“Red” at Indiana Repertory Theatre

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My good friend, veteran actor Adam Crowe, fills in for me as guest reviewer for a second time while I continue at Beef and Boards:

For some reason, it often seems that the academic topics which I now find interesting didn’t seem to tempt me when the opportunity for study presented itself. One of those subjects is visual art. Lack of any formal education has left me to be one of those “I know what I like” kind of art appreciators. I suppose there are a lot of casual theater-goers that feel the same way about plays. And like me, such audiences might be daunted by the thought of a stage play about a famous American 20 century painter. Have no fear – the play in question does not require an art history degree or even intimate familiarity with the painter’s legacy.

The winner for the 2010 Tony Award for Best New Play, John Logan’s Red (now playing at The Indiana Repertory Theatre through November 9th) is a fascinating and engaging rumination on the nature of “art” and the artists who make it. The play’s protagonist is Mark Rothko, one of America’s most famous post-war painters. Along with Willem DeKooning and Jackson Pollack – Rothko set the standard for American Abstract Expressionists. Logan’s play incorporates some real world events – Rothko was commissioned to create a series of paintings for New York City’s soon-to-open Four Seasons Restaurant. At the same time, Logan also creates a fictional foil for Rothko – a young artist named Ken – whom Rothko has hired to assist him in his studio. Over roughly 90 minutes, Rothko and his young assistant argue, debate, discuss, and even paint. The audience is challenged to decide if Rothko’s acceptance of the commission is an act of “selling out”, or if he has simply become a victim of his own fame and need for adulation. Or, as the artist would later claim, did Rothko really hope that wealthy Four Seasons guests would . . . “feel that they are trapped in a room where all the doors and windows are bricked up, so that all they can do is butt their heads forever against the wall . . .”?

Henry Woronicz (left) and Zach Kenney portray artist Mark Rothko and his assistant Ken in IRT's "Red"

Henry Woronicz (left) and Zach Kenney portray artist Mark Rothko and his assistant Ken in IRT’s “Red”

Frequent IRT guest artist Henry Woronicz gives full life to Rothko: a massively talented and equally flawed human being, with little time for discussions or thoughts that don’t center on him. As his young “employee”, Chicago’s Zach Kenney slowly unwinds an absorbing portrait of a young artist with his own ambitions and secrets. Both actors are terrific and play off of one another brilliantly. Credit also goes to IRT Playwright-In-Residence James Still, who’s understated direction allows these two performances to ebb and flow, packing a lot of thought into their brief story. Guy Clark’s costumes are perfect, as is Ann Sheffield’s set design and Jesse Klug’s lighting. Aside from art, one of the many topics Rothko and Ken discuss is music, and Todd Mack Reischman’s sound design seamlessly integrates the musical styles as yet another layer of art.
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Red is performed on IRT’s Upperstage – and is just the sort of small and thoughtful play that IRT does so very well in that space. Bringing together a perfect blend of theatrical artists to tell the story of this complicated visual artist, IRT’s production soars. Like many of you, I may not be an expert on Abstract Expressionism, but I know what I like – and Woronicz and Kenney are creating it nightly in downtown Indianapolis.

Red continues its run through November 9th. You can find out more about the schedule and reserve tickets by calling the Box Office at (317) 635-5252, or by going to the website at http://www.irtlive.com.

* – Photos by Zach Rosing
* – Banner artwork by Kyle Ragsdale

“Fiddler on the Roof” at Beef and Boards Dinner Theatre


Fiddler logo cast

Note from Ken K: I am lucky enough to be working in this production at Beef and Boards, so I invited my good friend, Adam Crowe to attend our Media Night and offer up a review. He wrote down his impressions and sent them along to me, so here they are:

Growing up in North Central Indiana, I probably saw at least one movie per week at our local movie theater. But I only remember going to see a movie with both of my parents one time – “Fiddler on the Roof”. 40 plus years later, I realized that I had never seen the actual stage version. My thanks to Ken for the chance to correct that deficiency and to Beef & Boards for celebrating this 50th Anniversary of Fiddler on the Roof!

If you are reading this blog, it is unlikely that you aren’t familiar with Fiddler on the Roof. Written by Jerry Bock, Sheldon Harnick and Joseph Stein, Fiddler opened on Broadway in 1964 and became the first Broadway musical to surpass 3000 performances. Through film, and professional, community and school theaters, Fiddler has become ingrained in American popular culture. In fact, Fiddler is such a part of American culture, it has adapted even as our culture has changed. The song “Sunrise, Sunset”, often played at weddings, was slightly re-written by Harnick in 2011, so as to supply two new versions of the song, suitable for same-sex weddings.

Regular readers of ASOTA are already familiar with Beef & Boards, and I can only echo what has often been said about their fantastic service – from the minute you enter the building! Once everyone had finished their delicious dinners and the show began, Saturday night’s audience was transported to Anatevka – a small 19th Century village populated by an array of delightful characters – brought to life by an assortment of terrific actors.

Golde (Lynne Perkins) listens as Tevye (Douglas E. Stark) tells about his dream in B&B's production of "Fiddler on the Roof".

Golde (Lynne Perkins) listens as Tevye (Douglas E. Stark) tells about his dream in B&B’s production of “Fiddler on the Roof”.

Beef & Boards owner Douglas E. Stark has said that Tevye is his favorite role – and his enthusiasm shines through in his performance. It also infects the cast around him, who breathe life into the daily toils and joys of Anatevka. Beef & Boards has assembled a talented group of performers, with special mention going to Mark Goetzinger’s lonely Lazar Wolf, Lynne Perkins’ loving but practical Golde, and Licia Watson’s fast talking Yenta. Ms. Watson also doubles in the gravity defying role of Fruma-Sarah, and the audience gasped as she wheeled around the stage in Tevye’s Nightmare.

Tevye's daughters and their suitors (from top): Tzeitel (Joanna Krupnik) and Motel (Josh Levinson); Hodel (Mariana Weisler) and Perchik (Justine Colombo); Chava (Mary-Elizabeth Milton) and Fyedka (Ian Jordan Subsara)

Tevye’s daughters and their suitors (from top): Tzeitel (Joanna Krupnik) and Motel (Josh Levinson); Hodel (Mariana Weisler) and Perchik (Justin Colombo); Chava (Mary-Elizabeth Milton) and Fyedka (Ian Jordan Subsara)

Tradition is not just a part of the story, but part of the musical’s structure as well. Fiddler presents several stories of young love, as Tevye’s daughters come of age and meet their spouses-to-be. All three of Tevye’s daughters (Joanna Krupnik, Mariana Weisler and Mary-Elizabeth Milton) turn in beautifully sung performances, while their three suitors, played by Josh Levinson, Justin Colombo, and Ivan Jordan Subsara, were equally engaging.
Tevye (Douglas E. Stark) and his daughters (from left) Chava (Mary-Elizabeth Milton), Bielke (Mallory Neal), Shprintze (Lucy Neal), Hodel (Mariana Weisler), and Tzeitel (Joanna Krupnick)

Tevye (Douglas E. Stark) and his daughters (from left) Chava (Mary-Elizabeth Milton), Bielke (Mallory Neal), Shprintze (Lucy Neal), Hodel (Mariana Weisler), and Tzeitel (Joanna Krupnick)

The remainder of the ensemble is great fun, with Michael Davis, Keith Potts, Jordan Moody and Carrie Neal (and Carrie’s daughters Lucy and Mallory) adding verve and character to the village. Ken Klingenmeier brings the menace as the local Constable and Lew Hackleman gets some fun zingers as the village Rabbi. Both help keep the show’s feet planted firmly in Czarist Russia.

Directed by Eddie Curry, with musical direction by Terry Woods, Fiddler’s technical aspects are as seamless as one would expect from Beef & Boards. Jill Kelly’s costumes integrate beautifully with Ryan Koharchik’s lighting design and Michael Layton’s scenic design.

I can’t imagine a better way to celebrate, whether it be your own family occasion or to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of an American Musical Theater classic. Beef & Boards’ Fiddler on the Roof provides a warm and sometimes bittersweet remembrance of family, love and yes, Tradition.

Fiddler on the Roof continues its run through November 23rd. You can find out more about the schedule and reserve tickets by calling the Box Office at (317) 872-9664, or by going to the website at http://www.beefandboards.com.

* – Photos by Julie Curry

“God’s Favorite” at Main Street Productions

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GodFave logo1

God’s Favorite, which is currently being presented by Westfield’s Main Street Productions, is perhaps Neil Simon’s most unusual play. It is a retelling of the story of the biblical Job, dealing with the traumatic episode in that character’s life where all his health, family, and his many riches are taken away as a test of his love for God. Considered by some to be possibly Simon’s most imaginative play, it is also seen as one of his least successful writings. With it’s combination of deep and depressing angst, alongside a sometimes zany style of humor (not to mention a set that must destruct between acts), it is a difficult, unbalanced piece to produce and stage. It may be interesting to note that in an interview from 1977 Simon himself says this: “Sad to say, God’s Favorite was not a good play…..because it was simply not done skillfully enough.”

In my opinion, director Danny Russel’s effort at the task have rendered a mixed bag of results. Attempting this demanding a play at the community theatre level is just one of the challenging factors here. The complexity of the two major roles, Joe Benjamin (the Job role), taken on by Tom Doman, and Sidney Lipton (a messenger of God) as provided by Steven Marsh, requires – I think – a pair of well-trained actors to handle the many inclines and plateaus Mr. Simon has laid out here. Dorman, whom I thought showed much promise in his role in Russel’s production of The Diviners at CCP, is steadfast in his approach to the much put-upon Joe. But I believe his is a role that requires a bit of stage experience to conquer and sustain. Marsh, in an even more demanding role, is a work in progress. He presently seems to have not found his way into all the nuances of Sidney’s jumpy, manic, sometimes frenzied mannerisms and pronouncements. This is a role originated by the likes of Charles Nelson Reilly, who had the perverse qualities necessary for this part. (In my reading of this script a few years ago, I envisioned a cross between Woody Allen and Arnold Stang!) Not that we are requiring that level of accomplishment, but in my opinion the work done here is in an incomplete stage, even given Mr. Marsh’s talents.

Simon’s failures with the script as a stage piece is the true culprit here. Even the person whom I would identify as the most accomplished actor in the group, Stephen E. Foxworthy – who plays the troubled Benjamin son David, struggles at times with the uneven script. His practiced range is enough to cover only a portion of his role’s demands. Other portrayals are managed by what would, in most other shows, be a strong cast. Joyce Pendleton, who takes the part of Joe’s wife – Rose, shows obvious talents in her turn which mixes schtick with sweetness with outrageous piteousness. The Benjamin’s twins, played by newcomer Ben Austin and burgeoning actress Addison D. Ahrendts, use high energy to fashion their mostly preposterous characters – and manage a level of success doing so. Scott Prill and Pam Young, who are onstage as servants Morris and Mady, use accented approaches to their somewhat narrow parts.

Indeed, I applaud the entire cast for their endeavors – I know how hard avocational actors work on their art in these productions. But given such a flawed script to work with, no manner of preparation could fully see them through.

A thorough congratulations goes to the technical side of this production. Danny Russel’s design for the large, two-story set (a first at MSP as I understand) works well and looks the part of a Long Island mansion. Master carpenter (and MSP president) John Sampson has constructed a set whose deconstruction (for Act 2) is well-accomplished. Lighting design and operation are also noteworthy, especially when the technicians take on the role of God’s fury. Not least, costume designs by Adrienne Conces and her assistant Janice Hannon are appropriate and good-looking.

God’s Favorite continues two more weekends at Main Street Production’s Westfield Playhouse, which is located at 1836 W. St. Rd. 32 in Eagletown. For information about show dates and times, log on to http://www.westfieldplayhouse.org or call the box office at 317-896-2707.

“Calendar Girls” at Theatre on the Square


Calendar Girls jpg

Tim Firth’s Calendar Girls, which opens Theatre on the Square’s 2014-2015 season, has an interesting distinction. It is that rare theatre script based on a movie’s screenplay (usually the opposite of that takes place). Furthermore, the screenplay was based on a real life event in which several ladies from a Women’s Institute (a WI, in the play) in Yorkshire, England produced a 2000 calendar for charity featuring themselves in provocative poses centered around WI activities such as tea serving, flower arranging and baked goods.

For me, Firth, who co-wrote the movie version, gives forth here a rather winding, wryly British, and uneven tale which reaches it’s climax before intermission – after which his plotline just seems to shatter into small pieces of semi-dramatic subplots. It seems to me to have little purpose except to allow the unusual circumstance of nearly naked ladies onstage in a “mainstream” story.

The “nakedness” is tastefully enough done – with adequate draping and coverage, and I suppose the idea of these proper English ladies disrobing for a good cause created a big sensation in the early Y2K. But I think it is difficult to administer similar thrills with that same ploy in the decade that follows. The whole idea seemed rather silly to my sensibilities and, coupled with the other problems of the script, left my mind stymied at times. Granted, I am not a big fan of wry British humor, so much of which seems to be lost in the translation – but I am a big fan of our local theatre efforts and sadly it is difficult to place this play on a par with much of what I have seen of late. To be fair, some other audience members seemed to relish the action – so I am sure a lot of what I felt is my individual taste and sense of theatre.

It’s mainly the script that is my problem here. I think the cast gave all it had (and more in some cases) with energetic performances. Director Lori Raffel has gathered a talented group with full resumes and they seem well-suited for their roles. There just was not much to work with in terms of a script, in my opinion.

Kate Hinman, Laura Baltz, Nan Macy, Arlene Haskin, Vickie Smith and Risa Krauter in TOTS' "Calendar Girls"

Kate Hinman, Laura Baltz, Nan Macy, Arlene Haskin, Vickie Smith and Risa Krauter in TOTS’ “Calendar Girls”

Regardless, Laura Baltz, Arlene Haskin, Kate Hinman, Risa Krauter, Nan Macy and Vickie Smith all deserve praise for their efforts. They strive to play the calendar participants with adept characterizations, though their British accents take some getting used to. Bridget Schlebecker and Maura Giles add their essential roles to the mix with confident turns; and Paul Haskin, Tim Latimer, and Mark Peed (Mark in a double role) take on the male characters in good style, while Lori Raffel provides a deft cameo. All the action takes place on Ms. Raffel’s efficient set design and a dizzying number of costumes are used, assembled by the cast, providing the sense of time passing.

The bottom line for me, I guess, is this – if you like wry British styled humor (as opposed to the broader Monty Python styled stuff), if you are lured to the theatre to see skin – albeit mostly covered, if you especially like the edgier fare that TOTS is most famous for, then Calendar Girls is in your wheel-house. Go and enjoy! For me – I hope to see the members of this very talented cast in other plays sometime soon – as this one was just not my cup of tea.

Calendar Girls continues through October 11 at Theatre on the Square in the Mass. Ave District. You can find information for tickets, show dates and the coming TOTS season at http://www.tots.org or by calling 317-685-8687.

“Ordinary Days” at Carmel Community Players

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CCP’s 2014-2015 season kicked off this weekend with Ordinary Days, Adam Gwon’s surprisingly engaging 2010 musical about four young people in New York City. The storyline of the show follows Jason, Claire, Deb and Warren as they endeavor to survive through travails that include relationships, hopes, misguided aspirations, love and friendship. It is mainly split into two tales – a romantic one between Jason and Claire, and a platonic one between Deb and Warren. We watch as the couples discover their needs in each relationship, the conflicts that hinder those needs and the changes that resolve their situations. The songs are lively and pleasing, the action is brisk and compelling, and the effect is such that although you do not exit the theatre humming any tunes, you are glad you came to the theatre and witnessed what is a very impressive and thought-provoking show.

Gwon’s work is made all the more impressive by a cast of talented performers under the careful direction of Carlo Nepomuceno. In the role of Jason, Onis Dean projects a wonderful sense of his character’s joys and his struggles. These skills are boosted by Dean’s pleasing vocal quality and his easy stage-presence. Virginia Vasquez Vought is lovely as Jason’s strangely troubled girlfriend, Claire. With notably strong singing talents, she strikingly conveys her role’s disquiet underpinnings, which seem somewhat mysterious until we hear Ms. Vought’s heart-breaking rendition of “I’ll Be Here”. D. Scott Robinson, in his CCP debut, brings to life the quirky, unfulfilled Warren. Robinson’s characterization is straight-forward and delightful as he brings Warren’s view of the world into focus with many humorous touches and an especially professional overall performance. As Deb, the vocally gifted Stacia Hulen brings her engaging and original style to the portrayal of a young student in a complex NYC. Ms. Hulen’s standout vocal qualities are most pleasing and as I listened to her singing, I could not help but think – “this is a girl who needs to audition for The Voice“. Her understanding of Deb’s challenges, and her funny, exuberant, winning performance added much enjoyment to an already satisfying show.

“Ordinary Days” cast members (clockwise from top) D. Scott Robinson (Warren), Virginia Vasquez Vought (Claire), Stacia Hulen (Deb), and Onis Dean (Jason)

All these actors and actresses gave beautiful, honest offerings to the audience – raising what is a wonderful libretto to “must-see” status. Congratulations to director Nepomuceno and his staff of designers and technicians on a superb production!

Ordinary Days continues at Carmel Community Playhouse in Clay Terrace through October 5th. Information about tickets, and show dates and times can be found by going to http://www.carmelplayers.org or by calling the CCP box office at 317-815-9387.

“The Two Gentlemen of Verona” at Indiana Repertory Theatre

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I must admit, I was totally unfamiliar with William Shakespeare’s play The Two Gentlemen of Verona before attending opening night of IRT’s production, which opens their 2014-15 season. I have since learned that this comedy is considered by many to have been the bard’s first play or at least one of the first. If that is so, he certainly stepped off on the right path. As performed here by this genuinely expert company of actors and technicians, it is a wondrous creation that has made this play move to near the top of my list of favorite Shakespeare plays.

Working with themes of foolishness in love, friendship, and infidelity, the bard’s “two gentlemen in Verona” are Proteus, a love-addled young man, and his great friend, Valentine, a young man with a much sharper vision of the world with regard to amour. Valentine at first chides Proteus for his blindness about love, Proteus being totally taken by the elegant Julia, whom he pledges his heart to. The men separate and Valentine, in Milan now, meets his own true love in the Duke’s beautiful daughter Silvia. The plot thickens when Proteus is sent to the court in Milan by his father, ripping him away from his Julia. His deep love proves frail however, as he meets Valentine’s Silvia and immediately sheds his Julia and his Valentine for a chance to love her.

These main characters are exquisitely performed by four engaging actors and actresses, three of whom are making their IRT debuts. Chris Bresky is the overtaken-by-love Proteus, whom he skillfully embodies with fidelities at first and failures of his nature at the end. This is a complex, selfish man and Bresky brings him to life with clear, identifiable traits. Charles Pasternak’s Valentine seems unfailingly true, to friends, to love and to himself. Pasternak’s Shakespearian training shines through in a sparkling performance full of nuance and understanding. Lee Stark (the one returning performer in this foursome) plays out a role full of many emotions – from her thrill of loving Proteus, to her great suffering as she learns of his betraying ways. Ms. Stark is lovely and funny in the early stages of her performance and is endearing and heart-breaking as she loses her love. Ashley Wickett brings Silvia to life with a beautiful portrayal – her character being as true to herself as her Valentine is. Doubling as Julia’s cheeky servant Lucetta, Ms. Wickett earns high regard for both of her performances.

Clockwise from UL: Chris Bresky as Proteus with Valentine; Charles Pasternak as Valentine with Scot Greenwell as Speed; Valentine with Ashley Wickett as Sylvia; Lee Stark as Julia with Ashley Wickett as Lucetta in "The Two Gentlemen of Verona"

Clockwise from UL: Chris Bresky as Proteus with Valentine; Charles Pasternak as Valentine with Scot Greenwell as Speed; Valentine with Ashley Wickett as Sylvia; Lee Stark as Julia with Ashley Wickett as Lucetta in “The Two Gentlemen of Verona”

In supporting roles, Scot Greenwell is completely wonderful as Valentine’s man-servant, Speed. Matching him turn for turn is Ryan Artzberger as Proteus’s man Launce, who with his doggy companion, Crab – played with charming skill by the undaunted Jenna – steals every scene they are in. Robert Neal is strong in the masterly roles of Duke of Milan and Proteus’s father Antonio; and Matt Holzfeind is spot-on as the dandified Thurio, a man who is wooing Sylvia.
Ryan Artzberger as Launce cavorts with Jenna as Crab in "The Two Gentlemen of Verona" at IRT.

Ryan Artzberger as Launce cavorts with Jenna as Crab in “The Two Gentlemen of Verona” at IRT.

A remarkably adaptive set by Robert Mark Morgan, brilliant costumes by Dorothy Marshall Englis, a fine sound design by Andrew Hopson and adroit lighting by Michael Lincoln combine to complete director Tim Ocel’s intelligent and ever-forward-moving vision of this play. For someone like myself – having a certain amount of experience with Shakespeare’s works as an actor and as an audience member – that is to say, with limited but sufficient understanding of the sometimes difficult language and story-lines – Mr. Ocel’s direction style leads one to a better understanding and to a completely fulfilling experience. I thank him for that.

The Two Gentlemen of Verona continues on IRT’s OneAmerica Stage through October 19th. Information about tickets and play dates can be found at http://www.irtlive.com or by calling the IRT box office at 317-635-5252. Season tickets are still available for the theatre’s upcoming season.

* – Photos by Zach Rosing
* – Banner artwork by Kyle Ragsdale

“My Fair Lady” at Actors Theatre of Indiana



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 by Bernie Killian 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

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