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Mrs. K and I took to downtown Indy and Indiana Repertory Theatre last evening for the opening night performance of Aaron Posner’s Who am I this Time? (and other conundrums of love) – a marvelous play derived from several short stories in Kurt Vonnegut’s collection, “Welcome to the Monkey House”. Superbly directed by Janet Allen, the show’s style is a refreshingly different method of onstage story conveyance, which none-the-less borrows from numerous other play styles I have seen, but which blends these styles together so as to effectively raise the bar of theatric storytelling, at least in my experience!

Starting out with a pre-show mingle by the cast which helps establish the show-long break in the “fourth wall”, and followed by a snappy rendition of the old song “How Could You Believe Me When I Said I Loved You When You Know I’ve Been A Liar All My Life?” (a delightful tune I haven’t heard in at least 45 years), the show is set in motion by Tom Newton, our likeable, homespun narrator, played by Robert Neal with a hometown friendly attitude. Tom leads us to the premise that what we are going to see is somewhat under the auspices of the North Crawford (IN) Mask and Wig Club amateur theatrical society. Given that license, we are treated to the performers rushing around with set pieces on wheels, dashing off to change costumes, and to frequent plot-forwarding narratives by Tom – who is simply the voice of Vonnegut.

Catherine (Liz Kimball) encounters her feelings for Newt (Zach Kenney) in "Who am I this Time" at IRT

Catherine (Liz Kimball) encounters her feelings for Newt (Zach Kenney) in “Who am I this Time” at IRT

In this way, we are regaled with three of the author’s stories, beginning with “Long Walk to Forever”, a sweet love tale purportedly based on Tom and his wife Kate’s (impressively played throughout by Constance Macy) earliest romantic feelings. With Zach Kenney and Liz Kimball taking the roles of the younger Newt and Catherine, this vignette is played completely simple and direct – an earnest AWOL soldier, telling his lifelong neighbor, for the first time ever, that he loves her. The problem is – she happens to be engaged to someone else. The uncomplicated storytelling choices work wonderfully, and we are treated to a touching study of his gentle insistence and her gradual erosion. The selection is just lovely, with captivating performances by both Kenney and Ms. Kimble.

Harry (Matthew Brumlow) and Helene (Liz Kimball) are a couple in "Who am I this Time?" at IRT

Harry (Matthew Brumlow) and Helene (Liz Kimball) are a couple in “Who am I this Time?” at IRT

Next, we are led by Tom to the astonishing tale of Harry Nash, who is normally awkward and shy – but who, when he is put into a Mask and Wig Club play, erupts into a sure-footed dynamo of performance and self-assuredness. This hilarious story, the title of which gives the entire play it’s name, is based on one of Vonnegut’s most successful efforts. (“Who am I this Time?” was adapted into a television play, as well as a radio script.) Here it is presented as a lively tale of the very successful production of Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire put on by the Mask and Wig Club, which starred Harry Nash as Stanley and a new girl in town, Helene Shaw, as Stella. Helene proceeds to fall for onstage Harry, only to be disappointed in the real Mr. Nash. Mirth ensues as we see how Helene, played in another tremendous turn by Liz Kimball, handles love’s difficulty. Matthew Brumlow’s Harry is hysterically funny, as he plays the two-sided character to a tee. Ryan Artzberger adds a tremendously amusing Verne Miller to the scene. The rest of the cast shines is their smaller roles.

Goerge Murra (Ryan Artzberger) and Tom (Robert Neal) drink themselves to much "wisdom" in "Who am I this Time" at IRT

Goerge Murra (Ryan Artzberger) and Tom (Robert Neal) drink themselves to much “wisdom” in “Who am I this Time” at IRT

After intermission, we are settled in for the final act entitled “Go Back to your Precious Wife and Son”. Part comic situation, part morality tale, this selection highlights the entire cast in the story of how Tom (1) became enthralled with the presence in North Crawford of a beautiful movie star, Gloria Hilton (adroitly played as a sparkling drama queen by Carmen Roman), (2) helped heal the family of writer George Murra, Ms. Hilton’s set aside husband who longs for the familial life he left behind, and (3) became briefly and agonizingly “estranged” from his wife Kate over what she saw as his insulting behavior. Robert Neal takes his Tom through a range of emotional and comical levels in this act and it is seamlessly done. Ryan Artzberger returns as the left-behind George Murra and takes us through an equally curving set of emotions and comedy with great skill. Zach Kenney is on the mark as George’s naive and hurt 15 year old son, John Murra, and Matthew Brumlow makes the most of his brief time as Roy Crocker, while Constance Macy and Liz Kimball ably round out this section’s collection of characters as wife Kate and daughter Paula.

The full cast of "Who am I this Time" at IRT thru 2/23/14

The full cast of “Who am I this Time” at IRT thru 2/23/14

A well-deserved standing ovation, which absolutely erupted at the end of the show (as opposed to most standing o’s, which start small and increase slowly and somewhat unsurely) was the fitting end to this theatre evening. I left my seat feeling as if I had indeed seen something so original, inspired and well done, it was emotively striking. In a season when I have attended so much good theatre – this may be the best of all that I have seen: totally engaging, hilariously funny and yet touching to the heart – as only extremely well done live theatre can be.

Who am I this Time? (and other conundrums of love) continues on IRT’s main stage through February 23rd. For ticket and reservation information, go to http://www.irtlive.com or call the ticket office at 317-635-5252.

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