“The Great Bike Race” at TOTS

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reviewed by Ken Klingenmeier

In July 1904, the second Tour de France bicycle race was held. It was plagued by cheating and scandal. Participants broke rules on many stages, everything from catching illegal rides by car and/or train, to finding unauthorized nourishment along the route, to nails thrown out on the course to cause flat tires. Some of the riders’ conduct was so bad that the race’s organizer stated that it would be the last time the race was run. In the end the top finishers were disqualified and the youngest rider in the contest, Henri Cornet, was declared the winner.


From left: Carrie Bennett Fedor, Evan Wallace, John Kern, Frankie Bolda, Sonia Goldberg, Paige Scott, Craig Kemp, Ben Asaykwee and Joshua C. Ramsey make up the cast for Zach Rosing’s production of “The Great BIke Race” at TOTS

Playwright/director Zack Neiditch has taken this amazing sports story from the distant past and turned it into the lively and original production, The Great Bike Race – which is produced by Zach Rosing and currently on the bill at Theatre on the Square. The show first appeared at the 2014 Indy Fringe Fest and has been elongated somewhat for this run.

The story is told as a series of episodic vignettes and the fit cast of 9 actors and actresses zooms through the race’s action with aplomb. The over-the-top activity is stuffed with comic turns, silly songs, a motion picture background, a virtual cow, love story sidebars, looney characterizations, a popular 1904 radio program and lots of high powered racing action.

The comedy is uneven at best, ranging from cheap fart jokes and profanity to really inspired situational humor. The songs are actually quite good (original music is by Paige Scott) and they move the story along nicely, plus they are offered by some very talented voices. The background is ingenious and very much a part of the storytelling. The cow speaks for itself. The love stories tend to be uno-gendered and a bit forced. The looney characterizations are a delight and are fully rendered. The radio show is a nice twist of contemporary insanity (cleverly anachronistic was their pitch) which adds to the mayhem. The high powered cycle racing looks exhausting – but this cast is, as I said, fit. And I must make special mention of Peachy Keen Costuming as their added touch is a vital one.


From left: Paige Scott, Frankie Bolda and Ben Asaykwee in a scene from Zach Rosing’s production of “The Great Bike Race” at TOTS

I do applaud the production team on their penchant for taking chances. Some concepts fall by the way-side, but a good many of the ideas land truly and provide a worthwhile entertainment. The team of actors functions well as an amazing ensemble, but standout performances by Frankie Bolda as winning rider Henri Cornet, Ben Asaykwee as a likeably villainous Maurice Garin, and Paige Scott (whose mustachioed image in the publicity ads and posters for the production has become nothing short of iconic) as the dastardly Hippolyte Acoutrier, lead the way. Additionally, Josh Ramsey does an impressive job – his hands full with a trio of very varied rider depictions.

Bottomline: this was a perfect Father’s Day afternoon entertainment – full of laughs, a few groans, and much quirky and imaginative story-telling. I enjoyed it!

The Great Bicycle Race continues at Theatre on the Square for two more performances, June 23 & 24, 2017 at 8:00 PM. For tickets and information, go online to https://zrpevents.vbotickets.com/events

  • – Photos provided by Zach Rosing Productions

” It’s Only A Play” at Theatre on the Square

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reviewed by Ken Klingenmeier

TOTS opens the 2016-17 season with Terrance McNally’s It’s Only A Play, directed by Darrin Murrell. Mr. McNally is considered one of this country’s most important playwrights and he is a multiple award winner with Tony, Drama Desk Emmy, and Obie Awards for his work in theatre and television.

It’s Only A Play depicts the opening night of playwright Peter Austin’s “The Golden Egg” – detailing the after-party angst of said playwright, his director, the producer, a rebounding actress who stars in the play, the playwright’s best friend, a newly arrived actor wannabe, and a critic who would rather be a playwright. Meant as a satirical examination of the world of theatre and it’s participants, McNally’s play is only partially successful, in my opinion – but more on that later.


From left: Thomas Cardwell, Kathy Pataluch, Dave Ruark and Afton Shepard in a scene from TOTS’ production of “It’s Only A Play”

Director Murrell has been blessed with a superior cast. Veteran Indianapolis actors Dave Ruark and Adam O. Crowe lead the way as playwright Austin and his best friend, actor James Wicker. Both provide steady and skillful characterizations of men who are thrust into a negative circumstance on this night. Thomas Cardwell plays director Frank Finger with a flair for his eccentricities and his rather extraordinary hope of failure.

Kathy Pataluch is great fun as the drug-ingesting, fit to be avenged, much put upon (she has to wear a probationary ankle bracelet in performance) stage actress, Virginia Noyes. Jeff Maess does a noteworthy job with theatre critic Ira Drew. Drew’s invasion of the backstage arena is played off as his opportunity to push for a colleague’s new play, but winds up with his observation of how his words really can sting – something I have certainly dealt with from time-to-time.


From left: Adam O. Crowe and Jacob Swain in a scene from TOTS’ production of “It’s Only A Play”

Jacob Swain, whom I also enjoyed seeing in CCP’s The Lion in Winter around one year ago, lends a cheery persona to his vision of the young NYC newcomer Gus P. Head. And Afton Shepard’s air-headed Julia Budder is an over the top delight. Her energetic approach to the play’s producer is filled with high ranged excitement interchanged with a sort of goofy pathos. Both are very funny.

Much of the enactment Murrell herded his charges into is purposely over the top, but this adds texture and a bit of fun to the scenario.

Okay – so I really did love the acting. The connections between players were strongly evident. The energy filled performances carried the day. And other audience members seemed to be appreciative, as well. But in all honesty, in my opinion, the script these characters lived in was lacking.

McNally tried multiple times to put a worthwhile finish on this endeavor. Starting with a “failed in tryouts” version called “Broadway, Broadway” in 1978, a revised version saw life as an off-off-Broadway production in 1982. Following that it reappeared as an off-Broadway rendition for about one month in early 1986. A further revised version came to Los Angeles in 1992. Then, a once-more rewritten form opened on Broadway in October 2014 and had what was called a “megaseller” run thru June 2015. One might say – McNally wanted very much to have his words heard – and what words they are.

The play opens steadily enough. It is lots of fun to meet all the characters and see their anxieties on this important night. And once most are met and the exposition is laid out, the momentum of the action is fine. But when the playwright finally arrives, having contemplatively wandered the streets around the Broadway district, he delivers the first of three momentum stopping monologues. The first two are divided by an apology for being up on a “soapbox”, the third is a spur-of-the-moment prayer that endangers any recovery of the play’s propulsion, in spite of the wonderful attempts to do so by the actors.

What we are left with – again, in my opinion – is a series of well-divided laugh lines popping up here and there, in a scenario we have forgotten to care about.

Here, one might say, “but, Ken, this version was a huge hit on Broadway”. Well, I am thinking that one could put Nathan Lane (who played James Wicker, relieved at one point by Martin Short), Matthew Broderick (Peter Austin), F. Murray Abraham (Ira Drew) and Stockard Channing (Virginia Noyes) onstage making toast and wind up with a hit.

Bottom-line: I congratulate this cast and director. The performances were funny, thoughtful and at times, even courageous, but in the end – the play about a bad play was, in a way, prophetic.

It’s Only A Play continues at Theatre on the Square through October 1. Information about tickets and scheduled performances may be found at http://www.tots.org .

  • – Photos by Zach Rosing

“Calendar Girls” at Theatre on the Square


Calendar Girls jpg

Tim Firth’s Calendar Girls, which opens Theatre on the Square’s 2014-2015 season, has an interesting distinction. It is that rare theatre script based on a movie’s screenplay (usually the opposite of that takes place). Furthermore, the screenplay was based on a real life event in which several ladies from a Women’s Institute (a WI, in the play) in Yorkshire, England produced a 2000 calendar for charity featuring themselves in provocative poses centered around WI activities such as tea serving, flower arranging and baked goods.

For me, Firth, who co-wrote the movie version, gives forth here a rather winding, wryly British, and uneven tale which reaches it’s climax before intermission – after which his plotline just seems to shatter into small pieces of semi-dramatic subplots. It seems to me to have little purpose except to allow the unusual circumstance of nearly naked ladies onstage in a “mainstream” story.

The “nakedness” is tastefully enough done – with adequate draping and coverage, and I suppose the idea of these proper English ladies disrobing for a good cause created a big sensation in the early Y2K. But I think it is difficult to administer similar thrills with that same ploy in the decade that follows. The whole idea seemed rather silly to my sensibilities and, coupled with the other problems of the script, left my mind stymied at times. Granted, I am not a big fan of wry British humor, so much of which seems to be lost in the translation – but I am a big fan of our local theatre efforts and sadly it is difficult to place this play on a par with much of what I have seen of late. To be fair, some other audience members seemed to relish the action – so I am sure a lot of what I felt is my individual taste and sense of theatre.

It’s mainly the script that is my problem here. I think the cast gave all it had (and more in some cases) with energetic performances. Director Lori Raffel has gathered a talented group with full resumes and they seem well-suited for their roles. There just was not much to work with in terms of a script, in my opinion.

Kate Hinman, Laura Baltz, Nan Macy, Arlene Haskin, Vickie Smith and Risa Krauter in TOTS' "Calendar Girls"

Kate Hinman, Laura Baltz, Nan Macy, Arlene Haskin, Vickie Smith and Risa Krauter in TOTS’ “Calendar Girls”

Regardless, Laura Baltz, Arlene Haskin, Kate Hinman, Risa Krauter, Nan Macy and Vickie Smith all deserve praise for their efforts. They strive to play the calendar participants with adept characterizations, though their British accents take some getting used to. Bridget Schlebecker and Maura Giles add their essential roles to the mix with confident turns; and Paul Haskin, Tim Latimer, and Mark Peed (Mark in a double role) take on the male characters in good style, while Lori Raffel provides a deft cameo. All the action takes place on Ms. Raffel’s efficient set design and a dizzying number of costumes are used, assembled by the cast, providing the sense of time passing.

The bottom line for me, I guess, is this – if you like wry British styled humor (as opposed to the broader Monty Python styled stuff), if you are lured to the theatre to see skin – albeit mostly covered, if you especially like the edgier fare that TOTS is most famous for, then Calendar Girls is in your wheel-house. Go and enjoy! For me – I hope to see the members of this very talented cast in other plays sometime soon – as this one was just not my cup of tea.

Calendar Girls continues through October 11 at Theatre on the Square in the Mass. Ave District. You can find information for tickets, show dates and the coming TOTS season at http://www.tots.org or by calling 317-685-8687.

“Defending the Caveman” at Theatre on the Square


After a very trying day, what with all the energy spent getting my car into and out of a snow bank, plus having to deal with the latest chilling blow from Indianapolis’ record setting winter, and driving around Mass Ave. trying to find a parking space that wasn’t two miles away from the TOTS’ building (I settled for one 1/2 mile away) – I really wasn’t in much of a “theatre going” mood yesterday evening.

That all changed once the lights went down, and Kevin Burke came onstage to deliver his amazing version of Defending the Caveman. The show, written by Rob Becker, is a half stand-up routine, half sociological thesis on the undeniable differences between men and women, especially within a couple relationship.

The show could very well be titled Defending the Caveman: Recognizing and Understanding the Differing Traits of the Male and Female Species of Humans. Because that is what it seems like the piece was pointing out. We are two species, we are very different, and we must note the differences to understand them. Except – the pointing out was uproariously clever and hilariously done.

Kevin Burke stars in "Defending the Caveman" at TOTS

Kevin Burke stars in “Defending the Caveman” at TOTS

Kevin Burke is certainly the right man for this task. His even delivery, his impeccable comic timing, his knowledge of how to work an audience so that we did not miss out on any of the fun he is purveying, made this a wonderful evening to share with my wife (you can be sure we nudged each other several times as Burke clearly identified the gaps between how men and women operate in this world) and it was a great tonic for my misdirected day. His having performed the show for ten years comes through in every statement and every knowing expression. The standing ovation he received was undoubtedly well-deserved.

I strongly recommend that you attend this TOTS Mainstage production. I imagine it is more enjoyable when shared with your significant other – but if that is not possible, take a friend, take your Dad, take your Mom, take a sibling – go see this show and gain the knowledge – hey, we all know about the differences, but Defending the Caveman helps put them into sharp focus, plus you’ll get to laugh – a lot!

Defending the Caveman continues at Theatre on the Square in an open ended run – so make your plans early. Information about the dates and times of the show are available at http://www.tots.org, or you can call the theatre at 317-685-8687.