"Elf – The Musical" at Booth Tarkington Civic Theatre

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reviewed by Ken Klingenmeier

We continue our visits to the immense variety of holiday fare offered in central Indiana venues with Civic Theatre’s production of Elf – The Musical. This 2010 Broadway musical is, of course, based on the highly successful 2003 film – Elf. With a score by Matthew Sklar and Chad Beguelin, and a book by Thomas Meehan and Bob Martin, the adaptation is a wonderful seasonal choice.

Director Michael J. Lasley’s production combines the cast’s strong vocal talents, outstanding inventive choreography by Anne Beck, and notable orchestral proficiency under the baton of Matthew Tippel, with a Broadway-level scenic design by Christine Peters. Adrienne Conces’ numerous colorful costumes illuminate the story, as do Ryan Koharchik’s fine lighting designs. Musical Director Brent E. Marty lead the amazing vocal work.

Santa (Parrish Williams) and Buddy the Elf (Matt Bays) in a scene from Civic Theatre’s “Elf – The Musical”

The plot tells of Buddy, an elf who at age 30 finds out he is not an elf at all, but a human. As a baby, Buddy somehow found his way into Santa’s pack and was taken to the North Pole, where he was raised by the elves. Santa sends him out to find his father, who knows nothing of his grown son. In NYC, Buddy has adventures with his new family, with a corps of department store elves, with his first feelings of love for Jovie, and as a savior of the Christmas spirit when Santa’s sleigh crashes into Central Park.

Michael (Ben Boyce) and Emily (Carrie Neal) sing “I’ll Believe in You” in a scene from Civic Theatre’s “Elf – The Musical”

Matt Bays takes the lead role as Buddy the elf, with impressive singing and dancing skills. He is matched in those departments by his “family” – made up by J. Stuart Mill as Walter Hobbs – his long-lost father, Carrie Neal as Walter’s wife Emily, and Ben Boyce as their son Michael. Emily Schaab plays Buddy’s love interest, Jovie in a well sung rendition – while Parrish Williams is a wryly humorous Santa Claus. Jonathan Studdard and Mary Margaret Montgomery are stand-outs in their portrayals of the Macy’s North Pole Manager and Mr. Hobbs’ office manager, Deb.

Some of Christine Peters’ wonderful scenic design is on display in this scene from Civic Theatre’s “Elf – The Musical” with Jovi (Emily Schaab) and Buddy (Matt Bays).

There are plenty of musical highlights in the show, especially the full production pieces – such as the first act’s opening number – “Happy All The Time”, featuring a multitude of elves, and the act two opener – “Nobody Cares”, which features at least two dozen Santas – a vision of red and white in motion. Ms. Beck’s choreography certainly is a superior aspect throughout the show – and one must praise her dancers for their high mark efforts. On the smaller side, both duets by mother and son – Carrie Neal and Ben Boyce’s “I’ll Believe in You” and “There is a Santa Claus”, are top-notch performances.

Buddy (center, Matt Bays) introduces his family – Walter (J. Stuart Mills), Emily (Carrie Neal) and Michael (Ben Boyce) to Santa (Parrish Williams) in a scene from Civic Theatre’s “Elf – The Musical”

Bottomline: the combination of rousing musical performances and sometimes uneven acting offerings takes nothing away from the fact that this is a nifty holiday production. The story lifts the spirit and the big musical numbers raise the roof.

Elf – The Musical continues at the Booth Tarkington Theatre in the Center for the Performing Arts in Carmel through December 28th. For ticket information and reservations call 317.843.3800 or go online at http://www.civictheatre.org .

  • – Photos by Zach Rosing

🎅🎄Merry Christmas to all our readers! 🎄🎅

"Winston's Big Day" at Phoenix Theatre

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reviewed by Adam Crowe

Now that Thanksgiving 2019 is in the books, it is time to quickly move onto other holiday matters. At the Phoenix Theatre, that means it is time for Winston’s Big Day – A Very Phoenix Christmas 14. I anticipated a bit of variation to the Phoenix’s holiday tradition, as this year’s Christmas show’s sketches and songs all revolve around a particular character – Winston the Elf. Winston wants to leave Santa’s Workshop and achieve his dream of becoming a rock star. His friend Rudolph serves as his manager and biggest fan. The show pieces together several locally written vignettes, dotting Winston’s path from Elf to his big debut at FaLaLalapalooza.

Program notes indicate that director Chelsea Anderson, who also wrote many of the vignettes in the piece, created her concept and added writers and composers and then actors to the mix. I wish that the result has felt less scattered and (sometimes) uneven. Removing the irreverence and dark humor of some of the past Phoenix Christmases is no sin, so long as the show feels unified and entertaining. I left the theater wishing that the combining of Winston’s story and the writers’ vignettes was more uniformly successful.

Dave Pelsue, Ramon Hutchins and Andrea Heiden in a scene from Phoenix Theatre’s Winston’s Big Day.

On the plus side, the cast of eight was wonderfully entertaining. Dave Pelsue stars as Winston, with Ramon Hutchins as his pal Rudolph. The rest of the ensemble included Nathalie Cruz, Andrea Heiden, Jan Lucas, Pearl Scott Justin Sears-Watson and John Vessels. Every single performer was given more than one shining moment. Special mention goes to Vessels, who is a veritable Christmas treat every moment he is onstage, and to Jan Lucas and Nathalie Cruz, for some seriously funny celebrity impressions.

Zach Hunter has created a terrific set, with seasonal touches and a wonderful story book functionality that adapts to numerous locations and feels. Laura Glover’s lighting and Corbin Fritz’s sound enhance every moment. Penny Sornberger’s costumes and Danielle Buckel’s properties are also excellent. Original music and lyrics were composed by Paige Scott and Pelsue, and musical direction was provided by Jay Schwandt. Writers of this all original material also included J. Julian Christopher, Tom Horan, Jen Blackmer, Riti Sachdeva, and Zach Neiditch. The final vignette, written by Neiditch, was especially well done – by writer, director and cast.

While I don’t doubt that some audiences could find the whole to be a bit less than the sum of its parts, the production’s superior cast ultimately provides a lot of laughs and tugs a few heart strings. An entertaining splash of the Holidays is most definitely delivered!

A Very Phoenix Christmas 14 runs weekends through December 22nd. I urge you to go to the Phoenix website, as the show also features several dinner options that are outlined there. The Phoenix Cultural Centre is located at 705 North Illinois Street, in downtown Indianapolis. Ticket information can be found at www.PhoenixTheatre.org or by calling (317) 635-7529.

  • photo provided by Phoenix Theatre

"A Very Bryan Chrystmas" at Fonseca Theatre Company

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reviewed by Larry Adams

“You’re regifting the Savior?”

  • Unnamed Wise Man

“Tis the season for Christmas shows, and first up at A Seat on the Aisle is A Very Bryan Chrystmas: How the Grinch Culturally Appropriated Christmas. Ok, technically it’s not the first Christmas show- see Ken Klingenmeier’s review of Beef and Boards’ A Christmas Story- The Musical from last week- but it’s the first to have the decency to wait until after Thanksgiving to open, so I’m gonna call it the first anyway, just on principle. Produced by the one-year-old, west side Fonseca Theatre Company, whose vision statement, according to its website, is to “give voice to and celebrate the minority communities of Indianapolis through the prism of purposeful theater and civic engagement,” this roughly 90 minute collection of skits, songs and dance drives pretty much exclusively down the Christmas side of Santa Claus Lane, with one brief detour into the holiday of the Jewish community.

I’ll admit from the start I may not have been the best choice to review this show. I am not a big fan of skit-based productions, with the possible exception of Monty Python, and truth be told, even that legendary troupe has only a handful of pieces that really stand up to repeated viewing. There simply isn’t time in the format for depth or character development, subtlety or nuance, and so it necessarily relies on quick wit, originality and belly laughs to carry the load. When these are in short supply, the pieces tend to collapse rather quickly under their own weight- or rather lack of weight- subjecting the audience to a sort of slow, theatrical death march to the final curtain. Such was the case, I’m afraid, for much of Friday night’s opening night offering.

(from top left) Actors Paul Hansen, Dorian Wilson, Jean Arnold, Jon Stombaugh and Phebe Taylor surround Director Bryan Fonseca

The show begins amiably enough with In the Same Country, involving two shepherds and The Almighty on the night of Jesus’s fabled birth in Bethlehem. Easily the most political piece of the night, the skit pretty quickly and regrettably trots out every Trump cliché ever written, though in a gently humorous if not particularly original fashion. In one of the show’s few seamless transitions, this skit segues nicely into playwright Mark Harvey-Levine’s Oye Vey, Maria and Last Minute Shoppers. These latter two offerings score the biggest laughs of the evening, combining standout performances from Jean Arnold and Dorian Wilson with some solid comedic hits, even if only on the rather tired targets of stereotypical Jewish mothers and Christmas commercialism.

Not all the skits fare so well, unfortunately. The weakest one – surprisingly, given the theatrical pedigree of its author – is Mistletopriation, a ponderously heavy-handed and predictable piece on discrimination against Syrian immigrants, or I guess all Muslims, really. Ostensibly a comedy, it is completely devoid of laughs, despite actor Paul Collier Hansen’s best efforts to inject some levity by way of a thoroughly out of place comic book Grinch, bizarrely trading scenes with workers in a modern-day, Syrian-owned warehouse. Thankfully, the cast was adept enough Friday night not to press for yucks that clearly weren’t coming, as the audience sat quietly waiting for it to just end. The show’s program ticked off a pretty impressive list of the playwright’s past theatrical awards and scripts, so he’s clearly got the chops; but this one, at least for me, was a hard miss.

The show does manage to pull off some bright spots, despite the uneven skit scripts, though mostly in its song and dance numbers. Between the first two skits, a beautifully harmonized rendition of The Little Drummer Boy is served up. Later, Phebe Taylor delivers a charming ode to the passage of time with Arbolita, and Jonathon Stombaugh does a fine job with both guitar and vocals on Christmas. Hansen and Wilson are each deservedly highlighted in a couple of dance numbers that drew the greatest crowd responses of the evening; as someone who can’t dance a lick, I was particularly appreciative of these two gentlemen who made it look oh-so-easy. And finally, despite its somewhat annoyingly insistent dismissal of the Christmas story and religion, White Wine in the Sun delivers a nice, emotional cap to the show. Credit Music Director Tim Brickley and Choreographer Mariel Greenlee for some of the best moments of the night.

Laurie Silverman deserves praise for costumes which help set the scene and tone without being overdone, while set designer Daniel Uhde has created a minimalist though evocative space for the action. This comes complete with a rear projection screen that nicely services some of the settings and transitions- though its use to bombard the audience with ads for future shows during the scene changes can only be described as an odd and distracting choice.

The “Bottom Line,” as ASOTA head honcho Ken Klingenmeier characteristically puts it, is a little hard for me to come by. Though I’m intrigued by the theater and appreciative of its mission in the community, this 13th edition of Bryan Fonseca’s holiday variety show just didn’t quite deliver as advertised, for me at least. If you’re in the mood for some live and light theater to brighten up your holidays, this may be just the ticket for you. You’ll find the cast to be energetic and talented, and the theater and its personnel warm and inviting. But if you’re looking for something with a little more substance in its depth, humor and emotional pull, you might be better off curling up by the fire with a well-worn copy of It’s A Wonderful Life. Or maybe Die Hard.

A Very Bryan Chrystmas: How the Grinch Culturally Appropriated Christmas continues at Fonseca Theatre Company’s 2508 W Michigan Street venue through December 22nd. For tickets go online at https://fonsecatheatre.org/buy-tickets/ or call the Box Office at 317-653-1519.

“A Christmas Story – The Musical” at Beef and Boards Dinner Theatre

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reviewed by Ken Klingenmeier

Before last year’s Elf, B&B always presented its traditional holiday show – A Beef and Boards Christmas. Once again, the management at central Indiana’s premiere dinner theatre has decided to make a change for this holiday season. One of America’s favorite Christmas movies has long been 1983’s A Christmas Story. This nostalgic tale of young Ralphie and his family has become its own holiday tradition, and once it opened as a Broadway musical in 2012 with a book by Joseph Robinette, and music and lyrics by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, its reach increased by a large measure.

Ralphie (Ben Kistner), left, is forced to utter “uncle” by bully Scut Farkus (Austin Lizama) as his toady Grover Dill (Dylan Acquaviva) watches in Beef & Boards Dinner Theatre’s production of A Christmas Story: The Musical.

B&B’s production of A Christmas Story – The Musical , directed by Eddie Curry with choreography by Ron Morgan, is a cheerful seasonal entertainment that combines all the story segments from the film version with a good supply of lively and lovely songs. Ralphie’s quest for a Red Ryder BB gun as his Christmas present is at the very center of the show. The iconic lead is rendered with tremendous skill by 7th grader Ben Kistner, who handles the comedy, emotion, and songs of the role with a deft hand. His clear and powerful singing voice is a wonderful surprise which arrives early, during his very first scene.

The Old Man (Don Farrell), center, gleefully sings about the “major award” he received for entering a crossword puzzle contest in Beef & Boards Dinner Theatre’s production of A Christmas Story: The Musical.

Ralphie’s father, “The Old Man” in Jean Shepherd’s remembrance, is offered by Don Farrell. In Farrell’s hands – with a bow to Darren McGavin – the man is the same lovably frustrated character, trying to make the best of his less than perfect life. Farrell’s outstanding work in “A Major Award”, where he wins the fishnet stockinged leg lamp, is a highlight of the show. At his side, Ralphie’s steady Mother, sweetly played by Amy Bodnar, balances the family dynamic. Ms. Bodnar is touching in her portrayal, and her tender renditions of “What a Mother Does” and “Just Like That” are great moments. Fender Brokamp completes the central family with a worthy stage debut.

Other standouts include Eddie Curry as our Narrator; Lanene Charters, as immoderate school teacher, Miss Shield; Brett Mutters as the grouchy department store Santa; and Austin Lizama as bully-boy, Scut Farkus. Ms. Charters leads a remarkable ensemble tap dance number with a cadre of young tappers in Ralphie’s fantasized “You’ll Shoot Your Eye Out”.

Ralphie (Ben Kistner), right, reluctantly dons his gift from Aunt Clara to the amusement of his family (from left), Mother (Amy Bodnar), the Old Man (Don Farrell), and Randy (Fender Brokamp) in Beef & Boards Dinner Theatre’s production of A Christmas Story: The Musical

Kristy Templet leads her fine orchestra through the lively score with polish and spark; Jill Kelly Howe’s colorful costumes more than fill the bill; and to top the experience off, Chef Odell Ward has assembled a very tasty holiday buffet featuring roast turkey, cornbread stuffing, sweet potato souffle and brussels sprouts in a cream sauce topped with bacon. It is all truly outstanding!

Bottomline: Though I’ve always enjoyed B&B’s traditional holiday show in the past, I have to admit – it was a great idea to make a change with this sweet, funny family tale of Christmas. The performances are first-rate, and the holiday spirit is there for the taking.

Mother (Amy Bodnar) wipes the tears of Ralphie (Ben Kistner) after his first fist fight and sings “Just Like That” in Beef & Boards Dinner Theatre’s production of A Christmas Story: The Musical.

A Christmas Story – The Musical runs through Dec. 31st. As you read this and make the decision to attend – there is one important matter to note. I learned from B&B Marketing Director, Patricia Rettig, that the show is selling very, very well, and if you wish to go, you should be quick about obtaining tickets. The fastest, easiest way to do so is to use the theatre’s new online reservation service. Just go to http://www.beefandboards.com (24 hrs a day) – and scroll down to the “What’s on Stage” section. Then click on the “More Info” button, and pick a date to choose your seats and make your reservation. Of course, if you would rather, you may also call the box office at 317.872.9664. Whichever you choose to do – do not delay!

Have a very Merry Christmas and a wonderfully Happy New Year – from all of us at A Seat on the Aisle!

  • photos by Julie Curry

“A Christmas Carol” (2019) at IRT

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reviewed by Daniel Shock

Here we are. That time of year again. Christmas. It’s not a surprise that it comes every year…but it can be overwhelming. What am I going to get the kids this year? What am I going to get my wife? My in-laws… how many over-caloried meals am I going to have to attend? Will I still fit into my suit? Oh, and I have to go see A Christmas Carol again and write a review? I might as well say it. Bah, Humbug.

As a child it’s easy to see Ebenezer Scrooge as the villain. He is mean. He is short tempered. He does not want to pay attention to anyone. He wants to be left alone. He seems to find no pleasure in anything – not even his dinner. As an adult, he is far more sympathetic. He is me. I am him.

As, I settled into my seat at the Indiana Repertory Theatre for the Saturday afternoon performance of Tom Haas’ adaptation of Charles Dicken’s novella, I opened my program to look over the cast. I immediately felt a lift as I saw that there were many familiar faces in the cast. Ryan Artzberger, who plays Scrooge, has probably been in 75% of the many productions I’ve seen at IRT. I’ve seen him in this role before and I remembered he was good. One of the things that I am stuck by with Mr. Artzberger in the role, is that Scrooge is not played as elderly. His Scrooge seems to be in the upper end of middle age. This fact cements my identification with him.

The story begins and we see the familiar assaults that Scrooge must endure. Everyone wants something. His employee, Bob Cratchit, played effectively by Jesse Bhamrah, wants to burn resources for heat. He wants time off. Scrooge just wants him to do his job and leave him alone. In the end Scrooge relents to the time off, I suspect, just to end the conversation that he can no longer endure. Then his nephew and his wife arrive imploring him to join them for dinner, assaulting him with their joyous energy and good cheer. He can’t get them out of there fast enough. Then the Ladies of Charity (Jennifer Johansen and Stephenie Soohyun Park) asking him for money for the poor. Money above and beyond what he pays in taxes to support the workhouses and prisons!

We continue through the story. If you are familiar with this adaptation, you will remember that the actors play multiple roles not only switching between them with ease but also switching from character dialog to narration on a dime. The cast is skilled and smooth. I first start to feel my cold heart melt as the Ghost of Christmas Past (Emma Rosenthal) shows poor Ebenezer both happier times and sadder times. When Scrooge sees his old self with friends and his love, Belle (Stephenie Soohyun Park), the joy he feels that quickly turns to pain is heartbreaking.

Christmas Past (Emma Rosenthal) invites Ebenezer Scrooge (Ryan Artzberger) to a vision of his past in IRT’s “A Christmas Carol”

The Ghost of Christmas Present, played with glee by Milicent Wright is a wonderfully funny specter. She shows Scrooge the Cratchit family. Here he gets to see people who have little make the most of what they have with love and devotion. He also gets to hear an unfiltered view of himself as Mrs. Cratchit (Ashley Dillard) makes her dislike for him known to her husband. And then again as he visits his nephew Fred’s (Aaron Kirby) house where the party is in progress and he is subjected to some unflattering portrayals of himself.

Mrs. Cratchet (Ashley Dillard, standing left) with the Cratchet children, as Christmas Present (Milicent Wright, standing right) looks on in IRT’s “A Christmas Carol”

The Ghost of Christmas Future, played by Rob Johansen (who has probably been in 50% of the shows I’ve seen at the IRT), is perfectly disturbing. The future Scrooge glimpses, where he has passed away and no one cares, and where Tiny Tim does not survive, leaves him with dread and horror.

We are relieved when he wakes on Christmas morning and all is as it was. Here is my favorite moment of the show. Ryan Arztberger as Scrooge is full of such mischievous glee… his laugh reveals a changed man. A man who has opened his heart and has had joy restored to him. I laughed and wept tears of joy at the result.

Ebenezer Scrooge (right) encounters Christmas Future (Rob Johansen) in IRT’s “A Christmas Carol”

This is IRT’s 29th production of this adaptation. Do not worry that it is a tired old production. The cast is flawless. Benjamin Hanna has directed the company to a fine success. The traditional Christmas Music as directed by Musical Director Brent Marty is wonderfully evocative of the season and the era. Likewise, the set places us perfectly in a Victorian Christmas ghost story. The costumes by Linda Pisano are new this year. I especially like the costumes for the Ghost of Christmas Past and Present.

A Christmas Carol means more to me as I grow older than it did when I was a child. As the years go by and the mistakes, the regrets, and the hurts build up, I am grateful to be reminded in such a powerful way what really matters in this life: loving each other and building each other up. Forgiving one another. Not hoarding our wealth, our energy and our presence but giving freely and with little thought of self. Merry Christmas!

A Christmas Carol at the Indiana Repertory Theatre (140 W. Washington Street, Indianapolis, IN 46204) is running now through December 26. Tickets can be purchased at the Box Office by calling 317.635.5252 or online at http://www.irtlive.com

“Over the River and Through the Woods” at Westfield Playhouse

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reviewed by Vickie Cornelius Phipps

Joe DiPietro’s, “Over the River and Through the Woods”, which opened this weekend at Westfield Playhouse, follows Nick Cristano (Kelly Keller), to his weekly Sunday dinner visits with all four of his 80-something grandparents in Hoboken, New Jersey. Nick is an Italian-American living the life of a modern young marketing executive in New York City. His tenacious, tenderhearted, loud, if not overbearing Italian grandparents lavish affection and inundate him with family tradition and lots of food. As much as Nick loves them, he wants to get on with his life. When he is offered an important promotion in Seattle, Washington, Nick threatens to break the routine by a distance of some 2,800 miles. Frank (Will Carlson), Aida (Jean Adams), Emma (Jan McGill), and Nunzio (Joe Aiello), are heartbroken at the prospect of their beloved grandson living all the way across the country. Devastated, they quickly concoct a series of hilarious schemes to keep Nick in town by setting him up with a pretty girl from the neighborhood named Caitlin (Elizabeth Wysong Berg).

Family dinner with Emma (Jan McGill), Nunzio (Joe Aiello), Aida (Jean Adams), Frank (Will Carlson), Nick (Kelly Keller), and Caitlin (Elizabeth Wysong Berg).

I must admit that OTR has never been on my radar of shows to see. I was pleasantly surprised as this warm-hearted comedy won my heart. OTR has been a mainstay of community theatres for the past decade. The story is clever, fast-paced and funny. The characters are charming and easily identifiable as someone we all know and love. With a lot of humor and some sentimentality, it portrays the universal theme: family is the center of life, “Tango Famiglia”. Translated, it means, “I have a family (to support)”.

Joe Aiello plays Nunzio in Westfield Playhouse’s “Over the River and Through the Woods”

Kelly Keller plays Nick Cristano with sensitivity and compassion as he wrestles with his decision to stay or go. He is faced with the tough question, “How much do you owe the people who care for you? How much is enough?” We recognize the difference between each generation’s concept of family and home. Will Carlson’s portrayal of the very Italian Frank Gianelli is a strong performance and his wife, Aida, was played to perfection by community theatre staple, Jean Adams. The paternal nonni are masterfully played by the endearing Joe Aiello and Jan McGill as his wife Emma. Both were so much fun to watch as the long-time married couple who may complain about each other but are still very much in love. Emma firmly believes that a Mass card is the answer to everything. Elizabeth Wysong Berg rounds out the cast as the hopeful girlfriend.

Will Carlson, as Frank, tells a story to his grandson Nick, played by Kelly Keller, in Westfield Playhouse’s production of “Over the River and Through the Woods”.

Apart from uneven accents and a stage too crowded for the actors to smoothly move, director Doug Davis’ OTR is just the right show to see to get you into the holiday spirit and adds up to a crowd-pleasing night of theatre.

“Over the River and Through the Woods” runs November 15 through December 1st at the Westfield Playhouse, 1836 SR 32 West, Westfield, IN 46074. For tickets call 317-402-3341, online http://www.westfieldplayhouse.org.

  • Photos provided by Westfield Playhouse

“Alabama Story” at Actors Theatre of Indiana

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reviewed by Ken Klingenmeier

Theatre can be, and is, many things. It entertains, it tells us stories, it teaches, it enlightens, it uncovers truths and it reminds us of important lessons. Kenneth Jones’ significant play, Alabama Story, does all these things and Actors Theatre of Indiana has brought it to us here in central Indiana.

It is an engaging production, directed by Jane Unger. In it, we are shown the remarkable story, set in 1959 Montgomery, of Alabama State Librarian Emily Reed, a woman who stood up to the prevailing segregationist views of the time in the Deep South. Remarkably, the challenges she faced were brought on by a rather baffling reaction by a diehard politician, State Senator E.W. Higgins, over a children’s book – The Rabbits’ Wedding. The senator wanted the book to be banned in the state of Alabama.

The book, by Garth Williams, tells the sweet story of two rabbits, who because of their kind connection, decide to get married. There is a fine celebration, which includes many of the other forest creatures. The problem that Senator Higgins perceived was that one of the rabbits was white, while the other was black.

Cynthia Collins take the role of librarian Emily Reed in ATI’s “Alabama Story”

The show’s performers do great justice to the material, providing honest and compelling turns. Cynthia Collins plays the central role of Ms. Reed, showing a dedicated, albeit slightly quirky, library administrator whose main goal is to provide the best of books to the state’s libraries. Her librarian assistant, Thomas Franklin, is offered by Samuel Wick in a likewise idiosyncratic personification. These two actors take steady steps around their characters’ dilemma and are, to my senses, a kind of small ensemble – supportive, reliable, and moving in step with each other when facing the adversities that approach them. The one rare conflict between them is beautifully played, adding a layer of authenticity to the co-workers’ warm professional regard for each other.

Don Farrell’s Senator Higgins is bombastic, self-righteous, and disagreeably immovable on his imagined dangers of segregation. Farrell keeps the fire going in his man without becoming a caricature, welding together the sure offensiveness of his ideas and the savvy smoothness of his political ploys. Paul Tavianini handles multiple roles – including as the narrating author of the book in question.

from left – Cameron Stuart Bass (Joshua Moore), Maeghan Looney (Lily Whitfield) and Don Farrell (Senator E.W. Higgins)

An important secondary plot is written into the play – Lily Whitfield (Maeghan Looney) is in Montgomery to aid her ailing father. In a park near the hospital, she meets up with an old acquaintance from her childhood – Joshua Moore (Cameron Stuart Bass). Joshua is black, and around the same age as the well-to-do Mrs. Whitfield. His mother had worked in Mrs. Whitfield’s family home as a domestic, and the two children had been playmates for a time. The meeting brings back a memory of a fairly innocent but taboo moment when they shared a kiss at age 12. The fallout from that led to Joshua and his mother leaving.

Bass and Ms. Looney play out their reoccurring meetings in genuinely truthful terms. She is naively “southern belle flirtatious”, while he stays proper and cordial. Their dilemma – he remembers the significant occurrence (the trouble from which changed his life), while she has conveniently “forgotten” – symbolizes the barrier segregation brings to their lives.

Bottomline: This play uncovers a sorry time in America, but it celebrates the strength to overcome which was also present at that time. It is an important story, showing the attitudes, the conflicting ideas and ideals, the politics, the ignorance – though it is certainly not entirely humorless. I hope you will go see it, and take a young person along – it might just cause some interesting conversation.

Alabama Story continues at ATI’s Studio Theatre in the Center for the Performing Arts in Carmel through November 17th. You can get information about the schedule and tickets by calling 317.843.3800 or by logging on at http://www.atistage.org .

  • photos by Ed Stewart

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