Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

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

SouvenirPhoto (2)
John Phillips and Lori Ecker in “Souvenir”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NoExit: “The Mutilated”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Nov. 9-Dec. 2, Fridays at 8 p.m., Saturdays at 5 and 8 p.m., and Sundays at 2 p.m.
  • $25; $20 for students; $15 for Near Westside residents
  • Indy Convergence
From the Fonseca Theatre Company Facebook page: Ben Rose, in the middle between Josh Short as Tru (l) and Chinyelu Mwaafrika as Marquis (r), is the director of our next production “Hooded or Being Black for Dummies.” He has a deep connection with this play having been raised, like the character Marquis, as a trans-racial adoptee. What makes a person black or white has dominated Ben’s thoughts for as long as he can remember. As Marquis invades the life of Tru and his friends and starts injecting slang and black culture into his life it reminds Ben of his own journey joining a Black Fraternity and experiencing what had essentially been lost to him in his formative years. What he loves most about this play is its use of comedy to ease the audience into a number of very crucial conversations that we as a society are struggling with. Ben has been enjoying making his directorial debut working with a cast that has tremendous energy and talent.
Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

Zach & Zack: “The Rocky Horror Show”

Zach & Zack’s “Rocky Horror Show”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

Catalyst Repertory: “Popular Monsters”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

Indiana Repertory Theatre: “Pipeline”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

Civic Theatre: “Anything Goes”

Civic Theatre’s “Anything Goes”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

Q Artistry and the Phoenix Theatre: “Cabaret Poe”

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

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

You now have Cabaret Poe: The Musical.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Check out a preview here:

Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

Indiana Repertory Theatre: “Holmes and Watson”

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

Where is Sherlock?

Well, there seems to be three of him.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

Buck Creek Players: “37 Postcards”

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

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

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

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

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

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

And oh, there is bizarre.

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

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

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

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

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

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


Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

Footlite Musicals: “Brigadoon”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bard Fest: “The Merchant of Venice”

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

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

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

I love it when people fuck with Shakespeare.

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

Emily Bohn in Bard Fest 2018 “Merchant of Venice”

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

Shakespeare really liked crossdressing.

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

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

Ryan Reddick in Bard Fest 2018 “Merchant of Venice”

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

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

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


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


Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

Bard Fest: “Romeo and Juliet”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bard Fest: “Much Ado about Nothing”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

Carmel Community Players: “Forever Plaid”

Carmel Community Players: “Forever Plaid”

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

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

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

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

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

  • Through Oct. 7, Fridays-Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. and Sundays at 2:30 p.m.
  • $18-$20
  • The Cat
Carmel Community Players: “Forever Plaid”


Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

Epilogue Players: “Becoming Dr. Ruth”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Phoenix Theatre: “Bright Star”

Phoenix Theatre’s “Bright Star”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Check out a preview here:

Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

Mud Creek Players: “Exit the Body”

Mud Creek Players’ “Exit the Body”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fonseca Theatre Company: “Building the Wall”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Openings for the weekend of 8/24

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

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

No. 1: Jollyship Whiz-Bang

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

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

And the rest, in no particular order …

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

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

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

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

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



Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

IndyFringe Festival: “Jollyship the Whiz-Bang”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So much great fuckery here.

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

Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

IndyFringe Festival: “Haunted: Tales Told and True”

Laura Packer

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

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

Loren Niemi at Patrick’s Cabaret in 2017.

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

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

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

Produced by Niemi and Packer Productions

Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

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

This is a confusing play.

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

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

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

Produced by Monument Theatre Company

Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

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

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

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

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

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

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

Produced by Catalyst Repertory Theatre

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

Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Produced by Wisdom Tooth Theatre Project

Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

IndyFringe Festival: “Broadway’s Leading Ladies”

Rayanna Bibbs

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

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

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

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

Virginia Vasquez

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

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

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

Yup, this is another one you must see.

Song list:

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

Produced by Magic Thread Cabaret

Check out their “The Schuyler Sisters” from Hamilton:

Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

IndyFringe Festival: “Intrusion”


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

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

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

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

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

Produced by QK Company Inc.

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

Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

IndyFringe Festival: “Betsy Carmichael’s BINGO Palace”

Let there be Bingo.

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

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

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

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

Produced by Betsibu Productions.

Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

IndyFringe Festival: “Puddin Tane”

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

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

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

Produced by Theatre Sleuth of Indianapolis.

Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

IndyFringe Festival: “Paper Swords: A Musical”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Written by Matt Day and Kelsey Tharp.

Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

IndyFringe Festival: “The Globe”

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

Bella’s initial reaction? Dial

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

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

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

Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

IndyFringe Festival: “Queen Day”


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

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

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

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

Just fantastic stuff going on here.

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

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

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

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


Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Sunday, Aug. 19, 7:30 p.m.; Tuesday Aug. 21, 9 p.m.; Thursday, Aug. 23, 7:30 p.m.; Saturday, Aug 25, 4:30 p.m.; Sunday, Aug 26, 1:30 p.m.
  • $15
  • The District Theater stage 2
  • Written, directed, and produced by Clerical Error Productions: K. Duffy Sim, J. Kirkwood, and D. Molloy

Watch a preview here:


Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

IndyFringe Festival: “They Shall Take Up Serpents”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

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

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

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

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

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

More zombie conflict, please.

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

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

You can watch a preview here:

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

Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

Phoenix Theatre: “Cry It Out”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

Buck Creek Players: “The Rainmaker”

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

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

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

Steve Jerk and Jenni White in Buck Creek Players’ “The Rainmaker.” Photo by

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

Summer Stock Stage: “The Secret Garden”

A Secret Garden- Dress 7-22-18 (14 of 31)
Summer Stock Stage’s “The Secret Garden.” Clockwise from top left: Sydney Meyers, Sally Root, Davon Graham, and Weston LeCrone

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Secret Garden- Dress 7-23-18 (13 of 15)
Sally Root and Weston LeCrone in Summer Stock Stage’s “The Secret Garden”

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

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

A Secret Garden- Dress 7-22-18 (30 of 31)
Amelia Wray and Cynthia Kauffman in Summer Stock Stage’s “The Secret Garden”

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

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

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

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

Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

Saltbox Theatre Collective: “In the Soundless Awe”

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

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

Charles McVay III, captain of the USS Indianapolis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

Actors Theatre of Indiana: “Forbidden Broadway”

Actors Theatre of Indiana: “Forbidden Broadway”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Special events:

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

Summer Stock Stage: “Urinetown: The Musical”

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

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

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

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

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

And raw talent was abundant.

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

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

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

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

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

All this and a live band!

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

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

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

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

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











Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

Summit Performance Indianapolis: “Silent Sky”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

Storefront Theatre of Indianapolis: “Prowess”

Storefront Theatre of Indianapolis: “Prowess”

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

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

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

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 him. Whitney’s character feigns indifference, but Whitney gives him more depth than that in his body and facial language. Each character is a survivor and distinctly reacts to that in his or her own way.

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

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

  • June 21–July 1, Thursdays and Sundays at 7 p.m. and Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m.
  • $15-$25
  • IndyEleven theater inside the IndyFringe building
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)

_DSC5662 (1)
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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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).

DSC00102 (1)
“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

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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.