“Dial ‘M’ for Murder” at IRT

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Cast 10 November - Sept. 2001

reviewed by Ken Klingenmeier

Indiana Repertory Theatre ends its 2016-17 season with a production of Frederick Knott’s unique suspense thriller Dial ‘M’ for Murder on the OneAmerica Mainstage. Considered by many to be one of the finest and most original stories in the genre, “Dial ‘M'” is unusual in that we, as audience members, are privy to the murderer’s plans and motives. Instead of wondering who did it, we get to experience the planning, undertaking and results of the plot to kill, the question being – will they get away with it!

Much of the early section of the script is spent in rather dry British patter as the exposition is laid out. But, once the actual criminal steps are engaged in, the plot takes off with unexpected twists and turns.

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Matt Mueller as Tony Wendice, and Sarah Ruggles as his wife, Margot in IRT’s production of “Dial ‘M’ for Murder”.

James Still directs the action on Kate Sutton-Johnson’s exquisitely wrought apartment setting, with added textures from innovative lighting and sound designs by Michelle Habeck and Lindsay Jones, respectively. Tracy Dorman’s costumes were the finishing touch.

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The action for “Dial ‘M’ for Murder” at IRT takes place on Kate Sutton-Johnson’s magnificent set.

The main cast consists of Sarah Ruggles and Matt Mueller, both making their IRT debuts, as the targeted Margot Wendice, and as her scheming husband, Tony; Christopher Allen as Margot’s American “friend” Max Halliday; and IRT veteran, Robert Neal in the role of Chief Inspector Hubbard. Steve Wojtas plays the hired killer, Captain Lesgate, in his first IRT appearance. Their actions are kept rather low-key, albeit naturalistic, a bow to the easy-going style of upperclass Brits, no doubt. All the actors employ a very pleasant and legitimate accent for their roles.

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Steve Wojtas as Captain Lesgate, and Matt Mueller as Tony Wendice in IRT’s production of “Dial ‘M’ for Murder”.

Using some interesting technical choices, tension is often brought out by the excellent music selection, while visual representations of the many phone calls in the program are projected on upper areas of the set walls, as are depictions of time passage.

Overall, the well drilled cast presents us with a cozy thriller, much akin to reading a novel as the characters move about, not so much in a presentational manner, but as if indicated to do things by a line of prose. This makes the show seem rather slowed down at times, but one never loses the feeling of intrigue nor of danger. If intentional, it is an awesome choice by Mr. Still, the director.

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Robert Neal as Chief Inspector Hubbard, Christopher Allen as Max Halliday, and Sarah Ruggles as Margot Wendice in IRT’s production of “Dial ‘M’ for Murder”.

Dial ‘M’ for Murder continues on IRT’s OneAmerica Mainstage through May 21. For more specific information on dates and show times visit IRT’s website at http://www.irtlive.com/ or call 317.635.5252.

  • – Photos by Zach Rosing
  • – Artwork by Kyle Ragsdale

 

“Miranda” at IRT

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reviewed by Ken Klingenmeier

James Still, IRT’s playwright-in-residence for the past 19 years, authors the company’s latest offering for The Upperstage – Miranda. The play is the final installment in Still’s trilogy about an extended family. Previous pieces were The House that Jack Built, and Appoggiatura – the latter being listed as one of IRT’s productions next season.

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Jennifer Coombs, Mary Beth Fisher and Torrey Hanson in IRT’s production of “Miranda”.

Miranda is an exploration of many things in today’s world including: the lives of CIA field operators, their assortment of circumstances in a dangerous Middle Eastern country, the suspicious feelings toward Americans in that region, and the relationships of people from diverse cultures including those of like or different genders. In a tale where no one is who they seem to be, we watch a sort of “slice-of-life” presentation of the title character’s situations as she moves through identifying her status in her work, in her relationships, and in her future.

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Arya Daire and Jennifer Coombs in IRT’s production of “Miranda”.

Henry Godinez makes his IRT directorial debut guiding a stellar corps of actors led by Jennifer Coombs as Miranda. Ms. Coombs’ naturalistic approach to her character is on the mark and genuine. She shows that the agent has great strengths and weaknesses, but primarily comes through with a balanced persona. Rarely leaving the stage, Miranda faces a collection of acquaintances, co-workers, an informant and a delightfully quirky youth. Torrey Hanson and Mary Beth Fisher render strong depictions in double roles as friends and co-workers. Arya Daire is impressive as Dr. Al-Agbhari, whose intelligence is of great value to Miranda. And Ninos Baba is engaging as young Shahid, whose interest in Shakespeare, and especially in Othello, forms a compelling undercurrent in the story arc. (All, except Ms. Fisher and Mr. Hanson, make their IRT acting debuts.)

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Arya Daire, Jennifer Coombs, Ninos Baba and Torrey Hanson in IRT’s production of “Miranda”.

Although I, in my viewing of the play, did not ever feel much sense of the “mystery” and “thriller” which was advertised for this event, the production was both fascinating and pleasing. Director Godinez’ staging on the multi-location setting, designed by Ann Sheffield and lit by Alexander Ridgers, was interesting and seamless. Linda Pisano’s costumes had an authentic feel, as did the sound design by Andrew Hopson. What intrigue there was seemed more a product of the setting than any rising action in the plot. The climax in the action seemed to be quite subtle – merely allusive. As I say, I was entertained, to be sure, but the play seemed less mysterious than I expected and to that end, it was a surprise.

Miranda continues on IRT’s The Upperstage  through April 23. For more specific information on dates and show times visit IRT’s website at http://www.irtlive.com/ or call 317.635.5252.

  • – Photos by Zach Rosing
  • – Artwork by Kyle Ragsdale

“Boeing Boeing” at IRT

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reviewed by Ken Klingenmeier

The Indiana Repertory Theatre hits its mid-season stride with Marc Camoletti’s classic 1962 farce, Boeing Boeing. The production draws together the considerable talents of director Laura Gordon, in her first foray with IRT, with a wonderfully matched corps of actors and actresses, resulting in a precisely staged and genuinely hilarious occasion.

Boeing Boeing, which ran for 7 years after its opening on London’s West End, is the story of a swinging 60s bachelor named Bernard who lives in an upscale Paris apartment which he shares with a French housekeeper, Berte, and his 3 air hostess fiancées – American Gloria, Italian Gabriella and German Gretchen. (Well, just reading that premise gives you the idea that mayhem is bound to ensue here, right?) A visit from an old school friend, Robert, gives Bernard the chance to tout what a wonderful arrangement it is to have a loving trio of rotating girlfriends who do not know the others exist. As you can imagine, things soon get complicated and, well, farcical!

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Chris Klopatek (Robert), Hillary Clemens (Gloria), and Matt Schwader (Bernard) in IRT’s production of “Boeing Boeing”.

Matt Schwader, returning to IRT after his 2015 Mitty Award winning stint as Gatsby in The Great Gatsby, is the perfect Bernard – handsome, self-assured and oh so ripe for his comeuppance. Schwader’s real-life spouse, Hillary Clemens, also returning from her engagement in Gatsby as Daisy Buchanan, enlivens Gloria, the rather self-centered American fiancée. Melisa Pereyra is a tender but fiery Gabriella, while Greta Wohlrabe gives a mix of innocence and dominance to her portrayal of Gretchen.

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Greta Wohlrabe (Gretchen) and Elizabeth Ledo (Berthe) in IRT’s production of “Boeing Boeing”.

Chris Klopatek plays the clumsily nebbish Robert with relish, and Elizabeth Ledo wins the audience’s hearts as the much put-upon housekeeper Berthe, savoring every last bit of her character’s grumbling nature.

In farce, exactness in blocking, pratfalls and reactions must be explicit and uninhibited. Aided by Rob Johansen’s clever ideas for movement and flow, the entire ensemble works through the play’s often harried activity with precision. Director Gordon has sharpened the action and reaction to a fine point, and the resulting comic turns by her cast are a great reward for the audience.

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On the set by Vicki Smith – Elizabeth Ledo (Berthe), Melisa Pereyra (Gabriella), Matt Schwader (Bernard), and Chris Klopatek (Robert) in IRT’s production of “Boeing Boeing”.

As usual with IRT productions, the technical aspects are eye-popping. Vicki Smith’s clean 60’s set, featuring a vibrant Calder mobile, is beautifully rendered. Mathew Lefebvre admits influence by the series Mad Men in his choices for costume design. He provides colorful and clean-lined fashions in his work here.

It is pleasing to have IRT at last embrace farces, with Boeing Boeing offered this season and Noises Off scheduled for next. The genre is perhaps the trickiest to pull off and many are the attempts that falter and fail. But IRT’s reputation for excellence is good reason to look forward to more of this type of comic show.

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Greta Wohlrabe (Greta), Chris Klopatek (Robert), Matt Schwader (Bernard), and Melisa Pereyra (Gabriella) in IRT’s production of “Boeing Boeing”.

Bottomline: Comedy is hard, especially the farce genre, but the tireless work of these players provides a rich entertainment full of belly laughs.

Boeing Boeing continues on IRT’s OneAmerica Mainstage through April 2. For more specific information on dates and show times visit IRT’s website at http://www.irtlive.com/ or call 317.635.5252.

  • – Photos by Zach Rosing
  • – Artwork by Kyle Ragsdale

 

“The Cay” at Indiana Repertory Theatre

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reviewed by Ken Klingenmeier

IRT continues their 2016-17 season with The Cay, which is based on the eponymous children’s novel by Theodore Taylor, and is adapted for the stage by Gayle Cornelison. The story is told from the viewpoint of an 11 year old boy named Phillip who gets caught up in events of World War II which lead to his being shipwrecked and marooned on a small island, the cay. Sharing the devastating circumstances with him is an elderly West Indian man named Timothy, and a cat named Stew Cat.

The tale works its way through various themes of race, friendship and transformation, and in the end, leaves the boy with a far more mature view of the world than his peers.

Director Richard Roberts and his designers have done an amazing job crafting the environment for the two actors, Dalyn Stewart as young Phillip and David Alan Anderson as Timothy. Eric Barker has wrought a simple but stylized setting for the play, dominating the scene with two large metal structures which become trees and a perfectly sand colored, freestyle shaped island. We are forced to use our imaginations often, (for instance – there is a “cat” onstage) which plays into the idea that we are, after all, seeing things through a child’s eyes.

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David Alan Anderson (left) portrays Timothy, and Dalyn Stewart plays Phillip, in IRT’s production of “The Cay”.

Another powerful aspect of the piece is the lighting design by Michael Jackson. Exact placements and dynamic coloring for various explosions plus a wholly effective swirl of light during a hurricane sequence are especially noteworthy in a wonderful array of effects.  Matthew Tibbs’ fine sound design goes hand in hand with these lighting efforts to complete the often dangerous environment.

Of course, the actors bring sizable contributions to the storytelling. Young Mr. Stewart is perfect as Phillip. His having to play a major portion of the role with a harsh disability is taken quite in stride. I have seen this young actor on several occasions and I am always impressed with his pleasing command of a youthful theatrical presence, which he again offers in this portrayal. He has natural skills and we can only hope to see these develop over time. Mr. Anderson has always impressed us in his other IRT roles and his work here can only be called precise and compelling. Though thickly-accented at times, his Timothy is a good man to be ship-wrecked with.

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Phillip (Dalyn Stewart) climbs a coconut palm while Timothy (David Alan Anderson) guides the effort in IRT’s production of “The Cay”.

All the action of the play is offered with a kind of remarkable normality – using a natural style of effort to meet the needs of surviving each long day. I guess what I am trying to get at is this was a dramatic story told without the usual flutter of dramatic effect. Certainly there are chaotic events is the storyline, but those are the rare high points which contrast greatly with a normal flow of living on this island. Director Roberts gives a well-paced structure to what I believe is meant to be, above all, a moral lesson.

Bottom line: Once again, the IRT technical staff has added their unique ideas and renderings to the fine acting we see on IRT’s stages. Although it is a child’s story, this is a terrific show for all ages.

The Cay continues on IRT’s UpperStage through February 26. For more specific information on dates and show times visit IRT’s website at http://www.irtlive.com/ or call 317.635.5252.

  • – Photos by Zach Rosing
  • – Artwork by Kyle Ragsdale

“Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” at IRT

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reviewed by Ken Klingenmeier

Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, IRT’s fine current offeringfirst came to light as a 1967 motion picture. No doubt you may have seen the Tracy/Hepburn film which also starred Sidney Poitier. The story of a young white woman announcing her engagement to a professional black widower was ground-breaking in its time, capturing the social “codes” of the day as they related to mixed-race relationships. It presented as well the honest perceptions their parents might have of a situation that is threatening to the couple’s well-being. This all serves to highlight the generational divide that existed, and which to a certain extent still exists, related to varied views of race, love and division.

Seeing the stage version of the story, which is adapted for the stage by Todd Kreidler, seamlessly directed by Skip Greer, and presented on an amazing set designed by Robert M. Koharchik, reminds us that while the divides have narrowed somewhat in the time since 1967, the entirety of the problem has not gone away.

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Annie Munch as Joanna Drayton talks with Chiké Johnson as Dr. John Prentice in IRT’s production of “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner”

In what I think is one of the best sets of conflicts and circumstances in modern theatre, the full cast joins in force for a smooth and engaging depiction of this crisis situation. Annie Munch (as Joanna Drayton) and Chiké Johnson (as Dr. John Prentice) have a remarkable chemistry as the mixed-race couple who must face the familial complications that their planned marriage brings about. Craig Spidle and Brigitt Markusfeld adeptly teeter between their dismay and their liberal ideology as Ms. Drayton’s flabbergasted parents, Matt and Christina. Lynda Gravátt owns the role of the Drayton’s cook/housekeeper Matilda Binks, delivering some of the show’s best laugh lines along the way – but more importantly honestly enacting both sides of the conflict as she too struggles to discover that true love is the important catalyst here.

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Brigitt Markusfeld as Christina Drayton and Craig Spidle as Matt Drayton ponder the situation in IRT’s production of “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner”

Add in – Cleavant Derricks and Nora Cole as Dr. Prentice’s likewise befuddled parents, John Sr. and Mary; Constance Macy – snooty as Hilary St. George, a family acquaintance who offers some unwanted advice; and Mark Goetzinger, delightfully upbeat as Monsignor Ryan who wisely illuminates the troublesome situation – to complete the entirely first class ensemble.

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Chiké Johnson as Dr. John Prentice and Lynda Gravátt as Matilda Binks in a scene from IRT’s production of “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner”

Bottom line: This is a superior group of actors, presenting a compelling and truly still significant conundrum. I cannot see how it could have been performed any better. The set is absolutely stunning, and the stage work matches.

Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner will continue its run at Indiana Repertory Theatre through February 4th. For more specific information on dates and show times visit IRT’s website at http://www.irtlive.com/ or call 317.635.5252.

*-Photos by Zach Rosing

“A Christmas Carol” at IRT – 2016

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reviewed by Ken Klingenmeier

Indiana Repertory Theatre celebrates Christmas 2016 with the return of their perennial holiday production – the Tom Haas adaptation of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. This edition of the show is directed by Executive Artistic Director Janet Allen, who brings a deft and somewhat innovative viewpoint to the undertaking.

If you have seen the show in recent years, you may recall the snow-filled stage, the huge golden frame, perhaps even the surprising and refreshing characterizations that Ryan Artzberger brings to his portrayal of Ebenezer Scrooge. All these familiar pieces are in place, but Ms. Allen has lovingly brought a more melodic and descriptive sensitivity to the story-telling. The result of her choices, which includes female ghosts, feels like a whole new experience – in fact it is an energizing and uplifting tonic, beneficial to the holiday’s soul.

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Emily Ristine (Christmas Past) and Ryan Artzberger (Ebenezer Scrooge) in IRT’s 2016 production of “A Christmas Carol”

In addition to Mr. Artzberger’s fine work, we are treated to strong performances by the entire ensemble. Charles Goad returns with his imposing Jacob Marley, and Constance Macy delights us once again with her flighty Mrs. Fezziwig – but there is a freshening in many characters.  In addition to Emily Ristine as Christmas Past, and Milicent Wright as Christmas Present, plus Rob Johansen’s silent Christmas Future, there are Charles Pasternak as Young Scrooge and nephew Fred, Amanda Catania’s lovely and sensitive Belle, as well as a quite touching portrayal of the Cratchit family led by Jeremy Fisher and Ms. Ristine as Bob and Mrs. Cratchit, along with Miles Morey, Alyssa Marie Gaines, Teddy Rayhill, Nina Morey and Sophaia Prabhu-Hensley as the Cratchit children. These and the other cast members deliver a poignant yet often humorous recreation.

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The entire ensemble from IRT’s 2016 production of “A Christmas Carol”

As usual, all the technical aspects of the show are polished and profuse. These include Russell Metheny’s open yet functional snowy set design; Murell Horton’s array of costumes, which adroitly portray the 1840s’ class distinctions; composer Andrew Hopson’s influential touches of music and sounds; and the dynamic effects of lighting designed by Michael Lincoln.

Bottom line: It all adds up to another very special edition of this Christmas classic by IRT, which is truly a large part of the holiday season for so many. If you have the idea that seeing it again this year would be a repeat of recent productions, know that this year’s version has a noteworthy freshness to it.

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A Christmas Carol continues on IRT’s main stage through December 24th. For ticket and reservation information, go to http://www.irtlive.com or call the ticket office at 317-635-5252.

  • Banner artwork by Kyle Ragsdale
  • Photos by Zach Rosing

“Finding Home: Indiana at 200” at IRT

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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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