“The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time” at IRT

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reviewed by Larry Adams

Does that mean I can do anything?”

  • Christopher, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

Shortly before his untimely death some years ago, famed local pediatric neurologist Dr. Brad Hale stopped me in the hall of our office and handed me a thin, red book. “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time” the title proclaimed, complemented on the cover by a simple silhouette of a dead poodle. The present sat on my desk for some weeks amidst piles of papers and journals, but for some reason refused to go away on its own. I could not imagine why such an odd little book had caught the attention of one of the smartest, funniest men I had ever known, and so, if for no other reason than that, I finally opened the cover and turned to the first chapter:

“2.”

I was hooked from the start, and thus began my long love affair with this strange, first-person account of an unusual adolescent’s quest to “do detecting” and venture into a frightening and confusing world, a book I in turn have recommended to as many as I can. Any attempt to turn it into a play, I felt certain, could not possibly do it justice.

That wasn’t just a play. That was an experience!”

(Overheard from a patron leaving the theater)

The Indiana Repertory Theatre has started its 46th season with an authentic feat of theater: the Tony Award-winning Curious Incident is a star vehicle for the leading man to be sure, yet it is also a true “ensemble” piece- one that stretches the meaning of the word to its limits to include the music, the set, the props and even the choreography of the play, each interacting with the other to enhance the themes and emotions at work. It is indeed “an experience,” and one not to be missed in its four-weekend run in downtown Indy.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time follows the struggle of Christopher Francis Boone, age “15 years and 3 months and 2 days,” as he attempts to solve the murder of a neighborhood dog. The dog, a black poodle named Wellington, is nearly- but not quite- a McGuffin in the story, as the audience slowly learns that there is so much more to this tale- the depths of loss, the limits of relationships, the cruel and arbitrary unfairness of life, and the drive for independence and accomplishment. If all that seems a bit heavy for a weekend entertainment, fear not: the Dog in the Night-Time boasts numerous surprisingly large and refreshing doses of humor to help the audience catch its breath- humor that is, with one notable exception, neither forced nor out of place in this emotionally exhausting show.

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Christopher (Mickey Rowe) with his father Ed (Robert Neal) in a scene from IRT’s “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time”

Leading the cast as Christopher, “a mathematician with behavioral problems” (his condition is purposefully neither named nor fully delineated in either the book or the play) is Seattle-based actor, Mickey Rowe, “the first American actor with autism” to take on the role. I must admit, IRT’s rather blatant and frequent parading of his condition in their promotional pieces initially made this casting seem more a self-congratulatory gimmick than an artistic choice, but Mr. Rowe quickly and easily sweeps such impressions aside. In what could have been an unsympathetic and emotionally one-note role (think Dustin Hoffman in Rainman – and, yes, I know he won an Academy Award, but really now), Rowe’s portrayal of Christopher almost immediately has the audience eating out of his hand, simultaneously rooting for him, put off by him, admiring him and pitying him as he struggles to conquer a world he cannot truly comprehend. Through voice and manner, the 28-year-old Mr. Rowe pulls off a surprisingly convincing 15-year-old on stage (though I must admit that he appeared just as young in a brief conversation I had with him after the show- maybe everybody just looks young to me these days), while his attention to the details of physicality- the lack of eye contact and his frequent finger fidgeting- signal both the character’s discomfort and his disability to the audience. Mr. Rowe’s evident experience in choreography and his nearly acrobatic skills are used heavily here, though with somewhat uneven results. While his graceful contortions contribute greatly to the mood and tone of an extended sequence in which he imagines being weightless as an astronaut, at other times they seem rather pointlessly added into the action, as if during rehearsals the director said, “Hey, this guy can do circus moves! Let’s throw some more in!” This at times has the unfortunate effect of distracting from what is otherwise a mesmerizing and nearly flawless performance.

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Robert Shears (Eric Parks), Christopher (Mickey Rowe) and Christopher s mother Judy (Constance Macy) in a scene from IRT’s “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time”

Other standouts in the ensemble are Christopher’s father and mother, played by Robert Neal and Constance Macy respectively. These two absolutely shine in their portrayal of the pain of broken relationships and unrequited parental love. There is nothing in this play more heartbreaking than watching Neal’s Mr. Booth desperately try to touch fingertips with a son who will not be hugged, and there is no scene more emotionally charged than Macy’s Judy wrenchingly attempting to explain her abandonment to a child who is all the while trying to shield himself from her feelings.

Though the remainder of the cast masterfully weaves a tapestry of interesting and effectual supporting characters, the one somewhat disappointing thread is Elizabeth Ledo’s portrayal of Christopher’s teacher Siobhan. The perhaps somewhat overly dramatic and personable style Ms. Ledo injects into the character of Siobhan admittedly serves as a nice contrast to Christopher during their scenes together, but seems terribly ill-suited for her mystifyingly frequent role as the play’s narrator; her expressive and enthusiastic recitations of Christopher’s writings unfortunately serve only to diminish the sense of his emotional disconnect and isolation, attributes that are among the most important themes of the book.

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Christopher (Mickey Rowe) confronts Mrs. Alexander (Margaret Daly) in a scene from IRT’s “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time”

It seems a cliché anymore to claim “character” status for sets, lighting, visual effects and music in a review, but in this case the approbation is well-deserved. Designers Russell Metheny, Michael Klaers, Todd Mack Reischman and Katherine Freer, along with the original music of Michelle DiBucci, have created a setting in which scenes flow seamlessly from one to the next, as well as an all-encompassing, almost surreal environment which pulls the audience into the story as it attempts to transcend the written word. In what are typically somewhat thankless jobs in any theater production, these talented individuals deserve a bow at curtain call as much as the fine actors gracing the stage.

No production is perfect, however, and, despite my raves, this one does have its flaws. Playwright Simon Stephens admirably follows the book closely until the opening of the second act, when, from out of nowhere, he derails the story with a “play-within-a-play” gimmick for no apparent purpose other than a few, “winking-at-the-audience” laughs. In a production that tries so hard to bring the audience into the reality of the characters’ world, I cannot for the life of me understand why he would chose to dispel that illusion.

Though the staging of Christopher’s odyssey to London is magnificent (whoever envisioned and then executed the masks for the faceless throngs Christopher encounters is a bloody genius), the second act tends to drag at times, primarily from a lack of the first act’s extended emotional set pieces (though an absolutely ponderously long, nonverbal scene in which one character downs four beers in succession while another listens to static on a radio certainly doesn’t help either).

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The ensemble in a scene from IRT’s “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time”

If the playwright has accomplished one great thing in steering this book to the stage, though (and, in fact, he has accomplished many), it is in the final moments. In the last three lines of his play, Stephens has tacked on a powerful coda which quite frankly tops the book- by adding a question mark to what has frequently been interpreted (erroneously, I think) as a “happy ending.” Unfortunately, after the curtain, a bizarrely energetic, interactive, slap-happy and fanciful staging of the book’s Appendix (which, in the book, consists merely of Christopher’s characteristically dry answer to a particular math problem, illustrating his continued disconnect from personal relationships), pointlessly blunts the emotional impact of these final lines. But if one can erase from one’s mind this final lapse in theatrical judgment, the message remains clear: Christopher’s story is not over. This will not be his last Curious Incident. Life, unlike this mystery, is not so easily solved.

Despite a marvelous cast, a powerful story and an inspired staging, there is one facet of the book which the play simply cannot match. Written in the first person, the book forces the reader to see the world through Christopher’s eyes, experience the world and relationships as Christopher experiences them. This is a place that, watching Christopher as a third person presence on the stage, the theater goer simply cannot reach. So yes, run to your library or Amazon or your Kindle and read this unique, gem of a book that I have treasured for over a decade. But do not pass up this opportunity to see IRT’s production of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. It’s not just a play. It truly is an experience.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time will continue its run at Indiana Repertory Theatre through October 14. For specific information on dates, show times, and ticket orders, visit IRT’s website at http://www.irtlive.com/.

  • Banner artwork by Kyle Ragsdale
  • Photos by Zach Rosing

 

 

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“La Cage aux Folles” at Actors Theatre of Indiana

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reviewed by Adam Crowe

The 2017-2018 Season kicks off at Actors Theatre of Indiana (ATI) with the brilliant La Cage Aux Folles. This Tony Award winner was written by the great Jerry Herman, (Hello Dolly and Mame) with a book by Harvey Fierstein, and is based on a French farce by Jean Poiret. Many will be most familiar with the story through the American film version, The Birdcage, starring Robin Williams and Nathan Lane. Familiarity with the movie is neither required nor a hindrance to enjoying this Farce. ATI’s production transports you to the South of France and tells its story with gusto and sass, and reflects the remarkable artistry of director Larry Raben (a Carmel native) and his accomplished choreographer, Carol Worcel.

Bill Book as Georges, Judy Fitzgerald as Jacqueline and Don Farrell as Albin

From left: Bill Book as Georges, Judy Fitzgerald as Jacqueline, and Don Farrell as Albin in ATI’s “La Cage aux Folles”.

When this story first appeared in film, it felt edgy and subversive. I wondered if it would hold up, given the march of social progress over the past thirty years. No worries! “La Cage” holds up beautifully. In fact, the very traditional structure and conflicts of the story are even more accessible. The age old premise of young love complicated by parental interference is tweaked by a boy with two gay parents and a girl with a politically ambitious father. Jean-Michel (a sweet Sean Haynes) may have two “Dads”, but the rest of the obstacles faced on the way to marry his love (a wonderful Devan Mathias) are easily recognizable.

Michael Humphrey, Greg Grimes, Tim Hunt, Kenny Shepard and Don Farrell - photo credit - Zach Rosing

From left: Michael Humphrey, Greg Grimes, Kenny Shepard, and Tim Hunt are Les Cagelles with Don Farrell as Zaza in ATI’s a Cage aux Folles”

Bill Book and Don Farrell play Georges and Albin, the young groom’s parents. They are, in turns, hilarious and heartbreaking, and both of their performances are terrific. Still, Hermann has made sure that the show belongs to Farrell’s Albin, and he is the Star of this vehicle. Whether he is flirting with the Club’s clientele as Zaza or blubbering as Albin, Farrell is simply perfection. To anyone who saw him play Sweeny Todd or the Baker in Into the Woods, this comes as no surprise. Farrell is a joy to watch.

Sean Haynes as Jean-Michel and Devan Mathias as Anne - photo credit - Zach Rosing

Sean Haynes as Jean-Michel and Devan Mathias as Anne in ATI’s “La Cage aux Folles”

Superb support is provided by the rest of the cast, many of whom play multiple roles, including Ken Klingenmeier and Maryjane Waddell who play café owners and later appear as a self-righteous politician and his less rigid wife. John Vessels is, as always, delightful in a number of roles, and ATI co-founder Judy Fitzgerald is delicious as gal pal Jacqueline. In what is likely to be his last Indiana stage performance for a while, Daniel Klingler is a riot as George and Albin’s butler/maid/sight gag. Klingler moves his career to NYC soon, and his performance gives him a terrific and hilarious send-off. As Les Cagelle’s, Tim Hunt, Kenny Shepard, Greg Grimes and Michael Humphrey bring dazzle to the cabaret at the center of the story. They will leave you wanting more!

Ken Klingenmeier as M. Dindon and MaryJayne Waddell as Mme. Dindon - photo credit - Zach Rosing

Ken Klingenmeier as Deputy Dindon and MaryJayne Waddell as Mme. Dindon in ATI’s “La Cage aux Folles”

On the technical side, Bernie Killian’s set, Zach Rosing’s sound, Aaron Bowersox’s lighting, and Stephen Hollenbeck’s costumes are all first rate. The musical direction of Levi Burke is right on point, and Daniel Klinger’s does double-duty as designer of some beautiful hair and make-up. Finally, as I have come to expect, the ATI orchestra was just perfect.

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Daniel Klingler as Jacob (photo left) and Kenny Shepard (left) as Hanna with John Vessels as Francis in ATI’s “La Cage aux Folles”

La Cage Aux Folles only runs until October 1st, so move quickly to get your tickets. I expect that the sell-out on Opening Night is a harbinger of things to come!

Actors Theatre of Indiana is located in The Studio Theatre at the Center for The Performing Arts in Carmel. Tickets may be purchased by visiting the website at atistage.org or by calling (317) 843-3800. Shows are Wednesday through Saturday at 7:30 pm and Sundays at 2:00 PM. Tickets are $45.00, with discounts on Wednesdays and for all performances for students and seniors. 

  • – photos by Zach Rosing

 

 

 

“West Side Story” at Beef and Boards Dinner Theatre

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reviewed by Ken Klingenmeier

Beef and Boards’ production of West Side Story, which opened this week, is for me another of those very familiar shows for which I have long held an honest love and appreciation. Brought into the musical theatre world in 1957 with a book by Arthur Laurents, music by Leonard Bernstein, and lyrics by a young Stephen Sondheim, the show had so much energetic and romantic appeal that even as a youth, I fell in love with the stylized score, the perfect, heart-rending words and the emotional storyline. It was an undeniable masterpiece and remains so after 60 years.

What director Eddie Curry and choreographer Ron Morgan have brought to B&B’s stage is a faithful yet updated rendition of the classic. This dance rich production pays due homage to Jerome Robbins’ original movements, which were so new to the theatre world in the late 50’s, but here Mr. Morgan opens his own bag of tricks and brings a surprising and imaginative new vision to the work. Mr. Curry innovates with his employment of a reduced cast and a confined setting, still developing engaging relationships and filling the stage with every necessary action, whether it be rumpus or romance.

Somewhere

Maria (Courtney Cheatham) and Tony (Glenn DeVar) imagine a place “Somewhere” where they are free to love in Beef & Boards’ production of “West Side Story”.

All the performances are true. Led by Courtney Cheatham’s Maria and Glenn DeVar as Tony, the talented cast tells this sometimes painful story with impressive abilities. Ms. Cheatham is blessed with an angel’s sweet voice and an innocent countenenace, perfect for the coming of age Maria. DeVar brings a likeable boyishness to his role, finding new range in the part with his fervent approach to Tony’s changing life.

A Young Lady of America

Maria (Courtney Cheatham), left, is excited for the dance she is about to attend with Anita (Marisa Rivera) and her brother Bernardo (Dan Higgins), in Beef & Boards’ production of “West Side Story”.

Marisa Rivera is a sultry Anita, showing strong dance skills and vocal abilities; Dan Higgins is commanding as Maria’s protective brother Bernardo; and Ben Cullen was impressive with his honest performance as Riff, the Jets de facto leader.

Cool

The Jets, led by Riff (Ben Cullen), center, learn to play it “Cool” in Beef & Boards’ production of “West Side Story”.

The dance corps, comprised of Jets, Sharks, and their girls carry out their assignments with aplomb, raising the roof in the many dance numbers and songs they are party to.

Lew Hackleman, Peter Scharbrough and Doug King round out the cast with effective portrayals of Doc, Krupke and Lt. Shranke, respectively.

Doc Im in love

Tony (Glenn DeVar) reassures Doc (Lew Hackleman) that everything will be ok for him and Maria in Beef & Boards’ production of “West Side Story”.

Though much of the show is ensemble in nature, the 5 leads are due ovations for their thoughtful and emotion driven turns onstage. Under director Curry’s deft hand, every familiar song is a joy to experience again, and every well remembered turn of events in the storytelling is offered with truth and depth.

I would be remiss to leave out the contributions of the wonderful orchestra lead by Terry Woods, which delivers the heart of the show through their fine rendering of the complex score. From the first familiar pulses, to the emotive final notes, Mr. Woods and his players give noteworthy performances.

Likewise, Jill Kelly Howe’s costumes give the various characters texture and placement in the world of the street.

Bottomline: I am too often underwhelmed when I attend a show I know so well and love so greatly, but as I sat in the darkness at the end of this production, wiping the moisture from my eyes, I knew this cast had fulfilled my wish for this show to be something special.

West Side Story continues at Beef and Boards Dinner Theatre through October 1st. Show times and reservations can be viewed at http://www.beefandboards.com or you may call the box office at  317-872-9664.

* – Photos by Julie Curry

 

 

“Ring of Fire” at Beef & Boards Dinner Theatre

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reviewed by Ken Klingenmeier

Beef and Boards Dinner Theatre continues their 2017 season with the Johnny Cash tribute show Ring of Fire. Directed by Curt Wollen, with choreography by Wendy Short-Hays, this highly entertaining and perfectly cast production showcases over 30 of the songs that made The Man in Black one of America’s most beloved performers. Presented as a sectionalized rolling history of Cash, illuminated by music selections from his and others’ catalogues – we become acquainted with his life and times. For want of a term, I would call the show a “biological revue”.

I've Been Everywhere

The entire cast joins in on “I’ve Been Everywhere” during B&B’s production of “Ring of Fire”.

The musical selections move from earnest, to slick, to high-stepping, onto uplifting as we progress through the story of what began as a hard life in Arkansas, moved through the days of hits and kicks, then turned upward to more reverent ideals. Each number is compelling in it’s presentation, whether it be rousing or poignant. This works well to array the varying audience reactions from foot-tapping bliss to choked back emotion.

The wonderfully organized production benefits from the unique cast which has been assembled for it, most of whom make their B&B debuts. The requirements to be in the cast must have been: 1) have recording contract quality vocal talent, 2) be able to play a multitude of stringed instruments, plus a few others, 3) have the exceptional ability to show that you are having so much fun onstage, that we all want you to never stop. This generously talented ensemble of players includes B&B newcomers Melody Allegra Berger, Tim Drake, Allison Kelly, Jeremy Sevelovitz, Travis Smith and Zack Steele. Brian Gunter returns for a third B&B show. Jill Kelly Howe is also a B&B veteran and indeed is also the resident costumer for the theatre.

Flushed From the Bathroom of Your Heart

Jill Kelly Howe as Minnie Pearl for “Flushed From the Bathroom of Your Heart” with Brian Gunter on bass and Jeremy Sevelovitz on ukulele during B&B’s production of “Ring of Fire”.

This ensemble of eight talented singing musicians works amazingly well together, especially when blending their voices in close harmony. In fact, their stage presence and easy delivery throughout may have you thinking that they have all been touring this show together for 10 months or more. But that is not the case – they have somehow acquired a remarkable cohesion, which makes the program ever more enjoyable.

Ring of Fire

Allison Kelly joins Travis Smith for a rendition of the title tune in B&B’s production of “Ring of Fire”.

Some highlights in the show include Ms. Howe’s haunting ballad “Far Side Banks of Jordan” and her comical turn with “Flushed From the Bathroom of Your Heart” (a lá Minnie Pearl); Mr. Drake’s stirring rendition of “Ragged Old Flag”; the ensemble’s lively “Daddy Sang Bass”; and flashy piano and guitar work by Mssrs. Smith and Sevelovitz, respectively. Ms. Berger is an extraordinary fiddle player – and she “burns” her instrument on her featured appearance in the Act Two opening number; Ms. Kelly is tremendous in her renditions as June Carter in “Ring of Fire” and “Jackson”, as well as her soulful solo “All Over Again”; Brian Gunter exhibits his rare musical abilities in countless numbers; and Mr. Steele displays a variety of talents throughout, while he is especially noteworthy in the encore piece, “A Boy Named Sue”.

Oh Come Angel Band

The entire cast blends their voices for “Come Angel Band” in B&B’s production of “Ring of Fire”.

Bottomline: It’s hard to be a critic when there is nothing whatsoever to criticize. This show is fresh, lively entertainment (with a PG rating due to some lyrics about drugs and crimes). Honestly, I think it just may be as fine a show, in terms of musical performance, as I have ever seen at this venue.

Ring of Fire continues at Beef and Boards Dinner Theatre through August 13. Show times and reservations can be viewed at http://www.beefandboards.com or call the box office at  317-872-9664.

  • – Photos by Julie Curry

“Richard III” at IndyFringe Basile Theatre

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reviewed by Ken Klingenmeier

First Folio Productions and Catalyst Repertory have combined forces to present the epic drama Richard III at the IndyFringe Basile Theatre.

Shakespeare’s tragic play offers up one of his most intriguing characters in Gloucester/Richard, the physically flawed, and notoriously hateful villain, who murdered all who stood between him and the throne of England. Skillfully adapted by Ben Power, Casey Ross and director Glenn Dobbs – the production begins with the 2012 discovery of Richard’s remains in a Leicester, England parking lot. This scene melds into Gloucester’s opening monologue, “Now is the winter of our discontent…” and we are off.

What follows is a compelling account of the King Richard III saga, augmented by Linda Schornhorst’s lush costume designs, a rich soundtrack designed by Brian G. Hartz, and fight choreography by Scott Russell, all on the simple set designed by Fred Margison and Andy Burnett.

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Matt Anderson as Richard in First Folio and Catalyst Repertory’s production of “Richard III”.

Matt Anderson is thoroughly masterful as Richard. He truly becomes the fated scoundrel in what is a very physical and methodical portrayal. Anderson leaves no doubt that this is a damaged man, his extreme awkwardness only amplifying his focused desire to achieve the throne. Richard’s words drip with desire and hatefulness, and his body reveals the pain of his being. The supporting cast has a great advantage by being able to react to the seething performance Anderson renders.

Carey Shea plays the dual roles of Richard’s brother Clarence and his opponent Richmond. Both are offered with confident, spot-on depictions. Allison Clark Reddick gives a stirring performance as the widow of Richard’s brother – Queen Elizabeth. Her sorrow at the tragedies in her character’s life is immense yet varied enough to be compelling and genuine. Matthew Socey is effective as the weakened husband of the queen, King Edward IV; Christina Howard is sad and lovely as the stricken Lady Anne; and Nan Macy projects her role as Richard’s mother, Duchess of York, with great authority.

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Matt Anderson (Richard), Allison Clark Reddick (Elizabeth), and Nan Macy (Duchess of York) in First Folio and Catalyst Repertory’s production of “Richard III” .

The various assignments given Jay Hemphill (Buckingham), Casey Ross (Queen Margaret), Doug Powers (Rivers/Sir Urswisk), Kevin Caraher (Hastings), and Ryan Reddick (Stanley),  plus John Mortell, Mark Cashwell and Mike Varick (each in various roles) are all well met. Also, Dalyn Stewart and Lex Lumpkin both do themselves honor with their portrayals of Richard’s young nephews, Prince Edward and Duke of York.

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Kevin Caraher (Lord Hastings), Matthew Socey (King Edward IV), and Allison Clark Reddick (Queen Elizabeth) in First Folio and Catalyst Repertory’s production of “Richard III” .

This is a strong presentation, filled with well-developed performances. Most everything that has been pieced together for the production emphatically meets the goal of conveying this complicated story to the minds of the audience in an understandable and potent way.

My only negative comment for this impressive show is that the background sound track, while well-chosen and effective in its result, was at times too intense in volume, keeping me from fully understanding the players. I think this could easily be corrected – as I believe the most important part of theatre is the actors’ conveyance to an audience.

Bottomline: Shakespeare fans, and indeed anyone who loves good theatre, will want to attend this high level Richard III. Director Glenn Dobbs has gained an impressive reputation with his well-researched, high quality productions of the bard’s works. This one is not to be missed.

Richard III continues weekends at the IndyFringe Basile Theatre near Mass Ave through July 9th. You can get information about the shows, and purchase tickets, by going to http://www.indyfringe.org/theatre-show/richard-111 .

  • – photos by Gary Nelson

 

“The Great Bike Race” at TOTS

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reviewed by Ken Klingenmeier

In July 1904, the second Tour de France bicycle race was held. It was plagued by cheating and scandal. Participants broke rules on many stages, everything from catching illegal rides by car and/or train, to finding unauthorized nourishment along the route, to nails thrown out on the course to cause flat tires. Some of the riders’ conduct was so bad that the race’s organizer stated that it would be the last time the race was run. In the end the top finishers were disqualified and the youngest rider in the contest, Henri Cornet, was declared the winner.

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From left: Carrie Bennett Fedor, Evan Wallace, John Kern, Frankie Bolda, Sonia Goldberg, Paige Scott, Craig Kemp, Ben Asaykwee and Joshua C. Ramsey make up the cast for Zach Rosing’s production of “The Great BIke Race” at TOTS

Playwright/director Zack Neiditch has taken this amazing sports story from the distant past and turned it into the lively and original production, The Great Bike Race – which is produced by Zach Rosing and currently on the bill at Theatre on the Square. The show first appeared at the 2014 Indy Fringe Fest and has been elongated somewhat for this run.

The story is told as a series of episodic vignettes and the fit cast of 9 actors and actresses zooms through the race’s action with aplomb. The over-the-top activity is stuffed with comic turns, silly songs, a motion picture background, a virtual cow, love story sidebars, looney characterizations, a popular 1904 radio program and lots of high powered racing action.

The comedy is uneven at best, ranging from cheap fart jokes and profanity to really inspired situational humor. The songs are actually quite good (original music is by Paige Scott) and they move the story along nicely, plus they are offered by some very talented voices. The background is ingenious and very much a part of the storytelling. The cow speaks for itself. The love stories tend to be uno-gendered and a bit forced. The looney characterizations are a delight and are fully rendered. The radio show is a nice twist of contemporary insanity (cleverly anachronistic was their pitch) which adds to the mayhem. The high powered cycle racing looks exhausting – but this cast is, as I said, fit. And I must make special mention of Peachy Keen Costuming as their added touch is a vital one.

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From left: Paige Scott, Frankie Bolda and Ben Asaykwee in a scene from Zach Rosing’s production of “The Great Bike Race” at TOTS

I do applaud the production team on their penchant for taking chances. Some concepts fall by the way-side, but a good many of the ideas land truly and provide a worthwhile entertainment. The team of actors functions well as an amazing ensemble, but standout performances by Frankie Bolda as winning rider Henri Cornet, Ben Asaykwee as a likeably villainous Maurice Garin, and Paige Scott (whose mustachioed image in the publicity ads and posters for the production has become nothing short of iconic) as the dastardly Hippolyte Acoutrier, lead the way. Additionally, Josh Ramsey does an impressive job – his hands full with a trio of very varied rider depictions.

Bottomline: this was a perfect Father’s Day afternoon entertainment – full of laughs, a few groans, and much quirky and imaginative story-telling. I enjoyed it!

The Great Bicycle Race continues at Theatre on the Square for two more performances, June 23 & 24, 2017 at 8:00 PM. For tickets and information, go online to https://zrpevents.vbotickets.com/events

  • – Photos provided by Zach Rosing Productions

“Don’t Hug Me, We’re Married” at Westfield Playhouse

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reviewed by Larry Adams

The skies were clear, the moon was bright and full, and the temperature was just right. It was one of those beautiful Indiana summer evenings, and so I closed up the office and took the short drive out to the hundred-year-old church that now serves as home to Westfield Playhouse. A jog up the steps and through the lobby, and I quickly found myself in the fictional town of Bunyan Bay, Minnesota for a performance of Don’t Hug Me, We’re Married.

Which reminds me- before I even get to the play, a word about the venue: the refurbished little church in and of itself is a charming place to see a show, but board president John Sampson consistently impresses with his sets, in this case creating a mammoth, high-ceilinged interior of a small-town drinking establishment complete with tables and chairs, a full- size bar and a separate stage for the occasional entertainer or local singer. I’ve been on this stage a few times over the past couple of years and I know it isn’t big enough to hold this set. It’s easy to forget the contribution of the peripheral elements in a production as we focus on the actors, but, with the help of tone-perfect set decoration by director Doug Davis, this impressive set draws the audience into the fictional world of Bunyan long before the actors first take the stage.

Clara (Karen Webster,) Trigger (Doug Stanton,) Bernice (Tanya Haas,) and Kanute (Kevin Shadle)

Clara (Karen Webster,) Trigger (Doug Stanton,) Bernice (Tanya Haas,) and Kanute (Kevin Shadle) in a scene from Westfield Playhouse’s production of “Don’t Hug Me, I’m Married”.

Ok. On to the show. Don’t Hug Me, We’re Married, by Phil and Paul Olson, is apparently the fifth in a series of Don’t Hug Me plays, all revolving around the same six characters, who presumably must therefore have some sort of longstanding intimacy problems. (I say “apparently” and “presumably” because I haven’t actually seen any of the other plays or bothered to do any research beyond asking the actors after the show. I’m on a deadline here, and my internet barely beats dial-up.) Westfield staged one of the previous shows in the series a few years ago and has brought back three of the original four actors to reprise their roles in this sequel. DHMWM takes a look at three different relationships among the characters: a new one just starting along the wedding track, a longstanding marriage that has lost its spark, and a, well, semi-reluctant romantic entanglement. Throw in a stun gun and a plague of encephalitis infected mosquitoes and, as they say, hilarious hijinks ensue.

This ain’t Shakespeare. It’s pure fluff, which makes it perfect entertainment for a summer evening after a long week at work or dealing with the kids. And although that’s not usually my favorite cup of tea, I have to admit this production has such an endearing quality to it that I couldn’t help but be sucked in. Partly that’s a credit to the script, which is filled with winks at the audience, almost early David Letterman-esque winks (kind of a “sure, it’s stupid, but what the heck, it’s just a show” sort of thing) which serve to reassure that no one, including either of the writers, is taking this too seriously. But it’s more than that. The cast just has a palpable chemistry, a comfort level perhaps developed in the previous production, that allows them to play it with abandon. They just look like they’re having fun on stage, and that fun is infectious. Like elephantitis. (Alright, you won’t get that one unless you see the show.)

Kevin Shadle shines in what I think is his best role yet as the rich and lonely Kanute, while Mike Green, who impressed me years ago in A Nice Family Gathering, again lights up the stage as the new groom-to-be Aarvid. Karen Webster and Tanya Haas, two ladies with whom I have had the absolute pleasure and honor of sharing a stage or two, show why they are among Indianapolis’s most enjoyable and dependable actresses as Clara and Bernice respectively, nailing both the laughs and the occasional poignant moments. Doug Stanton, however, gets the juiciest role (roles?) of the show as both Clara’s husband Gunner and his “identical twin sister” Trigger, and he revels in the latter. Cheap laughs? Sure, but he embraces them fully and makes them work to the point of being scene stealers. Put together, the five (six?) work together so smoothly and naturally you suspect they didn’t need a director- which, of course, is generally the hallmark of good directing. Credit Doug Davis here for both inspired casting and deft direction.

Aarvid (Michael Green) and Bernice (Tanya Haas)

Aarvid (Michael Green) and Bernice (Tanya Haas) in a scene from Westfield Playhouse’s production of “Don’t Hug Me, I’m Married”.

Don’t Hug Me, We’re Married was advertised during the previous production as a “play with music” rather than a musical, a distinction which, after watching it, seems somehow accurate even if I can’t quite put my finger on why. The show mixes a surprisingly lengthy set of short songs into the fun through the gimmick of a karaoke machine that can supposedly read the thoughts of the characters. If that sounds a bit hokey, well, it is, but not to worry- the writers aren’t particularly wedded to the idea and don’t seem to mind ignoring or completely disregarding it if it gets in the way of a joke. The cast, to their credit, does an admirable job of voicing the songs and pulling off what little choreography goes along with them.

In terms of pure musical talent, the ladies, I must say, outshine the gentlemen; however, even if the guys are not in great danger of becoming The Next American Idols, they still prove themselves perfectly capable of carrying a tune and are infinitely better dancers than Yours Truly (that last part’s not saying much, guys). Fortunately, the songs themselves don’t require major feats of operatic virtuosity, and, in fact, would probably be lessened by them. Even with the occasional missed note or chopped rhythm, there is a certain charm and, if I may say so, “authenticity” in hearing the thoughts and dreams of these simple characters revealed in pleasing but untrained voices.

Initially, I couldn’t quite decide if the whole musical concept of the show was working for me, with some of the first act songs seemingly rather forced and pedestrian; but the second act numbers, including Doug Stanton’s hilarious “The Day That Bob Dylan Was Here” and the show-stopping “We’re All Gonna Die,” easily won me- and clearly the rest of the audience- over. Again, it’s not Shakespeare, and it’s not Les Miz either; but, in a word or two, the music and the actors’ performances of it are, like the rest of the show, simply “great fun.”

Bottom line (as A Seat on the Aisle’s glorious leader Ken Klingenmeier would say): if you’re looking for a night of no-thought, pure fun entertainment, head out to Westfield Playhouse’s Don’t Hug Me, We’re Married.

Don’t Hug Me, We’re Married continues through June 18th. You can get theatre information and reservations at http://www.westfieldplayhouse.org or by calling 317.402.3341 .

  • – Photos from Westfield Playhouse’s Facebook page

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