, so get your drinks and cookie bars before it starts.

For an interesting read on the subject, check out

  • Through August 13, Thursdays at 7  p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m., $27; Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., $33
Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

“Richard III” presented by First Folio and Catalyst Repertory (5 stars)

“Richard III” presented by First Folio and Catalyst Repertory. Photo by Gary Nelson.

First Folio Productions and Catalyst Repertory collaborated to present Shakespeare’s story about one of England’s most devious villains, Richard III. And oh, what a deliciously bloodthirsty production it is!

Richard, who was killed in 1485, orchestrated the death of anyone who stood in his way to take the English throne. His hatefulness even drove him to killing children, contracting to have his two young nephews murdered in cold blood.

While not as misshapen as he is written in Shakespeare’s play, Richard was afflicted with scoliosis, which likely caused him to be minimally hunchbacked. This could have added to his “discontent,” a benign word to describe his sly viciousness, but in no way could justify it.

The play was adapted by Ben Power, Glenn L. Dobbs (who also directed), and Casey Ross, intriguingly bookending the production with the discovery of Richard’s remains in 2012 in Leicester, England.

What makes this production so riveting is Matt Anderson’s superlative performance. He masterfully embodies the eerie monarch in such a way that makes your skin crawl. The evil seeps off his character to pool into a noxious flood at the audience’s feet. From cunning conspirator, to simpering pretender, to paranoid madman, Anderson manifests them all. And while there is a large, and good, cast, the focal point is always Anderson. Not to slight anyone else, but he simply owns the stage.

Atmospheric costumes (Linda Schomhorst) help set the mood, as does sound designer Brian G. Hartz’s modern selections.

Everyone does an excellent job of maneuvering the Early Modern English that literature students bemoan. It’s easy to understand the dialogue (and monologues), so don’t feel as if you need to read the Cliffs Notes before seeing the show. And while Shakespearean productions are notorious for being long, don’t worry; this one is only a little over two hours. Totally worth it.

For a quick video about the discovery of Richard III’s remains, you can check out this video on YouTube.

Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

“The Hunchback of Notre Dame: A New Musical” presented by Bobdirex (4 stars)

“The Hunchback of Notre Dame” presented by Bobdirex

Bobdirex, the vehicle for Bob Harbin, producer and director, has taken on the ambitious project of The Hunchback of Notre Dame: A New Musical, a haunting success.

Thank the gods that Victor Hugo won’t have to roll in his grave quite as much, given the saccharine Disnification of the 1996 animated movie. Instead, I was pleased to find that not only is much of the music that made the original soundtrack, one of the most under-appreciated Disney works, included in the stage musical, but also the dark aspects that are only hinted at in the animated version (for obvious reasons) are further addressed on stage.


I’m assuming that most people know the basic plot of the story, so I’m going to skip it and move right into the show’s presentation.

In addition to the traditional commentary, expertly delivered by Keith Potts as Clopin, the king of the Gypsies (who also has a strong singing voice), the performance also includes spoken choral narration—always an engrossing element in productions. And speaking of all things choral, the large choir gives the production the necessary weight for many of the numbers (even if they sometimes overpower the principle singers), and their Entr’acte is absolutely beautiful.

Jacob Butler makes an excellent Quasimodo, conveying the tentativeness and insecurity that this man has been smothered by all his life. A couple times, he struggles with a high note, but his rendition out “Out There” is still arresting with all the emotions behind this song.

Shelbi Armstrong as Esmeralda is a knockout. Not only does the girl know how to shimmy, but her powerful and lovely singing voice is on excellent exhibit, most notably in “Someday,” a duet with the also talented Logan Moore as Phoebus, and “God Help the Outcasts.” She can also cop an attitude and then become a caring friend whenever the need arises.

Bill Book as Dom Claude Frollo is good in his authoritative position, though I found him a too unaggressive in his exploitation of Quasimodo and his carnal attraction to Esmeralda. I was hoping for more of a villain. (You can check out the Disney version of “Hellfire” here.)

The riot of colors used in costuming (Peachy Keen Costuming) and smoky effects are set well against the black stage, which is only adorned with a large rose window and minimal props. The Gargoyles (Curtis Peters, Matt Rohrer, and April Armstrong-Thomas) are amusing, but their costumes, while elaborate, are a little off-putting, as their googly-eyes and the breastplate on Armstrong-Thomas are a little strange. The lighting (Matthew Ford Cunningham) set a particularly ominous mood.

Nitpicking aside, I still find the production more than worthy of accolades.

  • Continues through July 7-9
  • $25 with discounts available for seniors and students
  • Marian University Theatre, 3200 Cold Spring Road
  • 317-280-0805,
Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

“The Golem of Havana” at the Phoenix Theatre (5 stars)

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Lydia Burke in “The Golem of Havana” at the Phoenix Theatre. Photo by Ed Stewart.

Since ancient times, storytelling has been a part of the universal human instinct to explain, record, and pass on truths. It helps us learn from our past, survive our present, and evaluate our possible futures. Stories—even the sad ones—connect us with our shared humanity as well as our particular origins.

I admit that I don’t know much about Cuba during the 1950s revolution, but the situations in The Golem of Havana are similar to other historical events, making it easy to pick up on what’s happening. Political unrest is certainly not unknown throughout the world. Besides, this isn’t so much a story about a historical event as it is about the everyday people who are forced to live their lives in reaction to what they are powerless to control.

Given the magic of storytelling, it is natural that Rebecca (played by Lydia Burke), a girl from a Hungarian-Jewish family, would find an outlet in creating her own comic book, titled The Golem of Havana, where she can shape her characters’ lives. In case you are unfamiliar with a golem, it is part of the Jewish mythology, a roughly human-like, single-minded creature created from clay and animated via a charm or parchment placed in its mouth by a rabbi. They were made to be protectors of persecuted Jews. Rebecca pulls from this Jewish folklore for her stories, consciously or subconsciously looking for a savior in the face of the tension of her adopted country’s impending rebellion, her beloved father’s financial stress (Pinchas, a struggling tailor played by Eric J. Olson), and her mother’s (Yutka, played by Lori Ecker) lingering pain over a sister lost to her long ago by the Nazis.

In Rebecca’s desperation to help alleviate her family’s worries, she is introduced to the deity of the family’s Cuban maid, Maria (Teneh B.C. Karimu): Yemaya, who has a particular fondness for watermelons as offerings. What follows is a beautiful, sincere chant to the goddess, their duet reverently asking for her intercession. Maria has her own troubles. Her son, Teo (Ray Hutchins), has joined the rebels, and his fate is uncertain.

The family’s contact with Cuba’s government comes in the form of Pinchas’s best customer, Arturo (Carlos Medina Maldonado), who runs a hefty tab with the tailor. Arturo is sympathetic to the family—but only to a certain degree.

Additional characters are taken on by Wheeler Castaneda, Betsy Norton, Rob Johansen, and Paul Nicely.

Rebecca’s enthusiasm about her comic-book character adds a touch of the whimsical to the serious subject matter that dominates the musical. Her innocence among the surrounding turmoil—perfectly embodied by her abruptly kissing and then immediately jumping away from Teo—reminds us of simple humanity in the unsure awkwardness of this teenage girl.

Director Bryan Fonseca has pulled together all the separate elements of a show and crafted a work of art—the often haunting music that blends Cuban and Jewish influences (musical direction by Karimu and performed by a live ensemble perched above the action), the orange-yellow sets, the elegant lighting, the excellent performances, all meld to create an immersive effect.

While the entire cast is top notch, my personal favorites are Burke, who conveys Rebecca’s endearing personality through her skillful portrayal and through her absolutely lovely voice, and Olson’s Pinchas, a remarkably likable, compelling, and sympathetic character.

OK, so the illustrations of the golem look like Baymax from Big Hero Six (whom I love anyway), but the use of Rebecca’s drawings, projected to a screen on stage, enlivens Rebecca’s journal writing. It is an intriguing way to include necessary exposition.

Rebecca says that stories matter, and the statement belies her years, because in the end, we are all stories, and these stories help us navigate the confusing, exciting, tragic aspects of our lives.

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Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

“Bonnie & Clyde: The Musical” at Buck Creek Players (4.5 stars)

“Bonnie & Clyde” at Buck Creek Players

The first glimpse you get at Bonnie & Clyde: The Musical is of the couple riddled with bullets, dead in their car. While it takes some liberties with the actual details, the gruesome point is clear: theirs was a story fated to have a solemn, bloody ending.

But from there, the show steps back to how it all ended that way. This isn’t a shoot-‘em-up story (though of course it’s in there), but a love story—romantic love and familial love, and what one will do for said love.

Annie Miller as Bonnie and Joseph D. Massingale as Clyde lead up a massive cast under the direction of D. Scott Robinson. And every actor on stage more than holds up his or her own. The talent that has been accumulated for this production is impressive.

Not only do Miller and Massingale create sympathetic characters, but the musical numbers put their exceptional vocal talents on display as well. (A side note: the show’s music is by Frank Wildhorn of Jekyll & Hyde.) But others get center stage as well: Jonathan D. Krouse as Bonnie’s love-struck friend Ted has a memorable duet with Massingale, and Miranda Nehrig as Blanche, Clyde’s sister in law, is a hoot singing about her husband going back to jail.

This is an exceptional piece of stagecraft. My only nitpicking is that the spotlights smooth out and Massingale remembers to unsnap his holster before trying to pull out his gun.

  • June 9-25, Fridays-Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m.
  • $20 ($18 for children, students, and senior citizens)
Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

“The Great Bike Race” at Theatre on the Square (4.5 stars)

“The Great Bike Race” at Theatre on the Square

I didn’t get to see The Great Bike Race when it was featured at the 2014 FringeFestival, but I’m almost glad because I went into the show not knowing what to expect. In fact, I thought the premise sounded kind of boring: a story about bicyclists racing the Tour de France in 1904.

Holy crap was I wrong!

Writer-director Zack Neiditch expanded the 40-minute Fringe version into just shy of 90 minutes. While some areas in the extended cut move too slow, overall its comedic ride is well worth taking.

The “cleverly anachronistic” (a phrase the actors instructed reviewers to use in describing the show) follows 16-year-old Henri Cornet (Frankie Bolda), an honorable cyclist among a pack of cheaters. The worst of them, and vicious rivals, are the aggressive hot-air-bag Hippolyte Acoutrier (Paige Scott) and the sneaky and subtle Maurice Garin (Ben Asaykwee).

Other contestants include Jean-Baptiste DuFortunac (Carrie Bennett Fedor) and Llucien Portier (Evan Wallace), who discover their man-love during the race. Many of the male characters are actually taken on by women, but Sonia Goldberg as Alois Catteau is an actress who is pretending to be a man who is a woman. (Get all that?) Josh Ramsey portrays multiple racer roles, all from different nationalities, in a tongue-tying, kilt-swishing, mustache-drooping hot mess. (I love the “Scottish surprise.”) Jean Dargasse (John Kern) actually hops a train to get to the finish line faster, and Gustave Drioul (Craig Kemp) just keeps his geriatric character pedaling.

I assure you, this isn’t the stage version of a historical documentary. The show is full of, dirty trick and sexual innuendo, and it even boasts a few musical numbers (Asaykwee, woot woot!). Plus, there is a stuffed cat a la the Killer Rabbit of Caerbannog. And a cow. And an angry mob of French hicks. The stage is full of crazy-funny insanity.

And ah-maze-balls victory dances.

  • Through June 24, Fridays-Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 5 p.m.
  • $25 ($20 for student, senior, or military).
  • to purchase online or visit to learn more

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Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

“Hir” at the Phoenix Theatre (3.5 stars)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

Catalyst Repertory: “Feral Boy” (4 stars)

“Feral Boy.” Photo by Gary Nelson.

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

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

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

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“Feral Boy.” Photo by Gary Nelson.

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

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

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

“Feral Boy.” Photo by Gary Nelson.

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

“Feral Boy.” Photo by Gary Nelson.

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



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



Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • April 28-May 13; Friday-Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 5 p.m.
  • $25/$20 for students/seniors/military.
Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

“The Open Hand” at the Phoenix Theatre (4 stars)

“The Open Hand” at the Phoenix Theatre. Photo by Joe Konz

Allison (Leah Brenner) hates presents. She has an strict no-present policy. So when a stranger (Charles Goad), graciously picks up her $80 restaurant bill after she finds her wallet is missing, she becomes obsessed. Why would he do such a thing? What does he want? Her obsession with this act becomes almost psychotic, leading her to invite him to what turns out to be a very interesting and cathartic dinner party (a gathering of friends, NOT a birthday celebration, even though it is on her birthday).

The Open Hand is a reflection, if an exaggerated one, of society’s inability to just accept a gift and say “thank you” without questioning motives or keeping a tally of IOUs.

Two young yuppie couples—Allison (who appears directionless to begin with) and her fiance Jack (Jay Hemphill) and their friends Todd (Jeremy Fisher) and Freya (Julie Mauro)—are at crossroads in their lives. Jack, a chef, is working toward opening his own restaurant. Todd, a car salesman, is having issues at his job, and his sommelier wife is on the brink of getting a posh job.

Comedic elements of the couples’ interaction belie the deep ribbon of mistrust and doubt that runs under the surface of them. Each of the four actors exemplifies his or her character’s distinct outer personas before letting loose with what they really feel—though it takes liberal amounts of alcohol for those inner demons to emerge. Among the mortifying debacle that is the dinner party, Goad remains the calm, beneficent anchor that no one can figure out. His continuous, sincere generosity baffles them, angers them, confounds them.

The cast, under the direction of Dale McFadden, and crew deliver an entertaining and thought-provoking story that keeps the serious and the silly well-balanced. (Love the revolving stage for scene changes too!)

  • Phoenix Theatre
  • Through May 14; Thursdays at 7 p.m. ($27), Fridays-Saturdays at 8 p.m. ($33), andn Sundays at 2 p.m. ($27)
  • This weekend is Second Sunday: a discussion with cast members and complimentary beer from Sun King Brewery after the show.


Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

NoExit Performance in association with Zach Rosing Productions: “Mad Mad Hercules” 4.5 stars

“Mad Mad Hercules” from NoExit Performance and Zach Rosing Productions

The best way to begin this review is with a comment from my frequent theater companion Katrina about the shows we’ve seen over the past six months or so: “The number of shows we’ve been to where people either end up in their underwear or doing weird things with puppets is AMAZING.” And Mad Mad Hercules has not only added to that list, in both respects, but also has the distinction of being the funniest effing thing I have seen in years. YEARS. I never thought anything would top the unexpected stuffed animal orgy in Bat Boy, but this does. Over and over and over.

Local playwright Bennett Ayres has crafted one of the filthiest scripts I know of in a way that approaches a work of art. The crass and degradation is no holds barred, unapologetic, and a thing of beauty. I desperately wanted to write down some of the most inspired lines, but I was too busy trying not to cackle, cry, and pee myself all at the same time. My long-time friend, husband of Kat, and chauffer Paul said as we relayed some of our experience on the way home, laughing hysterically all over again, “I haven’t heard you laugh that hard in years, Miss Lisa.”

Needless to say, if you are easily offended, move down the avenue. Or, if you want to give it a try, there is a moment when the chorus pauses to give the conservative audience members an opt-out. However, if you don’t mind wallowing in the dirt for about ninety minutes, this is one of the best low-brow shows you can spend money on. I am actually considering if I can squeeze another performance into my schedule.

“Mad Mad Hercules”

Presented by NoExit Performance in association with Zach Rosing Productions, the show can get away with the sort of fuck-you humor that really only the smaller theater companies can indulge. And thank the gods for them. I love the unlicked cubs that can be found in these companies (they make it worth slogging through other less successful outings).

So, as readers have probably inferred, the story is about the twelve labors of Hercules, a penance for killing his wife and children, which he claims was a product of a fit of madness laid upon him by his step-mother Hera. His exasperated father Zeus won’t intervene. So Hercules is assigned his tasks by King Eurystheus, whom Hercules glories in trading grade-school insults with.

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Under the direction of Zach Neiditch, the cast takes the bull by the balls (Hercules sees nothing wrong with bestiality—it’s OK, calm down, we don’t see it first-hand) and rips into their roles with relish. Providing narrative is a Greek chorus, made up of Matthew Altman, Carrie Bennett Fedor, and Devan Mathias, a gossipy group that snipes at each other while providing commentary and filling in the blanks for the audience. Ryan Ruckman plays Hercules, a whiney, narcissistic drunk full of ennui who, during his first meeting with the closeted Iolaos, Nathan Thomas, a servant who will accompany Hercules on his quests, expects a hand job as if he’s asking Iolaos for a wrench. Ruckman’s Hercules reminds me of Peter Quill from Guardians of the Galaxy in some ways. He plays tough, but under the wine skin and bravado, he finds the capability of something more . . . but it doesn’t dial down his raunchy that much. Ruckman is incredible, as is Thomas, his nervous but stalwart voice of reason with an adorable dirty dance.

Josiah McCruiston plays the sniffy, effeminate Eurystheus, the foil for Hercules, as a combination of self-important power with no self-confidence. Tony Armstrong as Zeus is the picture of the fed-up patriarch as Hercules rails against his evil but sexy step-mom Hera, Dena Toler, who seems to have a particular affinity for Trisha Yearwood. Finally, Beverly Roche is a riot as the sex-driven-Amazonian-queen-with-a-perpetual-yeast-infection Hippolyta.

The self-proclaimed low-budget props are actually quite impressive (as is the lighting), but, sadly, none of the puppets have sex (though I was poised for it during one shadow puppet scene).

The show lags about three-quarters of the way through, sort of like a Monty Python movie. I only took off that half star for it. However, it picks back up during the conversation about the consequences of dehydration due to copious copulation.


If you go, it might help to read a bit about the beings/things involved in Hercules’s trials. (Not much. Something like Wikipedia would do.) It’s not necessary, but it might help gloss over some of the events that aren’t portrayed visually. But even if you don’t, don’t let it stop you. While the show isn’t the “Disneyfication” of the tale, as the director points out, it still plays fast and loose with the originals. In a good way.

Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

“City of Conversation” at Theatre on the Square (3.5 stars)

“City of Conversation” at Theatre on the Square

City of Conversation is a chronicle of the rise of polarization of our political parties—something we are feeling more than ever these days. It begins in 1979 during the time of “Georgetown dinners”—an acceptable social gathering where politicians of both parties hammered out legislation in a more friendly way than on the Senate floor.

The story is set at the home of Hester (played by Nan Macy) and her sister Jean (played by Forba Shepherd). Hester is a longtime supporter of liberal legislation, and unapologetically maintains an affair with Sen. Chandler Harris (played by Doug Powers). On the evening of the first scene, Hester is about to entertain Sen. George Mallonee (David Mosedale) and his wife Carolyn (Anna Lee). She is surprised by the arrival of her (adult) son Colin (Carey Shea) and his fiancée Anna (Emily Bohn). Hester, probably seeing herself in the young Anna, bears her fangs behind her son’s back when Anna appears a little too conniving. However, this evening, pieces have been put in place that will change Hester, Anna, and Colin—a forewarning of what will happen soon for politics in general. Anna choses to stay with the men during post-dinner brandy, and her own fledgling fangs begin to take a bite out of Hester’s comfy political influence.

There is some excellent acting here. As Hester, Macy is at her best during the second act. Where before she was the consummate hostess providing the sanctuary of a non-partisan meeting space, by 1987 she is more of a powerhouse herself, even in her convictions. Before, her manic smiles were for social lubrication, but later her own grit comes forward in her sincere desire to recapture the protections and liberties that had been won before the Reagan era began. By 1987, Colin and Anna have morphed into staunch Reagan Republican power players, much to the horror of the far left liberal Hester.

Emily Bohn as Anna also undergoes change. When she first met Hester, she was still just a girl with strong ideas on how to change the world. But she evolves into a far-right cutthroat willing to do the unthinkable by actually using her son as blackmail when she thinks Hester could influence the appointment of Robert Bork, a judge that is deeply important for the Regan regime. Bohn begins with a coquettish flair and ends up as an insecure tyrant even if she is still flush with her own sense of power.

Shea as Colin is also undergoes a transformation. Where before he was a fresh-faced college grad sporting a poncho, mane of long hair, and idealistic plans, he wilts under his overachieving wife, the tug between family and political party, and the uncertainty of his own job within that party. Finally, Shea gets to portray his character’s grown son, Ethan, who is reunited with his grandmother the night of Obama’s inauguration, his husband at his side (Bradley Lowe) (that must have rankled the ’rents). Shea’s distinction between what could be called three characters (young Colin, middle-age Collin, and adult Ethan) is quite well done.

If you aren’t a political animal (and I am not), the show could go over your head (I can barely remember Reagan—most of the references to movers and shakers left me in complete oblivion). But, it is a skilled production.

Through April 29, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 5 p.m.

Tickets $25; $20 students and seniors


Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

“M*A*S*H” at Buck Creek Players (2 stars)

Kurt F. Clemenz (left) and Ryan Powell in “M*A*S*H” at Buck Creek Players. Photo by

For those who love the well-known TV series M*A*S*H, you may be interested to know that as well as a movie, there is also a stage version. However, the play is, according to my husband, decidedly off cannon. For this reason, he was a little disappointed. I, though, was disappointed because the show itself isn’t funny and completely lacks any of the more series subject matter surrounding the Korean War. In addition, the stereotyping of Koreans and the USSO blondes are distressing.

In a series of short skits, with a flimsy at best plot line that could have been removed, you meet characters such as Hawkeye Pierce, Duke Forrest, Col. Blake, Maj. Burns, Trapper John, Maj. “Hot Lips” Houlihan, and many more. It’s a huge cast.

Sadly, only Ryan Powell as Hawkeye has a good performance. He looks much more at ease on stage than the others do, and he pulls off the only couple of scenes that evoke real laughter. Also, the Buck Creek Players’ stage is well turned out with set design by Lea Viney.

  • March 3-April 9; 8 p.m. on Friday and Saturday, with 2:30 p.m. matinees on Sunday
  • $18 for adults and $16 for students and senior citizens
Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

“Miranda” at the Indiana Repertory Theatre (3 stars)


“Miranda” at the Indiana Repertory Theatre. Photo by Zach Rosing

The strongest aspect of James Still’s most recent play at the Indiana Repertory Theatre, Miranda, is the outstanding talent of the cast and crew. Through the actors, under the direction of Henry Godinez, the characters are portrayed as stronger than they were written. Also, the blocking—something that has been niggling at me lately—is done exceptionally well; characters move naturally, even on the relatively smaller IRT upperstage.

The title character (Jennifer Coombs) is an undercover CIA agent, which audiences can’t grasp until after the vague opening scene. She infiltrates a city in the Arab country of Yemen, posing as an outreach worker, coaching teens in Shakespeare (?). Her real purpose, under the supervision of senior agent Reed (Torrey Hanson), is to coax (and bribe) intel on al-Qaeda via a Yemeni female physician, Dr. Al-Agbhari (Arya Daire). Both agents are under the thumb of higher-up Lauren (Mary Beth Fisher), who calls the final shots. Miranda’s cover is slight at best, as only one student, Shahid (Ninos Baba), ever shows up to participate in the program.

Coombs effectively conveys the rocked emotional state of a woman who has made a mistake—a big one—but who perseveres anyway, anxious to prove to herself and her boss that she is still in the game. Reed’s almost paternal tough-love oversight of her helps bolster her through her first assignment post-disaster. They are coworkers, but it’s obvious that they genuinely care about each other too.

Daire is in excellent form, portraying the anxiety of a female professional practicing in the poorest Middle Eastern country, which is being ravaged in a civil war. She is torn among her loyalty and much needed service to her all-female clientele, her love and hope for her country, and her passion to protect her family.

Shahid’s character is that of a MacGuffin; he uses the themes of Othello to emphasize that things aren’t always what they seem, just in case the audience forgot. However, Baba gives Shahid exceptional emotional investment in his study of Othello, and his delivery of his character’s comments on it let the audience know that Shahid is intelligent and thoughtful, not just regurgitating Cliffs Notes. Baba gives Shahid personality and conviction that might not otherwise be seen.

Though short, Fisher’s appearances on stage are nonetheless compelling. She embodies the efficiency and confidence a woman in her position would have (and need).

The story arc can be confusing; often characters’ motivations aren’t revealed soon enough but also because Arabic is sprinkled liberally throughout the play and not often translated. The study of Othello, specifically Iago, also a character with a hidden agenda, roots “I am not what I am” as the through line for the plot, touching each character in his or her own individual way, even ones not present. The metaphoric implications are laid on too thick, IMHO.

  • March 28 – April 23
  • $25-$75
  • Backstage tour April 6, performance at 7:30 PM
  • IRTea Talk April 9, performance at 2 PM
  • Happy Hour April 11, performance at 6:30 PM
  • Post-show discussion April 15, performance at 1 PM
  • Cookies & Coffee April 13, performance at 2 PM
  • Post-show discussion April 22, performance at 4 PM
Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

“Sex with Strangers” at the Phoenix Theatre (4 stars)

Brandon Alstott and Angela Plank in Phoenix Theatre’s “Sex with Strangers”

Sex with Strangers opens on Angela Plank as Olivia, a demoralized writer in her late 30s who now supports herself through teaching and is using her spring break to work on a new novel. She is happily ensconced, alone, in an out-of-the-way writers’ retreat house in Michigan, manuscript on lap, wine on the coffee table, and fuzzy socks on—literally and metaphorically—cold feet. Brandon Alstott as Ethan, a hotshot in his late 20s, appears on the doorstep of her safe house, a late check-in due to a blizzard. He’s a modern-day pulp-fiction writer, a blogger-cum-novelist, whose first book, Sex with Strangers, details his year of debauchery, winning him fame and financial booty. While Olivia sees Ethan’s writing as the equivalent of junk food, she is both infuriated and intrigued with his runaway success.

The two represent a gap in literary culture of about 10 years—a gap that many readers can witness in the conflicting views of “J-school” adherents versus the cut-and-paste “news” sites that have become so popular (and lucrative); the difference between a trained writer and a nobody who pounds out misspelled blog entries or fanfiction. The show examines the changing landscapes of writing and publishing (with a brief mention of the role of “professional” critic versus the masses of Internet commenters and planted reviews).

Interestingly, when Olivia, who is a product of more rigorous literary standards, allows herself to explore the new publishing model, she is successful, while the hack Ethan blows it when he tries to be a “real” writer and a respected voice in the literary world. This says something for old-fashioned vetting. While anyone can “write,” not everyone should—yet the Internet and best-seller lists contain a festering stew of glorified wanna-bes.

Plank as Olivia feels unnaturally stiff, but this could be intentional, as her character does come across as having a stick up her butt. Best are her facial expressions in response to some of Ethan’s more infuriating statements. Given the intimate setting in the Phoenix Theatre’s cabaret stage, these kinds of details in a performance add so many nuances to a character. In any case, it comes as a surprise that Olivia’s uptight character would give in to Ethan so quickly—regardless of how smoking hot he is. Alstott as Ethan exudes self-confidence of every kind and demands attention in every way. Yet he is sincere when he describes his goal of producing something of real literary value, and the shedding of the persona “Ethan Strange” after his comeuppance is believable because of those earlier glimpses into his soul.

Director Bill Simmons, Plank, and Alstott created a show that can touch audiences on a personal level but also leaves them thinking about what does happen behind many types of closed doors, including the ones of various forms of media. “Sex with strangers,” after all, is a good metaphor for the intimacy that happens between reader and writer. Whom do you trust? The swaggering nobody or someone who has a few miles on them? At the same time, staunch adherence to tradition can also leave you stagnant.

  • Phoenix Theatre
  • Through April 9
  • Thursday, 7 p.m. $27
  • Friday-Saturday, 8 p.m. $33
  • Sunday, 2 p.m. $27
  • Second Sunday March 26: The discussion will take place immediately following the performance. Come join cast and designers for a lively Q&A and gain a unique perspective of the show!
Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

DivaFest 2017

The opening weekend of IndyFringe’s DivaFest 2017 was packed with passionate artists producing works that challenge audiences to evaluate their points of view.



  • Written by Brooke Eden
  • Directed by Miranda Swan
  • Performed by Brooke Eden

What is good: Twenty-year-old Eden has both good and bad luck. She suffers from panic disorder and depression. But karma picked up the bill by allowing her to come to terms with her issues now instead of 15 or 20 years later, after they did irreparable damage to her life.

In her one-woman show, Eden confesses to her own “batshit” craziness and to just how low she got before seeking help in college. She tackles the incredibly personal monologue with often self-deprecating humor, reveling in the convoluted events of her life that brought her to this point. Some stories are comical and some are sad, and she can turn a smart phrase. She’s genuine and relatable, and infinitely brave for sharing her story.

What needs work: The performance’s timelines and subjects sometimes feel disjointed. It’s a little rough, but I am betting it’s a work in progress. Also, moving the stool around the stage is distracting and unnecessary. I’d love to see some media added, such as music and photos that pertain to topics.

  • Saturday, March 18, 9 p.m.
Not Yet Rehearsal 2
Chelsea Anderson and Adam Tran in rehersal for “Not Yet” at DivaFest

Not Yet

  • Written by Chelsea Anderson
  • Directed by Rob Johansen
  • Performed by Adam Tran and Chelsea Anderson

What is good: The acting and directing. Tran and Anderson give professional-level performances. The incorporation of dance provides lovely symbolism for the coming together and drifting apart of two people in a relationship. The show’s execution from start to finish is spot-on.

What needs work: I have to play devil’s advocate here regarding the script. While I in NO WAY condone Guy’s date rape of Audra while she was passed out, Audra still needs to confront her own issues. As Guy states at the end, Audra is selfish. She says she wants to take the physical part of their relationship slow, but she gives in after five weeks. After allowing them to take that step, she reneges, saying that “it hurts.” First, if sex hurts, get thee to a GYN ASAP. If no physical reason for the pain exists, get thee to a sex therapist. Second, if you set a ground rule, keep it. This applies to every party involved. Audra never tries to have a meaningful, mature conversation with Guy about sex—or even about her expectations of the relationship. If this kind of a conversation is too embarrassing or uncomfortable, grow up.

When Guy date raped her, why didn’t she leave right away instead of letting the relationship continue, allowing her anger to fester, and choosing not to confront Guy? (I can tell you from first-person experience that restraining orders in these situations are not hard to obtain, even though pressing charges can be.) Guy has been rejected in every way a person can be (again, yes, the date rape was unforgivable, but why didn’t she do a thing about it?). And what is Audra’s take-away from all this? We don’t know if she has learned anything or grown because of a guillotined ending.

  • Saturday, March 18, 7:30 p.m.
Beverly Roche in “Not Yet Dead” at DivaFest

Not Yet Dead

  • Written by Jan White
  • Directed by Ann Marie Elliott
  • Performed by Beverly Roche, Bridget Schlebecker, Nick Barnes, Shannon Samson, Jim Lucas, Craig Rubel, and David Molloy

What is good: A gaggle of friends tries to convince a former movie star to take on new opportunities—and new technology, which causes havoc. White’s message—not letting yourself get complacent in your senior years—transcends all age groups. No matter how old you are, your story is not over.

The banter between Roche as Dana and Schlebecker as her best friend Lana is so natural that it is beautiful, and the actresses convey the ease and comfort of beloved friends. Their words and interaction reflect the love and companionship that sustained their relationship for decades. Plus, lots of funny lines keep the audience laughing.

What needs work: The show has drinking-game potential. Every time the title is used, take a shot. The script is rough around the edges, and the scenes end abruptly. Some of the characters are superfluous, such as the obligatory gay friend and the man next door. (His sister doesn’t have a major role in propelling the plot either, but she is funny. And he does get one of the best jokes in the show, explaining that it’s the Vagina Monologues, not monocles. It’s not eyewear for your vagina.)

  • Sunday March 19, 7:30 p.m.
Banza Townsend and Brittany Taylor in “On the Pole” at DivaFest

On the Pole

  • Written and produced by Nicole Kearney
  • Directed by Dena Toler
  • Performed by Banza Townsend, Andrea P. Wilson, Chandra Lynch, Brittany Taylor, and Jamaal McCray

What is good: On the Pole examines the circumstances and repercussions for four women who work in a strip club. Each one represents a different perspective: the housemother, who has been in the industry practically her whole life; the teen-age newbie, who sees this as a welcome opportunity to get off the streets; the proud career dancer; and the short-timer, who is saving for college. It’s a fascinating behind-the-scenes of rarely told stories. The catty comments are set to high, and each actress effectively embodies her character’s temperament. But Wilson as Mimi is the most eye-catching; she drips sexuality the entire 60 minutes of the production. Well-curated props add vibrancy to the black-box stage.

What needs work: The characters are depicted with a wide brush, but it’s hard to write effective character development into a short. The ending was a little abrupt; a more resolute conclusion would be satisfying.

  • Friday March 17, p.m.


Two additional shows will open this weekend.

“The Pink Hulk” at DivaFest

The Pink Hulk, written by Valerie David and directed by Padraic Lill, is about Valerie’s battle with breast cancer. Afraid she might lose “the girls,” Valerie decides to takes them out for one last hurrah. The true story follows the triumphant journey of one woman seeking her own “hulk-like” strength to find her superhero within.

  • Friday, March 17, 6 p.m.
  • Saturday, March 18, 6 p.m.
  • Sunday, March 19, 4:30 p.m.


HEDY Press Pic 6 by Al Foote III
“Hedy” at DivaFest. Photo by Al Foote III.

HEDY! The Life & Inventions of Hedy Lamarr, written by Heather Massie, explores the film star who also invented frequency hopping and spread spectrum technology, which make the world of wireless communication tick.

  • Friday, March 17, 7:30 p.m.
  • Saturday, March 18, 4:30 p.m.
  • Sunday, March 19, 6 p.m.





Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

“Rock of Ages” at Theatre on the Square (4 stars)

John Kern and Dave Ruark in “Rock of Ages” at Theatre on the Square. Photo by Zach Rosing.

Rock of Ages is a camp masterpiece. The fist-pumping shots of adrenaline that fueled the hair bands and groupies of the ’80s are lampooned in this amalgamation of every rock-band debauchery, mullet, and obnoxious clothing choice seen in that decade.

What Theatre on the Square’s cast may be lacking in vocal proficiency is made up for in stamina. (Hell, Ty Stover is the director, musical director, scenic designer, and lighting designer.) This is an instance when auto-tune could have come in handy. Everyone seems to have a few notes that he or she just can’t hit. But no matter. This karaoke-level performance is the height of sloppy fun.

The show has a loose storyline, but who cares what it is? This is a jukebox musical after all. And I get to use my favorite phrase: John Kern as Lonny, the narrator, CHEWS THE SCENERY AND SPITS IT BACK OUT. No matter what is happening on-stage, find him, and he will be doing something absurd or crude, but probably both. He makes a gallant effort in the vocal department.

Dave Ruark, who plays the nightclub owner Dennis, a washed-up ex-hippie who did way too many drugs back in the day, does an admirable job of stumbling through the club in a vague haze. Bar-hand and superstar wanna-be Drew, played by Davey Pelsue, has his best turn in “I Wanna Rock,” and his love interest, Sherrie, played by Sarah Hoffman, has a pretty little voice.

Davey Peluse and Sarah Hoffman in “Rock of Ages” at Theatre on the Square. Photo by Zach Rosing.

Hannah Boswell has the best voice in the production, which is odd because she has limited stage time as Waitress #1. Paige Scott as the strip-club housemother Justice gives excellent attitude, and Zach Ramsey as Franz is adorable. However, Thomas Cardwell as rock god Stacee Jaxx lacks the role’s sex appeal, and his surfer dialect is gratng.

Unbelievably horrible wigs are appalling to the point that they are comical.

Be forewarned that if you fear glitter (the herpes of the craft world) and/or boobs, don’t sit in the front row.

Overall, the show warranted an extra star for its sheer fun factor, and the bottom line is that you have to be a huge fan of the ’80s to really enjoy it. I’d love to see TOTS do a sing-along night.

  • Through April 1
  • Fridays-Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 5 p.m.
  • $25 ($20 for students/seniors)
Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

“Boeing Boeing” at the Indiana Repertory Theatre (4.5 stars)

Greta Wohlrabe and Chris Klopatek in IRT’s “Boeing Boeing.” Photo by Zach Rosing.

Boeing Boeing is a classic French farce from the ’60s, and really, who doesn’t enjoy a little slapstick, even if the characters are a little…culturally dated? Just roll with it. Many stagings, translations, tweaks, and movie adaptations later, Boeing Boeing has made its way to the Indiana Repertory Theatre’s stage under the direction of Laura Gordon, and it’s a hoot.

Bernard, played by Matt Schwader, is an American playboy living in Paris. He has collected three “air hostess” fiancées, and by using a system of airline timetables, he keeps them from knowing about each other. The day his old friend Robert, played by Chris Klopatek, shows up for a visit, Bernard’s scheme begins to deteriorate.

Elizabeth Ledo in IRT’s “Boeing Boeing.” Photo by Zach Rosing.

The show is full of excruciatingly funny lines, most of which are delivered by Bernard’s housekeeper, Berthe, played by Elizabeth Ledo (who in looks and attitude reminds me of Edna from The Incredibles), and the show’s standout, Klopatek. Klopatek, as the nerdy, nervous, clumsy Robert, steals every single scene he is in (which is most of them). But Ledo is right behind him, delivering her character’s own brand of snarky shtick.

Schwader as Bernard is everything a 1960s schmoozer would be: handsome, smooth, arrogant—and hysterically frantic when he finds himself juggling all three women in his flat. Which brings us to the stewardesses. Hillary Clemens gets to be relatively straightforward as cute (but gastronomically challenged) American Gloria, whereas caricatures are carried impressively consistently by Melisa Pereyra as the “angry Italian” Gabriella and Greta Wohlrabe as the “aggressive German” Gretchen. Stereotypes aside, Wohlrabe is absolutely endearing and sidesplitting in turns from one second to another.

The set, designed by Vicki Smith, does ample justice to the IRT’s reputation for elaborate settings. The pacing of some narrative scenes could be sped up, but this is a minor quibble for a show that is such a delightful romp of silliness.

Chris Klopatek, Hillary Clemens, and Matt Schwader in IRT’s “Boeing Boeing.” Photo by Zach Rosing.

Check out my interview with Hillary Clemens and Matt Schwader!

  • Through April 2
  • $20-$75
  • IRTea Talk | March 19, after the 2 p.m. performance
  • Happy Hour March 21, before the 6:30 p.m. performance
  • Backstage Tour March 24, after the 7:30 p.m. performance
  • Post-show Discussion March 26, after the 2 p.m. performance
  • IRT’s Girls Night Out March 29 at 6 p.m.; production starts at 7:30 p.m.
  • Cookies & Coffee March 30, before the 2 p.m. performance
  • Recommended for patrons 9th grade and older. Boeing Boeing contains references to infidelity and mild sexual innuendo.
Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

“Anything Goes” at Footlite Musicals (3 stars)

“Anything Goes” at Footlite Musicals

It’s not unusual for the storyline of a piece of musical theater or a musical film to be merely a slipshod vehicle for what the audience really wants: amazing tunes (most often accompanied by elaborate dance numbers). So it is with works such as Grease, Mamma Mia, Cats, Chess…and pretty much anything pre-1940. As much as I adore Cole Porter, the book of Anything Goes is ridiculous. But oh those songs! One right after another is a little piece of tap-the-foot heaven. “I Get a Kick Out of You.” “You’re the Top,” “It’s De-Lovely,” “Let’s Misbehave,” “Blow, Gabriel, Blow,” and of course the show’s namesake, “Anything Goes.”

Footlite Musicals pours energy to the 1962 version now on stage under the direction of Kathleen Clarke Horrigan, with vocal director John Phillips and choreographer Trish Roberds.

Despite sound system issues and an erratic spotlight, Saturday night’s performance was satisfying on many levels, even if it wasn’t “the top.” Susie Harloff as nightclub singer Reno takes top marks for her star-worthy performance both vocally and in character. Trenton Baker as the star-crossed beau Billy has a clear, lovely voice, but it lacks the power needed for a leading role. He and Emily Schaab, as Bonnie, could split her enthusiasm and projection and both actors would still have full tanks. Sydney Norwalk as Billy’s ladylove Hope accompanies him with her own sweet voice and a classical mixture of demur yet fun-loving demeanor.

Tom Bartley as Moonface Martin makes for a much more loveable buffoon than Ryan Straut as Sir Evelyn Oakleigh. There is no possible suspension of disbelief here because it’s clear Oakleigh is going to end up in Reno’s costume closet, not her pants.

A large chorus of singers and dancers fill in the stage, and the tap numbers are an amazing cardio workout. Gale Sturm’s three-tiered set design captures both the enormity of a ship and the intimacy of a deck in the moonlight. Curt Pickard’s costuming—especially for the ladies—is classy and stunning.

  • Anything Goes continues through March 19. Thursday, Friday, and Saturday: 7:30 p.m.; Sunday: 2:30 p.m.
  • Tickets are $23 (ages 17 and under $15)
  • Discount Days: All Thursday evening performances and opening weekend Sunday matinee are $10.
Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

“Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” at the Indiana Repertory Theater (5 stars)



Director Skip Greer infuses humor into the show to balance the serious issues put forward by the play, keeping the audience engaged and entertained without feeling overwhelmed or preached to.

Chiké Johnson and Annie Munch in the IRT's "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner." Photo by Zach Rosing.
Chiké Johnson and Annie Munch in the IRT’s “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner.” Photo by Zach Rosing.


Most people seem to be more familiar with William Rose’s 1967 screenplay of Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner than the 2013 stage adaptation by Todd Kreidler, which is now at the Indiana Repertory Theatre. But the play holds true to the crux of the film: the slow, sometimes even painful evolution of racial relations, the importance of the family unit, and the strength of love.

Upper-middle-class Matt Drayton, played by Craig Spidle, is a vocal proponent of social justice. But when his ideals are challenged in real life, his stance changes abruptly. His 25-year-old daughter Joanna, played by Annie Munch, returns from her medical internship in Hawaii with a surprise: her fiancé, a 36-year-old widower who is a successful, acclaimed, but modest doctor who happens to be black.

If Dr. John Prentice, played by Chiké Johnson, had been white, would the family have reacted differently to their daughter’s whirlwind engagement and her plans to marry when she imminently follows her beau to Germany? Instead, the conflict is completely centered on the fact that the man is black. Each of their families is opposed to the match due to race; both think this will somehow ruin the couple’s lives.

Spidle’s Matt is all tirades, but Brigitt Markusfeld, as Matt’s wife Christina, approaches the role with a calmer attitude, (very) slowly grounding her husband’s bluster. Christina realizes how poorly they are acting when her assistant Hillary, who seems to be a harmless if affectatious woman played by Constance Macy, spews bigotry in her matter-of-fact plan to break up Joanna and John.

But it’s Tille, the Draytons’ black housekeeper, played by Lynda Gravátt, who is initially the most antagonistic toward John; however, she also provides a wealth of laughter (at least for the audience), as does Monsignor Ryan, played by Mark Goetzinger, a jovial, sotted voice of reason.

Munch’s Joanna is a bundle of upbeat, positive energy in contrast to Johnson, whose John exudes a more mature, refined demeanor—and a realistic one. He won’t proceed with the relationship if Joanna’s parents won’t approve it, knowing that their support is crucial to the couple’s life together.

But then Joanna ups the ante by secretly inviting John’s parents to dinner. Both of them are as shocked by the situation as Joanna’s parents are. The audience’s first glimpse of Nora Cole as John’s mother Mary is priceless. The look on her face says it all. John Prentice Sr., played by Cleavant Derricks, is even more biting than Matt is in his onslaughts toward John Jr.

Director Skip Greer infuses humor into the show to balance the serious issues put forward by the play, keeping the audience engaged and entertained without feeling overwhelmed or preached to.

B. Modern’s costume design is spot-on for the times, but most striking is the truly awesome set designed by Robert M. Koharchik. The multilevel, detailed set is possibly his most impressive creation yet.


Continues through February 4

Recommended for patrons in ninth grade and older; contains strong language, including racially charged dialogue.

Tickets are $20-$75

IRTEA TALK January 22, performance at 2 PM

HAPPY HOUR January 24, performance at 6:30 PM

POST-SHOW DISCUSSION February 2, performance at 2 PM

COOKIES & COFFEE February 2, performance at 2 PM

Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

2016 in (abbreviated) review

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I want to preface this with the acknowledgement that * I did not see every show there was to see in the Indianapolis area this past year. * Not even close. Also, a five-star review may not have landed a show a spot in my favorites list. Instead, a combination of unique, inventive approaches and outstanding work on and off stage (especially on a low budget) with a great script are my criteria. With that said, here are my top picks for 2016.


Addams Family at Footlite Musicals

What made it great: across-the-board top-notch staging that featured talent, enthusiasm, and commitment. Ed Trout’s whimsical direction (and spooky scenic design), spot-on costumes by designer Curt Pickard, and other details crafted by behind-the-scenes crew members made this show a massive hit. On stage, leads to chorus did a standout job. Michael Davis and Kathleen Clarke Horrigan created spitting images of Gomez and Morticia (respectively), but the vocal superlatives were the powerful voices of Ivy Bott as Wednesday and Carrie Neal as Lucas’s mother, Alice.


Next to Normal at Carmel Community Players

What made it great: director Carlo Nepomuceno’s focus on talent. Georgeanna Teipen (the main character), Russell Watson, Sharmaine Ruth, Kyle Mottinger, Daniel Hellman, and Bradley Kieper delivered exquisite emotion and vocal performances in this raw narrative without utilizing bells and whistles.


Sweeny Todd by Actors Theatre of Indiana

What made it great: probably one of if not the best Sweeny productions I’ve ever seen. ATI maximized its use of the small, black-box stage with a multipurpose set piece by designer P. Bernard Killian. Don Farrell was awesome as the ghoulish Todd in presentation and musical ability. Judy Fitzgerald played a perfect foil for Farrell’s insanity as the sociopath Mrs. Lovett. Kudos to director Richard J. Roberts.


Young Frankenstein at Indianapolis Civic Theatre

What made it great: across-the-board top-notch staging that featured talent, enthusiasm, and commitment. Director Michael Lasley indulged us with shticky pleasures while achieving and maintaining excellence in performance and presentation. Jaw-dropping scenery framed ensemble musical numbers that came at you with the power of a case of 5-hour Energy drinks. Steve Kruze, Nathalie Cruz, Damon Clevenger, Devan Mathias, Vickie Cornelius Phipps, and B. J. Bovin owned their caricatures 100 percent and reveled in their insensible, bawdy humor.



Crumble (Lay Me Down Justin Timberlake) at Theatre on the Square

What made it great: a dark, lyrical script, direction by Rob Johansen, and the performances of Clay Mabbitt and Paeton Chavis. The bizarre humor of the show was appallingly sidesplitting. The language used in the script is sexy, luscious, even poetic at times. The actors agilely wrapped their lips around the fascinating lines. Mabbitt was excellent as the anthropomorphic character House that yearned for a loving touch, an oiled hinge, a release of radiator steam. Mabbitt’s deft physicality in depicting doors, windows, and falling plaster and his slithering along walls and floors were amazing. Chavis—as a hyper, foul-mouthed, belligerent 11-year-old who exhibited symptoms of schizoaffective disorder and spewed explicit venom via her dolls—was mesmerizing in her on-stage intensity.


The Diviners by Casey Ross Productions in association with the Carmel Theatre Company

What made it great: Casey Ross’s direction and charming characters. Ross’s stagecraft was showcased in the underwater scene. A combination of slow motion and David C. Matthews’s lighting depicted action when (the likable and relatable) Pat Mullen and Davey Peluse were underwater cut with moments that they surface with normal motion and lighting. This scene was impressively effective and a great use of the black-box space.


It’s Only a Play at Theatre on the Square

What made it great: caricature portrayal. Darrin Murrell directed the cast into Breakfast Club-like stereotypes, making this sendup of all things theater a hoot. Adam O. Crowe, Thomas Cardwell, Kathy Pataluch, and Afton Shepard deserve particular shout-outs for throwing themselves into the silliness wholeheartedly.


Merry Wives of Windsor by Wisdom Tooth Theatre Project

What made it great: superlative direction, set, and acting. Director Bill Simmons hit a ringer with his premiere shot at directing a Shakespearian play. The cast and crew was a who’s who of renowned Indianapolis-theater favorites. Spumoni-ice-cream colors, lawn-dart head ornaments, a mish-mash of retro clothing, ukuleles, and a bubble-gum-blowing, hula-hooping object of desire. These people are pros. Each and every cast member was top-notch here and adroit at physical comedy. Just a very few include Rob Johansen, Adam O. Crowe, Amy Hayes, Claire Wilcher, and Carrie Schlatter, and mention must be made of Sara White’s sets and Peachy Kean Costuming’s attire.


Peeing-Your-Pants Hysterical

Avenue Q at Footlite Musicals

What made it great: across-the-board top-notch staging that featured talent, enthusiasm, and commitment. Under the co-direction of Kathleen Clarke Horrigan and Ed Trout, the cast was exceptional. Really, pointing out any musical numbers or scenes as “the best” wasn’t possible—every voice, every note was superlative. I was floored by the quality of the show. Just a very few shout-outs include puppeteers Phil Criswell (Princeton), Emily Schaab (Kate Monster), Damon Clevenger (Rod), Graham Brinklow (Nicky), Ryan England (Trekkie Monster), and Zarah Miller (Lucy). The high-quality puppets the actors used were acquired through an Adopt a Puppet program, making them the equivalent of the ones used in professional productions. Scenery was also a boon.


Bat Boy at Theatre on the Square

What made it great: a strong lead and the cast’s unfailing commitment to nutty. Zach Neiditch directed Justin Klein as Bat Boy, who did a spectacular job of transitioning from a cave-dwelling, grunting wild child to an eloquent, proper young man, complete with a British accent. Other notables were Mindy Morton, who was perfect as the long-suffering wife, and Devan Mathias’s mixture of teen angst and idealism. Vocal director David Barnhouse teased impressive performances out of the whole cast. Music, makeup, lighting—it was all good.


Drankesphere by EclecticPond Theater Company at the IndyFringe Festival

What made it great: unconstrained, ribald humor by comedians par excellence. A drinking game meets a fast-and-loose Romeo and Juliet. This raucous, frenetic send-up brought us such lines as “Are you fucking fisting me right now?” and “Who the fuck is in my bushes?” (the infamous balcony scene). Some of Shakespeare’s original lines were thrown in for good measure at a tempo that didn’t seem humanly possible—but was deeply impressive.


Every Christmas Story Ever Told at Buck Creek Players

What made it great: out-of-control hilarity. This show (which just closed last weekend) was what other holiday sendups only wish they were: genuinely, uproariously funny. Under director D. Scott Robinson, Jessica Bartley, Stacia Ann Hulen, and Steven R. Linville exuded genuine energy and abandonment. They weren’t just playing parts—they were interacting, having a good time, and even cracking each other up. I laughed so hard I snorted.


Hand to God at the Phoenix Theatre

What made it great: Nathan Robbins’s performance of his inordinate attachment to his demonic, vulgar, bloodthirsty puppet Tyrone. Under the direction of Mark Routhier, the entire cast was stellar, but additional emphasis must be given to Robbins and his character’s id in puppet form. His mastery of the craft was remarkable. His puppeteering was so deft that you came to see Tyrone as a separate entity that had accepted the devil as his lord and savior. In contrast to Tyrone, Robbins conveyed a shy, insecure teen in Jason. His split-second oscillation of unrestrained rage to confused, scared boy could twist your spine.


The Mystery of Irma Vep: A Penny Dreadful at the Indiana Repertory Theatre

What made it great: chemistry on stage and embracing “theater of the ridiculous.” Director James Still, Marcus Truschinski, and longtime acclaimed theater-staple Rob Johansen captured and hog-tied the play’s nonsensical elements, producing one of the IRT’s most uproarious and unexpectedly deviant shows. Truschinski and Johansen played off each other flawlessly. The three of them made melodramatic farce a new artform.

Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

“Beauty and the Beast” at Indianapolis Civic Theatre (4 stars)


bb1In summary:  Ron Morgan directs (and choreographs) the excellent cast through this “tale as old as time” with all the sweetness and elegance that audiences expect from this elaborate production.


From the opening number to the curtain call, you will love being Indianapolis Civic Theatre’s guest for its production of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. Ron Morgan directs (and choreographs) the excellent Virginia Vasquez (Belle), Will Tople (Beast), Andrew Dalstrom (Gaston), and the rest of the large cast through this “tale as old as time” with all the sweetness and elegance that audiences expect from this elaborate production. Ryan Koharchik’s beautiful backdrops perfectly capture the settings, and Adrienne Conces’s costumes are spot-on.

Small distractions include too much reverb, Cogsworth’s painful light reflection, and some confusing utensils, but these quibbles won’t detract from audiences’ thorough enjoyment of this classic.

Through Jan. 1; $49.50

Thursday, Friday, & Saturday @ 7pm
Saturday & Sunday @ 2pm

Beauty & the Beast Holiday High Tea at Tina’s Traditional Old English Tea Kitchen, December 16 & 23

Brunch with Belle at 502 East, December 18

Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

“Every Christmas Story Ever Told” at Buck Creek Players (5 stars)

Photo by
Photo by

In summary: The cast and crew have created a holiday show that is actually entertaining instead of just another tradition. This one deserves all the money.

Buck Creek Players’ production of Every Christmas Story Ever Told is what other holiday sendups only wish they were: genuinely, uproariously funny. Director D. Scott Robinson and the trio of actors, Jessica Bartley, Stacia Ann Hulen, and Steven R. Linville, get the credit for the show’s out-of-control hilarity. I laughed so hard I snorted, and I literally almost fell out of my chair when demon-Frosty boomed, “I’ll be back again someday!” And really, who can resist a shiny green codpiece on the Nutcracker? (Two weeks running, I’ve gotten to use “codpiece” in a review.)

The premise of the show is built around Steven’s insistence that A Christmas Carol is the most appropriate holiday offering, but Jessica and Stacia just as adamantly disagree, saying that other BHCs (Beloved Holiday Classics) are as deserving. And so they bust away from Carol and into the “drug-induced orgy of theft” that is How the Grinch Stole Christmas. Other memorable programs are also given the abbreviated treatment, but due to copyright issues, one claymation classic is revamped, with Gustave the Green-Nosed Goat and his oral hygiene elf heading to an island with freakish playthings, such as a Pee-wee Herman pull toy.

The show is such a success because of the genuine energy and abandonment that the cast exudes. They aren’t just playing parts—they are interacting, having a good time, and even cracking each other up. Which segues into the warning that some audience members will be conscripted onto the stage, and the show is rated PG-13.

Cathy Cutshall’s costume design adds those ingenious touches that take the joke further, and Aaron B. Bailey’s set design is a book-lover’s dream. The cast and crew have created a holiday show that is actually entertaining instead of just another tradition. This one deserves all the money. Pack the house. And if the hints during the show aren’t enough to remind you, buy the cookies in the lobby.


December 2, 3, 9, 10, 16 & 17 at 8 p.m.
December 4, 11 & 18 at 2:30 p.m.

$18 adults
$16 children & students
$16 senior citizens (62 & up)



Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

“Spamalot” at Footlite Musicals (4 stars)

Photograph by Gary Nelson
Photograph by Gary Nelson

In summary: There’s so much good here that it overwhelms many of the production’s flaws.

Mounting a production of Spamalot is a bold move for Footlite Musicals. The show is based on Monty Python and the Holy Grail, a 1975 movie that garnered a cultish following, and that following, along with Broadway trivia buffs, helped make the musical a smash hit on Broadway, even if Terry Gilliam did call it “Python-lite.” Plus, the original cast included Tim Curry, Sara Ramirez, Hank Azaria, and David Hyde Pierce, among others. Given the show’s history (and having seen it twice in touring productions), scaling back my expectations was difficult at first, especially when the sound was distorted and the lighting was off. However, on more objectively evaluating Footlite’s production, it really is a remarkable success. Cast and crew are made up completely of volunteers, but this did not stop them from turning out a production with ingenious costuming, well-executed sets, and a cast packed with talent.

Rich Baker leads the knights and ladies through this show of carefully orchestrated silliness. And while Arthur is the central figure of the eponymous legends, the first laurels must go to Rebecca Devries McConnell as the Lady of the Lake. Her ability to bring down the castle in “The Diva’s Lament” would make Sara Ramirez proud, and her scatting in “Knights of the Round Table” is spot-on, as is “Find Your Grail.”

That said, Drew Duvall most certainly holds his own as King Arthur, especially in his rendition of “I’m All Alone” with his loyal, and hilarious, manservant Patsy, Vince Accetturo, who shines in “Always Look at the Bright Side of Life.” Arthur’s knights—Christopher Jones (Sir Robin), Christian Condra (Sir Lancelot), Tony Schaab (Dennis/Sir Galahad), Clint Buechler (Sir Bedevere), and Sam Surette (Sir Bors)—individually create distinct and inherently outrageous characters while collectively adding to the dynamic humor of the show (like in “Knights of the Round Table”). Jones pulls off a perfectly cheeky “You Won’t Succeed on Broadway,” and Condra is screechingly funny in his complete embrace of the rainbow in the too-brief “His Name Is Lancelot” (with help from THAT CODPIECE. Thank you, costume designer Jeff Farley, and for all your other masterworks here.).

There’s so much good here that it overwhelms many of the production’s flaws. And even mistakes can add to the entertainment—some bumbled dismembering of the Black Knight on Sunday made the scene even more comical.



Thursday @ 7:30 pm
Friday @ 7:30 pm Saturday @ 7:30 pm Sunday @ 2:30 pm
N/A November 25 November 26 November 27
December 1 December 2 December 3 December 4
December 8 December 9 December 10 December 11

Adults – $23.00
Youth (17 and under) – $15

Discount Days: All Thursday evening performances and opening weekend Sunday matinee: $10 all seats.

Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

“A Very Phoenix Xmas 11” at the Phoenix Theatre (3.5 stars)


Photo by Zach Rosing

In summary: What is consistent is the excellent cast. No matter what the setting or situation, each of them pulls it off effortlessly.


Eleven years running, and you still don’t know what to expect. A Very Phoenix Xmas 11 is the latest incarnation in the Phoenix Theatre’s commitment to bring its audiences unique and brand-new shenanigans for the holiday season. The show goes melodramatically PC this year by including some less-well-known customs from other countries to show us that we are all weird in our own ways; hence the tagline “I’m dreaming of an intersectionally thoughtful, multicultural winter holiday.”

Directed by Bryan Fonseca, he and playwright Tom Horan “curated” short pieces from eight contributors and mashed them together into a hit-and-miss hodgepodge of goofy, confusing, tragic, and even bunny-murdering stories performed collectively by Jean Childers-Arnold, Paeton Chavis, Paul Collier Hansen, Andrea Heiden, Jay Hemphill, Devan Mathias, and Keith Potts. From the hell that is the “It’s a Small World” ride, to Christmas dinner Mad Libs, to another kind of hell in the Syrian civil war, to puppets—the content runs the gamut and then some. What is consistent is the excellent cast. No matter what the setting or situation, each of them pulls it off effortlessly. My personal favorite: a “Night Before Christmas” tap rap by Potts and Collier Hansen.

Special accolades must also be given to the technical crew that made such a wide array of topics accessible on a single stage. I can’t reprint the program page here, but a very special Christmahannukwanzadanstice to them too.


Wed Dec 7, 2016 7PM
Thu Dec 8, 2016 7PM 
Fri Dec 9, 2016 8PM 
Sat Dec 10, 2016 8PM 
Sun Dec 11, 2016 2PM 
Wed Dec 14, 2016 7PM


Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

“A Christmas Carol” at the Indiana Repertory Theatre (4 stars)

Photos by Zach Rosing
Photo by Zach Rosing

In summary: The productions are consistently posh in every way—as John Hammond would say, its creators “spare no expense.” Even as the show has evolved over the last quarter century, it has remained the perfect picture postcard of Christmas.


This is the Indiana Repertory Theatre’s 25th year of producing A Christmas Carol, a tradition not only for it but also for many families in the greater Indianapolis area. This year, I was able to return to the show for the first time in seven years after taking a maternally induced writing hiatus, and I found that many of the elements that make this show so beautiful are still intact: a plethora of Indianapolis’ favorite actors, the choral recitation of lines, just the right amount of music, the gorgeous backdrop of haunting ruins, beautiful period costumes, dramatic lighting, the spooky entrance of the Ghost of Christmas Past, and of course lots and lots and lots of snow. But different faces pop up in different roles, Tiny Tims have to stay tiny, the script is trimmed here and there, and a director’s personal touches add new nuance.

IRT Executive Artistic Director Janet Allen takes the directorial reins this year for the first time since 1998—and what strikes me the most in this rendition is the portrayal of Scrooge. Ryan Artzberger is so intense that there is no caricature to his character. His Ebenezer truly is terrifying, and while that kind of believability is usually lauded onstage, in this setting, it is intimidating. If I had been one of the charity solicitors, I would have shit my pants when Scrooge charged at me with that ruler. With no humorous or relatable edging, it’s hard to root for Scrooge’s transformation. And his eventual redemption is creepy in its own way. Artzberger’s laugh seems calculatingly sinister instead of sincere, as if he’s going to buy the giant turkey and then use Tiny Tim as stuffing.

Charles Goad (Marley’s ghost, et al), Constance Macy (Mrs. Fezziwig, et al), Emily Ristine (Christmas Past, Mrs. Cratchit, et al), Milicent Wright (Christmas Present, et al), Charles Pasternak (young Scrooge, Fred, et al), and Jeremy Fisher (young Marley, Bob Cratchit) all play their roles with panache, as does the crowd of other thespians on stage.

The productions are consistently posh in every way—as John Hammond would say, its creators “spare no expense.” Even as the show has evolved over the last quarter century, it has remained the perfect picture postcard of Christmas.


Through Dec. 24


Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

“Blackberry Winter” at Theatre on the Square (1.5 stars)

Photo by Zach Rosing
Photo by Zach Rosing

For National Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness Month, Theatre on the Square is presenting Blackberry Winter, a relatively new play by Steve Yockey. Vivienne Avery is a middle-aged baker who oversees her mother’s care. Her mother’s Alzheimer’s has progressed to the point that Vivienne must come to terms with the transition from assisted-living facility to a nursing home.

Samples of the baked goods that Vivienne boasts about would help make the show easier to swallow. While Vivienne repeatedly insists, “It’s not about me,” her incessant bitching about her life gets old—fast. As does the amount of time spent on immaterial details, such as the intricate recitation of a recipe for coconut cake. The tired script is flatly, haltingly delivered by Gari Williams, who had to reference notes Saturday night. It is practically a one-woman play, which is challenging for an actor, to say the least, and I can’t really blame her for not remembering the rambling lines of her character. There is nothing enlightening or entertaining here.

In addition, there is a bizarre Alzheimer’s origin myth created by Vivienne. Using animals. Chelsea Anderson is lovely as a lively, high-spirited white egret, and Dan Flahive somehow actually captures the essence of a slightly cantankerous gray mole. As absolutely ridiculous as this premise is, Anderson and Flahive insert some much-needed diversion. Sadly, the first of their-three part installment is abandoned in favor of a tirade by Vivienne about scarves. Yet Anderson and Flahive are left on stage to look interested in Vivienne’s monologue until they finally get another turn. Those three short scenes helped me endure the 80 minutes of this play.

Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

“Cabaret” at Actors Theatre of Indiana (3.5 stars)


photo by Zach Rosing

Cabaret turns 50 this year, making it an advantageous time to revisit it—not to mention how its theme, impending political doom, sums up 2016. Actors Theatre of Indiana scales down the staging a bit for this production in its black-box studio located inside in the Carmel Performing Arts Center.

Directed by Billy Kimmel, the production gives the audience pretty much what it’s expecting: leather and lace, commentary on societal expectations, and the inevitability of catastrophe, all imbedded in well-known musical numbers.

Ben Asaykwee takes on the iconic role of the Emcee, whom he plays as less of a slightly disturbing pansexual and more as an escaped mental patient. His wild eyes seem to have been given the Clockwork Orange treatment. That aside, he performs admirably in both narrative and song, most often with his Kit Kat girls and boys: Nicole Bridgens, Jeneé Michelle, Ashley Saunders, Carol Worcel, Nicholas Roman, and Kenny Shepard with choreography by Carol Worcel.

ATI co-founder Cynthia Collins portrays a world-weary version of Sally Bowles—a Sally who can almost be pitied for her forced frivolity, fully knowing that her life is the joke and she’s on her way out. Collins’s rendition of “Maybe This Time” conveys this, as it lacks the actual hopefulness others have put into this song. While Collins is a strong vocalist, the overuse of audio effects though the sound system, especially in the above-mentioned song, detracts from her voice’s natural modulations.

Opposite Sally is Cliff Bradshaw, who is given a sincere, likable demeanor by Eric J. Olsen that is emphasized by his generous smile. (Though the question of his sexuality is played down considerably here.) He contrasts well with the very convincing Patrick Vaughn as Ernst Ludwig, whose affability is tempered by his matter-of-fact attitude toward Nazi politics.

Some of the most engaging performances are found in the supporting cast, which also includes Judy Fitzgerald as Fräulein Kost, Debra Babich as Fräulein Schneider, and Darrin Murrell as Herr Schultz. Babich and Murrell imbue true emotions into their so-sweet rendition of “It Couldn’t Please Me More” (the pineapple song).

The band (musical direction by John D. Phillips), on stage behind sliding screens, even gets in on the fun with some alternative costuming.

Do note that the show contains mature content and themes, and the ATI suggest that it is suitable for ages 16 years and older.

Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

“Young Frankenstein” at Civic Theatre

img_07724.5 stars


While Mel Brooks fans will be especially giddy with anticipation for the Booth Tarkington Civic Theatre’s season opener, Young Frankenstein, (if they haven’t seen it already during opening weekend), anyone who savors an across-the-board top-notch musical comedy will be deliriously dazzled by the sheer quality of this staging. Having seen a professional touring production of the show several years ago, I can confidently state that Civic’s group of thespians outdid their travelling counterparts in talent, enthusiasm, and commitment.

The show’s transfer from film to stage kept intact the lowbrow comedy that make Brooks’ parodies so hilarious and inspired a dedicated following: ridiculous slapstick, bizarre situations, sexual innuendo, and outright dick jokes presented in unapologetic quantities.

Director Michael Lasley indulges us with shticky pleasures while achieving and maintaining excellence in performance and presentation. Jaw-dropping scenery frames ensemble musical numbers that come at you with the power of a case of 5-hour Energy drinks, choreographed and staged by Anne Nicole Beck with musical direction by Brent Marty and a live orchestra under the baton of Trevor Fanning. The most fantastical number, “Family Business,” contains not only a noteworthy performance by Evan Wallace as Grandpa Frankenstein but also a ginourmous puppet of the monster that is awe inspiring and unnerving.

Steve Kruze embraces the role of Frederick Frankenstein while insinuating his own take on the doctor, but hardcore fans won’t be turned off by his interpretation of the iconic character. He asserts his dominance of the stage from his first scene, “The Brain,” and never lets go. Nathalie Cruz also puts her own coquettish mark on Elizabeth, Frederick’s fiancée. Roles that more closely reflect their film versions are Igor by Damon Clevenger, Inga by Devan Mathias, Frau Blücher (“neigh!”) by Vickie Cornelius Phipps, and the Monster by B. J. Bovin. This in no way means that they aren’t exceptional—they own their caricatures 100 percent and revel in their insensible, bawdy humor. All of the main characters deliver knock-out renditions of songs, such as “He Vas My Boyfriend,” “Deep Love,” and “Puttin’ on the Ritz.”

So why take off half a star? Opening night, there were some pretty grating sound and mike issues. For a show of this caliber, it was a shame that occasionally we couldn’t hear the actors.

Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

“Dirty Blonde” at Buck Creek Payers

2 stars


Photo by
Photo by

Dirty Blonde by Claudia Shear, now on stage at Buck Creek Players under the direction of Lea Viney, loosely sketches out Mae West’s career arc (1930s through her death in the ’80s) intertwined with the present-day (fictional) story of Jo and Charlie who form a relationship based on their mutual obsession over the actress. While not strictly a musical, it does feature a handful of West’s songs.

Sonja Distefano plays both West and Jo. However, Distefano does not capture the sex appeal, confidence, and propriety-snubbing aura that dripped off West, and her musical numbers feel stiff, as does her posture. She is much better in the role of Jo, giving a sweet, likable persona to a girl who tentatively forges a friendship with the equally awkward Charlie.

Jay Hemphill (as Charlie and many other characters) is the star here. He executes dexterous transformations from character to character, each with a unique look and defining personality. From bowler hat to ball gown, this dynamo convincingly carries off anything.

Michael Patrick Smiley is hit-and-miss in his portrayal of a number of characters. His performances of caricatures (as opposed to more realistic people) are actually his best scenes.

The show’s pacing is bogged down by lengthy scene changes, often-inaudible dialogue, and unnecessary movement. However, Hemphill’s performance and Distefano and Smiley’s shining moments help break up the tedium.

Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

“Three Musketeers” at the Indiana Repertory Theatre

threemusketeers4 stars

Most people—even children—are familiar with the basic tale of the brave and daring Three Musketeers and their protégé D’Artagnan. The Indiana Repertory Theatre’s production, adapted for the stage by Catherine Bush, is a brilliant period piece—and we would expect no less from the IRT. Director Henry Woronicz coaxes his cast into a performance that eloquently invokes the time period, enhanced by William Bloodgood’s atmospheric, imposing set that towers over the characters, much as political intrigues hovered threateningly over Paris. The set is complemented by Ann G. Wrightson’s posh lighting, and Devon Painter’s elegant costuming is the finishing touch.

Jeb Burris is thoroughly charming as D’Artagnan in his naivety and dedication. He has a smile that could break hearts. He befriends the swashbuckling titular threesome made up of the prone-to-drunkenness Athos (Ryan Artzberger), the mild Aramis (Nathan Hosner), and the fun-loving Porthos (David Folsom), each of which seems to carry his character’s personality effortlessly. The Musketeers are led by Robert Neal as Monsieur de Treville, who can make hairpin turns from thunderous rage to intimate comradery.

Antagonists in the play are the evil incarnate Rochefort played by Rob Johansen (who is the recipient of some good laughs nonetheless), his subtly cunning cohort Milady de Winter played by Elizabeth Laidlaw, and the intimidating Cardinal Richelieu played by Dan Kremer.

Amanda Catania is sweet as Constance, D’Artagnan’s love interest, and Charles Goad gets a comedic if short turn as the foppish King Louis XIII; these are among the multitude of intriguing characters.

Barry G. Funderburg’s music reflects the tension of the play, but some musical underscoring during fights is distracting. The swordplay is realistic thanks to fight director Paul Dennhardt, but it often goes on too long—something that can be said of the show as a whole.

Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

“The Addams Family” at Footlite Musicals

Photos/design by Gary Nelson
Photos/design by Gary Nelson

4.5 stars

Footlite Musicals’ staging of The Addams Family rides on two things: nostalgia and a strong cast under the direction of a passionate director, Ed Trout.

The musical is actually based on Charles Addams’s cartoons as opposed to the TV and movie adaptations. But all the favorite black-and-white characters, including Thing and Cousin Itt, are depicted to a T here.

The plot is merely a vehicle for catchy songs and a chance to revisit these beloved ghoulish characters. Wednesday (Ivy Bott), now in her 20s, has fallen in love with a regular guy, Lucas (Joseph Massingale). They are secretly engaged, and they plan a dinner so their families can meet and hear their news. But instead of being a show about Wednesday, Gomez (Michael Davis) is the pivotal character, sort of like Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof minus the political and religious themes.

There is some excellent staging here. The costumes by designer Curt Pickard are spot-on, and the ethereal chorus of lively dead Ancestors shows an array of styles over the centuries. The Addams mansion, sound effects, and makeup are also grand accomplishments, as is the kicky choreography by Trish Roberds. A personal favorite is Uncle Fester’s (a hilarious Bryan D. Padgett) number “The Moon and Me” that utilizes a black light.

Everyone from lead to chorus does a standout job on stage. Davis and Kathleen Clarke Horrigan create spitting images of Gomez and Morticia (respectively) both physically and in their mannerisms. Both have first-rate performances that include exemplary musical numbers, but the vocal superlatives are Bott and Carrie Neal (as Lucas’s mother Alice), both of whom have powerful voices behind their shy characters’ demeanors. Even Pugsley (seventh-grader Xavier Wilson) gets a good turn in “Pulled” with Bott and “What If” with Grandma Addams (Marie Beason). Rounding out the cast is Darrin Gowan as Lucas’s stuffy father and Trenton Baker as the reticent Lurch.

The lighting and orchestra were a little off on Saturday, but these minor quibbles don’t detract from the show that is a dreadfully guilty pleasure.

Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

“Peter and the Starcatcher” at the Phoenix Theatre


Photo by Zach Rosing
Photo by Zach Rosing

4 stars

Before there was Tinker Bell, Captain Hook, or the “second star on the right,” there was a nameless, friendless orphan boy.

The Phoenix Theatre opens its season with the Tony Award-nominee Peter and the Starcatcher, a prequel to the well-known Peter Pan stories, which relates the origins of Peter and Neverland.

Set in the 1800s, 13-year-old Molly (Phebe Taylor) is trying to overcome the burden of being a smart girl in a man’s world. Her astute supportive father, Lord Leonard Aster (a dignified Paul Nicely), is a “starcatcher,” and she is a starcatcher in training. Starcatchers gather rare “star stuff,” the dust that remains from a falling star. The Asters board separate ships, accompanying identical trunks—one carrying the queen’s treasure and one containing what appears to be sand. Molly travels on board the Neverland, where she finds a trio of orphans who have been sold into slavery: “Boy” (Nathan Robbins, recently in Hand to God), Ted (Peter Scharbrough), and Prentiss (Tyler Ostrander). Of course, requisite pirates take control of both ships, and the Boy (Peter), who wants to be more than a nameless orphan, helps save the real treasure.

Bryan Fonseca directs a large cast, most of whom play multiple characters. Liberal use of choral speaking gives the play a poetic feeling. James Gross’s set is both sea-worthy and island-accessible, and Emily McGee’s costumes add the finishing time-period touch.

Taylor and Robbins pull a little too hard on childish affectations for my taste, but it is diluted by other intentionally over-the-top characters, such as the flamboyant, malapropism-inclined Captain Black Stache (Eric J. Olson, in a snort-worthy performance), and the tongue-in-cheek romance between Alf (Michael Hosp), a pirate, and Mrs. Bumbrake (John Vessels Jr.), Molly’s nanny. The very un-PC “Injuns” have been replaced with a less racially offensive tribe of islanders, which are led by Fighting Prawn (Ian Cruz, who also embraces the equally outlandish performance); he was an English kitchen slave while a boy, and consequently, after his escape, his vernacular is punctuated with a slew of dishes.

The show is heart-warming if occasionally bittersweet; however, if you are taking kids, note that even though there are singing mermaids, one short event is dark: Peter being caned. I was glad I didn’t take my 7-year-old.

Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

“It’s Only a Play” at Theatre on the Square

photo by Zach Rosing
photo by Zach Rosing


4 stars

It’s Only a Play by Terrence McNally (Corpus Christi, Love! Valour! Compassion!, Kiss of the Spider Woman, Ragtime, The Full Monty, etc.) is a theatrical-trivia-lover’s dream. Name-dropping and potshots at the theatrical echelons—especially professional critics—make up the show, in which a new play’s “inner circle” (plus a coat-checker and critic) anxiously await their opening-night reviews.

Audience members with no more than a passing interest in live theater will not get the show as a true fanatic would. References span decades, up to and including Hamilton. However, if you can pick up on even a third of them—they’re pitching-machine fast—you will thoroughly enjoy this sledgehammering of all things stage, which is currently running at Theatre on the Square.

The characters are Breakfast Club-level stereotypes. Adam O. Crowe as James Wicker, a “dear friend” of the playwright (Wicker seems to have many “dear friends”) and a Broadway refugee who has taken up the more lucrative but less dignified work of TV, opens the show with the set-up of the story via a one-sided phone conversation. Crowe immediately lets us know that this is going to be fun—and snarky. Crowe gets to express the widest array of emotions of the characters: congenial, gossipy, defensive, jovial, devastated, and even sympathetic—all of which he does with charisma.

Dave Ruark plays Peter Austin, the playwright, as a fragile artist. Ruark’s demeanor conveys the sense that Austin often lives in his own reality, though he shows fierce love for his work. With Austin’s head in the clouds, he is a somewhat bland character.

The play’s director, Thomas Cardwell as Frank Finger, and the leading lady, Kathy Pataluch as Virginia Noyse, salt the stage. Cardwell portrays the director as a strange, somewhat flamboyant man with interesting clothing choices. Finger desperately wants to direct a flop because he claims he is sick of being a directorial golden boy, and he occasionally retreats from the action by throwing a velvet cape over his head. Cardwell is a hoot. Pataluch kicks up the bawdy as the coke-sniffing, ankle-monitor-wearing, washed-up actress Noyse. Pataluch snorts up the (quite lovely) scenery in an uncouth, even trashy way. (And I say that in the most complimentary way possible.) The other characters’ reactions to her are just as funny.

Financing this bizarre project is Julia Budder, played by Afton Shepard. Budder is an appallingly positive, wealthy blonde who fancies herself a theater-advocate. Shepard’s portrayal of the ditzy producer is like a cat licking your poison ivy rash: You just want to slap her. (Again, I say this in the most complimentary way possible.)

The two hangers on in the room are Gus, an overenthusiastic goofball of a coat-checker, played by Jacob Swain, and Ira Drew, a theater critic, played by Jeff Maess. Unfortunately, Maess’s Drew is kind of pitiful; he’s not daunting enough given the reputation and power he supposedly holds. Of course, today the role of critic is far from what it was in the ’80s, when the play was originally conceived. With the advent of the Internet in almost every home in America, everyone really is a critic. So, Drew himself and the production’s depiction of baited-breath reviews are obsolete. (Sad for me.)

Kudos to Darrin Murrell and the cast and crew for opening TOTS’s season with a winner.

Trivia: The version of It’s Only a Play that hit Broadway in 2014 starred Nathan Lane as Wicker, Matthew Broderick as Austin, Stockard Channing as Noyes, and Rupert Grint (Ron Weasley) as Finger. The play’s original Broadway premiere in 1978 was cancelled due to negative reviews.

Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

“My Old Lady” at Epilogue Players

3 stars
Photo by Duane Mercier

Penniless, friendless, jobless, middle-aged Mathias sells all he owns and flies to Paris in the hopes of making a profit off an apartment that he has inherited from his estranged father. His plans are thwarted on the doorstep when he discovers that he not only inherited the apartment but also its longtime tenants. The apartment is occupied by Mathilde, age 92, and her middle-aged daughter. Mathilde remains in the apartment through en viager. She “sold” Mathias’s father the apartment, but she lives in her home and receives consistent payment for the property from the buyer. When she dies, the property belongs to the purchaser (Mathias’s dad, or in this case, Mathias). This is a good investment for the purchaser—if the seller doesn’t live very long.

My Old Lady by Israel Horovitz (which was also made into a movie), now on stage at Epilogue Players, is about family and love. Sometimes, those two are mutually exclusive, and sometimes they are very complicated.

Gary Stewart as Mathias, Robina Zink as Mathilde, and Veronique DuPrey as Chloe are a trio of clashing personalities that now live together as roommates. Mathias is an alcoholic, being flippant and unmotivated about his own craptastic life. Chloe, Mathilde’s daughter, is acerbic in the way most Americans perceive the French to be. Mathilde is a bit of a mystery. She can cut to the core of an issue, but she also allows Mathias to stay with her. While Mathias’s motivations are always on the table, Mathilde and Chloe have layers that need to be examined cautiously.

Under Ed Mobley’s direction, the cast performs scenes of engaging repartee. DuPrey conveys the coiled energy of a cornered cat that is ready to unsheathe its claws at any moment. The Montreal, Quebec, native also gets to inject the show with some passionately French dialogue. Stewart exhibits genial pessimism at every chance. I only wish these two had more chemistry between them; their relationship is unanticipated, creating a chink in suspension of disbelief. Zink carries the grace of a blunt grandmother—you love her, but what she has to say can be exasperating. Some opening-night flubs can be forgiven, as with additional runs of the show, I am sure these will be tightened up.

While the play isn’t grand and groundbreaking, think of it as a mental amuse-bouche for the weekend.

Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

IndyFringe Theatre Festival: “Bad Brother: Religion and Politics in ’69”

3.5 stars

Written and performed by Loren Niemi

Phoenix Theatre Underground

Loren Niemi’s autobiographical storytelling is intense and personal at the same time. He recounts how he ended up at Catholic seminary, though not Catholic and not even very religious, after high school and how his journey evolved, eventually shaping him into a Buddhist antiwar demonstrator. Everything was changing in that decade—it was post Vatican II, and Vietnam was on the horizon. Catholicism and the country were torn between the past and the future, with causalities on both sides confusing the present. Eventually, Niemi was denied his final vows because, as he was told, “it isn’t what you believe; it’s that you say it out loud.” While racism, “post-riot architecture,” and the questionable morals of the church and country are at the heart of his story, the seemingly inconsequential details bring counterbalance to the performance’s serious subject matter, such as Niemi smoking a joint during visiting hours in a minimum-security prison with 62-year-old Brother Basil, who had been imprisoned for protesting—a joint that was smuggled in via Jennie O’s vagina. History buffs, lapsed Catholics, and antiwar supporters will find much to enjoy in this show.

Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

IndyFringe Festival: “Silken Veils”

3 stars

By Leila Ghaznavi

Performed by Pantea Productions and The Indy Convergence

Phoenix Theatre Mainstage


fringe-veilsI’m going against popular opinion on this show by not giving it five stars.

It’s prettily done, incorporating marionettes and shadow theater into the story of an Iranian émigré who flees the marriage altar and then, in a storage closet, has PTSD-like flashbacks to her childhood during the Iranian Revolution. In her mind, Darya has linked her family’s tragedies to her parents’ soulmate-like connection to each other. A love her mother clung to even though her husband eventually left them and created a new family with a new wife. Now, Darya is terrified of losing her own identity to her fiance because she is the product of what we would now call a dysfunctional family.

The bones of the production itself are strong, with solid acting and cunning props and staging. It’s visually striking. My discomfort comes from the slow pacing and the extraneous use of Darya’s fiance, Ahmad. Ahmad’s presence on the other side of the closet’s locked door does little to move the story forward until the end. I wish he had been a stronger character—someone who had a personality that showed he was worthy of Darya commitment. While the flashbacks and puppetry are intriguing, they run too long. The puppetry scenes especially could be tightened up because they drag down the story’s momentum.


Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

Indy Fringe Festival: “Passing Notes”

3 stars

By Joe Cameron

Theatre on the Square Stage Two

fringe-notesWonder Years style, an adult Matt looks back at his teen-age relationship with May. May and “Matty” pass notes as a major part of their interaction. It was the 1990s, so these were actual paper notes that had to be hand-written and sometimes even mailed, like with a stamp. Matty calls notes May’s “weapon of choice” but only because he is portrayed in all his teenage male awkwardness and oblivion. As Matt says, “Life as a teenage boy is making a series of stupid statements and then trying to make up for them.”

Overall, it’s a sweet picture of bumbling first love with wide-eyed actors portraying the teens. But then their lives take a heart-wrenching turn. Looking back, Matt says you always remember the first and the last of something, but you never know when that last is until it’s over. This initially lighthearted show ends with the audience having a more conscious appreciation for the people in their lives.

Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

IndyFringe Festival: “Drankspeare”

4.5 stars sober; 5 stars drunk

By EclecticPond Theater Company


fringe-drankDrink! The audience is continually invited to imbibe along with the actors while EclecticPond plays fast and loose with Romeo and Juliet. This raucous, frenetic send-up brings you such lines as “Are you fucking fisting me right now?” Drink! “You have to be 16 to drive a Chevy but only 13 to drive a vulva.” Drink! “Who the fuck is in my bushes?” (the infamous balcony scene). Drink! And, regarding Juliet, Nurse says, “She isn’t experienced with men, so if you are looking for butt stuff, this is not the droid you’re looking for.” Drink!

Some of Shakespeare’s original lines are thrown in for good measure at a tempo that doesn’t seem humanly possible—but is deeply impressive. Drink! Some ad lib adds to the flow, and anytime actors manage to crack each other up onstage means good comedy. This is an excellent show to cap off an evening of Fringing. Drink!

Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

IndyFringe Festival: Elsie and Frances and the Fairies

2.5 stars

by Tom Horan

Performed by Earlham College

Phoenix Theatre Mainstage

fringe-fairyThe Cottingley Fairies story is intriguing even now. In 1917, still during the early ages of photography, two young girls faked a photograph of fairies that had many in the world believing.

This retelling begins in modern times with a group of sisters poking around in their grandmother’s attic. A scrapbook is found with the pictures and news clippings about the events, and Elsie and Frances “appear” to the girls and tell their side of the story.

The actresses tell us this is a work in progress after the performance, and given that these ladies are college students, staging a production on the side is impressive.

The show is quaint, with some lovely costuming. Elsie and Frances carry a subtle British accent, which is admirable. Acting quality is across the board for the six cast members, but with school productions — even at the college level — that isn’t surprising.

But as an audience member, I was a little disappointed. I’m a fan of the original story — and fairies in general (watch for a popular Brian Froud image to pop up), and I was expecting more wonderment. Instead, the show feels rather flat, with Frances and Elsie simply recounting their adventures with occasional help from the original four sisters, who stand in as various other characters. Additionally, none of the characters have sufficient depth — Elsie and Frances have merely a hint of a personality. More showing, less telling would make the experience more engaging.


Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

IndyFringe Theatre Festival: “A Darkly Humorous Time with Stephen Vincent Giles”

1 star

Phoenix Theatre Underground


Stephen Vincent Giles is at a disadvantage in Indianapolis because many of us who are longtime local theater enthusiasts were spoiled by (now defunct) ShadowApe Theatre‘s Gorey Stories. No performance of dark poetry will ever compare. Unfortunately, Giles’s set includes many of Edward Gorey‘s pieces (as well as well-known poems such as “The Cremation of Sam McGee” by Robert W. Service and “Little Orphant Annie” by James Whitcomb Riley), so the comparison is inevitable.

Giles is almost too sweet-looking for the macabre. His persona leans more toward James Corden as Craig in Doctor Who than toward Vincent Price. The incessant hand rubbing and unconvincing voice affectations are distracting instead of entertaining. And speaking of distracting and annoying, he uses an overhead projector (!) with transparency sheets to illustrate some of his tales.





Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

“Next to Normal” at Carmel Community Players

Photo by Charlie Hanover, CCP Board Vice President
Photo by Charlie Hanover, CCP Board Vice President

4 stars

The rock musical Next to Normal is a dichotomy of heartbreaking and hopeful. Brian Yorkey (book and lyrics) and Tom Kitt (music), part of the team behind If/Then, crafted this show, which won the 2010 Pulitzer Prize and was nominated for the 2009 Tony Award for Best Musical. Their story gives audiences insight into the painful effects of mental illness on a family—in this case, the mother, who was diagnosed as bipolar and experiences hallucinations.

Carmel Community Players’ production of this raw narrative is spot on. Carlo Nepomuceno (also the director) and Bill Fitch’s set design is minimal but effective, letting the audience’s full attention rest on the actors. Various levels segregate spaces and allow simultaneous events to take place in different locations. Nepomuceno utilizes the cast’s talent to fill in the gaps.

Talent is in no short supply here. Georgeanna Teipen, as Diana, the mother, gives a powerful performance. Teipen’s Diana never comes across as a slave to her illness, even when she attempts suicide, which from her perspective seems logical, and then when ECT treatments rob her of most of her memories. (As Diana’s son sings in “Aftershocks”: “ECT, the electric chair, we shock who we can’t save.”) Teipen channels this strength in “I Miss the Mountains,” a song about how medication can dull you to the pain but also the joys of life. After one medication change, she is asked how she feels; Diana replies, “I feel…nothing,” which her psychiatrist notes as “stable.” A typical doctor’s interpretation in psychopharmaceutical treatment. Likewise, Teipen conveys Diana’s frustration in “You Don’t Know.”

Diana’s husband and daughter are worse for the wear after living with her oddities for the last 16 years. Russell Watson, as her husband Dan, expresses the longtime suffering of a man who is devoted to his wife but doesn’t really know how to help her. Watson’s Dan is the most sympathetic character, as he portrays the patience and helplessness of his situation.

Sharmaine Ruth as their daughter Natalie combines the typical difficulty of being a teen-ager with the added burden of her family life. Ruth shows how angry Natalie is but also how lonely and sad. Ruth and Teipen share a poignant duet in “Superboy and the Invisible Girl.” Ruth has a lovely, clear voice that carries Natalie’s conflicting emotions. Daniel Hellman, as her sweet boyfriend Dan, is the most stable element in her life, and she doesn’t know how to accept that kind of love.

Kyle Mottinger plays the crux of the family’s dysfunction: the specter of Gabe. His rocking “I’m Alive” demands notice, symbolizing the relentless, inescapable nature of mental illness and grief, which his character represents.

Bradley Kieper rounds out the cast as Diana’s two psychiatrists, aptly named Dr. Fine and Dr. Madden. Kieper’s few scenes also get some of the funniest treatment as Diana’s hallucinations take on a bizarre twist in “Who’s Crazy/My Psychopharmacologist and I” and “Doctor Rock,” which Kieper embraces wholeheartedly.

Toward the end, Diana says, “Most people who think they are happy haven’t thought about it enough.” Diana was diagnosed after only four months of grieving over a lost infant. The subtext in this show questions what is normal. As Natalie states later, maybe we should all accept that the more realistic goal should be something “next to normal.”

Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

“Acid Dolphin Experiment” at the Phoenix Theatre

3 stars

Lisa Gauthier Mitchison

John C. Lilly: 1960s and ’70s physician, neuroscientist, psychoanalyst, “psychonaut,” philosopher, writer, and inventor, as well as the subject of Phoenix Theatre Playwright-in-Residence Tom Horan’s loose biography, Acid Dolphin Experiment.

First, a condensed background on Lilly because there is little setup within the often-psychedelic and hard-to-follow show. Lilly had a near-death experience as a child, which fueled his desire to explore and understand humanity’s view of consciousness. He deviated from the family’s lucrative banking career and turned toward scientific pursuits—including nontraditional experimentation in which he was often the test subject. He invented the isolation tank to achieve sensory deprivation and used LSD to explore alternate forms of consciousness. He believed that dolphins were capable of imitating human language, and he was a proponent of the SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) project.

As his grasp on reality relaxed, his mind crafted cosmic watchdogs, the benevolent Earth Coincidence Control Office (ECCO), and the malevolent Solid State Intelligence (SSI), a sort of artificial intelligence destined to go to war with humanity.

On the Phoenix’s second stage, Joshua Coomer is generally awash in blue light, representing Lilly floating in his isolation tank. (Effect achieved by lighting designer Laura Glover.) This is where his communications with ECCO happen. Lauren Briggeman, Jolene Mentink Moffatt, and Chelsey Stauffer pop in and out of portholes as members of ECCO. They also take on many other roles that pertain to Lilly’s life, as does Michael Hosp. Under the direction of Bill Simmons, the cast is passionate, focused, and lively, with several funny moments interspersed throughout. Costuming and set coloring (Emily McGee and Jeffrey Martin) are bright reflections of the time. But as I noted before, the play feels disjointed (though a case could be made that its structure is a representation of Lilly’s LSD trips). This makes the story arc hard to follow, however, hence the summary of Lilly above. With adequate information going in, the show could be a look inside an unusual piece of American scientific history presented by a capable cast. Without the Cliffs Notes, it’s as discombobulating as the LSD.

Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

“Heathers: The Musical at Theatre on the Square

2.5 stars

Reboots of iconic and/or cult classics are always challenging and controversial: Psycho, Star Trek, Ghostbusters … If you happen to be obsessed with the original material, deviations from the source can be … upsetting. And so, after seeing Heathers: The Musical, I left Theatre on the Square with a heavy heart. Heathers was and still is a staple in my movie collection. It’s my generation. I already knew the music was pretty formulaic, having listened to the soundtrack many times. But the gleeful, darkly vicarious experience of the movie—I would have loved to serve up some cups of Drano to several students in my high school—simply doesn’t translate to the stage.

With that said, TOTS’s production has its pros and cons. Let’s start with the pros.

  1. Director Zack Neiditch and choreographer Annalee Traeger created a most excellent slo-mo fight scene for “Fight for Me.” The cast’s expressions are priceless, and they pull off the effect perfectly.
  2. Also absolutely hilarious is “Blue,” a song performed by Joe Mount as Ram and Nic Nightingale as Kurt. Call me immature, but these guys pull off the crazy lyrics in a LOL yet totally believable way. (“They’re warm like mittens./They’ll curl up on your face/And purr like kittens!/You make my balls so blue!”)
  3. Clay Mabbitt as Ram’s dad and Ryan Ruckman as Kurt’s dad give an equally comical performance of “My Dead Gay Son.”
  4. Clayton Marcum as JD has an excellent voice.
  5. As do Sommer O’Donnell as Martha and Jenny Reber as Heather McNamara in their solos “Kindergarten Boyfriend” and “Lifeboat,” respectively.
  6. The live band is fantastic.

And so, the cons.

  1. Veronica’s “transformation” from geek to hottie entails a wardrobe change. Period. It’s on par with She’s All That: take Laney’s glasses off and bam! She’s a babe! And Veronica’s hair is all wrong.
  2. The costumes are hit and miss. JD’s trench coat is OK, but the jeans and T-shirt are too 1990s. Heather Chandler’s spangly party dress is a disaster. OK for prom, not a house party.
  3. Miranda Nehrig’s (as Veronica) vocals are capricious. Sometimes she hits that goal note, but sometimes … she doesn’t.
  4. A lot of the choreography uses moves too reminiscent of Grease.
  5. Heather McNamara’s character is a doppelganger for Sara Jessica Parker in Hocus Pocus.
  6. The set is minimalistic. I went in anticipating that TOTS would pull out all the stops, seeing as this slot had originally been reserved for RENT. But, no.
Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

“Billy Elliot” by BOBDIREX at Marian University Theater

4 stars

Nothing exudes immense strength disciplined with infinite control like a male ballet dancer. Sadly, many male dancers take flak from peers and even family for pursuing this demanding training, especially at an early age. Billy Elliot’s story about defying societal conventions to pursue your dreams (one that, strangely, I had never seen before) is popular in both movie and musical form, and BOBDIREX’s cast that spans all ages presents an engaging telling of the tale.

At the helm are director Bob Harbin, choreographer Kenny Shepard, and vocal/musical director and conductor Trevor Fanning. Together, they created a boisterous and touching rendition, even tackling British accents and the crazy clothes (Peachy Keen Costuming) and hair from the ’80s.

Seventeen-year-old Thomas Whitcomb is center stage as Billy. Whitcomb captures the innocence and budding talent of a boy torn between his family and his passion. But don’t let that baby face fool you. In the last number, Whitcomb’s roguish grin and sassy steps show that he knows just what he is doing—and he loves it.

Vocal standouts are Holly Stults as the fiery Mrs. Wilkinson and Bill Book as Mr. Elliott. Special mention goes to 13-year-old Jack Ducat, who shows no self-consciousness in donning women’s clothing, as Billy’s friend Michael.

Out of several, one particularly moving scene shows Billy dancing with his older self, Stu Coleman, in a well-executed glimpse of what Billy’s future could hold. The song “The Letter,” featuring Whitcomb, Stults, and Trisha Shepard (as Billy’s mother), is also exceptionally emotional.

Some lighting and mike missteps were distracting, but hopefully these will be ironed out for the remaining performances. The entire ensemble has so much enthusiasm that you can tell a lot of heart went into staging this show.

Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

“Hand to God” at the Phoenix Theatre

5 stars

Puppet sex seems to be a theme this year. First, in Avenue Q at Footlite Musicals in March, again in Bat Boy at Theatre on the Square in May, and now in Hand to God, the latest production that the Phoenix Theatre snagged as it came off Broadway. It’s also a year of five-star reviews, as I have never handed out so many in such a small amount of time.

Much like Avenue Q, this show integrates puppets into its cast. But here, the puppets aren’t used to replace the human character behind (under? in?) them. Only one puppet, Tyrone, could be called an individual character—a demonic, vulgar, bloodthirsty one. Tyrone may be the puppet, but he is the puppet master.

If religious irreverence shocks you, you will have PTSD after seeing this show. The story is set in a small town in Texas. Margery, played by Angela R. Plank, is a recent widow who is trying to find a place for herself by teaching a puppet-making class at her church. Her awkward son Jason, played by Nathan Robbins, seems inordinately attached to his puppet. Also in class are love-interest Jessica (Jaddy Ciucci) and horny bad boy Timothy (Adam Tran). Margery has to deal with the advances of both Timothy and the church’s pastor, Greg (Paul Nicely), while dealing with depression, her estranged son, and unmotivated students.

Under the direction of Mark Routhier, the entire cast is stellar, but additional emphasis must be given to Robbins and his character’s id in puppet form. His mastery of the craft is remarkable. His puppeteering is so deft that you come to see Tyrone as a separate entity that has accepted the devil as his lord and savior. As Tyrone’s rampage escalates, a puppet exorcism is contemplated. In contrast to Tyrone, Robbins conveys a shy, insecure teen in Jason. His split-second oscillation of unrestrained rage to confused, scared boy could twist your spine.

Plank also gets to be a switch player, from an anxious, grieving widow to kinky sexcapader in the VBS restroom. She manages to be equally believable and sympathetic in both modes. Tran’s high-energy, testosterone-laden Timothy is the picture of a teen acting out, but his quest for the MILF Margery is sad too because he craves a human connection, as do the rest of the characters.

Nicely juxtaposes the role of righteous pastor and his passive-aggressive courter of Margery. You would think he would be the voice of reason, but he is bested by Tyrone as well. The group’s anchor in reality is Ciucci as Jessica, the only one who knows how to deal with Tyrone’s iniquity and Jason’s repressed emotions. Ciucci’s smart, steady portrayal buffers the other characters’ insanity.

The show is consistently hilarious, but it is also a reflection on human needs and desires. Snappy writing and superior performances make this another one not to miss.

Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

“Time Stands Still” at Theatre on the Square

I want to preface this by saying that I do not enjoy writing negative reviews. I get no satisfaction out of them, though some people do write negative reviews with glee. It just makes me sad when something doesn’t live up to its potential.

2 stars

Though Time Stands Still was nominated for Best Play in the 2010 Tony Awards, I couldn’t help but feel it was little more than a string of cliché lines being delivered by cliché characters. Two journalists who have been in a long-term personal and professional relationship find that they have grown apart, and their editor seeks a more simple life with a much younger, simple woman. This isn’t life-changing stuff.

As far as its execution at Theatre on the Square…passion—that complete submersion into a character—felt off on opening night. This is surprising given that the cast and its director are seasoned pros and recognizable to Indianapolis-theater regulars: heavy hitters Ronn Johnston, Dave Ruark, Cindy Phillips, and director Gari Williams. They are joined by less-well-known Katherine Shelton, but even she isn’t a stranger to the stage.

Phillips is perhaps the most interesting as Sarah, a war photojournalist, because she gets to be confrontational and rude throughout most of the play. Her personality steamrolls over the other three, who, strangely, seem to lie down and await the inevitable pounding. There are good moments—some shocking and some funny—but they don’t carry the show to a transformative level.

John Walker’s set design is fun and functional—a representation of urban funk for people who don’t live in their living space often.

The show is passable, but it’s far from memorable.


Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

“GENIUS to the beat of SOUL” at Asante Children’s Theatre of Indianapolis

4 stars

The Asante Children’s Theatre of Indianapolis is closing its 26th season with GENIUS to the beat of SOUL, a new musical the company has created, with book and lyrics by founder and artistic director Deborah Asante and musical composition by Richard Trotman. Song and dance are heavily featured in the show, and ACT alumnus Jeffrey Page was recruited for the direction and choreography. The Indianapolis native is both a Broadway performer and choreographer, and he won an MTV Music Award for choreography in Beyonce’s “Run the World (Girls).”

The story is loosely based around Anika (Kathryn Council), a teenager who is facing life challenges and who isn’t confident in herself to make the right choices. Unfortunately, on opening night, major microphone issues made the dialogue almost impossible to hear—to the point that the plot was hard to follow. In addition, the on-stage band often drowned out the actors. Fortunately, for the cast of 23 youth and adults, the focus is on the music and dance. Page’s work is nothing short of genius itself. The choreography is powerful and emotionally charged, as is Asante and Trotman’s work musical work. The cast executes each number with excellence, every dancer reaching maximum potential. All of the performances reach professional-level expectations. Most memorable is the song “I’s A Man,” about slaves declaring their humanity, that requires perfectly synchronous movements. Amazing.

Geoffrey Ehrendreich uses the Indiana Repertory Theatre’s mainstage to create a simple, airy, elegant backdrop out of yards and yards of hanging fabric. The lighting, however, was a bit thick with color—the best lighting is the kind you don’t even notice because it blends into the show so well.

Note that the show is PG-13, which means it’s probably not a good match for small children.

This is a masterful theatrical piece. With more workshopping, it could easily make its way to Broadway.

Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

“Crumble” at Theatre on the Square

4.5 stars

It’s no secret that I adore dark, weird drama (and musicals). Crumble (Lay Me Down Justin Timberlake) at the Theatre on the Square is one of the weirdest and darkest I’ve seen in a long time, and it’s awesome.

The play, written by Sheila Callaghan, who is also a writer/producer for the Showtime comedy Shameless, uses a cast of damaged characters to reflect on isolation, death, and deterioration. This sounds depressing, but really, it’s not. Plus, the bizarre humor is appallingly sidesplitting. The language used in the script is equally compelling. It’s sexy, luscious, even poetic at times, and it expresses as much about the characters as their bodies do.

From the beginning, you know this isn’t a typical show. It opens with Clay Mabbitt, as the once-dapper House, who delivers the first of many soliloquies. He bemoans, “I was a mansion once. A kept mansion,” but now he is in a state of decay. The House addresses his inhabitants, but his tenants are only marginally aware of his awareness—like a rising of hair on the back of the neck. Mabbitt is excellent as the anthropomorphic character that yearns for a loving touch, an oiled hinge, a release of radiator steam. Mabbitt’s physicality in depicting doors, windows, and falling plaster and his slithering along walls and floors add a whimsical and amusing touch to his lonely character.

Even stranger is Paeton Chavis’s character Janice, a hyper, foul-mouthed, belligerent 11-year-old who exhibits symptoms of schizoaffective disorder and spews explicit venom via her dolls. When confronted with freezing or wearing the abhorrent sweater her Aunt Brenda bought her, she states, “I would rather bleed to death in an open field slathered in manure.” Her doll comments, “Nice sweater, asshole.” Janice replies, “Eat me. You think you’re so hot just because you have an eyebrow ring. But know what? It looks retarded, and anyway, it’s fake.” From there, the exchange deteriorates into a series of insults involving the word “fuck.”

As House says, “How does one cultivate such an odd human?”

Chavis, who also played a disturbing child character in Phoenix Theatre’s production of The Nether in 2015, is equally amazing here. You realize quickly through her keen acting abilities that she is in fact a grown woman, but she is completely believable in her character. Most children are simply not this brilliant. Chavis is mesmerizing in her on-stage intensity and can deftly move from blooming psychotic to typical preteen star-struck reverence when Justin Timberlake flies into her room.

A jocular Joshua C. Ramsey, as Timberlake, also shows up as Harrison Ford for Clara, Janice’s mom. Mother and daughter embrace these ludicrous, dream-like escapes to find solace.

Carrie Ann Schlatter as Clara has the arduous task of anchoring the show in reality. Schlatter’s character is simply lost without her husband, and the widow’s obsessive menus and panic attacks plague her ability to move forward with her life, her house, her daughter, and her career. Schlatter does what she can with the character, but Clara’s evolution is slow, making her less interesting and/or sympathetic than those around her. Xanax, stat. However, she gets her share of lyrical yet quizzical lines. She describes her daughter’s breath as “napalm, like rotting fruit and stomach acid, as though she swallowed a pear months ago but can’t digest it.” Clara’s sounding board is her sister Barbara, a childless, divorced, crazy cat lady (numbering 57) played by Amy Hayes. Again, the character is flawed because it is so stereotypical, but Hayes gets to add amusing nuances in her interaction with her fur babies and with Janice.

All of this was coalesced under the direction of Rob Johansen. He has engineered a sneak attack for best play of the year, blemishes included.

Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

“Assassins” at Buck Creek Players

3.5 stars

While the premise of Stephen Sondheim’s musical Assassins may sound bleak—the stories of nine presidential assassins, four of whom were successful—it is actually fascinating and, surprisingly, funny. “Funny” may not seem plausible given the subjects, but when Sara Jane Moore and Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme get high and use Colonel Sanders’s picture on a bucket of KFC as a “graven image” to curse their fathers with “the evil eye”…well, that’s priceless.

Scott Robinson directs the actors at Buck Creek Players in their depictions of desperate characters’ personalities and decade-defining markers, including authentic replicas of the original guns (created by David Schlatter), clothing style (Linda Rowand), and music (under the baton of Matthew Konrad Tippel).

The timeline spans Lincoln to Reagan, though not in that order, and the assassins defy time by interacting with each other. The lineup can get confusing, so a quick summary here may help audiences follow along.

  • Mark Meyer as John Wilkes Booth, 1865: assassin of Abraham Lincoln
  • David Wood as Charles Guiteau, 1881: assassin of James Garfield
  • Jake McDuffee as Leon Czolgosz, 1901: assassin of William McKinley
  • Scott Fleshood as Giuseppe Zangara, 1933: attempted assassin Franklin Roosevelt
  • Luke McConnell (uncredited) as Lee Harvey Oswald, 1963: assassin of John F. Kennedy
  • Daniel Draves as Samuel Byck, 1974: attempted assassin of Richard Nixon (by planning to fly a 747 into the White House)
  • Stacia Hulen as Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme and Cathy Tolzmann as Sara Jane Moore, 1975: attempted assassins of Gerald Ford
  • Trenton Baker as John Hinckley, 1981: attempted assassin of Ronald Reagan

The show also includes two fictional characters: The Proprietor (a gun salesman, portrayed by Steven R. Linville, who has a chillingly creepy grin) and The Balladeer (McConnell, who has a beautiful voice, as a narrator). In addition, the stage is fleshed out by a handful of bystanders and a few auxiliary characters.

Each assassin actor embodies someone with an excessive personality based on actual accounts, whether flamboyant (such as Fromme, Tolzmann, Draves, and Wood) or deeply angry/pained (such as Wood, McDuffee, and Fleshood). Everyone is up to the challenging task (Zangara even has lines in Italian), which makes these characters so real. While their entire background can’t be conveyed in 90 minutes, the show inspires some homework—a mark of a production that entertains while making you think.

Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

“Book of Merman” at the Phoenix Theatre

4 stars

Generations clash in The Book of Merman, a musical-comedy mashup of the 2011 Tony Award-sweeping musical The Book of Mormon and Broadway darling of the ’30s to ’70s Ethel Merman, of Annie Get Your Gun and Gypsy fame, whom Time Out New York named in the top 25 greatest divas of all time.

While it’s purported that Merman died in 1984, in The Book of Merman, now playing at the Phoenix Theatre, two Mormon missionaries ring her present-day doorbell and hilarity ensues.

Merman was memorable for her brassy personality, but friends also described her as “vulnerable” and “childlike.” Even in her later years, every event was exciting, including the mundane ones. Jolene Mentink Moffatt captures this mixture of wonderment and cheekiness, a pairing seen not just in her character but also in the show itself. Tyler Ostrander and Lincoln Slentz shine with fresh-faced naiveté even if their songs reek of unsubtle innuendo (“If It’s Not Hard, I Don’t Like It”).

Fans of Merman and Mormon will appreciate the slips of music each is notable for that are incorporated into the show. Ostrander’s character, Elder Shumway, sees Merman as a goddess, which opens the door for Moffatt to belt out some Merman-esque tunes—and for Elder Braithwaite to do some soul searching. “She’s Ethel Merman” is a direct parody of “I Believe,” and a lively rap number uses “I Am the Very Model of a Modern Major-General” from The Pirates of Penzance as its base.

Emily Ristine directs Moffatt, Ostrander, and Slentz in their affable characterizations with Jay Schwandt as musical director. The trio’s interactions (quartet if you include Jay) are a joy to watch. Glen Bucy’s set of a residential neighborhood is a realistic backdrop that doesn’t hog all the stage space, giving the actors room to sway and pout. Friday night’s performance had a few off notes, but the show is a crowd-pleaser with feels; no matter which generation you identify with, you’re bound to be a convert by the end.

Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

“Merry Wives of Windsor” at Wisdom Tooth Theatre Project

5 stars

Don’t fear Shakespeare. Spumoni-ice-cream colors, lawn-dart head ornaments, a mish-mash of retro clothing, a doctor who looks like Hitler but speaks with a French accent, ukuleles, and a bubble-gum-blowing, hula-hooping object of desire. These people are pros. You will get it, and you will laugh your ass off while doing it.

Wisdom Tooth Theatre Project brings together a collection of thespians that includes renowned Indianapolis-theater favorites for a non-standard staging of The Merry Wives of Windsor, which they have tagged as “the original Desperate Housewives.” Anchoring the cast and crew is director Bill Simmons, who hits a ringer with his premiere shot at directing a Shakespearian play.

The Merry Wives of Windsor is considered one of The Bard’s weaker plays, which means nothing but fun with few bothersome moral lessons for audiences. As with most of his comedies, it involves mistaken identity, practical jokes, and love—both bawdy and true. Reset from its original location of Windsor Castle to the Windsor Hotel, Falstaff (Adam O. Crowe), also seen in two Henry IV plays, needs a sugar mamma, so he tries his luck with two married women who also happen to be best friends, Mistress Ford (Amy Hayes) and Mistress Page (Claire Wilcher). Concurrently, the Page family is trying to marry off their daughter, Ann (Chelsea Anderson), but Mistress Page favors Dr. Caius (Gari Williams) and Page (Josh Ramsey) prefers Slender (Kelsy VanVoorst). (In a nod to Shakespearian time, when men playing women was the norm, here women often play men.) Ann, however, wants Fenton (Benjamin Schuetz).

The characters’ machinations toward each other make for uproarious scenes. Saturday night, Rob Johansen, as Ford, gave “chewing scenery” a whole new meaning by deflowering Hayes’s ears in his enthusiasm (his passionate kiss knocked her floral earrings right off). His physical comedy knows no limits—even when it comes to personal space. Crowe is spot-on as the bellowing Falstaff, gamely throwing himself into a “buck basket” (laundry bin) or fleeing the scene of his (continuously) unlucky rendezvous disguised in women’s clothing. Hayes and Wilcher are thick as BFFs in their scheming, with copious underhanded help from Carrie Schlatter as Mistress Quickly. Really, each cast member is top-notch here. I could easily run down the program and give out individual accolades if I had the space.

Sets and costumes deserve a quick mention as well, from Sara White and Peachy Kean Costuming, respectively.

I don’t give out five-star reviews willy-nilly. This show sincerely deserves it.

Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

“Gypsy” at Footlite Musicals

2.5 stars

The semi-biographical 1959 musical Gypsy is one of Stephen Sondheim’s most popular collaborations, featuring such enduring songs as “Everything’s Coming up Roses” and “Together Wherever We Go.” The story, set in the 1920s and ’30s, is about a “stage mom” who vicariously lives out her dreams by shackling her two daughters to showbiz. The second act is the most compelling, when Rose thrusts her eldest daughter, Louise, into burlesque, and the story gets into the grit of mother-daughter dynamics.

Footlite Musicals’ current production, under the direction of Tim Spradlin and vocal director Jo Read Trakimas, suffered from some opening-night glitches, but hopefully, these will be resolved as the run continues. The production is carried by Susan Boilek Smith as Mama Rose and Elise Annette Delap as Louise.

Boilek Smith is a powerhouse on stage, not only with her stunning vocals but her portrayal of a fierce woman who won’t take no for an answer. Her rendition of “Everything’s Coming Up Roses” brings the house down. Delap is her foil, maintaining her sweet-natured, accommodating demeanor compared to her smothering mother. While her vocals are also strong, her delivery reflects Louise’s gentle charm in the face of her mother’s steamroller approach. Her vocals are crystal clear and communicate Louise’s optimistic view of life.

Also of note is Rich Baker as the girls’ manager/Rose’s love interest; his is a loveable underdog. Though only spotlighted briefly as Tulsa, one of the background singers/dancers for the girls’ act, Noah Nordman deserves mention for his excellent performance of “All I Need Is the Girl.”

Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

“Bat Boy” at Theatre on the Square

4.5 stars

I said it before in 2002 when Bat Boy: The Musical had its Indianapolis premiere at the Phoenix Theatre, and I am going to say it again: Any show that is able to include a stuffed-animal orgy has got to get all kinds of props. Nothing is quite like watching interspecies animal hand puppets banging on each other while the god Pan encourages them in song. (Interesting side note: Not only was Pan renowned for his sexual prowess, but he was also considered the god of theatrical criticism by the Greeks.)

Theatre on the Square is presenting this campy musical for its third Indianapolis staging, this time under the direction of Zach Neiditch. While the above-mentioned scene is perhaps the funniest (tears—tears running down my face from laughter), there is more. The show is filled with astonishing mullets, melodramatic secrets, outrageous songs, a glowing cross, and British pantomime-inspired characters (as in cross-dressing). Most people are familiar with the 1992 Weekly World News series, and the musical aims to shed some light on Bat Boy’s origins in a dust speck of a hick town in West Virginia.

Of course, the star of the show is Bat Boy, who is soon renamed Edgar, portrayed by Justin Klein. Klein does a spectacular job of transitioning from a cave-dwelling, grunting wild child to an eloquent, proper young man, complete with a British accent. Not only is his transformation remarkable, but he occasionally lets the Bat Boy’s mannerisms slip out when he is scared or confused. This nuanced piece of theatricality reminds the audience of Bat Boy’s duel with his new persona.

Bat Boy is flanked by the town veterinarian Thomas (Dave Ruark, who was also in the 2002 production but in a different role), his wife Meredith (Mindy Morton), and their teenage daughter Shelley (Devan Mathias). Ruark captures Thomas’s gradual decent into murderous mayhem while enabling Bat Boy’s thirst for blood. His vocals were a bit sharp Saturday night, but I’ve seen Ruark in scores of productions, and I’m betting that he just had an off night. Morton is perfect as the long-suffering wife, and Mathias’s mixture of angst and idealism reflects a teen to a T. (She also gets to bust some moves.)

The supporting company in various roles plays their parts up for hilarity, and vocal director David Barnhouse teases impressive performances out of the whole cast. Don’t forget about the hard-working band behind the curtain under the musical direction of Jeffrey Bowen. Scenes, makeup, lighting, sound direction—it’s all good. This is quite an accomplishment for TOTS.

My only nitpicks are the small areas the cast had to work with and the mics being turned on and off for songs and dialogue respectively. The stage felt cramped during large numbers, and while the mics picked up the actors’ voices beautifully, I was too aware of the switch. However, that could easily just be me being a nag.

Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

“Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike” at Theater at the Fort

4 stars

Adult children taking care of their parents is a growing phenomenon, with the AARP estimating that over 22 million households care for a family member over fifty. So, it’s easy to imagine that audience members could relate to playwright Christopher Durang’s 2013 Broadway hit, in which he speculates what happens to the children after their parents pass and the children had put their own lives on hold for decades.

Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike, at Theater at the Fort, follows the unfortunately named siblings Vanya, Sonia, and Masha (victims of community-theater parents with a particular love of Chekhov—audience members with a similar interest will pick up on other Chekhovian nods as well). Masha, portrayed by Nan Macy, escaped the family home by becoming something of a movie star through a series of slasher flicks. Vanya, Jim LaMonte, and Sonia, Kathy Pataluch, stayed home to care for their aging parents. Now that their parents have passed and the siblings are in their 50s, Vanya and Sonia are left reflecting on the melancholia of a life never lived. When Masha shows up unexpectedly, she, too, exhibits an unspoken fear for her future as an aging actress, manifested by the boy toy named Spike (Rahshe Byrd) she brings to the house with her. Complementing the titular characters are Jenni White as Cassandra, the gypsy housekeeper, and Megan Nicole Smith as Nina, a young woman (probably in her late teens) visiting next door who aspires to be an actress and idolizes Masha.

LaMonte and Pataluch’s characters are the highlights in the cast, with the most depth and definition. LaMonte’s quiet, acquiescing portrayal of Vanya captures his acceptance of his lost potential. Pataluch’s dotty Sonia is more vocal, begrudging her role as the forgotten adopted sister. The two have wonderful interactions, and both get opportunities to really shine in the second half. Pataluch especially gets to show off her acting finesse when she takes on an alter ego.

Macy conveys the insecurity behind her exaggerated, plastered-on smile. Masha knows her lifestyle is tottering on the edge, and Macy uses body language and voice inflection in her intentional disregard of others and incessant hold on Spike. Byrd’s role is primarily that of eye candy, which he delivers in spades.

Smith is extremely sweet as Nina, and White is hilarious as Cassandra. White often takes over a scene with her dominating presence and acerbic commentary. Director Jeremy Tuterow utilizes these actors’ strengths as much as the main cast’s, and costuming (love Sonia’s costume-party outfit!) and sets are equally charming.

Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

“The Diviners” by Casey Ross Productions

5 stars

Everyone loves a connection to his or her city, state, or alma mater. The Diviners, now on stage through Casey Ross Productions in association with the Carmel Theatre Company, is set in a small Indiana town in the 1930s. It was written by Hanover College graduate Jim Leonard Jr., who also co-founded the Bloomington Playwrights Project, and it premiered at Hanover.

This isn’t the first time The Diviners has graced a Carmel stage. In June of 2012, it was staged at the Carmel Community Playhouse. At that time, then-Arts Editor Scott Shoger had an opportunity to speak with the playwright, and Leonard commented on audiences relating to his play: “Well, it’s got a big, bold story and characters that people can identify with. And the fact that it’s set at an iconic time makes it something that translates across years; people can continue to identify with it.”

The story’s main characters are Buddy, a mentally challenged 17-year-old with a natural gift for dowsing, and C.C. Showers, an ex-pastor who shows up in Zion, Indiana, trying to find a new way of life. Pat Mullen is a sweet, simple, sincere Buddy, a character plagued by aquaphobia due to his mother’s death while saving him from drowning as a toddler. Mullen’s Buddy is likable, and Mullen avoids becoming a caricature. Davey Peluse, playing C.C., also worked with director Casey Ross in Tortillo! earlier this year. As believable as his character was in Tortillo!, he is significantly more so here in a serious role. Peluse exhibits the bearing and clear, booming voice of a man who has spent his adult life behind a pulpit. While C.C. professes to have left preaching, Peluse gives C.C. a confident demeanor and easy with people, harkening back to C.C.’s past life.

The cast is rounded out by townspeople, minor characters who add the “slice of life” element to the show and help propel plot and provide background and motivation. These are charming, often humorous characters: Zach Stonerock as Ferris, a mechanic, father to Buddy and Jennie Mae, and C.C.’s employer; Allyson Womack, Buddy’s older sister and caregiver; Basil, a local farmer/doctor who also serves as narrator; Kathryn Comer Paton as Luella, Basil’s wife; Paige Scott as Norma, a Bible-thumping dry-goods-store owner; Heather R. Owens as Darlene, her niece and Jennie May’s friend; Audrey Stauffer Stonerock as Goldie, owner of the diner; and Johnny Mullins and Tyler Gordon as Dewey and Melvin, farmhands.

One particularly absorbing part of director Ross’s stagecraft is the underwater scene. A combination of slow motion and David C. Matthews’s lighting depicts action when the characters are underwater, cut with moments that they surface with normal motion and lighting. This scene is impressively effective.

The production is performed in a black-box theater, so Chris Plunkett and Peluse’s set is minimalist but serves its purposes well, as does Marina Turner’s anachronistic costumes (they still capture the style of the time).

In the beginning, some of the actors speak a little too quickly, but that is the only nitpick I can find in this touching show.

Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

“Bridge and Tunnel” at Indiana Repertory Theatre

4 stars

Milicent Wright is no stranger to one-woman shows; Bridge & Tunnel, now on stage at the Indiana Repertory Theatre, is her fifth. Being the only player on stage for 90 minutes straight is daunting enough, but Wright also takes on fifteen characters—child to senior, male and female, and varied ethnicities—complete with complementary costume accessories.

The characters are participants in a poetry gathering for immigrants. They present their personal stories and poetry, some of it commentary on the life of an immigrant but also insights into the person as just an individual. These snippets remind us that immigrants aren’t the enemy; they are our fellow human beings with emotions and experiences everyone can relate to. The play also challenges Americans’ perception of immigrants, including one woman from Australia—not the sort of ethnicity many people call to mind when thinking of “immigrants.”

Wright is amazing on stage, and with direction from Richard Roberts, she transitions from personality to personality, giving each one a distinguishing characteristic and accent. Costume designer Katie Cowan Sickmeier completes the effect with a visual clue over Wright’s multipurpose black-on-black foundation.

Some situations are sober, such as the Pakistani host’s harried phone conversations with his wife concerning a federal investigation, which frames the show, but Wright’s exuberant interpretations of the light-hearted performances are laugh-out-loud worthy. Wright truly appears to be enjoying every moment in the spotlight, and her enthusiasm is infectious.

I was disappointed that the host’s story didn’t end with some clue as to what would happen next, and some of Wright’s accents blended too close together. However, her standing ovation was well-deserved.

Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

“Porno Stars at Home” at Theatre on the Square

2.5 stars

Theatre on the Square’s current offering, Porno Stars at Home, isn’t as juicy as you might think given the title. By today’s standards, the show, which premiered in 1976, is comparatively tame.

Under the direction of Bill Wilkison, the cast plays out the events of one night when five porn actors and actresses gather to celebrate their matriarch’s birthday. Fueled by alcohol (and what is either a massive dose of coke or a debilitating case of ADD for one actress), drama, drama, and more drama ensue. The script is a sequence of non-sequiturs featuring neck-wrenching mood swings.

Leading the cast is Lisa Marie Smith as Georgia, the maudlin-to-the-max birthday “girl.” Think Effie in Hunger Games. Grating as her character may be, Smith allows Georgia moments vulnerability. Smith is comfortable in Georgia’s skin, even when Georgia feels her most broken—and everyone in that apartment is broken to some extent. Frankie Bolda as Norma Jean is the porn version of the Energizer Bunny, exhibiting the energy of a toddler on Red Bull. Jay Hemphill as Montgomery passes for the closest to normal in the gathering, and Miranda Nehrig as Uta is the most pedestrian.

Opening night felt jerky and unsure. The characters didn’t come across as having been coworkers for years, which, when combined with copious amounts of alcohol, would lend them a more relaxed attitude. Lines were often hesitant, and body language was often clumsy. Strangely, the high point of hilarity came when Todd Kenworthy, as Barry, seemed to go off-script for what I suspect was an improvised description of a personal body-function issue. He had not only the audience roaring with laughter but also the two fellow performers on stage, who had to fight to keep from breaking character, which made the situation even funnier. Given his history with improv and success with the scene, maybe more of this would improve the show.

Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

“On Clover Road” at the Phoenix Theatre

3.5 stars

Twist ties would envy the plot arc of On Clover Road. It forces you to put on the mental brakes and back up to reevaluate what you just saw, but by the time you’ve wrapped your mind around something, another curve leaves you reeling. While this makes for an exciting mental exercise and good entertainment, it does detract from the play’s serious subject: parent-child dynamics and the pseudo-acceptance lure of cults. Just set that aside and enjoy the ride.

On Clover Road is the Phoenix Theatre’s latest offering as part of the National New Play Network rolling world premieres. This is the second play by Steven Dietz that the theater has produced through the program (the previous was Rancho Mirage).

The show is grounded in excellent character portrayals by Jen Johansen (as the mother, Kate, of a runaway daughter who was sucked into a cult), Rob Johansen (as Stine, a “deprogrammer”), Mara Lefler (a teenage cult member), and Bill Simmons (as cult leader Harris McClain). Director Courtney Sale has the characters tearing at each other—physically and emotionally. The three “adults” express their flawed natures willingly or not, but Lefler, as an innocent, gets to wow the audience with her changeable acting chops.

That’s not to say that the Johansens and Simmons aren’t up to snuff. The three actors have lauded reputations in Indianapolis’s theater community for good reason. Rob is intense to the nth degree, making you wonder if he’s as nuts as the cultists are. Simmons again gets to explore the deviant side of humanity, following in the steps of his previous predatory character in The Nether at the Phoenix. He comes across just as confidant, alluring, and smarmy here as he did there. Jen is a hot mess as a single mom and recovering alcoholic who is willing to do anything in her desperate attempt to do the right thing. The actors add nuance to characters that aren’t as fleshed out on paper as they could be, creating a tense and riveting story because you just can’t wait (or anticipate) what they will do next.

Jim Ream created a set—a decaying room in an abandoned motel—that captures the rotting integrity of the four souls on stage.

Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

“The Importance of Being Ernest” at Garfield Shakespeare Company

3 stars

The best thing about the Garfield Shakespeare Company’s production of The Importance of Being Ernest is David Santangelo’s wicked Cheshire-cat grin. Santangelo, as Algernon, captures author Oscar Wilde’s roguish appetite for gleefully scorning the frivolous structure of Victorian upper-class society.

The company members, under the direction of Chris Burton, embrace the farcical nature of the play, some better than others, but laughs are garnered at most of the appropriate places. Spencer Elliott is consistent as the foppish, flustering Jack Worthing, a foil to Algernon’s easygoing personality. The women, Kate Ghormley as Lady Bracknell, Ashley Chase Elliott as Gwendolen Fairfax, Bita Eisenhut as Cecily Cardew, and Christy Walker as Miss Prism, exhibit the expected affectations of ladies of the time.

Since the play is staged in the Garfield Park Arts Center’s gallery, set pieces are minimal but utilitarian, which unfortunately brings attention to the unflattering costumes for Lady Bracknell and Gwendolen Fairfax. While not strictly reflective of the period, the rest of the cast was better attired.

Tickets are free (though reservations are encouraged), making this a good opportunity to experience Wilde’s most popular play.

Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

“Fences” at the Indiana Repertory Theatre

4.5 stars

Fences, the 1987 Pulitzer Prize winner for Drama and the 1987 Tony Award winner for Best Play, is number six of a 10-part series, known as the “Pittsburgh Cycle,” by American playwright August Wilson. Each segment of the cycle examines the evolving social status of African-Americans in the 20th century by decade, Fences being set in the late ’50s/early ’60s. The Indiana Repertory Theatre is presenting its fifth production out of the 10 (Fences was also staged by the IRT in 1996), and it has the advantage of Lou Bellamy, founding artistic director of Penumbra Theatre Company in St. Paul, Minn., directing this installment. Bellamy and Wilson were both friends and cohorts, giving Bellamy intimate insight into Wilson’s plays.

Fences tackles questions regarding the familial bond, responsibility, and forgiveness as well as the standing of African-Americans in this time period. Wilson’s plays include memorable laughs to balance out the serious work of social examination, but this one is also dark—betrayal, in many forms, is a key element here.

The stellar cast is headed by David Alan Anderson as Troy, the main character. Anderson seems to effortlessly oscillate between Troy’s moods; on the outside, Troy is jovial and full of life, but at his core, he is self-serving and bitter. Anderson portrays Troy as a raucous, physically expressive character, though Anderson often speaks so fast it’s hard to catch each line.

Kim Staunton as Troy’s wife, Rose, unwaveringly demonstrates Rose’s strength. While the audience may wonder why she continues to stand with Troy, we never doubt that she can. Edgar Shanchez, as Troy and Rose’s high-school-aged son Cory, captures the arrogance and vulnerability of that age. He is at his best as an antagonist; his later scenes as a Marine are a little too stiff (even for a Marine), but when he softens toward his half-sister, Elise Keliah Benson, it is a touching transformation.

Marcus Naylor as Troy’s friend Bono and James T. Alfred as Troy’s eldest son Lyons may be playing auxiliary characters that help propel story and character development, but neither plays his part as minor. Alfred especially gives Lyons the feel of a full personality. Similarly, Terry Bellamy embraces the part of Gabriel, Troy’s brother who suffered a head wound in the war that left him mentally damaged.

Scenic designer Vicki Smith envisioned a stunning backdrop for the action. Her representations of the claustrophobic feeling of the run-down row houses are a physical manifestation of the characters’ own feelings of being trapped.

While the play is long, just short of three hours, and examines painful subjects, the ending is satisfying, and the growth of the characters leaves the audience uplifted in the face of these characters’ grueling challenges.

Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

“The Importance of Being Ernest” at Garfield Park Arts Center

3 stars

The best thing about the Garfield Shakespeare Company’s production of The Importance of Being Ernest is David Santangelo’s wicked Cheshire-cat grin. Santangelo, as Algernon, captures author Oscar Wilde’s roguish appetite for gleefully scorning the frivolous structure of Victorian upper-class society.

The company members, under the direction of Chris Burton, embrace the farcical nature of the play, some better than others, but laughs are garnered at most of the appropriate places. Spencer Elliott is consistent as the foppish, flustering Jack Worthing, a foil to Algernon’s easygoing personality. The women, Kate Ghormley as Lady Bracknell, Ashley Chase Elliott as Gwendolen Fairfax, Bita Eisenhut as Cecily Cardew, and Christy Walker as Miss Prism, exhibit the expected affectations of ladies of the time.

Since the play is staged in the Garfield Park Arts Center’s gallery, set pieces are minimal but utilitarian, which unfortunately brings attention to the unflattering costumes for Lady Bracknell and Gwendolen Fairfax. While not strictly reflective of the period, the rest of the cast was better attired.

Tickets are free (though reservations are encouraged), making this a good opportunity to experience Wilde’s most popular play.

Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

“Avenue Q” at Footlite Musicals

4.5 stars

Even after seeing Avenue Q many times, it still makes me hoot with laughter. The R-rated puppet show, which spoofs Sesame Street characters as adults, is a riot, and it won Best Musical, Best Book of a Musical, and Best Original Score at the 2004 Tony Awards for good reason. It’s still a favorite among audiences, and Footlite Musicals’ staging delivers in every expectation. When you take into account that everyone in the show—cast and staff—is a volunteer, this is quite an achievement.

Under the co-direction of Kathleen Clarke Horrigan and Ed Trout, the cast—Phil Criswell (Princeton), Emily Schaab (Kate Monster), Damon Clevenger (Rod), Graham Brinklow (Nicky), Ryan England (Trekkie Monster), Zarah Miller (Lucy), Leigh Alexovich (Bad Idea Bear and Mrs. T), Dejuan Jackson (Bad Idea Bear and the “newcomer” at the end), Chris Meek (Brian), Nathalie Cruz (Christmas Eve), and Ervin Gainer (Gary Coleman)—is exceptional. Really, pointing out any musical numbers or scenes as “the best” isn’t possible—every voice, every note is superlative. I was floored by the quality of the show. This also includes the orchestra, which often doesn’t get the attention it deserves: conductor Kristen Cutler with musicians Ainsley Paton, Larry Molnar, Bill Musick, Amy Johnson, Jen Hallbert, Jimmy Wingget, Rhonda Collins, and Matthew Tippel.

The high-quality puppets the actors use were acquired through an Adopt a Puppet program, making them the equivalent of the ones used in professional productions. I only have two small quibbles that made me take off half a star. First: the bouncing some of the actors employ while the puppets “walk” jars the suspension of disbelief. Imagine children with puppets or dolls and the exaggerated movements they use when playing pretend. Second: the lighting was of the night I attended. Actors were often left in a shadow or a spotlight was off mark.

These miniscule details aside, you don’t want to miss this show. And for those of you who know the music well, you will appreciate the substitution in the closing number for the original line that included “George Bush.” I was anticipating what they would put in its place, and their choice is not just funny as hell but also apropos.

Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

“Killer Joe” at Theatre on the Square

4 stars

Oral rape with a “KFriedC” chicken leg.

This is a summation of the lewd lack of morality found in Killer Joe, the first play by Tracy Letts, who went on to pen the 2008 Pulitzer Prize for Drama-winner August: Osage County. Theatre on the Square stages this playwright’s inaugural exploration into his penchant for darkness in its cabaret theater, which puts the audience claustrophobically close to exposed buttocks and graphic fight scenes.

Calling this “family” dysfunctional, psychopathic, or trailer trash is an insult to those labels. The Smiths plot to have the estranged ex-wife of Ansel whacked in order to collect her insurance money, an idea motivated by Chris’s (Ansel’s son) desperation to avoid being whacked himself by his drug pushers. (However, if they recycled the astronomical amount of beer cans they accumulate in any given day, they would quickly raise the money.) Enter the play’s namesake, Killer Joe Cooper, a detective nefariously moonlighting as a hit man.

These are raw characters, and director Lori Raffel mines the cast for that rawness. Nate Walden as Chris and Lisa Marie Smith as Sharla, Ansel’s second wife, have a twisted sense of entitlement, exhibiting the same casual blood lust that winds Joe so tightly, though Chris and Sharla seem incapable of outward self-control, which is Joe’s (usual) default. (Smith’s and Walden’s characters would be excellent candidates for a tabloid talk show if their shouting matches, their favored conversational tone, didn’t destroy their vocal chords after five minutes.) Ben Asaykwee executes his cruelties with Hannibal Lecter-type calm, but when he gets really angry, his pent-up rage is a physical explosion. Asaykwee is at his best in these hands-on moments. What is supposed to be a steely disposition often comes off as just flat.

Smith’s Sharla is glorious in her Texas-drawling, big-haired glory. Her Sharla would pick fights in the Walmart clearance aisle. Dan Scharbrough is a benignly distracted Ansel and seamlessly refocuses on his static-y TV. He is a foil to Walden’s excitable Chris. Scharbrough affects baffled simple-mindedness, and when Ansel is willing to sacrifice his son to save his own hide, his turn is believable.

While Joe should be the most disquieting character given his disposition and side work, Jaddy Ciucci’s Dottie is the most enigmatic of the group. She is obviously mentally disturbed, which her father, in his naive way, speculates could be due to her virginity. She is disassociated but observant at the same time, sleepwalking (often literally) through most of the action and murmuring occasionally creepy non-sequiturs (“I can’t sleep with Mamma in the room.”). This character could be seen as a throwaway (how her family sees her) with her one-note persona, but Ciucci makes her sympathetic and somehow fascinating.

The play could be viewed as a study of misogyny: the crafty women are punished; the vulnerable one is bartered. Sharla takes the brunt of the crude: in the first scene, her stepson Chris complains of her beaver hanging out, and she is the victim of the above-mentioned fellatio.

Even the second-weekend run of the show was packed, so make reservations early for its final weekend.

Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

“Pulp” at the Phoenix Theatre

3 stars

The Phoenix Theatre is part of the National New Play Network, which presents “rolling world premieres” of new scripts. The play is produced in three or more theaters within a 12-month period. This gives the playwright an opportunity to work with different creative teams and fine-tune the script. Pulp by Joe Zettelmaier, on stage now, is part of that process, so whereas most reviews’ primary focus is on the actors and production, a few words on the story are apropos here.

“Pulps” were the successors of the penny dreadfuls: sensationalistic, fictional stories in ratty magazines that were popular through the 1950s. Zettelmaier sets his story in 1933 around an alcoholic, washed-up private investigator, Frank Ellery. He is approached by a “dame,” pulp romance writer Desiree St. Clair, to solve the murder of her agent. Besides St. Clair, the other suspects are the deceased’s only other clients: sci-fi writer Bradley Rayburn (a nod to Ray Bradbury?), super-hero wannabe Walter Cranston-Smith, and horror fanatic R.A. Lyncroft (an homage to H.P. Lovecraft?). The play is a collection of stereotypes, reflecting the shallow characterization often found in the cheapest of the cheap pulps. While it’s meant to be a send-up, from a script standpoint, it doesn’t deliver. Something of this nature should have more humor written into it, and it should be self-conscious of its own cheesiness. (And yes, I got the point that the author hates critics.)

That being said, the saving grace of the show is the excellent work by its actors and designers. In other hands, it could have fallen flat.

The production opens with period video footage and a look at the revolving stage’s four sets featuring each character. This is a riveting setup from director Bryan Fonseca, lighting designer and technical director Jeffery Martin, and set designer Bernie Killian. Fonseca goes on to direct Eric J. Olson (Ellery), Joshua Coomer (Rayburn), Michael Hosp (Cranston-Smith), Ian Cruz (Lyncroft), and Angela R. Plank (St. Clair) through scene-chomping after scene-chomping scene. Each actor takes his or her character to the limit of camp. Hosp and Cruz especially commit to making their characters so over-the-top that their scenes help propel the languid plot, the gangly Hosp as his bumbling, masked alter ego The Cloak and Cruz as a maniacal summoner of sleeping demon-gods.

The show is worth seeing for the outstanding talent of the performers and creative team alone. And the amazing raspberry coconut cookie-cakes at the concession stand.

Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

“Sweeney Todd” by Actors Theatre of Indiana

4.5 stars

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street has been a Stephen Sondheim audience favorite since it premiered in 1979 and swept the Tony Awards. And for good reason. Setting aside any moral/social commentary that can be gleaned from it, the show has a dark but fascinating plot, bizarre characters, and intricate and exquisite music.

I could break out the superlatives to describe Actors Theatre of Indiana’s production, but the bottom line is, it’s excellent—probably one of if not the best I’ve ever seen, and since Sweeney is a popular musical staple, I have seen my fair share. ATI presents one amazing voice after another in its deliciously macabre production.

One element that sets this show apart is its location. The Studio Theater at Carmel’s Center for the Performing Arts resembles a black-box theater all grown up. From my vantage point in the front row, I had the disconcerting experience of actors being so close that I felt as if they were invading my personal space, which added to the surreal atmosphere. ATI maximizes its use of the small stage. One main set piece (scenic designer P. Bernard Killian) is multipurposed for every scene, embellished occasionally by a few chairs or tables.

Don Farrell as Todd is downright ghoulish (the white face and exaggerated black eye makeup completing the characterization thanks to makeup designer Daniel Klinger). His portrayal of the madman is only trumped by every one of his sublime musical numbers. Disturbing as Todd may be, when you examine character motivation, the one with the evil soul is the sociopathic Mrs. Lovett. Judy Fitzgerald plays a perfect foil for Farrell’s insanity: a cheerful, motherly, practical woman who, without breaking character, is ready to take out Toby (Caleb Wertz) immediately after their moving duet “Not While I’m Around.” Director Richard J. Roberts makes Lovett and Todd stark contrasts: one inherently evil and unaware of it; the other crazy and all too aware of it. This emphasizes that Lovett is, in fact, the villain, not Todd. Another inspired turn is the placement of Todd’s victims in the theater’s ceiling grating toward the end—another satisfyingly eerie touch.

Additional main cast members John Collins as Anthony, Paul Nicely as Judge Turpin, Craig Underwood as the Beadle, Elizabeth Hutson as Johanna, and John Vessels as Pirelli and the off-stage orchestra—and really, everyone both on and off stage whom I haven’t mentioned by name—exhibit their own virtuosity as well.

The only quibble I have, which made me take off half a star, is that only about half the cast uses accents. I believe in all or nothing. It’s a Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves thing.

You only have one more weekend to see this show. Go.

Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

“To Kill a Mockingbird” at Indiana Repertory Theatre

4 stars

One of the most striking elements of the Indiana Repertory Theatre’s production of To Kill a Mockingbird is its integration of on-stage musical accompaniment. The original music and traditional arrangements by Tim Grimm (who also plays Heck Tate), performed by Grimm on acoustic guitar and Christopher Waltz (who also plays Boo Radley and Judge Taylor) on banjo, reflect and then heighten the emotional investment of the characters, and therefore the actors, and their subject matter. This seemingly small but powerful element, combined with the feeling of wide-open spaces by scenic designer Bill Clarke, set the tone for the show in a subtle and persuasive way.

The theater chose to revisit one of the most-challenged stories of the American fiction canon with the release of Harper Lee’s equally controversial Go Set a Watchman last summer. However, the topics that Lee explored 56 years ago—racism and human dynamics—remain relevant today.

Under the direction of the IRT’s Executive Artistic Director Janet Allen, Lauren Briggeman as the adult Jean Louise “Scout” Finch narrates and comments on the events that occurred during her childhood in 1935 Maycomb, Alabama. She watches as her younger self (Paula Hopkins), her brother Jem (Grayson Molin), and friend Dill (Mitchell Wray) experience the trial that became the center of the community’s and her family’s attention and activity since Scout’s father, Atticus (Ryan Artzberger), defender the black man, Tom Robinson (Daniel A. Martin), who was on trial for the rape of a white woman.

Hopkins, Molin, and Wray handled well what can be a taxing production for kids, as they take up a majority of the stage time. Artzberger convincingly portrays Atticus’s weariness as a man diligently fighting what he knows is a lost cause—but also as an older, single father who tries to lead by example in teaching his kids to do what is right.

Robert Neal is an effective bully as the bullish redneck Bob Ewell, father to the accosted girl (Katherine Shelton). Millicent Wright finds just the right balance between motherly and disciplinarian in Calpurnia, the Finches’ housekeeper. A host of other talents make up the many other characters, who all come together to tell this complicated story masked by its simplicity.

Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

“Skylight” at Theatre on the Square

3 stars

Theatre on the Square’s current offering, Skylight by David Hare, took home a Tony Award for Best Revival of a Play last year. While having a Tony (or Oscar or whatever) as a credential may seem like an overwhelming endorsement, remember that there are often elements besides merely entertainment in the workings.

In this case, the play is hard. It’s hard to watch because save for two brief scenes, the entirety of the show is up to two actors: Sarah McGee as schoolteacher Kyra and (Bill Simmons as her much-older and former boss/roommate/sugar daddy/lover Tom. The two have to carry the show through lots and lots (and lots) of talk, broken only by the previously mentioned scenes, in a single setting (a small flat in London). It’s also hard to watch because at times, you want to slap one, two, or all three of the characters for being idiots/self-righteous/ political proselytizers/any number of other unbecoming human traits. And it’s hard because at the core of all this talk is something everyone can relate to: the inability to move on. Including Tom’s 18-year-old son, Edward (Tyler Ostrander), each character is stuck in the past for his or her own reason: wanting to atone, looking for absolution, or seeking a missing familial bond.

Simms as the bombastic Tom looks overly dramatic in contrast to McGee’s stark lack of emotion. While a case could be made that she is showing restraint in the face of unbridled narcissism, the two feel unnaturally unbalanced when viewed as a “couple.” She finally lets loose a bit in the second act, perhaps driven by the character’s guilt over committing the same act that caused her to flee Tom’s home. However, that same contrast permeates the entire show: fidelity versus adultery, poor versus rich, nurture versus abandonment. Moreover, Simm’s swaggering allows for a few moments of levity in a long and sometimes ugly conversation about people and their motivations.

Overall, director Gari Williams had satisfyingly coaxed the cast—including the maudlin character of Edward, in which Ostrander embraces the typical mood swings of a teen, especially a damaged one—through this challenging show.

Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

“The Mystery of Irma Vep: A Penny Dreadful” at Indiana Repertory Theatre

5 stars

Imagine if comedian Mel Brooks and Twilight author Stephenie Meyer collaborated on a play set in eerie Hampstead Heath, England, in the early 1900s. This only begins to describe the ridiculous hilarity of The Mystery of Irma Vep: A Penny Dreadful.

Actually, the show was conceived by the American actor-director-playwright Charles Ludlam, who founded the aptly named Ridiculous Theatrical Company in 1967. Ludlum was a pioneer in the avant-garde genre “theater of the ridiculous,” which rejected realism onstage and embraced the art of camp. Ludlam’s most successful play, The Mystery of Irma Vep, sends up decades-spanning pop culture and (then) long-held ideals about what a play should be.

The storytellers at the Indiana Repertory Theatre embrace Irma Vep’s nonsensical elements, producing one of the IRT’s most uproarious and unexpectedly deviant shows. Playwright-in-residence James Still directs longtime acclaimed theater-staple Rob Johansen and core company member at American Players Theatre in Wisconsin Marcus Truschinski (seen at the IRT in last season’s The Hound of the Baskervilles). The two play off each other flawlessly. At one point on opening night, an improvisation by Truschinski had Johansen fighting not to laugh. The duo makes melodramatic farce a new artform.

The plot (I use the term loosely) revolves around newlyweds Lord Edgar and Lady Enid Hillcrest, their servants, and the former lady of the house, Irma Vep. Lady Enid lives under the shadow (quite literally) of Irma, while the moors are the hunting grounds of what could be a werewolf. Both Lord and Lady are looking for a way to escape the dead Irma (to exorcise her and to revive her, respectively), a search that leads them into the catacombs of Egypt.

Truschinski and Johansen play all seven characters, which not only requires the intense ability of an actor to switch personalities within seconds but also includes a score of rapid costume changes, many in drag (as dictated by Ludlam in the script). (Hat off to Guy Clark, who designed costumes that made the switches possible.) Truschinski and Johansen never falter in their on- (and off-) stage bedlam. Johansen even gets to scoot his bottom across the set in a way that dog owners will recognize all too well.

Everyone involved with this production did nothing short of spectacular work. Do not miss this show: It is worth every penny and then some of its ticket price.

Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

“Becoming Dr. Ruth: An Unexpected Journey” at Epilogue Players

3 stars

Of all the quotable quotes in Becoming Dr. Ruth: An Unexpected Journey, the one that sticks clearly in my mind is “How can we know who we are if we can’t remember who we were?” Not only is this the best ever motivator for journaling, but it also sums up the raison d’etre of the show. The name “Dr. Ruth” became synonymous with sex in the 1980s and remains so today. But who is this little woman with the funny accent who became the authority on sex and sexuality?

Karola Ruth Siegel was born in 1928 in Frankfurt to a Jewish Orthodox family. After her father was taken to a labor camp, her mother and grandmother placed her on a Kindertransport train to Switzerland at age 10. She never saw her family again. From there her journey to stardom took many strange turns across three continents, from joining the Haganah (the Jewish paramilitary organization), studying at the Sorbonne, and finally traveling to America in 1956. By the time the play is set in 1997, Dr. Ruth Westheimer has a PhD, three children, four grandchildren, and two ex-husbands. She knows four languages and has recently become a widow.

The one-woman show—directed by Ed Mobley and performed by Diann Ryan, who reprises her role from last May at Theatre on the Square—is set in Dr. Ruth’s Washington Heights apartment. She is packing to move across town, and as she picks up memorabilia, she engages the audience directly with stories of her past.

Ryan plays up Dr. Ruth’s cheerful, unthreatening, grandmotherly side, though the more serious no-nonsense approach Dr. Ruth is known for when discussing sexual issues is missing. Nonetheless, she maintains her momentum (and accent) throughout the show, and captures the pain of long-ago but not forgotten memories. Ryan is at her best when recounting Dr. Ruth’s tragic early life and her failed relationships.

While much of Dr. Ruth’s biography can be found online, hearing it told in such an intimate setting makes it even more fascinating, and in the end, character and audience are left with hope for what the future will bring.

Becoming Dr. Ruth is Epilogue Players’ annual fundraiser. Tickets are free (reservations are strongly suggested), but donations are most appreciated. There are also silent auctions and raffles that differ for each night of the run, Jan. 22 and 23 at 7:30 p.m. Go to for more information.

Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

“Sondheim on Sondheim” at Footlite Musicals

2.5 stars

The musical revue Sondheim on Sondheim has undergone several incarnations since its origin in 2000. The final product, now having its Indianapolis premiere at Footlite Musicals, hit Broadway in 2010 for a short run.

For this show, I have to agree with the initial critics that the video clips of Sondheim speaking about his works and other miscellanea are the highlights. The concert was meant to give the audience insight into Sondheim’s broad range of music, but for ardent fans, the predominance of lesser-known songs (including some that never reached the stage) becomes tedious.

That said, Footlite’s annual cabaret performance is marred by one overriding element: The vocalists cannot be heard over the orchestra. For its cabaret shows, the audience is seated on the stage for a more intimate experience, but even being a mere 10 or 15 feet away, song lyrics are often unintelligible. Furthermore, several of the cast members’ voices lack the projection needed for an unmiked performance.

The ensemble cast—Lauren Bowers, Graham Brinklow, Onis Dean, Laura Duvall-Whitson, Karen Frye, Jeff Fuller, Sarah Marone, and Larry Sommers, under the direction of Bill Hale and vocal director/conductor Paula Phelan—does present some fine moments, however. Sommers and Marone hit satisfying last notes in “Epiphany” (Sweeny Todd) and “Do I Hear a Waltz” (Do I Hear a Waltz), respectively. Duval-Whitson and Marone perform a nice mashup of “Losing My Mind/Not a Day Goes By” (Follies/Merrily We Roll Along). Duval-Whitson also performs a lovely version of the ubiquitous “Send in the Clowns” (A Little Night Music).

Sondheim on Sondheim continues through Jan. 17 (a change from the original run due to auditorium renovation). Find more information at

Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

“Tortillo!” by Casey Ross Productions

2.5 stars

Casey Ross Productions is presenting the “extended cut” of Ross’s 2009 IndyFringe short, Tortillo! It’s the story of employees at a snack-foods company who become caught up in a drug-smuggling, hallucinogenic-potato-chip scheme.

The show relies on a lot of crass slapstick and dick jokes. One of the main characters, Steve, played by Matt Anderson, is the image of an ADHD frat boy 15 years too old. His more practical but awkward best friend, Dave, played by Robert Webster Jr., is manhandled (literally and figuratively) into his best friend’s Tasmanian-devil-like tirades. Flanking them are Ted (Tristan Ross), a gratingly cheerful fellow employee and chip fanatic, and Patrick (Davey Pelsue), a stereotypical nerd and Steve’s intern. The most normal of the group is Dave’s crush, Juniper (Lisa Marie Smith).

Ross also directs the play, and while the over-the-top affectations of Ted and Steve are funny at first, Ross has these characters taking it too far for too long. They become painful to watch, and the physical gags lose their impact. An accidental daisy chain isn’t as shocking when it lasts over a minute. Toning down the scenery chewing would give the jokes room to breathe; instead, they are force-fed to the audience. DO YOU GET IT?! HAHA! IT’S FUNNY!

Smith is the only one who is not portraying a caricature, so she stands out, but also believable is Pelsue. He gets to exhibit some acting finesse, but I can’t say how because spoilers.

Hugh S. Dehman has a cameo as the big bad, Sombrero, and Brian Kennedy as John the janitor enters the last act in a somewhat unsatisfying deus ex machina sort of way. (Keep your ears open for John’s alter-identity.)

Tortillo! continues through Jan 16 at the IndyFringe theater. For information, go to

Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

“Mary Poppins” at Booth Tarkington Civic Theatre

5 stars

It’s unavoidable; I have to say it: Booth Tarkington Civic Theatre’s production of Disney and Cameron Mackintosh’s Mary Poppins is practically perfect. (Saying it was perfect would give the cast and crew nothing more to strive for, something Mary Poppins would not approve of.)

You might think that a musical with such illustrious names attached to it would be a shoo-in for the win, but while Disney’s screen-to-stage adaptations have so far been admirable (if not downright mesmerizing, i.e., The Lion King), Sir Cameron’s name (Les Mis, Phantom, etc.) doesn’t guarantee a golden ticket (i.e., the dead horse he kept beating, Moby Dick, an incarnation of which Indianapolis was subjected to in 2003). Mary Poppins enjoyed a healthy run on Broadway and garnered a best-musical Tony nomination in 2007, so if not a blockbuster, it was a qualitative success.

Unfazed by a few minuscule opening night mishaps, the entirety of the cast, crew, and orchestra exhibited such skill and performed a show of such quality that they put this community theater on par with any professional theater organization. The music itself is challenging, but the choreography demands even more of the performers, and each cast member has perfected each step, each note, and each line, working with director and choreographer Anne Nicole Beck and musical director Brent E. Marty. Ditto for the behind-the-scenes folks, such as costuming (Adrienne L. Conces), set (J. Branson), and lighting (Ryan Koharchik).

While there are differences between this and the 1964 movie, many favorites remain. “Feed the Birds” (sung by Krista Wright) reminds us of the beauty in this soundtrack—one that many of us grew up with.

As it should be, the two standouts among this exemplary cast are Jeremy Shivers-Brimm as a spry and charming Bert and Devan Mathias as the prim yet playful Mary Poppins. Both are vocal and character perfection, but they go above and beyond (ahem) as well by submitting themselves to the cable work that propels them through the air. Shivers-Brimm proves his commitment even further by taking a walk across the stage’s ceiling area upside down.

The excellent quartet of J. Stuart Mill, Carrie Neal, Anjali Rooney, and Mitchell Wray make up the Banks family. (A note about kids on stage: You often have to factor in their age when evaluating their performance, but Rooney and Wray are little stars.) These core characters are surrounded by minor characters and an ensemble that are more than just “supporting” actors—they are accomplished performers as well.

Mary Poppins at Civic is worth every dime of its ticket price.

Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

“Babes in Toyland” at Footlite Musicals

5 stars

The winter holidays are the prime time to stage family-friendly fare. Among the local offerings is the timeless favorite Babes in Toyland presented by Footlite Musicals. The show debuted in 1903, so the script is now public domain, giving Bob Harbin (the director) and Claire Wilcher the opportunity to do some rewrites for the show presented on the Hedback Theater stage. Staple songs of the holidays “Toyland” and “March of the Toys” remain intact, allowing older generations to reminisce and introducing new generations to these classics.

The quality of this show is extraordinary, and when you factor in that Footlite is an all-volunteer organization (as in, no one in the cast or on staff is paid), it becomes even more impressive.

The show depends on and delivers a strong ensemble cast, live orchestra, and behind-the-scenes support. The cast numbers over 35 and the staff over 19, and an orchestra (conducted by Damon Clevenger) fills the pit, so giving credit to each person by name would turn this article into a reprint of the program. Suffice to say Harbin guides the cast effectively through mugging for the audience and hamming up the sentimentality.

Vocal director Melissa Al-Ling Walsh coaxes lovely melodies out of lead vocalists Jonathan Krouse as Tom Piper and Claire Cassidy as Mary Contrary, as well as a convincing drag number from Krouse in “Floretta.” Jeff Fuller as the villain Barnaby dexterously rolls his alliterative lines from his slipless tongue.

The dancing (choreographed by Trish Roberds and supported by dance captains Amy Matters and Alex Vasquez) is confidently executed by the cast, including a dance line of tappers and some startling acrobatics. Standouts are the gypsy dancers and Thomas Whitcomb as Jack.

Adorable costuming was created by costume designer Rachel Hobbs Shelton and head seamstress Darlene Uggen. The layers of petticoats and pantalets for Gooseland girls and the lively and vivid costuming of the gypsies are exceptional. Set designer Will Tople provides cunning backdrops for the show.

Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

“The Elves and the Shoemaker” at the Indy Eleven Theatre in the IndyFringe Building

3.5 stars

The Elves and the Shoemaker is a wonderful introduction for kids to live theater but has enough innuendo for the grown-ups to stay entertained too. In 2012, Dr. Julie Lyn Barber was awarded an Individual Artist Grant by the Indiana Arts Commission for “The Panto Project,” and The Elves and the Shoemaker took form. In the traditional British comedic style known as “pantomime” (panto), which is popular during the holidays, the Royal Panto Players present family-friendly, well-known stories that feature slapstick comedy, audience interaction, and cross-dressing actors.

The cast includes Katherine Ruegger as The Good Fairy, John Vessels as The Bad Landlord, Carrie Morgan as The Shoemaker, Craig Underwood as The Shoemaker’s Wife, and Ryan Powell and Kasey Cummins as The Comedians (who double role for various auxiliary characters) under the direction of Barber. The entire cast commits to the silliness 100 percent. No one shirks from the task of overacting; no self-consciousness dampens the fun in this intimate theater.

Everyone gets to hiss at the villain and help The Fairy with her lines. After a little hesitation, my 6-year-old gleefully joined in, giggling nonstop through the production, and afterward proclaimed, “That was fun!” The ultimate compliment. But I too found myself enthusiastically laughing and caterwauling with the kids.

Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

“8 Reindeer Monologues” at Theatre on the Square

2.5 stars

If the idea of Santa Claus being a sexual deviant deeply offends you, don’t see The 8 Reindeer Monologues. If, however, you find S&M, bestiality, and dick jokes hilarious, move forward.

In true Theatre on the Square fashion, everyone multitasks. The opening-weekend night I attended, Nate Walden, script in hand, stepped in for an actor who was absent due to a death in the family. One of the actors runs the box office and concessions. The tech guy was MIA. The director, Lori Raffel, is also the sound designer (with Eric Brockett, of the above-mentioned box office, who is also the assistant director), set designer, and program designer—as well as the artistic and development director of TOTS.

Sometimes delegation is a good thing.

The show is set in the North Pole police station. One of the reindeer has made a scandalous accusation against Santa. As Cupid states, Santa is “a walking, talking, holly-jolly sex crime waiting to happen.” Each reindeer, representing broad stereotypes, is brought into the station’s office to be a sort of character witness for Santa.

The show starts off promising. First up is Will Carlson as Dasher, the lead reindeer—a grizzled, war-general type. We laugh. Walden takes the stage next as the flamboyantly gay Cupid, and we laugh hysterically. Walden barely has to refer to his script, and he plays up the character unabashedly. He’s uninhibited and physical. Brockett as Prancer, aka “Hollywood,” has a chip on his shoulder because Rudolph’s claymation cartoon casts a damaging shadow on his movie Prancer. His part is amusing, but the segment is not particularly memorable.

Before the show slows down, Paige Scott takes the stage as Blitzen, the angry lesbian. Scott and Walden split the buck’s share of good lines, and Scott doles them out with mad glee and a slightly crazed look in her eyes. Is our childhood disenchantment with Santa Claus really just the first step toward repression of visits from the perverted old elf?

Then the show gets serious. It gets dark. It’s not funny anymore. It’s making a social statement. Stop. This is boring.

Robert Webster as Comet (a reformed member of Hell’s Herd), Jim Lucas as Donner (Rudolph’s weary father, who sold his son into sexual slavery), and Amanda Bell as Vixen (the foxy victim) are saddled with material that wants to rise above the base humor and be meaningful. Director Raffel has the actors play their characters straight, and Webster, Lucas, and Bell create believable, emotionally charged characters. (Tanya Haas’s Dancer, a dumb-blonde ballet deer, doesn’t have much depth to plunge.) However, it slams the brakes on the pace of the show, leaving you empty and a little confused. Before that happens, though, Bell gives us one last nugget of comedy gold by describing a drunken Mrs. Claus attending a party in body paint, pasties, and an elf strapped to her crotch.

Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

“The Nether” at the Phoenix Theatre

4 stars

The Phoenix Theatre’s production of the award-winning play The Nether by Jennifer Haley is a fascinating if uncomfortable—even macabre—examination of morality and a person’s true nature.

Set in the near future, people now spend the majority of their time in 3D online virtual worlds that offer them complete sensory immersion. They work, go to school, and find entertainment in fabricated “realms” that can provide them infinite varieties of experiences, including some that are no longer available in the physical world, such as spacious gardens and forests of trees. Some people are so addicted to this alternate universe that they become “shades”: a body on life support while the mind becomes a permanent resident of The Nether.The Hideaway is the most sophisticated realm, and it comes under the scrutiny of Detective Morris, who has uncovered its covert and perverse purpose: It is an outlet for pedophiles. The “children” are actually avatars for adult employees of The Hideaway, but it still begs the question of whether acting out an immoral compulsion in a controlled environment remains immoral.

Under the direction of Bryan Fonseca, Bill Simmons manifests an unsettling intensity as the sociopathic Papa. What could be taken for sincere affection toward his favorite chimera, a nine-year-old named Iris, Simmons exposes as an affectation—Papa’s own fantasy that he could feel real emotions toward his targets. To justify this, he encourages (and even forces) disassociation between client and product through virtual murder of the child.

Paeton Chavis as Iris is amazing. Though she is in her early 20s, she is completely convincing as the little girl. Even her laughter is realistic—not a forced imitation that grates on the ears. Her manners and speech are genuine; her transformation into a child is seamless.

Doyle, played by Rich Rand, is a client addicted to his depravity. Instead of the expected pervert, Rand shows us a heartbroken man. Doyle is a schoolteacher on the brink of retirement with a wife and grown daughter. Rand exemplifies a person crippled by his own needs, having denied himself his innermost desires because they were considered unacceptable. He arrived at The Hideout searching for not only an outlet but also for nonjudgmental love.

Scot Greenwell’s Woodnut, the undercover detective sent into The Hideout to confirm his agency’s suspicions, is timid yet mesmerized by the world he has entered. In this place, Greenwell reacts with his own child-like delight to the strangeness of the environment, and he is drawn into the sanctuary of The Hideout.

Sarah McGee as Detective Morris lacks convincing emotion in her role, but it does not detract from the intensity of the characters’ interaction. Their proclivities may be aberrant, but the play challenges you to think deeper about subjects that remain unexplored.

Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

“April 4, 1968: Before We Forgot How to Dream” at the Indiana Repertory Theatre

3 stars

Longtime playwright-in-residence at the Indiana Repertory Theatre James Still details the day Martin Luther King Jr. died from the perspective of an African-American family in the world premiere of April 4, 1968: Before We Forgot How to Dream. Still gleaned first-person stories from over 50 Indianapolis residents over five years, and the characters in the play represent an amalgamation of the experiences he collected.

The play is set in the home of the African-American, working-class couple John Henry (James T. Alfred) and Addie (Tracy N. Bonner) and their two daughters, Geneva (Christina D. Harper) and Johnna Rose, aka “Baby Sister” (Nia Simmons). Sixteen-year-old Geneva is passionate about Bobby Kennedy’s campaign for president. Her father, a devout nonvoter, refuses to let her participate. Finally, her mother offers to go with her, and while they are at the rally, Kennedy preempts his planned speech with heart-felt words on MLK’s death. Before leaving, Geneva and her mother pick up an abandoned white college student (Nick Vidal), whom they take home with them.

While the show is primarily an examination of race and identity, director Courtney Sale and the cast do not see the characters as mere mouthpieces. The deep love John Henry and Addie share is dexterously translated by Alfred and Bonner in their comfort with each other. Their intimacy and familiarity is demonstrated through touch and facial expressions, expertly conveying the bond between the two. Alfred also imbues his character with the volatile nature of an artist, and Bonner consistently keeps her character strong as his more practical complement. Ultimately, they create the most realistic and multilayered characters and anchor the dabs of humor that add levity to the show.

Harper, as Geneva, often goes over-the-top during her tirades like a teenage drama queen. She stomps and screams enthusiastically with the know-it-all attitude endemic to the age. Vidal earnestly captures the over-eager protester, Nick, a civil rights supporter who is well-meaning but inherently cannot relate to the personal struggle of African-Americans. However, he and Harper rely too much on volume to validate their opinions. Simpson makes her auxiliary character Miss Davine congenial yet sassy, but she capably exhibits Davine’s steadfast integrity in the end. In contrast, Simmons’s character (Baby Sister) doesn’t have much to do, and her role feels like a non sequitur, little more than that of an annoying and distracting sibling.

Overhead, composer Michael Keck provides the soundtrack for the events as a deejay at TLC. Scenic designer Russell Metheny provided a minimalist and lovely backdrop of flat, wooden stick houses to cradle the action on stage.

The show gets repetitive, which makes it longer than it needs to be. However, with a tighter script, it could be a much more engaging production and would be a wonderful introduction to students who need to ground the concept of this piece of history.

Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

“The Game’s Afoot” at Civic Theatre

3 stars

The Booth Tarkington Civic Theatre’s production of Ken Ludwig’s The Game’s Afoot is an intentionally melodramatic and comedic who-done-it.

The show begins with the last scene of William Gillette’s play Sherlock Holmes, which he has been performing and living off for twenty years. During the curtain call, Gillette is shot, and thus, the game is afoot. Gillette hosts a Christmas weekend with his cast at his home, intending to take his role as Sherlock Holmes to a more literal level and discover who shot him.

Director Michael J. Lasley has the actors not just chew but devour the scenery as if it were a gluttonous buffet for velociraptors. (Tempting, as the set, designed by Ryan Koharchik, is lavish.) This and the physical comedy make for a light-hearted show about murder.

The choice piece of that scenery meat goes to the theater critic Daria Chase, played by Christine Kruze. Her stage time is limited compared to the other characters, but Kruze makes the most of it, strutting in her sense of entitlement and arrogantly gloating over her presumption of power over actors.

Josh Ramsey as Gillette captures the smugness of an actor who is quite pleased with himself yet thinks he is gracious due to his assumption that everyone agrees with his self-assessment. Ramsey never lets Gillette’s composure waver because Gillette’s confidence in his deductive abilities is rivaled only by Sherlock’s.

Jean Childers Arnold is a gem as the sharp-tongued Madge Geisel. Her performance in the séance scene is one of the most gratifying comedic parts of the show. Bill Book as Madge’s husband, Felix, approaches his role in a more straightforward manner than the other characters. Book portrays him as funny yet endearing and sincere. He does not shirk from the physical comedy though. He (bodily) throws himself in to shoving and shuffling a corpse around in his character’s ill-fated attempts at hiding it.

Alex Ray as Simon Bright believably comes across as an cheerful, naïve young man. His new wife, Aggie Wheeler, should also emit a sense of wide-eyed innocence, but Emily Hollowell just seems uncomfortable. However, when her character takes a turn, she seems to loosen up and embrace the role.

Carrie Ann Schlatter as Inspector Goring is congenial in her role and maintains an air of efficiency even though the character indulges in her admiration of the stage. Finally, Wendy Brown depicts Martha, Gillette’s mother, as a dotty, innocuous old woman.