“My Fair Lady” at Actors Theatre of Indiana

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When ATI announced their 2014-2015 season, I was both surprised and excited that they had scheduled a production of Lerner and Loewe’s My Fair Lady as the opener. Though I had only seen the 1964 film version of this theatre classic, I knew it was a tremendous undertaking – there are over 40 characters, not to mention the many external and internal settings, which seemed to make the show an unlikely choice for the rather limited spaces of The Studio Theatre at the Center for the Performing Arts in Carmel. Plus I imagined a fairly good sized orchestra would be necessary to convey the many familiar songs in the show.

Well, I needn’t have fretted at all. The production of My Fair Lady that I went to see Sunday afternoon, which was directed by Richard J Roberts, was a thoroughly well-designed and cleverly staged enterprise. The score was flawlessly performed by two pianists, Musical Director Brian Hoffman and Nathan Perry, who played their instruments center-stage! The set design shrewdly included the piano surfaces as furnishings, and the interior/exterior set problem was solved with a few cast-positioned set pieces and by subtly causing the audience to use their imaginations (what a concept!). Finally, the forty-plus characters were played by a cast of 10 and we never struggled with that notion, either.

Furthermore, the performances in this creation were nearly impeccable. Taking the leads were Erin Oechsel as Eliza Doolittle and Doug Trapp as her teacher, Henry Higgins. Both shined in their portrayals. Ms. Oechsel showed a most pleasing vocal talent – never operatic nor belting in her performance, finding just the perfect placement for Eliza’s change-over from Cockney flower-girl to socially adept lady. As Higgins, although Trapp did remind me of Rex Harrison in several short passages, he made the role his own with new interpretations and subtleties. Both performers are very fine actors as well as accomplished singers and together they present a delightful pairing.

The many supporting roles were all strongly presented. Paul Hansen’s Colonel Pickering is simply wonderful, with nuanced flourishes which make him the perfect sidekick for Trapp’s Higgins. Darrin Murrell is a plucky Alfred P. Doolittle, singing and strutting through “With a Little Bit of Luck” and “I’m Getting Married in the Morning” with enormous spirit and appeal. And Alvin (A.J.) Morrison gives an energetic performance as an animated Freddy Eynsford-Hill. All the talented multi-character players – Joe Cameron, Cynthia Collins, Michael Ferraro, Laura Lockwood, Vickie Cornelius Phipps and Katie Schuman – move through their assorted roles and staging duties with assurance and grace. This entire cast was skilled from top to bottom and was a delight to watch.

I would be lacking if I did not also mention the beautiful costumes rendered by Katie Cowan-Sickmeier. Challenged by a libretto that places the action in the early 20th century, Ms. Cowan-Sickmeier has put together a remarkable collection that is a wonder to behold and which fully meets the needs of the script.

As enjoyable as this production was, based on the sparkling performances – I cannot help but be mindful of what ATI has accomplished here with the presentation of such an ambitious undertaking. Bravos to all involved! Director Richard J Roberts and his staff had quite a challenging endeavor before them and they met it successfully with great imagination and craftsmanship.

ATI’s My Fair Lady continues at The Studio Theatre in The Center for the Performing Arts in Carmel through September 28th. You can get information about show dates and ticketing by going to http://www.actorstheatreofindiana.org/ or by calling the Center for the Performing Arts Box Office at 317-843-3800.

And don’t forget this rare theatre opportunity:

ATI Chita

“Oklahoma!” at Beef and Boards Dinner Theatre

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Before Richard Rogers and Oscar Hammerstein collaborated to create a Broadway musical based on the play “Green Grow the Lilacs” (by Lynn Riggs), most productions of musical ilk were loosely constructed stories in which the plot was interrupted with variety acts, silly jokesters, and elaborate dance numbers. As a never-done-before musical drama, in which songs advanced the story-arc, Oklahoma! was a huge hit, opening in 1943 and running for an unprecedented 2,212 performances. It changed the musical theatre world forever.

Beef and Boards Dinner Theatre’s entertaining production of the landmark musical is an uplifting, colorful, rip-roaring extravaganza! Adroitly directed by Liz Stark, with musical direction by Kristy Templet, choreography by Doug King and costume design by Jill Kelly – the superb cast, many of whom are making their B&B debuts, never misses a turn. Eric Morris and Grace Anne Field, who star as Curly and Laurey, are blessed with dazzling voices, strong and technically perfect, and are impressive actors as well. They find all the nuances of the couple’s sweetly playful and romantic actions and bring them to life in some charming portrayals. Each of their scenes together seems to unveil another layer of their relationship and personalities. And each song they sing, especially the lovely “People Will Say We’re in Love”, gives us another opportunity to appreciate their magnificent vocal talents.

Eric Morris and Grace Anne Field star as Curly and Laurey in B&B's "Oklahoma!"

Eric Morris and Grace Anne Field star as Curly and Laurey in B&B’s “Oklahoma!”

The talent level does not stop at the top of the cast list – eye-catching performances abound. The laugh-wielding love triangle of Will Parker – energetically portrayed by Daniel S. Hines, Ado Annie – presented with spirited flirtation by Timmy Hays, and peddler Ali Hakim – done with comic perfection by Brian Sutow, sets the pace. Licia Watson (staying on at B&B after an animated appearance in “Church Basement Ladies”) enlivens the spunky Aunt Eller, B&B regular Jeff Stockberger is a feisty curmudgeon as Ado Annie’s “paw” – Pa Carnes, and Jonah D. Winston is impressively immense and foreboding as the villainous Jud Fry. Mary-Elizabeth Milton is a hilarious Gertie Cummings, and Doug King as Cord Elam, leads the way in the many dance numbers, both as creator and performer. Peter Scharbrough (Slim), Leah Dewalt (Sarah Skidmore), Jordan Moody (Shorty) and Devan Mathias (Anna Mae) deftly fill out the impressive chorus/dance corps with talent and dexterity.
Daniel S. Hines (Will Parker), Brian Sutow (Ali Hakim), and Timmy Hays (Ado Annie) form the comic love triangle in B&B's "Oklahoma!"

Daniel S. Hines (Will Parker), Brian Sutow (Ali Hakim), and Timmy Hays (Ado Annie) form the comic love triangle in B&B’s “Oklahoma!”

All told, this production, in my humble opinion, ranks at the top of the many I have seen on the Beef and Boards stage – part of this feeling is my affection for the show itself. I have always loved Oklahoma! – it’s memorable songs, the uplifting story; and I have fond memories of being in a production of it many years ago (Pa Carnes, 1980, Murry’s Dinner Playhouse in Little Rock, Arkansas). I cannot remember a more rousing musical theatre experience than singing the title song at the end of the show – it is just that lofty a memory. But most of this high ranking comes from the remarkable experience of seeing such a talented cast perform this outstanding theatre piece.
The entire company of B&B's "Oklahoma!" kicks up their heels in a rousing dance number at the social.

The entire company of B&B’s “Oklahoma!” kicks up their heels in a rousing dance number at the social.

As always, part of the enjoyment of a B&B show is the fine buffet offered by Chef Odell Ward. My favorite this time was the Honey Pecan Fried Chicken – Mmmm-mmm!! And the entire B&B staff always makes our visit a carefree experience. They certainly are wonderfully attentive people!

Don’t miss this amazing cast in this delightful show. Oklahoma! continues it’s run through October 5th. You can find out more about the schedule and make reservations by calling the box office at 317-872-9664, or you can go online at http://www.beefandboards.com .

* pictures by Julie Curry provided by Beef and Boards Dinner Theatre

The Miracle at Thistledown – a true story


This story is all true – essentially, at least. It happened many years ago, and so I cannot be sure of every detail – but I am sure of the miracle. It happened, beyond any doubt. I saw it with my own eyes.

It was a typical summer day – humid and warm, as things often are in northeast Ohio in the summertime. We had just stopped for a couple of hours – we being myself, my wife Donna, and my two kids, Olivia and J.P. – on our car trip home from visiting family in Buffalo NY. It was my idea to stop at the racetrack. Donna and I are big horse-racing fans and we had never been to Thistledown Racetrack, a kind of minor-league track where famous horses are rarely seen. That didn’t matter to Donna and I. We liked the game, picking horses to bet on and watching to see if what we predicted (hoped) would happen in fact did happen.

The kids were just as glad to be out of the car for a while. Olivia was probably 14 and J.P. must have been around 12. They enjoyed traveling with us, but often wanted to know if we were “there” yet – so it was good to find a “there” to be at – for their sake.

Anyway – since we planned on being there awhile, I got a table for us all inside the clubhouse and the kids got something to eat and drink while Donna and I poured over the Daily Racing Form for clues about who might be the best horse in the race that was about to run.

Over the course of the afternoon, we bet on a bunch of races and had our usual up and down luck. We never do bet a lot of money on any one race – but a day’s worth of varied luck usually leaves us short at least a few dollars. It was the end of the day, we were down 20 bucks or so as I recall – and there was just one more race to be run before we took off down the road toward Indianapolis and home.

I handicapped the last race, looking over the horse’s past performance figures, and decided to play a trifecta bet, which involves picking the first place, second place and third place horses in the race in the correct order. It’s a difficult bet to win, but it usually pays well if you hit it. I no longer remember if I picked just 3 horses or if I may have arranged 4 horses in one of those bets where 2 horses are picked to be first or second, and two horses are picked to fill in the third place slot. But I made the wager, put the ticket from the bet in my shirt pocket where I always kept my tickets and asked the kids if they wanted to watch the race outside, since it was the final race and we had been stuck inside all day.

The first thing I noticed after stepping outside was the brisk breeze – it had made the hot, sunny day a lot more manageable, and it made a couple hundred losing tickets flutter and float across the asphalt apron between the grandstand and the racing oval. The sun was bright and I took my sunglasses out of my shirt pocket and put them on. We walked to the rail, right up to the edge of the track where we could get a good look at the horses as they went by in the post parade. Seeing these beautiful creatures go trotting by, carrying their miniature riders, festooned in the colorful silks of their owners, is an awesome thing. They are majestic animals and somehow you can see the tightly wound springs of their potential speed as they go by. Soon the outriders brought them around to the starting gate and they were inserted into their places for the start of the race.

I do not remember the race, I do not remember if it was a sprint or a mile long distance that they ran that day. What I do remember is that my horses came in as I had bet them – first, second and third – all picked out and wagered on. It was a thrill – and my wife and kids were plenty thrilled about it too. Of course, when you win a wager on a race, the next thing you do is to take the winning ticket in to the cashier and turn it in for your winnings.

I reached into my shirt pocket where I keep my tickets – and felt nothing but air! I spread the pocket open and looked down inside – nothing there! My ticket! I didn’t have my winning ticket! Right about then the payoffs for the winning bets were displayed on the infield tote board – my trifecta was worth $125! Oh, no! Oh, damn! Where was my ticket?!? How could I have lost it? Hoping against hope, I sent the kids inside to look around the table we had been sitting at. Donna looked at me with a “so sorry, honey” look on her face. How could this have happened?

Then it occurred to me. When I took my sunglasses out of my pocket, I must have pulled the ticket out with it! The ticket was out here – on the grandstand apron – blowing around with the hundreds of losing tickets that lay everywhere now.

Stupidly, I started turning over tickets that lay around me on the ground. No, not that one! – No, not this one!… I was desperate, grabbing handfuls of tickets off the ground and filing through them looking for the right race number, the correct type of bet, the right horse numbers! Donna even started looking – she had a handful of losing tickets, pouring over them. My kids were probably inside, doing the same thing with tickets on the floor. It was insane!

But of course, we were never going to find that ticket by shoveling through all the hundreds that, even as we were searching through them, were floating through the air as the stiff breeze carried them to the east end of the track.

I stopped, I looked over at my dear wife, continuing to look at scraps of paper on the now deserted apron of the track, that couldn’t possibly be the correct scrap. I saw my kids come out of the clubhouse door and my son giving me the “no luck” sign, shaking his head and shrugging his shoulders. I felt at a loss. Oh, well. Easy come, easy go – as they say. We could have used the $125, could have bought a nice dinner for everybody and still had some left for a treat. But it was gone. No ticket could be found in this mess of discards.

I looked around at all the tickets blowing in the air. I looked down at my feet, in despair, I guess. And as I looked down – there between my feet, between the toes of my shoes, squared to the proximity that was my stance – lay a ticket. And this part I remember, as well as anything I remember from all my days. I reached down and picked the ticket up…and it was my ticket. It was for the final race…a trifecta wager…on the horses I had picked…and somehow it was back in my hand. I remember I shouted out to Donna and the kids, “I found it!!” And Donna replied – with a disbelieving “What!?”

What I saw...

What I saw…

I really cannot imagine how this possibly happened. I know that I never will be able to figure it out. I had never seen a true miracle happen before with my own eyes. But, The Miracle at Thistledown did happen. I swear to you! Just ask Donna.

NCAC’s Shakespeare in the Park: “As You Like It”

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AsYouLikeIt cast 072514 titled
As I try to write about most of my theatre experiences whether as an attendee, a director, or an actor – I thought I would put down some thoughts about my experiences and perspectives concerning the show I am presently involved in: the Noblesville Cultural Arts Commission’s 21st season of Shakespeare in the Park and it’s production of As You Like It.

Earlier this year, my friend Ryan Shelton asked me if I would be interested in being in the summer Shakespeare that he has been the director for the past few seasons. Ordinarily, I likely would have passed on the opportunity, but Ryan had just done me a huge favor by filling a role in a play I had directed – “The Dining Room”. He stepped up and took the role even though he was going to be quite busy during the time my play needed. (Side note: if you know Ryan, you know he is a person who doesn’t turn down many opportunities to be busy, or to be busier) Anyway, I felt good about giving a favor back to Ryan, so I said okay and took the role of Duke Senior.

Shakespeare’s plays are often done in different time frames and genres than he intended or could have ever imagined. Some purists might say that this is wrong, but I find that it adds a certain creative interest to the undertaking and so it was with this production. Ryan’s concept for the play was to set it in a depression era circus – so that my character, the banished Duke, is a ringmaster. My “brothers in exile” also take on circus traits: Jacques (Daniel Shock) being a sad clown, Ariens (Mark Tumey), a circus minstrel, and Hymen (Molly Grooms), a fortune-telling gypsy songstress. Add in a giant (Jeff Bick), a bearded lady (Brian McCarley), the circus cook (Curtis Bittle), and a harlequin dancer (Rowan Whitcomb), and you have a rather colorful group of forest dwellers. My character’s brother, Duke Frederick (Marcus Waye) is a hard-nosed circus boss with wrestler Charles (Tom Shelton) as one of his henchmen. Rosalind (Becca Wenning), my daughter, is a high wire artist, her cousin Celia (Kelly BeDell) is a tightrope walker and Touchstone (Ryan Shelton), their companion for their escape to the forest, is a clown of highest order. The remaining characters, including Orlando (John Whitaker) and his brother Oliver (Greg Dunn) along with their servant Adam (David Heighway), are farm dwellers of various social levels in the surrounding area. It all works out grandly in the undertaking and makes total sense in the story-telling. Added to that, original songs by local music man, David Hartman, are sprinkled throughout and add to the brilliance of the show. (As a matter of fact, when Ryan approached me about being in the show, the very first thing he said was “can you sing?”)

Jacques (Daniel Shock) and Touchstone (Ryan Shelton) from NCAC's "As You Like It"

Jacques (Daniel Shock) and Touchstone (Ryan Shelton) from NCAC’s “As You Like It”

Since Ryan was taking the part of Touchstone for himself, a part he says he has hoped to play for a good long time, he needed a person to take over the reins of directing the show. For this job, he contracted Christy Clinton, whom he has collaborated with many times before. Christy has done a wonderful job leading the 21 members of the cast through the preparations for this production. I have been in several shows where she took on the tasks of assistant director and/or stage manager, and I am happy I finally got to work with her as full director.

The long road to opening night was filled with the usual hard work of learning lines and memorizing blocking, developing characters and relationships. All this was done in various spaces, including the Noblesville Visitor Bureau’s rooms and the chiropractor’s offices of Dr. McCarley (our bearded lady). Much of it was done out-of-doors under the inquisitive eyes of passers-by.

As always – it is so good to work on a show with a lot of familiar folks, but meeting the new-to-me participants also is a fine pleasure. (It occurs to me as I continue to do theatre ventures in central Indiana, that I am lucky as a senior now (age 65) to be around so many wonderful and creative younger men and women. It adds to my life’s enjoyment to a great degree!) All this good work came to a head last night when we opened the show to a very appreciative audience on a comfortably cool evening. It couldn’t have gone much better!

Everything worked out so well. Ryan’s vision of a circus themed presentation was validated. The original songs were a great hit. And as those of you who do theatre know – nothing beats a good live performance that you are proud to be a part of.

If you have a chance, come out and see us some night. The play is being presented in Noblesville’s Seminary Park, located at the corner of 10th and Division. The remaining shows are July 26, 31 and August 1 & 2. There are a variety of circusy themed pre-shows at 7:30 pm and the play starts at 8:30 pm. The shows are free and you are invited to bring your folding chairs and blankets, something to snack on, and whatever beverages you wish. It really is a colorful, fun-filled show and I hope you have the opportunity to see it.

“On Golden Pond” at Epilogue Players

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OGP title

Friday evening found Mrs K and I at the Epilogue Players’ theatre, by special invitation, for a production of Ernest Thompson’s wonderful play – On Golden Pond. The show is directed by The Belfry theatre’s frequent director, Elaine Wagner, in her Epilogue Players debut.

On Golden Pond is another of those plays that I have a rather large affinity for. First of all, it is an amazing script, being filled with the rare combination of good humor and a quiet sweetness. The centerpiece relationship between the elderly couple, Ethel and Norman Thayer, is brimming with love, understanding, divergence, patience, and even hopefulness. Secondly, I directed the play at Westfield’s Main Street Theatre in 1998 and have therefore studied it and hold more than a few preconceived notions about it.

The latter factor can often make it a bit difficult to watch another director’s interpretations of a play. As always, decisions are made about characters and action that may differ from someone else’s impressions. I really do try to sweep those things aside as best I can – but, there is no denying that they can color a person’s perception of what is onstage in front of them.

For example, Ms. Wagner announced at the curtain speech that the company had concentrated on the humor of the piece and so we should feel free to laugh. Frankly, her statement sent a bit of an “ah-oh” through my brain – the script I remembered was rife with humor and one really did not have to push on it very hard for it to be funny. But I held back my thoughts as the play began.

The set for this play was very well conceived, I thought – with the pre-show open curtain, we got to inspect it as we sat and it certainly was well-done, with a very rustic quality to it. Pre-show music from what seemed to be an environmental DVD nicely set the mood.

Steve Demuth and his wife, Serita Borgeas star as Norman and Ethel Thayer in Epilogue Players' "On Golden Pond"

Steve Demuth and his wife, Serita Borgeas star as Norman and Ethel Thayer in Epilogue Players’ “On Golden Pond”

As Norman, Steve Demuth is a very good choice. His stage experience shows as he presents Norman’s propensity for dark and/or intelligent humor. His early scene testing the phone, one-sided in the original script, becomes more comical with the addition of Susan Townsend as the Telephone Operator, presented off to the side (indeed, all the one-sided phone conversations in the script are presented with both participants being seen and heard – a revelation I enjoyed as we had a better chance to realize the humors and emotions there).
Susan Townsend creates the role of Telephone Operator in Epilogue Players' "On Golden Pond"

Susan Townsend creates the role of Telephone Operator in Epilogue Players’ “On Golden Pond”

When Ethel appears, we are treated to a very solid portrayal by Demuth’s real-life wife, Serita Borgeas – whom we last saw as Carrie Watts in a fine production of Trip to Bountiful. Ms. Borgeas has Ethel totally figured out and easily shows us her range of sweetness and exasperation at life with Norman with a truthful steady conveyance. My favorite moment is her just-right handling of poor Norman’s confusion about where the old town road is – as it has been lost in his memory. It is truly touching, as are several other sweet moments between the couple.
Kevin Shadle (top center), Jack Razumich and Kelli Conkin (middle left and center), and Cormac Doebbling (bottom center) all play supporting roles in "On Golden Pond"

Kevin Shadle (top center), Jack Razumich and Kelli Conkin (middle left and center), and Cormac Doebbling (bottom center) all play supporting roles in “On Golden Pond”

The next character to appear is the light-hearted and headed mailman Charlie Martin, played here with a certain fervor by Kevin Shadle. Then follows: Kelli Conkin, giddy as the Thayer’s daughter Chelsea, Cormac Doebbling in the role of the teenager Billy Ray, and Jack Razumich as Chelsea’s anxious suitor, “the dentist” – Bill Ray. This skillful supporting cast moves the story along nicely, without too many languishing moments, providing the necessary quirks and the humorous content without too many hard pushes against the script’s built-in tempos. (I should point out that young Mr. Doebbling is the third member of his remarkable stage family that I have seen onstage now – following his talented mother and sister, Caroline and Bronwyn; also it should be noted that Razumich and Ms. Conkin are reunited with Ms. Borgeas, having taken the other two major roles in Trip to Bountiful.)

All in all, it was a pleasing and entertaining evening at Epilogue. My fears about the cast “trying too hard” at the humor were mostly unfounded, and the delightfulness of the play came through quite nicely. This is only the second weekend of a three weekend run, so there is plenty of time to make an effort to visit with Ethel and Norman. Subsequent show dates are July 19, 20, 25, 26 and 27 – with Fri/Sat shows beginning at 7:30 pm and Sunday matinees at 2 pm. Reservations are encouraged by calling 317-926-3139 or by emailing epilogue.players@yahoo.com .

* Photos are from the Epilogue Players Facebook page

The Church Basement Ladies in “A Mighty Fortress is Our Basement” at Beef and Boards Dinner Theatre

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Summer is here and it’s time for light-hearted comedy. Beef and Boards Dinner Theatre responds with their latest edition of the Church Basement Ladies’ “saga” – A Mighty Fortress is Our Basement, written by Greta Grosch with music and lyrics by Drew Jansen. If you are familiar with the antics of these ladies from previous shows, you know what awaits you in this production. I have never been exposed to the genre and admittedly it took a little while to begin to get the feel for the style of the show – but by the middle, I was enjoying it a great deal.

Beverly (Hillary Smith, seated) learns about "Lutheran Love" from Karin, Mavis and Vivian (Carrie SaLoutos, Karen Pappas and Licia Watson)

Beverly (Hillary Smith, seated) learns about “Lutheran Love” from Karin, Mavis and Vivian (Carrie SaLoutos, Karen Pappas and Licia Watson)

As always, Beef and Boards has employed a very talented group of performers, most of whom are reprising roles from previous Church Lady adventures at B&B. These include Licia Watson, who combines physical comedy talents with her penchant for the facial “take” as the disapproving Vivian Snustad; Indianapolis native Karen Pappas, whose hilarious Mavis Gilmerson is a sort of stoic Lutheran everywoman; the talented Carmel native Hillary Smith as youthful Beverly Engelson – innocent, inquisitive and easily influenced; and the versatile Mr. Eddie Curry as Pastor E.L. Gunderson, whose nearly pants-less wedding is a highlight of the show. Carrie SaLoutos, comes off the show’s National Tour to join this production, and to continue her role as energetic and emotional mother and wife, Karin Engelson.
Mavis (Karen Pappas) proclaims that she was "Born to Farm" as Pastor Gunderson (Eddie Curry) watches

Mavis (Karen Pappas) proclaims that she was “Born to Farm” as Pastor Gunderson (Eddie Curry) watches

Other highlights, for me, included the beautiful duet by Karin and her daughter Beverly – “Growing Up, Letting Go” – as well as Mavin’s anthem-like “Born to Farm” and the entire company’s rousing “All Heaven Broke Loose” which I found myself humming all the way home.

The show is very much a blend of lively situational comedy episodes, peppered with songs and dancing. The main theme – being a Lutheran, and just what that means as a struggle to find balance in the unbalanced world – seems to be a familiar one. Made popular by Garrison Keillor with his Lake Wobegon reminisces, we also see this theme pop up for various different religions in such shows as Nunsense and Smoke on the Mountain. The “Church Ladies” series differs by highlighting everyday people – as opposed to the Nunsense series’ nuns – and by sticking with purely comedic situations – as opposed to the Smoke on the Mountain shows, which feature some pathos in it’s characters’ experiences. But it is interesting to note that all three of these very popular shows present a light jostling of our religious practices. And that is what makes this type of show so universally appealing, I think. We laugh at others, knowing that honestly we are no different.

Vivian Snustad (Licia Watson), left, tries to act appropriately as the ladies find themselves in  the basement of the Catholic church.

Vivian Snustad (Licia Watson), left, tries to act appropriately as the ladies find themselves in the basement of the Catholic church.

Visiting director Curt Wollan leads the cast through this edition’s high jinx and is ably assisted in his efforts by choreographer Wendy Short-Hays, musical director Debbie Myers and costumer Jill Kelly. The finishing touches are provided by Chef Odell Ward’s expansive buffet, this time featuring some delicious barbequed chicken.
The ladies frantically improvise a way to keep Pastor Gunderson’s shoes dry through the flooded area of the church to make it in time for his wedding

The ladies frantically improvise a way to keep Pastor Gunderson’s shoes dry through the flooded area of the church to make it in time for his wedding

Expect some great belly laughs from this latest B&B production. The combination of a wonderfully talented cast performing the clever songs and dialogue makes for a most entertaining afternoon or evening. And you can feel comfortable bringing the whole family to see it.

A Mighty Fortress is Our Basement continues through August 17. The easiest way to find out the entire schedule for remaining shows is to visit http://www.beefandboards.com or you may call the B&B ticket office at 317-872-9664.

* – All photos provided by Beef and Boards, and Julie Curry

“To Kill A Mockingbird” at The Belfry

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Mockingbird logo

Mrs K and I traveled north to Noblesville for a second weekend showing of To Kill a Mockingbird, based on Harper Lee’s landmark novel of 1960, and adapted for the stage by Christopher Sergel. Most of us have a familiarity with Ms. Lee’s book or with the 1962 film starring Gregory Peck as lawyer Atticus Finch, or both. The play, which debuted in 1990, is perhaps less familiar, but does a solid job in telling the classic tale of racial tension and injustice, loss of innocence and the rewards of integrity.

Frequent Belfry director Carla Crandall has brought together a large cast of 30 actors of all ages to present the play, many in the group making their debut performances on the Belfry stage. The story is told through the eyes of narrator Jean Louise Finch, who represents Ms. Lee – a role which is wonderfully handled by Tonya Fenimore. Leading the way in this storyline are three young thespians: Simon Lynch, who effectively plays Atticus’ son Jem; Joel Gaar, very winning in the role of Dill, a boyhood friend (modeled after Harper Lee’s imaginative childhood friend, Truman Capote); and Gloria Merrell, who does quite an admirable job with the important role of Scout – Ms. Lee’s own childhood persona.

Jack Hittle as Atticus Finch in The Belfry's "To Kill a Mockingbird"

Jack Hittle as Atticus Finch in The Belfry’s “To Kill a Mockingbird”

The iconic role of Atticus Finch is taken by Jack Hittle, who supplies an evenly toned performance, while Eric Barker is ‘on the mark’ as Sheriff Heck Tate, and three neighbor ladies of various temperaments are well done by Jan Borcherding, Susan Townsend and Marianne Bergamo. David Burch is sufficiently repulsive as Bob Ewell, the loathsome man who accuses black townsman Tom Robinson of beating and molesting his daughter, Mayella Ewell. And the pivotal roles of Tom and Mayella are extremely well-done by Bobby Washington and Katelyn Maudlin. Both do fantastic work in their courtroom appearances.

William R. James deserves mention for his debut performances as Arthur “Boo” Ridley and as Boo’s brother, Nathan. Tina Humphrey is a pleasure to watch as the lively Finch housekeeper, Calpurnia. And James A. Brown does noteworthy work as community leader Reverend Sykes. A myriad of other fine performers fill the roles of townspeople and courtroom principals, including Daniel Shock as the unenviable prosecutor, Mr. Gilmer; and Thom Johnson as Judge Taylor.

Katelyn Maudlin as Mayella Ewell and Thom Johnson as Judge Taylor in The Belfry's "To Kill a Mockingbird"

Katelyn Maudlin as Mayella Ewell and Thom Johnson as Judge Taylor in The Belfry’s “To Kill a Mockingbird”

The action is presented on two very different sets. The first and final sections of the play are presented on a cheery five-door neighborhood arrangement that looked great and worked very well. However, the difficult middle scene requires a cramped and skewed courtroom arrangement to allow everyone into seats and tables, which works less well but suffices. Costumes by Marilyn Dearman and Barb Martin are well researched and designed, and deserve applause.

Above all that is presented by this production is the universal message of the central themes of Ms. Lee’s story – that intolerance and prejudices are ugly and wrong, that courage is a significant weapon against such matters, and that childhood is a time of learning lessons that we hold the value of for the rest of our lives. Ms. Crandall’s endeavor is of great value for all these reasons and should not be missed.

To Kill a Mockingbird continues at The Belfry June 7,8,13,14 & 15. Reservations are recommended by calling the box office at (317) 773-1085 or by going to http://thebelfrytheatre.com/ and using their online ticket service.

* Photos are from online sources

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