Bard Fest’s “Measure for Measure” at IndyFringe Basile Theatre

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reviewed by Adam Crowe

If you readers in ASOTA Land have somehow missed it – Bardfest has begun!! Having become something of an Indianapolis Theater tradition, Bardfest brings together multiple area theatre companies to celebrate the Bard of Avon.

My assignment this year is 1603’s “Measure For Measure” at the IndyFringe Basile Theatre. Just like Ken K., I have performed Shakespeare over the years. There are shows that I know, and then there are shows with which I am only somewhat familiar. Measure definitely falls into that latter category. In spite of that, I was already well aware that Measure falls into the group of plays that scholars call “the problem plays”. Keep in mind, this “category” is not a recent creation. Measure has been considered a “problem” for many years, and long before the dawn of the 21st Century. Classified in the First Folio as a “comedy”, the arc of the story encompasses a LOT of grief, injustice and pain. And as is common in Shakespeare, these story elements are offset with big comic characters, characters in disguise and a deus ex machina ending that (I suppose) would have satisfied 17th Century audiences in that everyone mostly got what they deserved. Societal changes can make certain stories feel uncomfortable. Rather than shy away from that, this production doubles down.

Morgan Morton as Isabella and Aaron Henze as Lucio in “Measure for Measure”

Director Paige Scott makes it clear in her Program Notes that she is not really interested in a “faithful” Elizabethan approach to the text. For her, the play is more useful as a way to look at questions of right and wrong, hypocrisy, and more. She specifically offers no clear answers. For me, this version of Measure slaps the audience with the eternal injustice of women living in a world where their value and dignity are never within their own power or control (or even definition).

Zachariah Stonerock as Angelo and Brittany Magee as Mariana in “Measure for Measure”

If you fancy yourself a Shakespeare purist, I am not sure if this is the production for you. The words are most certainly Shakespeare’s – but Ms. Scott has shaped and edited the text to make the infernal injustices stand tall above the rest of the story. Her cast is more than up to the task of her vision. Zach Stonerock’s Angelo is vile. Morgan Morton’s Isabella is heartbreaking. David Mosedale’s Duke is certainly convinced of his own wisdom and rightousness (in spite of his actions). Miranda Nehrig’s Escalus was perfectly perplexed and astonished at the events around her. Finally, Bradford Riley is good as Claudio, though the role feels too . . . little, perhaps from compression of the original script. The supporting cast was able and nimble. Everyone onstage plays their character’s desires and heartbreaks deadly seriously. This cast makes the audience think. And feel.

Morgan Morton as Isabella and Bradford Riley as Claudio in “Measure for Measure”

I don’t feel qualified to decide if this production is “true” to Shakespeare or not. The buffoonery and comic relief were certainly slimmed down to a very bare (or less) minimum. The core story of misconduct and treachery, hypocrisy and inequality is the focus. I loved the acting, and was disturbed by the story that the actors told. Maybe that’s what Paige Scott wants.

Measure For Measure” has THREE more performances – October 29-30 at 8:00 pm and October 31 at 2:00 pm. Performances are at the IndyFringe Basile Theater at 719 East St. Claire Street, in Indianapolis. For ticket informtion go to Measure for Measure | IndyFringe

  • – photos by Rob Slavens

Please note that proof of vaccination or recent negative Covid test results are required for attendance.

Bard Fest’s “Antony and Cleopatra” at The CAT Theatre

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reviewed by Daniel Shock

I could have been in this show. That is not ego talking. That’s a fact. I am a board member of The Improbable Fiction Theatre company that is producing this presentation of Antony and Cleopatra for Indy’s Bard Fest, directed by my good friend Ryan Shelton. I begin my review with this as both a confession that I cannot be entirely objective and an apology that the show is inevitably not as good because I am not in it. Jokes aside, I haven’t had anymore to do with this production than any other show I’ve reviewed, other than storing some paint for the set.

Indy Bard Fest’s Antony and Cleopatra, presented by The Improbable Fiction Theatre Company, is full of marvelous performances that should not be missed. This production is my first encounter with this play. Other Shakespeare shows that I’ve reviewed I had either been (‘The Tempest’) or I had seen them multiple times (‘Macbeth’). So, I was happy to find that I didn’t have much trouble following this story or getting caught up in the language.

Darin Richart plays Roman Mark Antony and Afton Shepard has the role of Cleopatra, Queen of Egypt

The plot is one of Shakespeare’s great historical tales of love and tragedy. Antony (Darin Richart) is distracted from his duty to Rome by his love for Cleopatra (Afton Shepard), Queen of Egypt.

Mark Antony, Octavius Caesar (Thomas Sebald) and Lepidus (Duane Leatherman), rule the Roman Empire as a triumvirate following the assassination of Julius Caesar.

Antony is forced to return to Rome when news of his wife’s death along arrives along with challenges to the triumverate’s authority and power come from an unhappy senator. Away from Cleopatra’s charms he agrees to marry Octavius Caesar’s sister, Octavia (Jamie Devine), in order to strengthen his political alliance with Caesar. From there, the tale proceeds to jealous rages, broken alliances and war. Tragedy is the end.

Afton Shepard as Cleopatra

The performances in this production are a marvel. Cleopatra – one of Shakespeare’s most complex female characters – as portrayed by Afton Shepard, is jaw dropping. I have never seen a performance more fully realized and full of strong choices as this one. I didn’t see a single indication of an actress playing a part. All I saw was Cleopatra. Brava!

Darin Richart as Antony, while maybe on the young side for the role, was commanding and tortured. As the Soothsayer, and many other roles, Craig Kemp showed tremendous range in many funny and slimy moments. As Octavius Caesar, Thomas Sebald owned the stage while he was on it. In a gender swapped role, Bobbi Bye, as Agrippa was fantastic! (I applaud non-traditional casting and it worked well here.)

from left: Barb Weaver as Iras, Afton Shepard as Cleopatra, and Dana Lesh as Charmian

Dana Lesh and Barb Weaver as Cleopatra’s servants, Charmian and Iras, were both funny and heartbreaking as they did their best to ride their queen’s emotional roller-coaster. Likewise, Becca Bartley as Alexas (a role combining three roles) was affective as the loyal servant of Antony, who must refuse his last order.

Other highlights in the cast were Jamie Devine as Octavia, Kevin Caraher as Enorbarbus, Evangaline Bouw as Dolabella, Jet Terry as Scarus and Aaron Ploof as Proculeius. Finally, community theatre godfather, guardian angel and good luck charm, Duane Leatherman mastered the small but authoritative role of Lepidus.

The production excelled in the technical aspects as well. The costumes by Sara Musick serve the characters well. Certainly, Cleopatra’s costumes are the showpiece. Additionally, Caesar’s costumes are regal, Craig Kemp’s many changes indicating his different characters are all effective, and the various soldiers and servants are all well distinguished.

The set by Kendall Roberts, Dana Roberts, Christy Clinton and Kristy Peters is simple and beautiful. Thankfully, there are no elaborate scene changes to slow things down. The sets evoke the beauty and antiquity of ancient Rome and Egypt. Lighting and sound by Eric Matters and props by Sherri Byer also do not disappoint.

Theatre is a team sport and what a team Antony and Cleopatra makes! The coaches: Director Ryan Shelton and Assistant Director Christy Clinton have delivered a must-see show for this year’s Bard Fest. (Even without me in it.)

I would not delay in getting your tickets to Antony and Cleopatra. The show opened on Friday October 23 and will run through Sunday October 31 at The Cat Theatre, 254 Veterans Way, Carmel, IN 46032. Tickets available at the door or online, click HERE.

  • – photos by Rob Slavens

Bard Fest’s “Macbeth” by The Agape Theatre Company

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reviewed by Larry Adams

Things bad begun make strong themselves by ill.– Macbeth

I like to refer to the 1998 thriller “A Simple Plan” as the “the best movie I never want to see again.” In it, three otherwise unremarkable and law-abiding men stumble upon a cache of missing drug money and, after much debate, decide to dip a toe just across the line of morality by trying to keep the cash for themselves. The subsequent cascade of increasingly unethical, illegal and violent acts employed in pursuit of their ambition results in a slow and seemingly unstoppable spiral down to the depths of blood and ruin, one that is truly gut-wrenching to watch unfold.

The Agape Theater Company’s production of Shakespeare’s “Macbeth,” the youth offering of this year’s Bard Fest, brought this film to mind as I watched the opening night performance at Theater at the Fort on the east side of town. For those unfamiliar with the story (and, as with any of the bard’s plays, I strongly suggest you read a quick synopsis before the curtain rises; 400-year-old prose can be a little hard for the modern ear to follow), our titular character Macbeth, a presumably brave and honorable general in the Scottish King Duncan’s army, falls victim to his own royal ambitions at the start of the show and slogs his way into becoming a tyrannical despot over the course of the next two and a half hours on stage. Breaking bad fairly quickly after receiving a prophecy from a host of woodland witches, he nevertheless at least manages to harbor some guilt and moral reservations as he first murders his king and kinsman Duncan early in the narrative; but by the final curtain he’s dispatching women, children, and enemies both real and imagined with nearly gleeful abandon in his obsession to hold onto power. “I am in blood stepped in so far, that, should I wade no more, returning were as tedious as go o’er,” Macbeth at one point laments. If there is a hell, he knows he’s already secured a prime spot in which to burn; there will be no turning back on his march to death and damnation. From the murky past of the 17th century, Shakespeare warns us today not to take that first step down a slippery slope.

The Witches Coven from Agape Theater Company’s “Macbeth

Under the direction of its founder, Dr. Kathy Phipps, Agape Theater Company has done a remarkable job in bringing Indianapolis this lavish production of a very complex and relatable Shakespearian tragedy. Offered as the 2021 Youth Production of Bard Fest, “Macbeth” shines with the thought and attention that has been brought to every aspect of its realization on stage. From the pre-show music, to the imaginative and versatile set, to the costumes befitting a professional effort, Agape draws the audience into the 11th century world in which its story takes place (Phipps resists the temptation – wisely, in my view – to place her production in a modern setting; as I’ve written in this space previously, context is the key to all, and to remove Shakespeare from his intended setting is to do something entirely other than Shakespeare). The lighting is highly effective without drawing attention to itself, and the direction seamless, as Phipps smoothly moves her actors about the stage with all the skill of a master chess player.

The actors, all between the ages of 3 and 25, give strong performances to a person. This is particularly impressive given the complexity and temporal foreignness of Shakespeare’s 17th century dialogue coming from the mouths of such young and relatively inexperienced stage performers. As an audience member near me remarked with appreciation and some degree of awe after the curtain call, “You can tell they really understood what they were saying.” In addition, the rare instances of a bobbled line or prop I could detect during the course of the play were covered with a calm smoothness one would expect only from much more seasoned thespians. I was left both impressed by the evident hours and work each performer had invested in this production and optimistic about the future of Indianapolis live theater in the hands of young men and women such as these.

Aiden Morris as Macbeth and Brynn Hensley in the role of Lady Macbeth

Aiden Morris confidently handles the lead role of Macbeth in this production, admirably portraying the doomed king’s decline from courageous hero to tyrannical madman. Nathan Foster gives us an appropriately upright and thoughtful Banquo while in this life, and a chilling specter of the man while haunting Macbeth in the next. Standout performances last night included Virginia Server as Ross, Jake Hobbs as Malcolm, and Brynn Hensley as Lady Macbeth; Shakespeare can be bloody incomprehensible on the printed page, but these performers best brought their roles to life through the subtleties of both their line readings and body language. Of course, no listing of cast standouts would be complete without a mention of 3-year-old Danny Zou as Rory Macduff. His first appearance on stage brought the loudest reaction from the audience, proving once again that, in theater, there are no small parts.

No production in the history of theater has ever been perfect, and as impressive as this opening night performance was, there were, of course, aspects that left room for improvement. Setting aside a slight and somewhat expected tendency toward overacting in the more dramatic scenes (though none of it approaching Shatnerian levels), sound was the major issue of the evening. Even sitting in the second row, I often struggled to catch whole lines of dialogue. Clearly, this was multifactorial: part of it may have been the acoustics of the venue ( I thought of moving further back and higher up in the audience for the second half to test it, but was afraid I might be left with an hour of pure pantomime); part was a fairly familiar problem of volume (I have never as an actor NOT been told by my director at some point that I needed to project more); part was the typical opening night, adrenaline-fueled tendency to rush some lines; and part was simply a consequence of our times- COVID -19 masks covered about a fourth of the cast, and though the plastic coverings were clear enough not to cause too much of a distraction visually, the unavoidable muffling of sound frequently played havoc with the wearer’s dialogue. Those actors wearing masks will have to consciously make the effort to project and enunciate at a far higher level than required in non-pandemic times if they hope to be understood through the rest of the run of the show.

There is one normally unsung group involved with this production that I simply can’t close this piece without calling out for special praise. Never in the notes I have taken for all the shows I have reviewed in this space have I ever written the words, “This stage crew is AMAZING!” – until last night. These young men and women were absolutely on it, every time- moving with the timing and speed of Wimbledon ball boys and the smoothness of theater ninjas. “Macbeth” requires a bewildering number of scene changes, something which could easily derail the entire production, but this stage crew would have none of that; they were absolutely instrumental in maintaining the flow of the narrative. I was glad to see them get their own time in the spotlight at curtain call- they deserved every moment of it.

“Macbeth” plays October 22nd through the 24th and October 28th through the 30th at Theater at the Fort, 8920 Otis Avenue, Indianapolis. Go see it for an enjoyable evening’s diversion. Go see it for its timeless tale of human ambition, cruelty and courage. Go see it to support our youth – young actors doing truly wonderful work. Tickets are available at https://www.artsforlawrence.org/events-1/bardfest-presents-macbeth-2021-10-22-19-30

– Photos by Antonio Chapital

Bard Fest’s “Love’s Labor’s Lost” at The CAT Theatre

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reviewed by Ken Klingenmeier

Indianapolis’s Bard Fest series continues at the CAT Theatre in Carmel IN with Shakespeare’s 1597 comedy Love’s Labor’s Lost . Direction is provided by John Johnson, who also designed the costuming, which is quite rich and colorful. The simple yet set highly functional was the work of Kendell Roberts, Dana Roberts, Christy Clinton and Kirsty Peters.

I am not a Shakespeare expert, not even close. I have appeared in a good-sized handful of productions, but have never taken on the task of directing or editing one of the Bard’s works. I come to new Shakespeare experiences always hoping to learn and to pick up on his genius.

That said, I am a critic driven by my personal tastes and my own theatre experience, which I feel is lengthy enough and aptly full of depth. I perceive what I see on stage and critique it – most often – based on my ideas of what I think is good as “theatre” and what I think is not – or what I like and what I don’t. This method includes my own array of shortcomings. That said further – I was not enamored with the text of Mr. Shakespeare’s 1597 play which is presented here.

Rosaline (Rachel Kelso), Maria (Brittany Davis) and the French Princess (Jennifer Kaufmann) peruse an admirer’s note in Bard Fest’s “Love’s Labor’s Lost”

But before I critique this work, let us be make clear that the performances I saw were glowing and full of ripe portrayals. The entire cast has developed a vivid set of characterizations which were a great pleasure to watch.

Highlights for me include Matt Hartzburg’s Berowne, who joins his fellows in swearing off having anything to do with women – for 3 years! – the better to study and grow. Hartzberg has grown as an actor since I last saw him on stage, and he needed to in order to take on this very meaty role. JB Scoble shines as one of the play’s clowns, a servant named Costard, providing an energetic portrayal (although, I question the affectation of a redneck accent in the Elizabethan era). Jennifer Kaufmann is demure and royal (and bawdy) as the French Princess – as are her ladies of the court. Dan Flahive is an extreme pleasure to watch as his educator Holofernes rolls through his speeches, a truly enlightened academic. Finally, John Mortell’s Don Adriano de Armado is an interesting, completely enjoyable creation. Others, too many to name, each have their own special moments on stage – all do fine work.

Mote (Justina Savage), Costard (JB Scoble) and Don Adriano de Armado (John Mortell) in a scene from Bard Fest’s “Love’s Labor’s Lost”

So, here is the trouble: the play is long (Act One times out at 1 hour 35 minutes), wordy (the cutting that we saw could have been cut further, I believe, without doing damage to the story) and full of language that portrayed hilarious Elizabethan put-downs and witticisms which I simply could not decipher. I felt lost at times – more so perhaps than for any Shakespeare play I have ever attended.

Mrs. K and I left after the first act – this was due to 1) a painful leg problem I have been fighting for most of the year (if I sit too long on the wrong seat, it flares up) 2) my butt hurt (sitting too long again) and 3) my head hurt – from the wordy word-play and the confusion thereby rendered. I apologize to the cast for having to leave – but it was, in this case, unavoidable. We did not go because of the performances – as I said, they were rich and well-developed.

Holofernes (Dan Flahive) and Nathaniel (Thom Johnson) have a pithy discussion in Bard Fest’s “Love’s Labor’s Lost”

Bottomline: So, how do I recommend a production which I could not stay through, nor understand, nor believe to be Shakespeare’s best work? I’ll tell you this – just because it didn’t work for me, I cannot presume you would have the same experience. If you love the Bard – go! If you have a relative in the show – by all means, go! – the performances are marvelous. The fact is – plenty of people in the audience I was a part of last night enjoyed the hell out of the long scenes and wordy word-play. It just wasn’t there for me.

Love’s Labor’s Lost continues at The CAT theatre (254 Veterans Way in Carmel IN) through this weekend and the next. For information about the play, go to http://www.indybardfest.com/love-s-labor-s-lost . For ticket info go to https://www.eventbrite.com/e/loves-labors-lost-tickets-169860580569

  • – photos by Rob Slaven

“The Book Club Play” at Indiana Repertory Theatre

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reviewed by Ken Klingenmeier

Indiana Repertory Theatre opens their 2021-22 season with Karen Zacarias’ 2009 comedy The Book Club Play. This very popular hit show, which has been produced all across the U.S. has a simple enough premise. Five friends meet every 2 weeks at the home of Ana Smith and her husband Rob and discuss the book they all (well, most of them) have read.

Ana, who has the largest personality, is the self appointed leader of the group and has managed to become involved in a project whereby the group’s meetings will be caught on video for a documentary by a very important film-maker. The all-seeing camera is set up in the Smith living room and everything (good and marginally bad) is captured. It’s a comedy, so, naturally, mayhem ensues.

(from left) The Book Club: Ana (Andrea San Miguel), Will (Will Mobley), Lily (Cassia Thompson), Rob (Sean Davis) and Jen (Emily Berman)

Benjamin Hanna directs a talented corps of players, steering most toward a large semi-cartoonish characterization. All 5 of the original club members, which include Ana, Rob, Will – their best friend whose idea it was to have a book club, Jen – a paralegal with a secret, and Lily – an African-American from Akron, Ohio (who jokes she is an Akron-American), are grand in their expressions – of love for the books, for the food, for the wine they are drinking; of opinions about the world, or their future, or their past; indeed, of just about everything – hence the semi-cartoonish nature I feel from them.

Into this circle of oversized expression comes Alex, a professor of comparative literature, who is quite opposite in nature. Although, he is by far the calm in this storm of very active personalities, Alex turns out to be the catalyst of a huge eruption in the group, an outburst of truth.

From books they read, club members discover shuddering truths about themselves, gush out truths that needn’t be spoken, announce truths that change feelings and relationships – and at the very end, come across truths that hurt and need explanation. And all this happens before a most truthful presence – the eye of the film-maker’s video camera. Truth upon truth, recorded as true.

Playwright Zacarias manages to cloak all the revelations, and their impact, in a comedy of reactions, and allows her characters to evolve into people who care for each other more than ever before. It is quite a nice feat of writing, I believe – although in a sense, it might also play well as an episodic show on TV.

Jen (Emily Berman) and Will (Will Mobley) share their feelings under the watch eye of Lily (Cassia Thompson) in a scene from IRT’s “The Book Club Play”

The entire cast is skillful and on point: Andrea San Miguel plays Ana, who has the most diverse road to travel in the story – from self-important leader of her book club (“It’s our book club” echoes every time she claims ownership), to losing control of who is in the club(!), as well as what books are read(!), to having her hurtful manuscript read by all. Sean Davis makes his IRT debut as husband Rob who, while being perhaps the least dynamic character, is also the most reasonable. Rob rarely reads the books assigned in the club (he would rather see the movie), and is mostly there for the food.

Will Mobley plays Ana and Rob’s good friend, Will, who has the most significant truthful revelation in the group. Emily Berman debuts as the perky and confused Jen, who also discovers a great deal about herself. And Cassia Thompson handles writer Lily, as she encounters a life-changing attraction. Finally, Adam Poss completes the cast as Alex, the most grounded of the group, in his IRT debut.

Will (Will Mobley) expresses his love for a book, as Jen (Emily Berman), Lily (Cassia Thompson) and Alex (Adam Poss) look on

Technical aspects sparkle with Junghyun Georgia Lee’s impressive home interior set. Betsy Cooprider Bernstein and Sharath Patel contribute lighting and sound design, respectively, while Alex Jaeger’s costumes are plentiful and perfect. A special note is applicable for Mike Tutaj’s projection design which brings a fascinating array of words and forms to the scene changes.

Bottomline: It took stepping back and pondering the action for me to realize the play’s great worth. It has a simple premise, but I see that this is not a simple play. Truthfulness, friendships, and the ability to change seem to be the thematic thrust in this one.

Tickets to attend or to stream The Book Club Play are available by going to Indiana Repertory Theatre (irtlive.com) and clicking the BUY NOW button on the opening web page. The show will be available through October 31st.

  • – Photos by Zach Rosing
  • – Artwork by Tasha Beckwith

“The Color Purple” at Booth Tarkington Civic Theatre

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reviewed by Ken Klingenmeier

Last evening, Mrs. K and I were privileged to attend a second weekend performance of Booth Tarkington Civic Theatre’s 2021-22 season opener – The Color Purple. The musical is based on the 1982 novel of the same name by Alice Walker and its 1985 film adaptation. Marsha Norman wrote the book for the production and music and lyrics came from the collaborations of Brenda Russell, Allee Willis and Stephen Bray.

The show tells the story of young Celie (played by Bridgette Michelle Ludlow) and her sister Nettie (Kendra Randle) who face much abuse from their widowed step-father (Bradley Allan Lowe). Events make Celie’s life so bad that she wonders if God has forgotten her completely, though further events, and strong women she meets along the way, turn her life from trouble to triumph.

The cast of Civic Theatre’s “The Color Purple”

The production is a joy to the senses – offered on a beautiful, fully functional set designed and lit by Ryan Koharchik, with an amazing plethora of costumes designed by Adrienne Conces – it is an eyeful. The orchestra, conducted by Teneh B.C. Karimu, provides pure and truly pleasant accompaniment for one of the most talented, top-to bottom, musical casts I have ever witnessed.

The cast, under the expert direction of Michael J. Lasley – with choreography by Nicholas A. Owens, is filled with accomplished vocalist/actors. Ms. Ludlow’s Celie is a towering performance. Through her singing, she conveys the many levels of Celie’s emotional journey, the joys she experiences as well as her fears and hopes. It is a full palette, which Ludlow accomplishes with seeming ease.

Bridgette Michelle Ludlow shines as Celie in Civic Theatre’s “The Color Purple”

Likewise, Ms. Randle conveys a true sweetness and loving persona in her portrayal of Nettie. Her featured Act Two opener “African Homeland” is a highlight of the program, as is AshLee Baskins’ “Push Da Button”, her brassy blues number as club singer, Shug Avery. Ms. Ludlow and Ms. Baskins later combine forces for the lovely “What About Love?”.

Other high points are provided by Brenton Anderson as Harpo – who, along with Rachel Bibbs as the strong-willed Sofia, engage in much of the mirth in the show. Both are wonderfully talented performers who take their characters to the limit, which results in great fun.

Brenton Anderson (Harpo) and Rachel Bibbs (Sofia) in a scene from Civic Theatre’s “The Color Purple”

Troy T. Thomas is a strong Mister, with a striking baritone voice. Church ladies Rayanna Bibbs, Tiffany Gilliam, and Alexandria Warfield add adroit commentary throughout, while Miata McMichel finds just the right tone for Squeak, the club waitress.

The combined efforts result in a moving, colorful, dynamic presentation on a very professional level of performance. There was one aspect of the show that I found troublesome however.

I found that the clear conveyance of words – both lyrics and dialogue – was sometimes lacking. Words were often jumbled and undiscernible. I’ve tried to figure out if this was a result of the sound system, the acoustics, the actors’ diction, or my hearing. I can’t come up with any solid answers, unfortunately. Perhaps it was a combination of all these things. Some dialogue was so quietly delivered, I was not even sure if the actors were miked. Certainly the pleasant tones of singing always came through, but often it was not understandable. Mrs. K felt the same. Anyway – it was unfortunate.

Bottomline: technical difficulties aside, this was a landmark production. The music and songs were absolutely fantastic, as was the quality of the acting. There is limited time to see this show, so make quick plans to do so.

The Color Purple continues at the Booth Tarkington Theatre in the Center for the Performing Arts in Carmel through October 23rd. For ticket information and reservations call 317.843.3800 or go online at http://www.civictheatre.org .

  • – Photos by Zach Rosing

Indy Bard Fest’s “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” at The CAT

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reviewed by Vickie Cornelius Phipps

Bard Fest is evolving with “The Prestige Project.” The goal of adding more diversity to a selection of Shakespeare tales with modern classics of theatre is to further enrich the human experience and explore still more of the human soul. Winner of the Tony and Pulitzer Prize, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf by Edward Albee ran for 660 performances on Broadway and is acclaimed as a masterpiece of drama.

The show offered here was cast in the spring of last year but was placed on hold due to, you guessed it, COVID. The ensemble began with Zoom happy hour meetings throughout that spring and summer and continued working together by mounting a radio production of Plaza Suite. That is dedication, and it paid off – creating a charismatic quartet meshed with fine-tuned chemistry.

Martha (Nan Macy) confronts George (Tony Armstrong) in a scene from “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”

The play follows George, the passive victim turned merciless aggressor, cleverly played by Tony Armstrong. George is a forty-six-year-old professor of history living in a small New England college with his fifty-two-year-old wife, Martha. Martha is an alcoholic, selfish, spoiled, domineering human being who believes she is undeserving of happiness, and is appropriately portrayed by Nan Macy. Martha loves and hates her husband George because he can keep up with her games as quickly as she changes them.

Honey (Afton Shepard) finally gets one in a scene from “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”

Also present are Nick and Honey, who have been invited over for a quick night cap. Nick, a young newly hired biology teacher at the same college, receives a richly engaging, and impressive performance by Matthew Walls. Nick’s wife, Honey, played by Afton Shepard, is unnerved by the proceedings as the polite and naïve soul raised by her wealthy preacher father. Ms. Shepard’s performance was a little overdone for me and at times drew focus away from key moments in the play.

There were a few line flubs in the first act, but the cast rallied by the second act and ended with a strong twist. The action takes place in George and Martha’s living room. It is well after midnight and the drinks are flowing. Let the predatory games commence! As the games proceed, poor Nick and Honey get drawn into the destructive and delusional drama that takes place beneath the surface and culminates in an explosive ending.

George (Tony Armstrong) aims for Martha (Nan Macy) in a scene from “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”

I am sure playwright Albee wanted his audience to feel exhausted by the end of the show or why else sit them through three and a half hours watching four drunken dysfunctional adults ripping the truth out of each other’s soul? We must remember the classics, but most importantly to FEEL – that is why we go to theatre. This team delivers. Performed on a small intimate stage, the intense scenes directed by Matthew Socey give each character their moment to shine.

Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf runs October 7 – 17. The Cat Theatre is located at 254 Veterans Way – Carmel, IN. Tickets on sell at the door or go to http://www.indybardfest.com.

  • Photos provided by Indy Bard Fest

“Phantom” at Beef & Boards Dinner Theatre

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reviewed by Ken Klingenmeier

Most of us – okay, virtually all of us – have been exposed to Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Phantom of the Opera, the Broadway juggernaut that has thrilled millions in theatres both live and big-screened around the world. It’s lesser known cousin, Phantom, which opened this week at Beef and Boards Dinner Theatre, has received far less notice but tells the same familiar story from Gaston Leroux’s 1910 novel with a differing perspective – one which I, and the full house crowd at B&B, found entirely enchanting and entertaining.

Arthur Kopit’s book for the show relies mainly on telling the story of the Phantom, Erik, as we learn his origins, his struggles, and the overall reasons for why he is who he is. One of the main themes of the show is human sympathy. Christine remains a major character and the object of Erik’s passions – both musical and romantic. The goings on at the Paris Opera House, albeit with a much different cast of characters save for Diva Carlotta, are essentially as mysterious as any previous version – but we are put more in touch with Erik’s mind and how he perceives his status and his future. He is far more reachable here than in Lloyd Webber’s composition, I believe.

The music and lyrics by Maury Yeston are melodious and a touch less operatic than the PotO’s, and therefore a bit more familiar sounding, I think. They move the story along with a clear precision and without excess. The two acts provide two very distinct thematic levels – the first act providing a lighter sense centered on discovery and happiness, while the second act is full of despair and deep drama.

The Phantom (Logan Moore) carries Christine Daaé (Courtney Cheatham) to his lair in B&B’s “Phantom”.

Director Eddie Curry, who also appears as outgoing theatre manager Gerard Carriere, is blessed with an extraordinary cast. He, along with choreographer Ron Morgan and musical director Kristy Templet have worked their magic many times before, but on this occasion, I believe they have raised the bar a good bit.

Logan Moore stars as the Phantom and does a masterful job. His baritone voice is striking from the first note and continues flawlessly throughout. The dramatic sense he provides in his characterization is arresting and grand. Christine Daaé is offered by Courtney Cheatham, who wowed us of late as Maria in B&B’s West Side Story. Her captivating and innocent portrayal is just right against Moore’s fiercer staging, and her beautiful voice is perfect for Yeston’s score.

Alain Cholet (Bill Book) enchants his wife, Carlotta (Suzanne Stark) in a scene from B&B’s “Phantom”.

Suzanne Stark is both scoundrel and clown in her role as Carlotta, who has no patience for the talented Christine. Ms. Stark and Bill Book, who plays her theatre manager husband Alain Cholet, are a wonderful team, providing a much-needed humorous side to the proceedings. Other standout performances are by the aforementioned Mr. Curry as the Phantom’s friend, Gerard Carriere, Jon Rose as opera patron Count Phillipe, and Sally Scharbrough, who provides many small roles, but is quite lovely in her featured role as the Phantom’s mother, Belladova – in a flashback scene.

Christine Daaé (Courtney Cheatham) debuts her beautiful vocal talents at the Bistro in B&B’s “Phantom”.

Ms. Templet’s small orchestra plays the multi-aspected score with authority. On the technical side, Jill Kelly Howe’s costumes along with wigs by Tim Hunt are lush and beautiful; the intricate set design by Michael Layton solves many complications; and lights and sound by Ryan Koharchik and Daniel Hesselbrock, respectably, fill the bill.

Top everything off with B&B’s great kitchen staff (led by Chef Odell Ward) plus the attentive servers, and satisfaction is complete.

Christine Daaé (Courtney Cheatham) asks to see Erik’s (Logan Moore) unmasked face in a scene from B&B’s “Phantom”.

Bottomline: A surprisingly satisfying evening (or matinee) awaits those who attend Phantom. This is a true hidden gem in the theatre catalog and I commend Beef & Boards for bringing it to us. I give it high marks all around.

Phantom continues at Beef and Boards Dinner Theatre through Novemebr 21st. Find show times and reservations at http://www.beefandboards.com or call the box office at 317-872-9664.

  • – photos by Julie Curry

CCP’s “Boeing Boeing” at the CAT

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reviewed by Ken Klingenmeier

Carmel Community Players opens their 2021-22 season with Marc Camoletti’s comic farce, “Boeing Boeing”. The play is set in 1960s Paris and concerns the outlandish life style of Bernard, who keeps a rotation of three airline stewardesses as fiancées. His ill-conceived plan to keep each girl from knowing about the others works amazingly well – until it doesn’t. Then, of course, typical farcical mayhem ensues and the fun, for the audience, begins.

Daniel Scharbrough directs the action and the actors on a multi-doored set, with costumes by Toni Scroggins. The cast of 4 women and 2 men provide a rather uneven array of portrayals in what is a quite difficult script.

The ladies do better than average turns with their roles. Karen Webster, who plays Bernard’s invaluable housekeeper/cook Berthe, does a wonderful job. Her unfailingly-accented, much-put-upon character comes off as a winner as she takes good advantage of every comic line she is given by the playwright. The three stewardesses, Rachel Kelso (as Gloria, the American), Jessica Hawkins (as Gabriella, the Italian) and Monya Wolf (as Gretchen, the German), all provide interestingly varied women who believe they are Bernard’s one true love. Ms. Kelso is sharp as the self-assured American, Ms. Hawkins brings passion to her romantic Italian, and Ms. Wolf goes from Brunhilda to German kitten in her arc.

The cast of “Boeing Boeing” – from left, Rachel Kelso, Kirk Donlan, Jessica Hawkins, Karen Webster, Monya Wolf and Eric Dixon.

Their male counterparts have a much different and more difficult assignment in the story. Kirk Donlan sets up his sophisticated Bernard as a self-confident womanizer, a real I’m-beating-the-system type individual. His good friend Robert, offered by Eric Dixon, shows himself to be a touch less cultured, as hinted by being Wisconsin born. Robert admires Bernard’s dangerous set-up though he seems reticent to adopt it. From there, we are led into the chaos they face together as the three fiancées enter into collision courses.

Farce is written with lots of need for reactions, because characters continuously learn new factors as the story builds – new complications, new realizations, new unexpected circumstances. Actors’ reactions are a big part of the entertainment for the audience – which knows everything that is going on, and delightedly sees what could be the trouble that is on its way. That’s where I believe (IMHO) this company’s efforts fall apart a bit.

As the problems grow for the men and the unexpected elements unfold, Bernard, and especially Robert, fall into a pattern of thick schtick. It’s a bit overdone and a lot repetitious. For example, draping yourself across an entrance you don’t want a lady to go through (because of the secret that is on the other side) while putting on a casual countenance might be okay to do twice or even thrice. Here, it is repeated about a dozen times. Pinching the top of your nose to show that one is thinking or confused or surprised is likewise okay in moderation – but it seems to be Robert’s go-to action throughout. Those are just some of the plethora of odd reactions. Others that are repeatedly employed are so broad, and cartoonish, they just don’t fit in the format.

This, of course, is all MY reaction and singular opinion, I suppose. The actors got the laughs they were looking for, but the choices were (dare I use the word?) amateurish. A big variety of options are available for this type of thing, and I wished that Mr. Scharbrough and his crew had explored them a bit more. It would have made, for this reviewer at least, a more well-developed show.

Bottomline: Although the audience in general was quite captivated by the eccentricities of the action, I was mainly underwhelmed. Simply put, a bit more attention to variety of reactions would have made a sizeable difference in this production for me. On the plus side, the story-telling was paced at an appropriate clip which helped immensely and energy was certainly never lacking.

Boeing Boeing continues it’s short run with performances September 23 & 26. The CAT is located at 254 Veteran’s Way (formerly 254 1st Ave SW) in Carmel. Tickets may be purchased by visiting  http://www.carmelplayers.org or by calling (317) 815-9387.

Epilogue Players’ “Arsenic and Old Lace”

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reviewed by Ken Klingenmeier

Epilogue Players opens their 2021-22 season with the classic dark comedy – Arsenic and Old Lace, written by Joseph Kesselring. The play opened on Broadway over 80 years ago on January 10th 1941 and closed in 1944 after 1,444 performances.

Brent Wooldridge returns to Epilogue to direct and, with his talented cast of players, puts on a very enjoyable evening of crazy fun. Most of us have seen the play or very likely have seen the film version which starred Cary Grant as Mortimer Brewster. Mortimer is the put-upon nephew of Abby and Martha Brewster, two kindly old ladies who “help” lonely old men get past their struggles with a glass of homemade elderberry wine. Add in Mortimer’s eccentric brother – Teddy, who believes he is President Theodore Roosevelt, and his older brother Jonathan, who happens to be a homicidal maniac, and we have the makings of a comedy you won’t soon forget.

Mortimer Brewster (Jaime Johnson) confronts his Aunts Abby (Serita Borgeas – in gold) and Martha (Hazel Gillaspy – in blue)

Jaime Johnson stars as Mortimer and brings a polished characterization to the stage. Blessed with excellent comic timing and a wealth of appropriate facial expressions to enhance the mirth, Johnson was a great choice for the role. Serita Borgeas and Hazel Gillaspy join him as Abby and Martha, respectively. These two experienced actresses work very well together, mixing their sweet kindliness with an innocent psychosis to produce more than a few laughs.

Scott Prill is a perfect Teddy in looks, manner and energy. He does his brilliant turn without taking over his scenes and adds much to the hilarity. Daniel Scott Watson is a terrific villain, playing Jonathan as the fully evil, scary, and dangerously murderous character he is meant to be. Watson is joined by Mike Harold, as Dr. Einstein. Harold brings an interesting sympathetic honesty to the side-kick malefactor, which plays very well.

Dr. Einstein (Mike Harold, left) and Jonathan Brewster (Daniel Scott Watson, right) discuss the future with Mortimer (Jaime Johnson, center)

Featured supporting players Caity Withers as Mortimer’s fiancée, Elaine Harper, and Tom Meador as Police Lt. Rooney both do excellent work. Ms. Withers brings a winningly playful feistiness to her role, while Meador seems to have walked off the streets of Brooklyn to appear in his scenes, so authentic are his Brooklynese demeanor and comic delivery. Ron Pittman adds his dour Dr. Harper in the earliest scenes with convincing mannerisms.

Mortimer Brewster (Jaime Johnson) enjoys a talk with his fiancée Elaine Harper (Caity Withers)

In total, the show is a well-done rendering of the classic – once we slog through the longish old-style exposition, which is indeed complicated for this busy plot. Afterward, the zanier scenes play quite well and were nicely received by the sold-out audience.

Bottomline: This dear old play, which has no doubt been done at least several million times around the world, is still a funny, clever, plot-twisted gem. The Epilogue company does it proud with their production.

Arsenic and Old Lace continues at Epilogue Players through September 16th. For more information about dates, times and reservation go to http://www.epilogueplayers.com or call 317.926.3139.

  • Photos provided by Epilogue Players

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