“Sense and Sensibility” at Booth Tarkington Civic Theatre

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reviewed by Ken Klingenmeier

When Jane Austen had her novel “Sense and Sensibility” published in 1811 (with the author line: ‘by a lady’), she could have never imagined the impact her story would have for the next 200+ years. Not only has it been endlessly ‘in print’, it has been adapted for film, for the stage, in parodies, and reimagined with a 21st Century setting. A most recent reworking was offered in 2016 by Kate Hamill, working with the BEDLAM theatre group in New York City. It is this modern adaptation that is presented by the Civic, directed by John Michael Goodson.

Ms. Hamill’s Sense and Sensibility seems to follow the original story and characters faithfully enough. (Note: my only previous exposure to the story has been the wonderful 1995 eponymous film with Emma Thompson and Kate Winslet). The modern aspects of this adaptation come about mainly through the staging elements that are used here. An open stage with a gated backdrop becomes all the many areas needed for the 35 scenes that play out for the audience – through furniture placement, set rotation and a dash of audience imagination. Players are re-charactered with the addition (or subtraction) of a costume piece or with a hairdo alteration, rain sound is made for us with wandering rain sticks, a rambunctious pack of dogs appears, and a marvelously depicted horse is nothing more that an actor performing a horse’s gait via a clever dance-step. Each of these ideas works very well on the vast Tarkington stage.

In case you don’t know, the story concerns the plight of the Dashwood family, made up of a second wife and her 3 daughters, after the husband/father dies. Because of difficulties with strict inheritance laws and the father’s unsympathetic oldest son and his wife, they are left without means. The two oldest sisters are further left in the position of being far less attractive for good marriages due to the loss of their father and any reliable income.

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From left: Matt Anderson, Abby Gilster, Emily Jackson, Bradford Reilly, Marni Lemons, Elisabeth Giffin Speckman, Justin Klein, Morgan Morton, Emily Bohn and Joshua Ramsey perform a scene from Civic Theatre’s “Sense and Sensibility”

Civic newcomer Emily Bohn stars as older sister Elinor, whose countenance is very down-to-earth and whose manner is to absorb most of life’s challenges to her future with a certain grace. Ms. Bohn plays her role with a steady hand, and is a pleasure to watch as she manages Emily’s perspective. Younger sister Marianne is brought to life by Morgan Morton, who also makes her Civic debut. Ms. Morton is very genuine is her role, giving the overly romantic and soft-hearted middle sister every ounce of vulnerability we might expect. Youngest sister Margaret is offered by yet another debuter, Elisabeth Giffin Speckman. Ms. Speckman, who is also featured as Anne, does solid work with both characters, and manages to garner many of the laughs in the show.

Several Civic regulars handle secondary characters – Carrie Neal is a sweet and motherly Mrs. Dashwood; Justin Klein is adroit and effective in his series of portrayals: as John Dashwood (the late Mr. Dashwood’s first child and only son), as John Willoughby, a scoundrel who wins then wounds Marianne’s heart, and as the aforementioned horse; and Joshua Ramsey is perfect as Elinor’s favorite, Edward Ferrars (with a quick stopover as Edward’s áffected brother, Robert).

Dashwood Family

The Dashwoods: Carrie Neal as Mrs. Dashwood, Emily Bohn as Elinor, Morgan Morton as Marianne, and Elisabeth Giffin Speckman as Margaret.

Marni Lemons is absolutely wonderful in her turn as the good-natured busybody, and friend to the young women – Mrs. Jennings; Matt Anderson is a walking excitement as Sir John Middleton; Bradford Reilly is solid and straightforward as the kindly and sincere Colonel Brandon; Abby Gilster finds all the fun in Lucy Steele, while balancing it with the snobbishness of John’s wife, Fanny; And Emily Jackson fills out her roles as the Lady Middleton and the elderly Mrs. Ferrars with polished efforts.

These actors move through the action of their scenes, their stagehand assignments, and their background character duties (very correctly listed as “Gossips”) with well-practiced precision, which accounts for a good deal of the audience’s enjoyment of the piece.

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From left: Joshua Ramsey, Justin Klein, Bradford Reilly, and Matt Anderson in Civic’s production of “Sense and Sensibility”

The costumes by Adrienne Conces set just the right tone for the period and for the characterizations, and Ryan Koharchik’s contributions in scenic and lighting design are most impressive, to say the least.

Small problems with actor diction can and should be addressed here. There are some complicated passages that go by undistinguishably, and the unmiked state of the actors should demand extra care in pronouncing the English accented lines.

Bottomline: Overall, the presentation of this treasured story is a truly pleasant two hours. I recommend it both for its familiarity and its innovative staging.

Sense and Sensibility continues at the Booth Tarkington theatre in the Center for the Performing Arts in Carmel through February 17th. For ticket information and reservations call 317.843.3800 or go online at http://www.civictheatre.org .

  • – Photo from Civic Theatre
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“Mamma Mia” at Beef and Boards Dinner Theatre

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reviewed by Ken Klingenmeier

Many of us, maybe most of us, have seen the 2008 film version of Mamma Mia, the romantic comedy about a young bride’s attempt to find her father, set in Greece, and festooned with songs by the Swedish pop group ABBA. Fewer of us have seen the stage version, at least locally, unless you are among the estimated 60 million who have attended the show worldwide since it opened in 1999.

Beef and Boards brings us a grand opportunity to attend and enjoy a top-level edition of the show, which, under the inspired guidance of director/choreographer Ron Morgan, rocked the packed house at the local dinner theatre last evening with a breathless and eye- popping presentation.

Mamma Mia is, in a word, fantastic, with a prize cast of outstanding singers, dancers and actors, who carry us away with their amazing vocal talents while performing some of the most inspired choreographic work I have witnessed from Mr. Morgan.

Mamma Mia at Beef and Boards

Donna Sheridan (Amy Bodnar), left, is shocked to see three former lovers (from left) Sam Carmichael (Mark Epperson), Harry Bright (Don Farrell), and Bill Austin (Jeff Stockberger). Donna’s daughter, Sophie (Rachelle Rose Clark), seated, watches her reaction.

Broadway veteran Amy Bodnar stars as single mom Donna Sheridan, alongside Rachelle Rose Clark who plays her daughter/the bride – Sophie. These two uniquely gifted performers give remarkable turns, especially Ms. Bodnar’s show-stopping “The Winner Takes It All” and Ms. Clark’s lovely “I Have a Dream”. They are supported onstage by a plethora of talent – beginning with Donna’s cohorts from a past incarnation – Donna and the Dynamos: the thrice married Tanya, played by the lovely Jalynn Steele and the nebbish Rosie, played with great comic skill by Lanene Charters. The combined trio offer up outstanding renditions of “Dancing Queen” and “Super Trouper”.

Super Trouper

The Dynamos, Donna (Amy Bodnar), center, Tanya (Jalynn Steele), left, and Rosie (Lanene Charters) sing “Super Trouper”.

Add in a talented trio of males – the prospective fathers (all having had romances with Donna, the better to confuse Sophie’s search for her dad) played by Mark Epperson as architect Sam Carmichael, Jeff Stockberger as travel writer Bill Austin, and Don Farrell as Brit banker Harry Bright. Then – count in Sophie’s fiance, Sky, played by Will Leonard, and her bridesmaids – Ali and Lisa, Chloe Kounadis and Lauren Morgan, respectively. All in all – with the 10 additional ensemble members, you have a huge cast onstage, performing incredible dance routines and songs, wearing Jill Kelly Howe’s vibrant arrangement of costumes, to the orchestral offerings of Terry Woods’ fine B&B orchestra – I tell you, it was pretty darn remarkable and impressive!

Voulez-Vous

One of Ron Morgan’s incredible creations: “Voulez-Vous” with the entire “Mamma Mia” cast.

There are way too many highlights from the show to include them all. The entire female ensemble’s “Gimme! Gimme! Gimme!” was a standout number, as was “Does Your Mother Know?” with Jalynn Steele and company. Jeff Stockberger and Lanene Charters join forces for a hilarious encounter, as Bill and Rosie discover each other in “Take a Chance on Me”; and certainly the grand finale is an unbelievable display of talents, colors and sound.

Does Your Mother Know

Jalynn Steele as Tanya is spotlighted in her rendition of “Does Your Mother Know?”

Bottomline: You simply do not want to miss what has to be near the top of the list of superior productions that Beef and Boards has offered us over it’s 45 year history. And that goes for Chef Odell’s exceptional buffet for this show, as well. There is not much more I can say to get across what a truly phenomenal theatre experience this is. I loved it – go see it!

Momma Mia continues at Beef and Boards Dinner Theatre through April 8th. Show times and reservations can be viewed at http://www.beefandboards.com or you may call the box office at  317-872-9664.

  • – Photos by Julie Curry

“33 Variations” at Mainstreet Productions

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reviewed by Larry Adams

In 1823 the well-known music composer and publisher Anton Diabelli published a set of 33 “variations” on a waltz, written between 1819 and 1823 by famed composer Ludwig van Beethoven. Widely regarded as one of the greatest of all piano works, its origins are clouded in mystery. Diabelli had asked a number of composers each to produce only a single variation of his simple waltz, to be compiled and used in a charity project; why did Beethoven, one of the most famous and sought-after composers of his time, subsequently devote years to the effort, seemingly transforming what should have been at most a minor favor into a grand obsession? It is this question that drives Dr. Katherine Brandt to her own obsession, as she races a deadly and debilitating disease to find answers both professional and personal in Moises Kaufman’s 2009 play.

Mainstreet Productions’ 33 Variations is an incredibly complex theatrical endeavor and may in fact be the greatest “team effort” production I have ever had the pleasure to attend. Creating a series of short scenes set in two different centuries (and sometimes in both simultaneously), the acting, visual effects, set design, music- and even scene changes and props- are all not merely integral but interwoven in the play, necessitating an unparalleled degree of cooperation, coordination and trust between the participants to run seamlessly and smoothly- and seamlessly and smoothly it did indeed run during the opening night performance this past Friday. The various elements of the production are each so essential to the whole that it is difficult to know where to start in a review; however, as a sometimes thespian myself, I’ll, of course, start with the actors. You behind-the-scenes folks are probably used to that anyway.

Leading this exceptional cast is Monica Reinking as Dr. Brandt, a musicologist battling the slow, inexorable progression of Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, a rare neurologic disorder otherwise known as ALS or “Lou Gehrig’s Disease.” (As a side note, Main Street Productions has partnered with the ALS Association Indiana Chapter for this production, donating to the charity $2.00 for every ticket sold.) Although Ms. Reinking’s take on the assertive Dr. Brandt is initially perhaps a bit too acerbic to generate the necessary level of audience sympathy, her subsequent portrayal of the emotional and physical toll of the disease interacting with the professional and personal struggles of her life is simultaneously marvelous and painful to behold. In what must be an exhausting role, Ms. Reinking shines as the dramatic linchpin of the story.

Doug Stanton, last seen in Westfield Playhouse’s 2017 comedy “Don’t Hug Me, We’re Married,” gets to show his dramatic chops as Beethoven, often oblivious to the practicalities of the real world as his own progressive malady, deafness, threatens to take away the world of his music. Stanton is a commanding presence during each of his scenes, even when not saying a word during a very creative staging of a conversation to which history was left only one side.

A true standout in the production is Katelin Reeves as Clara, Dr. Brandt’s semi-estranged daughter. Ms. Reeves’ biography boasts a background steeped in theatrical training, and it shows; her natural and seemingly effortless handling of the complexities of the mother-daughter relationship as well as a blossoming romance lend credibility to dialogue that at times, quite frankly, threatens to strain it.

Steve Jerk, whom I have somehow managed to miss in all his previous stage efforts, is a true delight as Anton Diabeilli. I wish I could come up with a grand reason or erudite phrase to back up that assessment, but I have to admit I’m hard pressed to pin down in words just exactly why I enjoyed his performance so much. Alas, I’m a doctor, not a theater critic- really- so I’m not sure I can sum it up much better than “he acted real good.” Don’t take my word for it- please- just don’t miss him in this show.

Bridging the interactions between Beethoven and Diabelli is Anton Schindler, played with aplomb in both comedic and dramatic moments by Dave Hoffman. I particularly enjoyed his scenes with Jerk; the two have shared a stage before in Carmel Community Players’ “The Odd Couple,” and the camaraderie and trust in each other are evident in “33 Variations” as well.

Rounding out the cast are Susan Hill as Dr. Ladenburger, Brandt’s colleague, and Kelly Keller as Mike Clark, Brandt’s nurse and Clara’s love interest. Ms. Hill nails the gradual thawing of her character’s relationship with Dr. Brandt, giving the audience some of the most tender and amusing moments of the show. Mr. Keller does a fine job with a role that seems somewhat unnecessary and tacked on by the playwright. In a show that undoubtedly already strains the attention span of modern day audiences, the love story does little to advance the main narrative and is unfortunately encumbered by some of the most cringe-worthy romantic dialogue since Anakin met Padme. A scene in which the two potential lovebirds share a first date, however, is both sweet and hilarious, and Keller runs with it, much to the enjoyment of all in the audience.

A unique feature of 33 Variations is the presence of a pianist on stage at all times, unseen by the characters, but periodically providing musical accompaniment to the scenes through the use of the titular variations. Mainstreet Productions is absolutely blessed to have secured Kyle Thomas for this critical role, an experienced performer who can perhaps relate to Beethoven better than most, as Kyle himself is “profoundly deaf,” according to his bio. His efforts to overcome this challenge are well spent; not only does the music add to the overall effect of the show, but his talent at the keyboard is such that, as my wife Anita commented afterwards, “I could listen to him forever.”

The crew list in the program for 33 Variations is extensive, and yet I find it hard to imagine how so much was accomplished by so few, and I was singularly impressed with the synergies each department added to the others. John Sampson’s set, for example, is appropriately simple and evocative, but is raised to new heights with lighting and visual effects that are surprisingly sophisticated for a small community theater. Accents- the bane of many a performer’s existence- abound in this production, and, although dropped a bit on occasion, show clear evidence of work with a “Dialect Coach,” making them authentic yet clear to the audience. Costuming, particularly for the 19th Century characters, had to be a nightmare, but appears genuine and is used to great effect. Each of these “departments” deserves a round of applause as great as the actors receive.

A particular word of praise for the stage manager and backstage crew. The scene changes in “33 Variations” are relentless and, if not handled swiftly and smoothly, would absolutely kill this show. The fact that they are barely noticeable is a testament to the crew’s skill, preparation and commitment. And how they managed to store all the props, costumes (and actors!) behind the set is a magic trick worthy of David Copperfield.

There is only one reason that all the pieces of a show this complex can fit together so precisely, and that is the presence of a strong director. Jan Jamison, who after last year’s Encore Awards ceremony has more hardware than a Home Depot, has built a reputation now as a director not afraid to take a chance with challenging and often underperformed material. As both an actor and an audience member, I appreciate this inclination.

In her Director’s Notes, Ms. Jamison describes this play as “masterful.” I would not go that far. Though it often soars, Kaufman’s dialogue is at times clunky and his sentiment heavy handed and schmaltzy. The cast, crew and director of this production rise above these shortcomings, however, making Westfield Playhouse’s 33 Variations a theatrical experience not to be missed.

33 Variations continues at Mainstreet Productions’ Westfield Playhouse through Febraury 18th. Find out more information about dates and tickets at http://www.westfieldplayhouse.org or by calling 317.402.3341.

“The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” at Actors Theatre of Indiana

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bannerreviewed by Ken Klingenmeier

Mrs. K and I kicked off our big theatre weekend with Actors Theatre of Indiana’s opening night presentation of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee. The original 2005 Broadway production was nominated for six Tony Awards, winning two – including Best Book. It’s a very successful musical – with music and lyrics by William Finn and book by Rachel Sheinkin – which has spread to theatres all over the USA and indeed around the world.

Director Michael Blatt has found an uber-skilled cast of players for his staging and, with the help of musical director Brent E. Marty and choreographer Carol Worcel, his efforts provide a sparkling program of wonderful musical and comic performances. While the show’s thin premise of a middle-school spelling bee is stretched to the max, the resulting array of characters and many hilarious one-lined jokes, make the show highly entertaining, and full of pleasant surprises. Clever arrangements of songs abound, as well.

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The cast of spellers in “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee”: clockwise from front left, Arianne Villareal as Marcy, Emily Crowley as Olive, Brett Mutter as Barfée, Adee David as Logainne, Keith Potts as Chip, and Danny Kingston as Leaf.

The show’s cast, led by ATI newcomers Brett Mutter as word-nerd supreme William Morris Barfée and Emily Crowley as his rival/new friend Olive Ostrovsky, is a treasury of talent. Mutter’s fine turn as the rather touchy (and mono-nostriled) Barfée is an undeniable highlight of the show. His spot-on characterization, full of many little details and nuances, is further augmented by his wonderful singing talent. Ms. Crowley is perfect as the diminutive Olive, also making the most of her impressive musical abilities. Her rendition in “The I Love You Song” (along with wayward “parents” Judy Fitzgerald and Johnnie Taylor) is one of the most beautiful numbers in the song-filled show.

Keith Potts illuminates Chip Tolentino, the pubescent reigning spelling champ, with a witty performance, including the unique “Chip’s Lament”; Adee David brings the desperately libbed-out Logainne Swartzandgrubenierre to life with an energetic accounting; Danny Kingston is marvelously vulnerable as the challenged youth, Leaf Coneybear; and Arianne Villereal is perfect as the exceptional Marcy Park, who is especially winning in her matter of fact rendition of “I Speak Six Languages”.

Barfee

Brett Mutter stars as William Morris Barfée in ATI’s “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee”.

Judy Fitzgerald, Doug Trapp, and Johnnie Taylor add plenty of additional texture with strong offerings as past champion Rona Lisa Peretti, spelling bee moderator Vice Principal Douglas Panch, and official Comfort Counselor Mitch Mahoney, respectively. Four additional spelling bee “cast members” are selected from the audience pre-show and opening night was graced with a more-than-able grouping for this assignment.

Technically, P. Bernard Killian’s “gymnatorium” set design is perfectly rendered. The four piece orchestra, led by Mr. Marty, provides a flawless accompaniment to the proceedings. Costumes by Donna Jacobi add much to the characterizations.

Bottomline: This lively show has all the ingredients: great songs, some very funny lines and bits, a few surprises, and a great cast (creating a memorable set of characters) which is supported by the wonderful talents of director Blatt, choreographer Ms. Worcel, and musical director Marty. And I have a feeling that my friend Kevin Casey’s contribution as Production Stage Manager has a lot to do with the great precision of the show.  I recommend you go see this one – you’ll spend a happy two hours at the bee.

The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee continues at ATI’s Studio Theatre in the Center for the Performing Arts in Carmel through February 18th. You can find complete information about the schedule and tickets by calling 317.843.3800 or by logging onto http://www.atistage.org .

  • – photos by Jason Gaskins

 

“Other Desert Cities” at Carmel Community Players

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reviewed by Ken Klingenmeier

Carmel Community Players’ 2017-18 season continues with Jon Robin Baitz’ complex drama, Other Desert Cities. I wrote an apt accounting of the plot in my 2014 review of the play at another theatre, and will borrow from it here:

“A struggling NYC writer returns after 6 years to the lavish Palm Springs home of her well-to-do right wing parents for the family’s Christmas celebration. Joined there by her brother and her mother’s sister – the daughter has a real surprise to share; having spent those 6 years struggling to rediscover her voice after her first novel, she has finally finished a book that is soon to be published – a (revealing) memoir about the family.

“Such is the bare bones synopsis of (the script). A more fully endowed storyline includes such factors as a third child, an older brother lost to suicide, it seems, many years ago; the daughter’s perception of her parent’s culpability in that loss; the aunt’s alignment with the daughter along with her ongoing alcohol and drug recovery; the father’s retirement from film acting for a hard-line right wing political career; the (younger) brother’s production of a low-class reality television program; and the mother’s brash, fault-finding, and controlling nature whereby she is equipped and ready to go toe to toe with anyone, and often does. Oh, and the parents have been holding onto a very deep, dark secret.

“With the possibly family-destroying book as it’s centerpiece, Baitz has constructed a fully engaging plotline that wades through a longish first act, only to deliver in the second act with a knockout punch of a resolution. The long exposition is very necessary for this complicated, yet engaging, American family drama. We learn so much about these folks, layers and layers of essential facts, and are led into the conflict of the dangerously truthful book through Baitz’ fully crafted portraits of the privileged Wyeth family members.”

Desert cast

From left: Jeremy Tuterow, Ronn Johnstone. Miki Mathioudakis, Vickie Cornelius Phipps and Shannon Samson – the cast of CCP’s “Other Desert Cities”.

As I say, this is a complex entertainment, and as an audience member one has to commit thoroughly to collecting the array of facts and ideas that the playwright has sown together. It’s also a complex task for the actors and, I dare say, for the director as well. Five strong characterizations are a necessary ingredient for the crafting of the production, and director Jim LaMonte has selected a capable group to tell the story.

CCP newcomer Shannon Samson takes the role of daughter/author Brooke Wyatt. Willing to stand her ground in the face of her parents’ negativity, Brooke comes off as alternately strong and overwhelmed in Ms. Samson’s emotional portrayal. As Brooke’s mother Polly, Vickie Cornelius Phipps adroitly fashions a woman with an iron crust, who nonetheless suffers the heavy burden of her family’s circumstances. Ronn Johnstone, as the father Lyman, manages the mounting frustration his character faces with a skillful portrayal. Miki Mathioudakis is perfect as the recovering alcoholic sister/aunt Silda Grauman,  providing a few lighter moments to the proceedings. And Jeremy Tuterow rounds out the excellent cast with a quality turn as Brooke’s younger brother, Trip, who seems (and feels) out of place in his own family.

Although I could take issue with the breathlessly rapid pacing at the onset of the play, I see it may be a tactic to rouse the audience members to “play attention!” and that was certainly the affect it had – on me, at least. I also suspect the cast, after the long week of technical and dress rehearsals, had lost some of their edge by the Sunday matinee performance I saw. As the show runs two more weekends, I know they will be refreshed and have a bit more spark than I witnessed. Those things aside – it was a very good offering of a very difficult play. The storytelling was fully engaged and director LaMonte has used his impressive bag of production tricks to fine avail.

Carmel Community Player’s Other Desert Cities continues at their Clay Terrace venue through February 11. To learn information about times and dates, visit their website: http://www.carmelplayers.org or call 317.815.9387.

  • – Title banner by Lori Raffel
  • – Photo by Charlie Hanover

“Romeo and Juliet” at IRT UpperStage

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reviewed by Adam Crowe

Scheduling conflicts have made Ken unavailable. That’s lucky for me, as it means I was able to attend Opening Night at the Indiana Repertory Theatre for their production of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. IRT’s current adaptation is presented in about 90 minutes, without Intermission. Fear not – all of the well known poetry from this classic remains. This version, partially funded by the National Endowment for the Arts, is aimed at school audiences. Thanks to the funding, thousands of Hoosier students will be able to experience a classic of Western literature.

My own familiarity with the play leans more towards the cultural rather than the academic. Thus, I cannot really identify what parts of the full length play were omitted from this version. I can attest that, for the most part, the storytelling is clear and brisk.

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Sophia Macías and Aaron Kirby are star-crossed lovers in “Romeo and Juliet” at IRT UpperStage.

As a local actor myself, I am happy to report that the cast is somewhat weighted towards local talent, including Ryan Artzberger, Ashley Dillard, Jeremy Fisher, Constance Macy, Logan Moore, Millicent Wright, and Robert Neal. All excel, with Wright bringing the most delight as the Nurse of the House of Capulet. Aaron Kirby and Sophia Macías provide the exuberance as the titular teenagers in love, while Charles Pasternak rounds out the cast in multiple, pivotal roles.

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Ryan Artzberger as Friar Laurence and Aaron Kirby as Romeo in a scene from IRT’s “Romeo and Juliet”.

Henry Woronicz, a frequent actor on IRT’s stage, handles the directing duties and is wise enough not to let anything get between his talented cast and the beautiful language. On the technical side, Eric Barker’s set is spare, yet appropriately evocative. Todd Reischman’s sound provides excellent accompaniment and Michael Jackson’s lighting is spot on (pardon the pun). Courtney Foxworthy and Linda Pisano have provided contemporary costuming that fits the Director’s vision.

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Millicent Wright as Nurse in a scene with Sophia Macías as Juliet in IRT’s “Romeo and Juliet”.

If you’ve never seen this classic onstage, IRT’s production gives you a perfect opportunity to experience this timeless love story and its beautiful language, brought fully to life by cast and crew.

Romeo and Juliet runs until March 3rd, but only has a dozen or so public performances, the bulk of the performances being scheduled for aforementioned school groups. As a plus, nearly every public performance has a post-show discussion, allowing the audience to share thoughts and feelings about the show.

Indiana Repertory Theatre is located at 140 West Washington Street. I always find parking at the Circle Centre Mall Garage to be easy and affordable. Tickets may be purchased by visiting the website at irtlive.com or by calling (317) 635-5252.  Ticket prices for those under 18 are very affordable, and this production provides an excellent introduction to the work of the Bard of Avon.

  • Banner artwork by Kyle Ragsdale
  • Photos by Zach Rosing

“A Raisin in the Sun” at IRT

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reviewed by Ken Klingenmeier

Indiana Repertory Theatre continues their 2017-18 season with Lorraine Hansberry’s masterpiece, A Raisin in the Sun. The play opened to high praise on Broadway in 1959 and went on to win the New York Drama Critic’s Circle Award for Best Play of the Year. The IRT production represents the fourth opportunity for Timothy Douglas to direct the iconic play.

The story concerns the Younger family, struggling in the depths of a segregated world, hoping and dreaming for better, happier lives. Every one of the adult family members has a dream that would lift them out of their circumstance – but the times seem to be against them, with civil rights mechanisms having barely started. The expectation of a life insurance windfall seems to complicate matters, but eventually leads to the possibility of a more promising future as the family takes hold of their fates. As the play shows us – idealism is part of life, and dreams are necessary.

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Dorcas Sowunmi (Ruth Younger) and Kim Staunton (Lena Younger) in IRT’s “A Raisin in the Sun”

Presented on Scenic Designer Tony Cisek’s highly detailed rendering of the Younger family’s Chicago tenement apartment, the show is offered by a first-rate team of actors lead by veteran actress Kim Staunton’s portrayal of the matriarchal Lena Younger. Ms. Stauton recreates the role from her LA appearance in the production directed by Phylicia Rashad. Her powerful portrayal on the IRT stage is full of nuance and meaning, showing us how a loving, strong, experienced woman handles the doubts and dreams of her fluid family.

Chiké Johnson takes the role of Lena’s fancifully ambitious son, Walter Lee Younger. Johnson gives an impressive performance, riding his character’s emotional roller coaster with an astute understanding of his turmoil as he makes flawed choices in hopes of securing a better life for his family. Dorcas Sowunmi carries the weight of Walter’s wife Ruth’s disappointments and hopefulness with aplomb, while Stori Ayers shines as his younger sister, Beneatha – full of new ideas and a far more hopeful outlook for the world.

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Lex Lumpkin (Travis Younger) and Chiké Johnson (Walter Lee Younger) in IRT’s “A Raisin in the Sun”

Elisha Lawson and Jordan Bellow handle well the roles of Beneatha’s boyfriends Joseph Asagai, and George Murchison, and D. Alexander is solid as the disappointed business partner, Bobo. Lex Lumpkin does a noteworthy job as Ruth’s young grandson Travis, and Paul Tavianini completes the cast as Karl Lindner.

Kara Harmon’s costumes and Peter Maradudin’s light design add greatly to the realism that director Douglas has overseen here.

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Elisha Lawson (Joseph Asagai) and Stori Ayers (Beneatha Younger) in IRT’s “A Raisin in the Sun”

Bottomline: This script provides an American classic story-line – with a look at a part of our troubled history that is not completely resolved. While the performance I saw seemed to get off track a bit emotionally in the second act, the compelling result of the experience as a whole cannot be denied. There were many moments of strength and truth. This is a moving and important piece of drama; the ideas Ms. Hansberry has laid out in her play are powerful reminders of what we have left to do.

A Raisin in the Sun will continue its run at Indiana Repertory Theatre through February 3rd. For specific information on dates, show times, and ticket orders, visit IRT’s website at http://www.irtlive.com/.

  • Banner artwork by Kyle Ragsdale
  • Photos by Zach Rosing

 

 

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