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Reviewed by Mark Kamish

I was 16 and a sophomore in high school when the United States of America celebrated its Bicentennial; I remember well the pomp and circumstance from that summer of 1976. Forty years later, with seemingly much less fanfare (so typically “Hoosier” in its modest and unpretentious rollout), Indiana celebrates its 200th birthday. But Hoosiers are also known to take care of business. Five years ago, IRT’s executive artistic director, Janet Allen, playwright-in-residence James Still, Indiana Historical Society president John Herbst and others began earnest discussions about how IRT might explore, theatrically, two centuries of the Hoosier experience. The culmination of that effort has unfolded this week on IRT’s Upperstage in the masterful production of Finding Home: Indiana at 200, which I was pleased to attend Friday night.

Finding Home was uniquely written and is as uniquely performed. A collaboration of more than thirty Hoosier writers, the show is an anthology based primarily upon historical events that have taken place in the “Land of the Indians” during its time as a territory and state, as told through the voices of the very colorful characters who lived and breathed that Hoosier history.

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The cast of IRT’s Finding Home: Indiana at 200″

This collection of tales is presented to us in a series of vignettes performed by an amazingly talented and diverse ensemble of 10 actor/singers. While regular IRT-goers will recognize several faces, the ensemble includes visiting artists with credits ranging from Juilliard School diplomas to Chicago theater awards to television shows to movie roles. The dramatic (and comedic) action is perfectly tied together by the original and heart-warming music of actor-songwriter-musician Tim Grimm and his five-member Grimm Family Band (complete with fiddle and harmonica).

And, depending on which night you choose to attend, you can enjoy very different theatrical experiences. Even though the show I watched ran two hours and forty minutes (with a fifteen-minute intermission), the wealth of material amassed for this project requires that it be split into two evenings – Blue and Gold (think Indiana flag or Indiana Pacers). Each production is a show unto itself (approximately 70 percent unique content in each, according to IRT).

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The female cast members of IRT’s “Finding Home: Indiana at 200”

My “Blue Night” experience featured characters and stories such as Madame Walker; the Deer Lick Creek massacre; General Lew Wallace and Indiana’s role in the Civil War; Cole Porter; James Dean; Princess Mishawaka; a discussion between Eli Lilly and George H.A. Clowes about the development of a new drug to treat diabetes (“Insulin, huh? We may have to name it something else,” muses a young Eli Lilly); a drunken, rambunctious walk home with James Whitcomb Riley & Eugene Debs; a drive around the Brickyard with Janet Guthrie; and much more.

Those attending the Gold performance will see work featuring Abe Lincoln, Flossie Bailey, John Dillinger, William Conner and Mekinges, Hoagy Carmichael, Ernie Pyle, May Wright Sewall and Alfred Kinsey and many others.

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Michael Joseph Mitchell (left) and Aaron Kirby in the IRT’s “Finding Home: Indiana at 200”

As a Hoosier transplant (although after 23 years here, perhaps I’ve attained “honorary Hoosier” status), I have to say I thoroughly enjoyed Finding Home. Having said that, I acknowledge this show won’t be for everyone. A bit on the long side of a comfortable production run time, heavy on history, bluegrass-style music and ballads may not be everyone’s cup o’ tea (especially if you cringe thinking back to your fourth-grade teacher force-feeding you every Indiana fact and figure you could fit into your 10-year-old head). On the other hand, this show has so much diverse content, I’m very confident you can find something for everyone in these performances.

For example, here are some of my favorite moments from the Blue production: a ballad sung by Tim Grimm about (and performed by DeLanna Studi portraying a female Indiana victim of) the Deer Lick Creek massacre (which ended in the unprecedented hanging in 1825 of three white men for savagely murdering a group of Indians); Tim Grimm, from his rocking chair, waxing eloquent (Hoosier style) about what it means to grow up in this state and to be a Hoosier (“We all learn to be nice, to greet people with handshakes and to wash our hands after greeting people with handshakes.”); and an absolutely hilarious bit between actors Mark Goetzinger and Aaron Kirby playing two good ol’ boys who sit down on a porch, pop open their cans of beer (remarkably, in perfect unison), and proceed to have a talk about the wonders of $4.99 breakfast menus at “the Denny’s” and watching a relative in “the thee-AY-ter” perform in Shakespeare’s The Comedy of Errors (“Comedy of Heirs . . . . So does somebody inherit the money then? OH, Comedy of Airs. <chuckle, chuckle> So does somebody break wind.”).

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Aaron Kirby (left) and Mark Goetzinger in IRT’s “Finding Home: Indiana at 200”

Dramatic monologues; introduction (and reintroduction) to the names and faces of amazing Hoosiers and red-letter dates in this state’s (and nation’s) history; light-hearted and laugh-out-loud comedy; an exploration of the inhumane treatment of the “free men” of Indiana’s late nineteenth-century African-American community; murderous atrocities committed against Indiana’s first inhabitants; the struggles of the first woman breaking into the men’s world of Indy 500 racing; stories of Hoosier women pioneers in other areas; all surrounded and enhanced by Tim Grimm’s soothing and homegrown music. Something for everyone.

Finding Home: Indiana at 200 will continue its run at Indiana Repertory Theatre through November 20. For more specific information on dates, showtimes, ticket orders, plus back stories of the play, the players and the musicians, visit IRT’s website at http://www.irtlive.com/.

Happy Birthday, Indiana!

  • Banner artwork by Kyle Ragsdale
  • Photos by Zach Rosing
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