Main Street Productions’ “Mothers and Sons”

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reviewed by Ken Klingenmeier

Mothers and Sons, a play by Terrence McNally, opened on Broadway in 2014 with Tyne Daly taking the part of Katherine Gerard, the mother in the title. Katherine has lost her son to AIDS some 20 years ago and seeks many answers by visiting her son’s partner, Cal, who is now married to Will. They have a son named Bud.

Jim LaMonte directs the saddening story with his signature sensitivity, and it is much needed here. The cast (Elizabeth Ruddell as Katherine, Austin Uebelhor as Cal Porter, Nicholas Heskett as Will Ogden, and Tyler Acquaviva as their son Bud Ogden-Porter) sets the tone in the opening scene with an obviously nervous and put-off Cal pointing out the wonderful view from his Central Park apartment’s window to a tightly silent and seemingly unimpressed Katherine who has arrived without invitation while on her way to a holiday in Rome.

Austin Uebelhor as Cal and Elizabeth Ruddell as Katherine

Slowly, oh so slowly, we learn who they are and what past memories they share, having last seen each other at Andre’s memorial two decades ago. Their differing senses of that occasion and of many of their remembrances of what happened to poor Andre prevail through a long exposition – lengthened even more by the arrival of Will and Bud from their time at the park. Bud is full of boyish questions and Will, in a private moment with Cal, resents Andre’s mother being there. Finally the lines are drawn about halfway through the 90 minute play and we get on to the conflicts – of which there are many.

Katherine is a selfish mess – having endured a ragged small-town childhood before catching herself a man who would take her away so that she could at last find happiness. Except his plan for them, heading to Dallas, backfires for her, as does their relationship. Having Andre was supposed to fix all that – but he escapes off to New York City as soon as he is free to, and somehow becomes gay. She blames the world, especially Cal since he has risen out of Andre’s ashes to have a prosperous new life with his husband Will.

Austin Uebelhor as Cal and Nicholas Heskett as Will

More than anything, Mothers and Sons is an interesting character study to me, as well as an obvious lament for the generation of AIDS victims. Katherine represents not only the flock of people who couldn’t understand this emerging lifestyle of the gay community, but she also reflects the many unenlightened parents who never accepted their child’s sexuality being homosexual. She is past her suicidal tendencies, one believes, but still feels hatred for a world that could do this to her only son and, through that means, be ruinous to her own life and happiness.

Cal, too, suffers the loss of Andre, but he is far more hopeful and able to move forward, much to Katherine’s chagrin. Will seems too young to be fully impacted by the crisis and feels lucky to have found himself so solid a man as Cal, although he expresses some jealousy and annoyance with the rehashing of Andre. Bud is the future, and with his endless questions he gains the knowledge to grow with an understanding and a preparedness.

The cast, including Tyler Acquaviva as Bud (far left)

The cast navigates these avenues well-enough, each of them having time to shine – with Heskett’s performance being the overall brightest – but they seemed to lack polish for their Thursday night get-back-to-it performance. To me, the play itself seems too lengthy by a quarter or so, and I know of no remedy for that aside from liberal unauthorized cuts.

Bottomline: While McNally’s play probably isn’t as “brave” as it was in 2014, it still asks the right questions for us to consider vis-à-vis the plight of gays in America. But a tad less bravery could signal a measure of success – maybe an indication that slowly, oh so slowly, things are moving toward the proper direction. Keep working…

Mothers and Sons continues at Basile Westfield Playhouse through November 20th. Ticket information is available by calling 317.402.3341 or at http://www.westfieldplayhouse.org .

  • – photos by Indy Ghost Light Photography

Epilogue Players’ “My Three Angels”

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reviewed by Ken Klingenmeier

My Three Angels, written by Sam and Bella Spewack and set in French Guiana, was first presented on Broadway in 1953. It was based on a French play by Albert Husson – La Cuisine Des Anges (The Kitchen of Angels) from 1952. The more famous movie starring Humprey Bogart, We’re No Angels, appeared in 1955 and is often considered the lesser of the three offerings.

Epilogue Players’ revival of the play, skillfully directed by Catherine Mobley, is filled with wonderful performances and presents the story of three prisoners who help a struggling family of merchants with very pleasing results. Larry Adams, Tim Long and Mason Odle play the incarcerated threesome – Jules, Joseph, and Alfred respectively. Their interplayed timing and humor as they go about solving any number of problems seem well practiced and are a highlight of the show. All three portrayals have moments of perfection and Long’s handling of Joseph’s penchant for selling and his creative bookkeeping methods is especially enjoyable.

The Angels: Mason Odle as Alfred, Tim Long as Joseph, and Larry Adams as Jules.

Scott Prill, Andrea Odle, and Rachel Bush take the roles of the distressed Ducotel family, Felix, Emilie and daughter Marie Louise. Prill and Ms. Odle’s measured and natural performances are just right for the story, while Ms. Bush offers an exuberance that is charming and captivating as she hopes expectantly for her sweetheart Paul’s return to her side. Taking roles as the villains in the story, Duane Leatherman is despicable as Henri Trochard, who holds the reins on the Ducotel’s failing business, and Grant Bowen is solid and changeable as the opportunistic Paul. Marie McNelis completes the cast in a comedic style as Madam Parole, while Colin Chandler’s denouement moment is indeed a brief one.

The Ducotels: Andrea Odle as Emilie, Rachel Bush as Marie Louise, and Scott Prill as Felix.

Ms. Mobley’s astute handling of timing, pace and blocking issues all contribute to the play’s very natural flow and help make the story-telling aspect of the show quite delightful. The Christmas theme therein was pleasant and not overly done. The set designed by Rich Laudeman, coupled with his lighting design, works very well. Cathie Morgan’s costumes are amazing and are a vivid feature of the show.

Bottomline: Epilogue’s production of My Three Angels is a fine addition to their season – well-developed, with a very talented cast and good attention to both the story’s humor and distresses.

My Three Angels continues at Epilogue Players through November 20th. For more information about dates, times and reservations go to http://www.epilogueplayers.com or call 317.926.3139.

  • – photos by Duane Mercier

Celebrating 200,000 hits on ASOTA!

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Since June 6, 2010 when I published my first A Seat on the Aisle review (Spotlight Theatre’s Rabbit Holeread it here), the little counter on the front page of the blog has been ticking away, recording every visitor’s reading selections. Now nearly 12 and a half years later I feel we have reached a significant milestone which I never imagined – 200,000 page hits. Granted, we started out slowly and grew by trickles at first, but now views come in regularly and from nearly every country on the planet!

With the help of my incredible friends and writing partners: Larry Adams, Adam Crowe, Carrie Neal, Vickie Cornelius Phipps and Daniel Shock, and with additional entries by Jon Lindley, Mark Kamish and Dave Bolander – ASOTA has published 415 community theatre, professional theatre and dance company reviews for entities all over central Indiana. Adding in the many views, commentaries, interviews, and awards postings brings the overall total to 483.

Given all that, we have not been able to include every staging in our coverage. The number to theatre enterprises in our region is staggering and I know of no other city (outside of NYC, Chicago, or LA) to rival the extent of our community’s number of performances, festivals, outdoor summer offerings or of opportunities to perform and design.

Regardless, I feel that the accomplishments we HAVE realized have met an objective I originally had – which was to promote the local theatre community with honest, informative and supportive critiques to read and share. Also of note, we recently added regular inclusion in the Hamilton County Reporter through editor Stu Clampitt’s interest in local theatre.

I do look forward to continuing this endeavor. On to the next 100,000 hits. And the next. And the next!

Thanks to all who have supported ASOTA – Ken Klingenmeier

Southbank Theatre Company’s “Natural Shocks”

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reviewed by Daniel Shock

I, like many others, experience a few different recurring nightmares.   In one, a bear circles my house trying to get in.  In another, I am unprepared for the schoolbus coming down the road to pick me up.  The third in my trio of anxieties is that I often find myself dreaming that I am hiding in a basement from a tornado…or a whole army of tornados.  As the play, Natural Shocks, begins, we find ourselves in a basement with a woman seemingly on the verge of panic, seeking shelter from a tornado.   Welcome to the nightmare!

The play, by Lauren Gunderson as performed by Carrie Ann Schlatter and directed by Eric Bryant, pulls you in slowly by being riotously funny and charming.  It lulls you into the belief that all will be fine – just a little bad weather and it will pass.  Slowly more is revealed about our host, Angela, as she distracts herself from the tornado by telling us about her life. 

Carrie Schlatter as Angela

Angela has a difficult relationship with her mother.  She complains mildly about her husband.  We discover she is in the insurance business and loves the math of actuarial science.    The math of the future! Probability!  She breaks down Hamlet’s ‘To Be or Not to Be’ monologue.  She mentions the gun in their basement and as she feels our judgement, she apologizes and acknowledges that we have every right to feel uncomfortable and she reassures us that the weapon is secured in a safe.  Little by little we see the cracks in the life she at first depicts as imperfect, yet … fine.  I hesitate to go into too much detail of Angela’s story.  Suffice it to say that it explores themes of domestic violence and what that looks like for many of the women who endure it. 

If there is an actor in the central Indiana area more talented and convincing in their craft than Carrie Ann Schlatter, I have never seen them.  That is no insult to the vast array of talent we have here.  I’m just saying, Ms. Schlatter is in the top tier.  She is utterly convincing as Angela.  She has perfect comic timing.  She makes you feel as nervous as she is regarding the tornado.  Her character feels as real as your best friend or your neighbor.

Following the performance I saw today (Sunday, Nov 13) there was a talkback where the Ms Schlatter, Director Eric Bryant, along with the production team along with some local resources to answer questions about the play and discuss domestic violence.    If that kind of discussion interests you, I would recommend attending next Sunday’s matinee where they will do it again.

Never having done a one person show like this, it’s hard for me to imagine what it was like between actor and director in the rehearsal process.  From the talkback, I gathered that the show was a team effort, as it always is, of problem solving and working through the material.  Eric is to be congratulated on this very powerful show. 

“Natural Shocks” set designed by Aric C. Harris

Lighting design by Kairon Bullock was very effective at setting the mood and helping us feel the weather.  Likewise, Producer and Sound Designer, Marcia Eppich-Harris provided an aural atmosphere that put us right in the middle of the tornado.  The set designed by Aric C. Harris fulfilled its job nicely.  It felt like a messy man-cave and it worked well.  I don’t usually mention stage managers in my reviews…I’m not sure why, maybe their work isn’t always evident… but Missy Rump deserves a shoutout for helping to make the audience feel and see the wind of the tornado!

I am struck by a note in the Natural Shocks script: “The wind will grow as the play goes on.  It’s a comedy…until it’s not.”   This is a play that will knock you over.  It will make you laugh and it will force you to see and feel the terrifying reality that so many women deal with in silence.

Natural Shocks is presented by the Southbank Theatre Company at the Fonseca Theatre (located at 2508 W Michigan St, Indianapolis, IN)  The remaining dates are November 17-20.  Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 7:30pm and Sunday at 2pm.  You can purchase tickets on the website by clicking HERE.

  • – photos by Indy Ghost Light Photography

Bard Fest’s “Into the Breeches!”

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reviewed by Daniel Shock

Last night I drove down to Lawrence to see the final production of this year’s Bard Fest, Into the Breeches at Theatre at the Fort.  This was my first time to see a show in this venue and I hope it will not be the last.  The play, written by George Brant, and first produced in 2018 is a touching comedy about life activities that have come to a halt while many of the local men have gone off to fight in the war leaving the women to hold it together here at home.  The play is set in the early 1940’s but it feels like we’re watching through a 21st Century lens.

The director of the local theatre has gone off to war, leaving his young wife Maggie Dalton (Madeline Dulabaum) to convince the President of the Theatre Board, Ellsworth Snow (Kelly Keller) not to cancel the theatre’s season and instead to let her direct a cast of women in the roles that would have been played by men.  Snow reluctantly agrees and Maggie jumps into the production process with her lead actress, Celeste Fielding (Susan Hill), her Stage Manager (Kaya Dorsch), and her costumer, Ida (Anja Willis).  Now all she has to do is hold auditions and hope someone shows up to play the 30 some parts in Shakespeare’s “Henriad”(a word that I had to google to be sure it is real… and turns out it is.) a combined production of Shakespeare’s Historical Henry plays.  The struggle to bring the production to the stage is full of laughs and some tears.  It was a perfect end to this year’s Bard Fest, both Lysistrata and Falstaff get a shout out. 

Dani Gibbs as Grace Richards, Tracy Herring as Winnifred Snow and Michelle Wafford as June Bennett

A show like this might be a slog without a great cast – and this cast delivers.  Madeline Dulabaum is our comedy straight woman and anchor as the director of the Henriad.  She believe’s in the theatre and it’s place in our society even when things are hard and pushes many boundaries to make it happen.  Susan Hill as Celeste, the theatre’s diva is laugh out loud funny through the whole play.  She ridiculous, self-centered and wise all at once.  Kelly Keller gives one of the best performances I’ve seen from him as the board president who gets blackmailed into agreeing to the all woman cast when his wife is cast in the show. 

Tracy Herring as Winnifred Snow, the board president’s wife, is a delight from beginning to end.  She wrings every laugh possible out of the material.  Kaya Dorsch as Stuart the Stage Manager is equally funny and heart breaking in his role.  Dani Gibbs plays Grace Richards, a young woman with little experience but a lot of talent.  Watching her confidence grow as the play goes on was inspiring as was the journey of costumer, Ida, well played by Anja Willis.  And finally, Michelle Wafford wonderfully rounds out the cast as June Bennett, a wife turned actress who is also all in on supporting the war effort.

Tracy Herring as Winifred Snow, Michelle Wafford as June Bennett and Kasya Dorsch as Stuart Lasker

Director Max McCreary has put together a wonderful show that celebrates the love we all have for theatre and art.  The show is remarkably timely.  Written just before the pandemic it’s almost prescient about the role of art in our lives and what happens when everything stops.  McCreary notes that “While many younger creators do not know war on the scale of WWII, we do know what it is like to see the world come to a halt. To be changed. Full stop. And also what it means to bring a world back to life in the wake of that interruption.”  Beyond that, the play deals with people struggling against the limitations placed on them by society.  The issues this play explores include pay inequity, racial iniquity, and gender/identity questions.  And it tackles those issues with wit – sometimes bawdy – sometimes just silly – and pathos.  My 20 year old daughter and I loved the whole experience.   

Tracy Herring as Winifred Snow, Kelly Keller as Ellsworth Snow and Dani Gibbs as Grace Richards

Along with director McCreary, the production team includes Assistant Director Natalie Fischer, Stage Manager Case Jacobus, with Scenic Design by Max McCreary, Lighting Design by Isaac Andrade and Properties design by Lucy Fields.  The set was spacious and simple.  The few changes were quick and easy.  The lighting was well done.  Props fit the era.  Well done, all.

If I were pressed for an appropriate age for this show, I would say 10 and up.  There’s nothing too shocking.  But there are a few moments that will be hard to get out of your head (in a good way!).  I cannot imagine any theatre loving audience member not being delighted by this show.  Go see it. Strong recommendation!

Into the Breeches! will be playing at Theatre at the Fort (located at 8920 Otis Avenue, Indianapolis)  through November 13th.  You can purchase tickets on the website by clicking HERE.

  • – photos by Indy Ghost Light Photography

Actors Theatre of Indiana’s “Violet”

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reviewed by Ken Klingenmeier

Actors Theatre of Indiana continues their 2022-23 season with Violet, the compelling story of a young mountain woman’s quest to repair her life – physically, personally, and emotionally. A childhood accident with an axe has damaged her face, and her spirit, so she travels by bus from North Carolina to Tulsa in hopes of being healed by a television minister there. Violet is enlightened by events and people she meets along the way. The show, directed by Richard J Roberts, is full of enlightened performances.

Sydney Howard stars as Violet in a perfect issuance of the damaged woman. Conveying her character’s vulnerabilities and strengths with a highly detailed performance, and blessed with a stunning voice, Ms. Howard is difficult to take your eyes off of. She is joined in the production by Maurice-Aimé Green and Luke Weber as soldiers Flick and Monty. Both young men are accomplished vocalists, and their well-played and impactful roles turn the storyline in surprising directions.

Sydney Howard as Violet

The supporting cast has plenty of punch as well – Eric Olson plays the lively and dismissive Preacher with great energies, Matt Branic appears as Violet’s memory of her loving and supportive Father, Tiffanie Bridges’ Lula raises the roof with her gospel rendition of “Raise Me Up”, Tiffany Gilliam is a multi-talented Music Hall Singer with “Lonely Stranger”, Judy Fitzgerald skillfully creates both a helpful Old Woman and a comely Hotel Hooker, while Richard Campea and Cody Stiglich are very solid as a wide variety of characters. Fourth grader Quincy Carmen wows as Young Vi in a very fine performance – both vocally and acting-wise.

Much can be said for the interesting tale we are shown. Themes of self-value, optimism, racism, expectation, and crushing disappointment all find their way into the story arc. Director Roberts has crafted a staging that allows for our imaginations to be included in the process aided by P. Bernard Killian’s flowing scenic design and wonderfully expressive lighting designed by Dustin Druckman. Costumes by Brittany Kugler, wigs by Andrew Elliot and sound design by Barry G. Funderburg effectively complete the imagery.

Maurice-Aimé Green and Luke Weber as soldiers Flick and Monty

The onstage band led by music director Nathan Perry provides just the right-level performance of an interesting score by Jeanine Tesori and Brian Crawly. Most of the songs are more narrative than lyrical. I would call it nearly operatic, not in any classical sense, nor is it of a rock opera style. It seems a uniquely fashioned style of storytelling derived from those genres where spoken lines are more often sung than spoken.

Quincy Carmen as Young Vi and Matt Branic as Father

Bottomline: Mrs. K and I arrived at the performance with small knowledge of this impressively poignant story. Though not a show many have been exposed to and with unfamiliar songs, Violet is surprisingly effective and enjoyable as a musical journey. Highly recommended!

Violet continues at ATI’s Studio Theatre in the Center for the Performing Arts in Carmel through November 13th. 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

Footnote: Just as a preview – ATI’s next offering “The Mountaintop” (opening February 3rd) is again a lesser known play which illuminates a man and his impressive contributions to our American life. These matters are explored in a very unique and original way. Martin Luther King’s life ended at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis and in the play by Katori Hall, we learn about the man and the anguishes and difficulties that go along with leadership while in the final hours of his life.

Gregory Hancock Dance Theatre’s “There’s No Place Like Home”

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reviewed by Carrie Neal

Gregory Hancock Dance Theatre continues its 25th Anniversary Season with an encore presentation of There’s No Place Like Home, an autobiographical piece which recounts Hancock’s experiences from his travels to India. This world premiere was so enthusiastically received last year that the decision was made to bring it back, both for audience members who wished for a repeat viewing and for those who regretted missing it the first time around.

As anyone fortunate enough to have traveled to India knows, it is a place like no other. Its topography, climate, cuisine, and culture are utterly unique and mesmerizing. Hancock adeptly portrays this singular place, leaving us wanting only to know more about India’s history, religions, and traditions.

The primary company of eight dancers and one guest artist is joined by two other collaborating groups: the Nrityangan Kathak Academy Dancers, and Hancock’s own pre-professional troupe, G2. Both younger groups do lovely work in their own right, but the athleticism and precise artistry of the GHDT Company is the true star of the evening.

The story of There’s No Place Like Home, which loosely parallels that of The Wizard of Oz, follows a young man (Thomas Mason) seeking enlightenment on a journey to India after experiencing a great loss. Along the way, he is visited by various mother figures (all played by Abigail Lessaris), The Antagonist (guest artist Joel Hathaway), and Saraswati, Buddha, and Hanuman (also all played by Abigail Lessaris), which correspond to the Scarecrow, the Tin Man, and the Cowardly Lion. 

The piece is illuminating. We’ve all experienced loss, we’ve all gone on journeys of self-discovery–so while Gregory Hancock is being specific and vulnerable about his own experiences, they are relatable to everyone. The expressive and magnificently talented dancers tell the story fluidly. The original artwork of Madhuchhanda Mandal creates a breathtaking backdrop, the lighting design of Ryan Koharchik elevates the production at every turn, and most especially, the costumes designed and built by Hancock himself stun, a towering achievement well worth the price of admission on its own.

Hancock’s choreography thrilled consistently throughout the evening, but standout moments included the pas de deux of Krishna and Radha (Joel Hathaway and Olivia Payton), the Boy/Young Man meeting Hanuman (Thomas Mason and Abigail Lessaris), and the Boy experiencing the Festival of Holi and a Bollywood Film (entire primary company). There were times in act one when the exposition seemed to weigh down the pacing of the show, but the many jubilant numbers in act two delighted the audience again and again. 

The best theater is transporting. It not only takes us to a different place, it makes us want to be better versions of ourselves. There’s No Place Like Home reminds us of the transformative power of journeying and inspires soul-searching. It runs at the Tarkington at the Center for the Performing Arts only on October 28 and 29 at 7 p.m. Tickets can be purchased through the Center for the Performing Arts, or at gregoryhancockdancetheatre.org.

Bard Fest’s “Richard II”

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reviewed by Jon Lindley

It may be one of Shakespeare’s most meta speeches, I’m not sure. But when Richard II appeals to his comrades “For God’s sake, let us sit upon the ground and tell sad stories of the death of kings,” is it any wonder if we, as knowing audience members, can hardly decide whether to laugh or gasp in recognition of the dramatic irony. We know how events will unfold: his own end is the story being told.

I won’t try to detail the intricacies of Shakespeare’s plot – the political intrigues, the twists and turns that bring Richard to his fate and propel his cousin Bolingbroke to power. But I can vouch that the production of Richard II mounted for (and, apparently, by) Bardfest, as seen on its opening weekend, is a worthy rendition of this seldom-performed Shakespeare history play, and that’s thanks largely to the deep commitment and spirited performances of its talented cast.

Afton Shepard as King Richard II

Their love for the language is apparent. In Afton Shepard’s portrayal of King Richard, we’re treated to language as revelation of a precariously poised mind. In Rayanna Gibbs’ Bolingbroke, we hear the steady surety of her well-chosen words and feel the steadiness of her climb to power in the process. While both actors superbly conveyed the music of the language in equal measure, they still managed to reveal character through contrast – the brittle king who poeticizes his problems vs. the contender who minces no words and wields them rather like the weapons to which he’s more accustomed. And in some of the production’s finer moments, the two are together onstage, where we delight in the interplay between the two and the verbal manifestations that drive their actions and their respective fates. It’s Richard, of course, who observes in his poetic way that the golden crown he so loves is now “like a deep well” and how he and Bolingbroke are two buckets, one filling and one emptying.

But this is a Shakespeare history play, after all, so there are far more players to keep track of in the political machinations that surround the two main characters. Standouts for me were Damick Lalioff who provided touchingly heartfelt moments as the Duke of York, Nan Macy in some scene-stealing moments as John of Gaunt and the Duchess of York, and Evangiline Bouw, as Aumerle, for her delicate portrayal of the intriguing complexities of loyalty in this bandying-for-power story.

The cast of Bard Fest’s “Richard II”

You may be noticing that I haven’t yet made an issue of the gender swap of this particular production, as presented by its all-female cast. That’s because I found it to be a non-issue. Or rather, I should say, if there was anything notable about it, the all-female cast simply reinforced that these struggles of power, political allegiance, loyalty, and the like are not the sole domain of men but of human beings. The fact that director, Glenn Dobbs, chose to set the production in a women’s prison was an interesting novelty. And fitting enough, given the state of tension and bellicosity that dominates the play. But as a directorial choice, I wondered if it was one made to somehow justify having only women onstage. If so, I’m not sure I needed it. The play works with women in these roles (pronoun predicaments notwithstanding). But at the same time, that’s not to say I minded the nontraditional setting. The director made clear in his notes that this was an experiment. And I’m all for that. As an experiment, it was engaging, it was appropriate for the piece, and it presented us with some creative prop choices – cigarette packs hurled down as flung gauntlets, toothbrush shivs for rapiers…

Unrest in the women’s prison that is the setting for “Richard II”

If I had a quibble to make about the staging, though, it was with the stage combat. I know it’s a challenge for a fight choreographer in live theatre to walk the fine line of verisimilitude – allowing us to believe blows are landing while also being reassured that actors are not being injured. But some of the initial punches in the fights I witnessed were so cautiously thrown, so wide of the mark, I had a hard time suspending my disbelief – or even realizing it was a fight that was breaking out, as opposed to, say, an embrace. It may seem like a small detail, but sometimes, a hit must at least seem to be a palpable hit.

But overall, the fights were otherwise well-executed and reinforced the conflicts essential to the story. And this telling of this story was still a hit with me in the end.

Richard II continues through October 30th at the Indy 11 Theatre at the IndyFringe building, 719 E St Clair St, Indianapolis, IN. For ticket information, go to https://www.indybardfest.com/richard-ii-at-indy-11.

  • – photos provided by Bard Fest Indianapolis

Bard Fest’s “The Merry Wives of Windsor”

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reviewed by Ken Klingenmeier

Nobleville’s Improbable Fiction Theatre Company offers a delightful presentation of William Shakespeare’s 1602 play The Merry Wives of Windsor at the Indy Fringe Basile Theatre. Jeff Bick directs the comedy, which is sometimes called “the original situation comedy”. And for good reason.

Shakespeare’s enduring character Falstaff, filled with ardor and a longing for wealth, writes identical love letters to two women he “admires” – and who happen to be the wives of his wealthy acquaintances, Masters Ford and Page. When the women meet and tell each other about their letters, a plan is devised to show the old letch they aren’t happy with his intentions. Comedy ensues – filled with misunderstandings, plots gone wrong, and other mayhems. Hello “I Love Lucy”!

from left: Kelly BeDell as Mistress Ford and Dana Lesh as Mistress Page

Thomas Sebald takes the Falstaff role with great skill. He has provided the man with a good array of oversized characteristics which flesh out the character with continuously humorous results. Joining him as the ladies wronged are Dana Lesh as Mistress Page and Kelly BeDell as Mistress Ford. This trio provides much of the fun – Ms. Lesh and Ms. BeDell are especially good as enthusiastic plotters of revenge.

John Johnson is a standout as Master Ford, so too Angela Dill as Mistress Quickly. Johnson is multi-layered in his rendering of the jealous husband, excelling in his several scenes with Falstaff. Ms. Dill provides the skillful energies necessary to make her role dynamic and fun. Others of note in the large cast come from Shakespeare’s ancillary love story in the piece: Sophie Peirce as the Page’s sweet daughter – Anne, Ben Elliott as her unsure suitor – Slender, and Connor Phelan as her selected spouse – Fenton. All three only appear in a few scenes now and again but are none the less very solid in their portrayals.

Thomas Sebald as Sir Falstaff encounters Angela Dill as Mistress Quickly

The Elizabethan costumes are finely done by Sara Musick and her crew, the simple set design is adequate for the many locales of the scenes, and Mr. Bick’s direction, assisted by Becca Bartley, moved the action along in as comprehensible a way as a Shakespeare play can be offered.

Some problems were evident to me however. First of all, a full out AC unit froze the audience for the first act. That was corrected for the most part in the second act but made for a sure discomfort. Secondly, my old complaint of diction and highly excited vocal levels raised its head here. Shakespeare is so difficult to hear correctly and to understand fully, I feel extra efforts must be made by a cast to provide the best of diction and vocalizations in order to promote good communication, particularly with any accented roles. Certainly not all the actors were guilty of this shortcoming – but enough lines and speeches went by without my clearly understanding them, that I believe it was a significant issue. The solution lies with the directing staff – can you understand your actors if you are not reading along in the script during rehearsals? The venue itself is no friend to proper acoustics and is also a part of this problem.

Kelly BeDell and John Johnson as Mistress and Master Ford

Bottomline: This cast and crew bring forth a rich, colorful and humorous rendering of one of my favorite Shakespeare plays. It is full of marvelous portrayals with sections of hilarity and is certainly a worthwhile entertainment.

The Merry Wives of Windsor continues through October 31st at the Indy Fest Basile Theatre, 719 E. St. Clair St., Indianapolis, IN. For ticket information go to https://indyfringe.org/performance/bard-fest-merry-wives/

  • – photos by Indy Ghost Light Photography

“The Addams Family” at Beef & Boards Dinner Theatre

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reviewed by Ken Klingenmeier

Beef and Boards Dinner Theatre’s latest offering of The Addams Family, last produced here in October/November 2015, seems an upgrade of the former – with very few cast changes. The original show came to Broadway in April of 2010 and was hailed as a critic-proof hit, selling nearly $16 million in advance tickets. Everyone wants to see the ghoulish cartoon family come to life it seems (a sold-out crowd last night proves that) and B&B does its usual top-notch job with the material.

Director Eddie Curry, who also takes the role of Gomez Addams, pairs with choreographer Ron Morgan in putting the show together. Their combined skills are evident in the smooth, seemingly effortless work their players accomplish to provide a very entertaining evening for the audience.

The Addams Family

I cannot think of many other American shows with the wonderfully bizarre set of characters these talented performers get to sink their teeth into. There’s Curry’s Gomez – the hot-blooded Spaniard who is the head of the clan – or so he thinks. His wife Morticia, played in lithe, flowing and sultry terms by Jill Kelly Howe, is more likely to hold the keys to Gomez’s happiness. Daughter Wednesday, played by full-voiced marvel Shelbi Berry, wants to marry a “normal” person, greatly upsetting the family milieu.

Uncle Fester (Kurt Perry in a delightfully sweet-hearted interpretation) is a softy and supports her choice, while little brother Pugsley, offered by 8th grader stage veteran Eli Neal, fears that his sister’s vows may spoil the terrifying fun they have together, and he attempts to derail the situation. Grandma (imagined by the perfectly wrought Amanda Butterbaugh) just wants everyone to “stay out of my shit!” Jeff Stockberger’s Lurch (a role for which he has to spend far more time doing his makeup than he did learning his lines) rounds out the household.

Shelbi Berry as Wednesday, Eddie Curry as Gomez, and Jill Kelly Howe as Morticia

The “normal” family (the Beinekes from Ohio!) is played by John Vessels as Mal (as in mal-adjusted, I suppose), Sarah Hund – still the most talented person I know – as his poetic wife Alice, and B&B newcomer, the vocally polished Ray Gleaves as their son (and Wednesday’s beloved) Lucas. Vessels and Ms. Hund team up and provide a good deal of laughs as the Beinekes’ visit to the Addams mansion results in a much-needed catharsis and a happier marriage than they started with.

Kurt Perry as Uncle Fester with the Addams Ancestors

Add in the unparalleled corps of dancing/singing (silver-toned) Addams ancestors (Joey Boos, David Buergler, Phillip Crawshaw, Logan Hill, Hallie Quinn, and Amy Owens) and the cast is a complete marvel.

Kristy Templet leads the B&B orchestra through the diverse and spooky score, Michael Layton provides the nifty set design, lights are by Ryan Koharchik and sound is designed by B&B’s veteran soundman (19 yrs!), Daniel Hesselbrock.

Sarah Hund as Alice Bieneke and Jill Kelly Howe as Morticia Addams

The amazing costumes are by Travis Grant, the many wigs are by Andrew Elliott, and the extensive makeup is designed by the master – Daniel Klingler.

Bottomline: The Addams Family really is one of my favorite shows that B&B puts on. It’s silly, imaginative fun, with great characters and a wonderful score. The plotline is out of everyday life and juxtaposed with the bizarre characters, the show provides an easily enjoyed evening.

The Addams Family continues at Beef and Boards Dinner Theatre through November 20th. Find show times and reservation info at http://www.beefandboards.com or call the box office at 317-872-9664.

  • – photos by Julie Curry

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