“Vino Veritas” at Phoenix Theatre

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reviewed by Adam Crowe

Even now, in October, theaters all over America are already preparing for the upcoming onslaught of “holiday” (i.e. Christmas) productions. This week, I experienced something out of the ordinary – a play that celebrates a much closer holiday – Halloween!! David MacGregor’s Vino Veritas, arriving onstage at the Phoenix Theater, is not “about” Halloween, but begins its tale by introducing two seemingly ordinary couples, preparing for an annual Halloween Party. As the title suggests, Wine plays a crucial role in MacGregor’s tale.

from left: Claire (Sarah Hund) , Lauren (Carrie Schlatter), and Phil (Wolf Sherrill) in a scene from Phoenix Theatre’s “Vino Veritas”.

As Lauren and Phil prepare to host neighbors Ridley and Claire, we are introduced to some pretty standard couples’ angst. Lauren makes it clear that Phil is no longer the man that she married and her resentment and unhappiness are clear. The Vino of the title turns out to be a “magical” concoction of some natives of Peru, designed to bring out the truth in those who drink it. Lauren obtained the potion while on vacation and is intent on sharing the “magic” with neighbors Ridley and Claire. To reveal more would spoil the fun, but as you might guess, the wine is drunk and many secrets are revealed. Lots of secrets . . . and lots of revealing. I mean, LOTS. In fact, my only real quibble with the entire production is the playwright’s decision to include so many revelations, with some sharp shifts from comedy to more heady outpourings.

In spite of its contrivances, the play succeeds – and does so on the shoulders of its excellent cast. Phoenix veterans Carrie Schlatter (Lauren) and Michael Hosp (Ridley) are joined by newcomer Wolf Sherrill (Phil), and all have moments where they shine brightly. But In her sophomore outing at the Phoenix, Sarah Hund is an absolute delight. Her turn as the under-appreciated Claire is worth the entire ticket price. In Hund’s hands, Claire is the most interesting of the four and the audience is constantly anticipating what she will do or say next.

Michael Hosp portrays Ridley in Phoenix Theatre’s “Vino Veritas”.

Director Bill Simmons handles his actors and the story with aplomb. It doesn’t hurt that the technical aspects of the production are also top drawer. Zach Hunter gives Lauren and Phil a beautiful home, perfectly lit by Michael Moffat. Danielle Buckel’s designs for costumes and properties are excellent and Tom Horan’s sound design is quite effective. Credit also goes to The Phoenix for employing the skills of an “Intimacy Choreographer”. Jenny McKnight’s contributions may not be obvious to the audience, but no doubt made some of the action onstage much more comfortable for the actors.

The preview audience was more than enthusiastic at the curtain call. I suspect that they did not share my small complaints about the script. And I guess I don’t blame them. In its production of Vino Veritas, the Phoenix manages to make the audience think, feel and mostly laugh. It’s a nice antidote to a holiday predominantly focused on gore and gruesome imagery. You don’t have to skip your annual viewing of Night of the Living Dead . . . just add some unusual Vino to the mix.

Vino Veritas runs weekends through November 24th. The Phoenix Cultural Centre is located at 705 North Illinois Street, in downtown Indianapolis. Ticket information can be found at www.PhoenixTheatre.org or by calling (317) 635-7529.

  • photos provided by Phoenix Theatre

“And So We Walked: An Artist’s Journey on the Trail of Tears” at IRT

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reviewed by Daniel Shock

The event that most of us think of as “The Trail of Tears” began in 1838 as the U.S. Army, under orders from President Andrew Jackson, began enforcement of the Indian Removal Act. They rounded up about 17,000 members of the Cherokee Nation and forced them on a deadly journey from their homes and ancestral lands in North Carolina and other Southeastern States to Oklahoma, where they were to be resettled. 4000 people are estimated to have died from hunger, exposure and disease while making this journey.

IRT’s current UpperStage production of And So We Walked: An Artist’s Journey on the Trail of Tears is a play created by actor and Cherokee, DeLanna Studi. It is a play that…well, it occurs to me as I type that it is the story of how she went about creating the play. In the program, Director Corey Madden tells how she asked Ms. Studi what her dream project was. Madden says that “without hesitation, she declared ‘I want to walk the Trail of Tears with my father and make a play about it.’” That is precisely what this is. But it doesn’t capture the depth of the experience.

Cherokee actress and playwright, DeLanna Studi

And So We Walked, is at once DeLanna’s story, her family’s story, and her people’s story – plus how she sought to connect and communicate with all of those stories. What surprised me most about the play was how much humor there is. There is a lot of laughter to be found as she honestly reveals the details of her life. Her mistakes, her struggles, the ups and downs of her love life, and her father of few words. There is also pain as she talks about her personal pain, her family’s pain and the pain of her people. There is a lot in this that I am still pondering from the show. It will stay with me for a long time. If that’s not the mark of great theatre, I don’t know what is.

I haven’t seen a lot of one performer plays. I am always amazed at the actor who can stand on stage for 2 hours and be interesting and engaging. The director and actor have worked together to create a performance that has many levels and is never boring. Ms. Studi keeps us feeling – as things are constantly moving as she moves around the luggage, backpacks, tables and benches on the stage. Pulling out a few costume pieces (costumes by Andja Budincich) as she changes between characters. She portrays conversations with her father with great skill moving between her exasperation and his stoic arm crossed obstinance.

DeLanna Studi in “And So We Walked: An Artist’s Journey on the Trail of Tears”

The set by John Coyne is beautiful and is meant to evoke Cherokee sacred spaces. In the center is a multi-level seven-sided heptagon that she moves around and up and down on. Behind that along the back of the set are screen like elements where images are projected to give a sense of place. Lighting and projection by Norman Coates and music/sound by Bruno Louchouarn combine to transport us to the world she is taking us through.

As I consider Ms. Studi’s story, now two days after seeing her performance, I think about the Who’s in Horton Hears a Who. They shout “We are here! We are here!”. In many ways the Cherokee and other native nations have been rendered invisible. We forget that we live in a state named Indiana…land of the Indians. My father has a collection of arrowheads and tools that he has found over the 5 decades or so that he has been walking the fields farmed by my uncle and my grandfather before him. There wasn’t just one trail of tears. There have been many. Native people were driven from here just like North Carolina. They were here. Their children have a story to tell. We should listen.

Tickets for And So We Walked: An Artist’s Journey on the Trail of Tears can be purchased through the IRT Box office by calling 317-635-5252 or online at: www.irtlive.com. Performances run through November 10th.

  • banner artwork by Kyle Ragsdale
  • photos provided by Indiana Repertory Theatre

Bard Fest: First Folio Productions’ “Lear’s Shadow” at Indy Eleven Theatre

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reviewed by Ken Klingenmeier

Lear’s Shadow by Brian Elerding is First Folio Productions’ second offering for Indy’s Bard Fest (along with Henry IV Part 1) which opened this weekend for its regional debut. Mrs K and I went to a sadly under attended performance this afternoon and I came away with a good deal of appreciation and some questions as well.

Elerding’s play is a study of a calamity’s aftermath. As the play opens we meet Jackie (a tumultuous Nan Macy), who comes upon the scene, which is set in a theatre rehearsal space, a little confused and disoriented. She appears to have a black eye, and a sore neck which bothers her to the point that she must sit, then lie down. Stephen (Tom Weingartner) enters, talking on his phone, while looking for Jackie. They know each other, being part of the same theatre company. What follows is a bit of Jackie’s confused state mixed with a lot of concern on Stephen’s part. He tries to have Jackie return home, but she will not. She wonders where everyone is – why are they late for rehearsal? – where is Janine (her daughter)? When this all becomes too much for Stephen to handle, he finds he must do something to distract Jackie until her other daughter Rachel (Morgan Morton) arrives. He hits on the idea of having a discussion about a play – King Lear. This interests Jackie a great deal, getting her to focus more, and off we go – dissecting Shakespeare’s tragic play, scene by scene, while only concentrating on the main plot line which concerns King Lear’s fall into madness.

Jackie (Nan Macy) discusses King Lear with Stephen (Tom Weingartner) in a scene from “Lear’s Shadow”.

The performances in the piece, which is directed by Bard Fest founder Glenn Dobbs, are amazing. Nan Macy shows Jackie’s full menu of emotions with heightened skills. She plays Lear’s part to prodigious effect, often thundering through the lines. She plays Jackie’s interior dismay with all the correct clicks of confusion, conflict and a dash of dementia. Ms. Macy is a larger than life talent (I had the pleasure of directing her as the wearyingly wary older nun in Doubt a number of years ago). She delivers a knock-out portrayal of her troubled yet brilliant thespian.

Tom Weingartner has his own choice moments. As Stephen, he is obviously concerned about his friend’s state, and willing to stand by her, aiding Jackie through the hour until her daughter arrives. The two characters spar, react, and share interesting thoughts about Lear. Much of Stephen’s time is used by setting up scenarios for Jackie, to feel grounded by something she is expert at – Shakespearean drama, and here Weingartner adds a strong balance to Ms. Macy.

Jackie (Nan Macy) and her daughter Rachel (Morgan Morton) share a difficult moment in “Lear’s Shadow”

The plot twists slightly when Rachel arrives. Morgan Morton makes the most of her time onstage with an emotional delivery of the worried daughter. I will not share the complication that has arisen, but there are some very tender moments near the end of this play.

I absolutely loved and admired what the actors brought to the table here.

The script itself, unfortunately, was another thing altogether for me.

Note: I am not what anyone would call a Shakespearean expert. I have been involved in more than a few productions of the Bard’s work, and I have enjoyed them. I have enjoyed seeing many productions of his plays. However, I cannot say I would enjoy picking up a Complete Works of Shakespeare and trying to lose myself in the stuff. Granted, he was a genuine genius; his works have endured through time. But, there is much of it which I do not connect with. But heck, there is much modern theatre I do not connect with.

What I found in Lear’s Shadow was a very thin emotional plot, serving as a vehicle for a withering (for me) discussion of King Lear. Luckily, I have seen the play and knew what the characters were talking about, to a degree. (The person who comes to see this contemporary production will be at a huge disadvantage if he has no knowledge of King Lear.) I can only speak for myself (and Mrs K, I suppose) when I say the script was a disconnect for us; more a symposium for The Advanced Study of Shakespeare’s King Lear, than an entertainment. I may have missed a lot here, but I just do not see the connection between the story’s conflict and the delving into the details of King Lear through the actors’ discussion and “rehearsal” of the play. It is my loss, I am sure. I wish it were otherwise.

Bottomline: Brush up on your King Lear and come see these outstanding performances. This trio of actors create some very tangible characters. I just wish I had a better handle on the playwright’s objective here.

You will find this production at Indy Fringe theatre in the blackbox Indy Eleven venue. You can order tickets online at http://www.indybardfest.com.

  • photos by Antonio Chapital

Bard Fest: Agape Performing Arts Center’s “The Tempest” at District Theatre


reviewed by Daniel Shock

I am going to admit something right off the bat: when I heard that I was going to be reviewing Shakespeare’s The Tempest performed by a youth theatre company (I had never seen or heard of Agape Performing Arts Center until this show) – I braced myself. There is no way this is going to be good, I feared. I will guess that not many of you readers have sat through high school productions of “The Crucible” that felt 6 hours long. I have. Also, I remember being a teenage actor trying to perform a monologue from Hamlet and STRUGGLING with the material. When I was a teen, Shakespeare did not come easy to me. It doesn’t come easy to me NOW. It takes me several weeks of reading and re-reading the lines. It takes studying translations side by side to understand what I am supposed to be saying. It also takes a lot of patience from my directors. Lastly – and admittedly the most egocentric reason that I was steeling myself for a potential painful night of theatre – I have played Prospero in a production of The Tempest. I was proud of my performance and the performances of my cast-mates. Surely, this would not come close to our genius production.

So, I was wrestling with a couple of prejudices that sent me into my mental “review thesaurus”. How was I going to be encouraging, yet honest…positive, yet truthful? How was I going to appropriately set audience expectations in a way that would not deflate anyone’s spirit or sense of self as a performer? I have teenagers. I know what they are like. Was I going to finish writing a review and feel like I just told a big fat lie?

Well, I am a little ashamed of myself. I am delighted to say that the Agape Performing Arts Company’s production of William Shakespeare’s The Tempest, as directed by Kathy Phipps, is delightful and quite worthy of genuine praise and admiration. Not only that, it is AT LEAST as good as the production I was in. Probably better. Okay…definitely better! Can you think of higher praise from an egocentric actor?

Miranda (Laura Sickmeier) and her father Prospero (Evan Wolfgang) in a scene from “The Tempest” at Bard Fest.

The Tempest tells the story of a wizard, Prospero (Evan Wolfgang), and his daughter Miranda (Laura Sickmeier). They have spent 12 years stranded on an island after being exiled from Milan. Prospero was the Duke of Milan until his brother Antonio (Nathan Ellenberger), aided by King Alonso (Matthias Neidenberger) usurped his dukedom. Prospero and Miranda were placed in a boat and set adrift and eventually washed ashore on the island. The play opens as a ship carrying Prospero’s brother Antonio, the King Alonso and several others is wrecked on Prospero’s island. In the next scene we meet Prospero and his daughter. Prospero tells Miranda the tale of how they exiled and came to live on the island. We also learn that the storm and shipwreck were not just coincidence, but the result of Prospero’s magic. Living on the island with them are two servants, the monster Caliban (Aidan Morris) and the spirit Ariel (Audrey Duprey) . Both yearn to be free. Prospero plots to regain his dukedom and uses his magic to do so. He sees to it that the shipwreck survivors are separated into groups using these skills.

The spirit Ariel (Audrey Duprey) and her master Prospero (Evan Wolfgang) in a scene from Agape Performing Arts’ production of “The Tempest”.

Ferdinand (Grant Scott-Miller), the son of the king is found by Miranda and Prospero. Prospero encourages a romantic relationship between the two as this will help to secure Prospero’s position.

Trinculo (Kenneth Cassady), the king’s jester, and Stephano (Maura Phipps), the king’s drunken butler; are found by Caliban. Caliban pledges himself to these two to get their help in killing Prospero, so that he may be freed.

Miranda (Laura Sickmeier) forms a bond with Ferdinand (Grant Scott-Miller) in a scene from “The Tempest” at Bard Fest.

King Alonso is accompanied by his brother Sebastian (Gilead Rea-Hedrick), Antonio (Prospero’s Brother), the King’s trusted counselor Gonzalo (Kathryn Rose) and an attendant lord Francisco (Patrick Cassady). Antonio and Sebastian conspire to kill Alonso and Gonzalo so Sebastian can become King. Prospero tasks his spirit servant Ariel with confounding this plot. Prospero promises her that he will free her when she has helped him to achieve his goal of regaining his title and having his revenge on those that have wronged him.

Director Kathy Phipps has a lot to proud of with this production of The Tempest. There are some inherent challenges with youth theatre taking on Shakespeare. The audience, for example, will have to suspend their disbelief somewhat as children and teens take on roles four or five times their actual age. I am pleased to say that this group overcomes all such challenges as these talented actors play against their actual age and in some cases their actual genders. They are all as a group remarkable. Never once did I doubt that anyone of them understood what their lines meant. They all created believable living characters. A fantastic achievement for adults, let alone teens. Okay – I’ll try to let the fact that they are teenagers go. You get it.

As Prospero, Evan Wolfgang, gives a wonderfully gentle interpretation of the sorcerer. He and Laura Sickmeier create a tender and truthful father/daughter relationship. And she, along with Grant Scott-Miller as Ferdinand, create a classic Shakespearean romantic couple. Aidan Morris played the monster Caliban with relish. He portrayed the rage, exasperation and humor of the character very well. Audrey Duprey as the spirit Ariel was flawless. She sang beautifully and moved like a dancer. It was easy to see why Prospero loved her so. Maura Phipps and Kenneth Cassady as Stephano and Trinculo were extraordinary in their humor and buffoonery. Comedy is hard – and they pulled it off with great skill – they had the audience in stitches. As King Alonso, Matthias Neidenberger was utterly convincing as a man three times the age of the actor. Prospero’s brother, Antonio was portrayed by Nathan Ellenberger. Ellenberger was able to convey the characters disdain and anger with those around him without being cartoonish or overly broad. Kathryn Rose as Gonzolo, and Gilead Rea-Hedrick as Sebastian were also outstanding. Every one of these fine actors may have a future onstage if they choose to pursue it.

In addition to the main cast, the minor roles were filled with performers who gave it their all. They were present and engaged at all times. It feels a little bit unfair to not call out everyone by name. But it would be a long list. Remarkable performances were fashioned by all.

Aidan Morris brings the monster Caliban to life in Agape Performing Arts’ “The Tempest” at Bard Fest.

Other aspects of the show that I admired included the opening sequence with the storm burdened ship. It was done with music and dance. Dancers conveyed the outline of the ship being buffeted by the waves. The waves were portrayed by performers in costume. It was lovely, and conveyed the action well. In a few different places in the play, notably when Prospero tells his daughter how they came to be on the island – his tale is illustrated by performers acting out the story as he tells it. It brings life to a scene heavy with exposition which can become dull quite easily.

The technical achievements in this show were many. The costumes by Director Kathy Phipps, were remarkable. Beautiful and detailed. Highlights included the costumes for Caliban, Ariel and the effective ocean wave costumes. Makeup was also spot on for everyone – Caliban and Ariel being particularly impressive achievements. Lighting and sound were effective aspects. If I have one minor criticism, it would be that the music was just a little too loud in the shipwreck scene. Dialogue was difficult to make out. Again – a very minor concern. It could be that my particular hearing loss was coming into play there.

Do not hesitate to see this show, it is something special. It is magical. You will find this production at The District Theatre located at 627 Massachusetts Ave Indianapolis, IN 46204. You can order tickets online at http://www.indybardfest.com.

  • photos by Antonio Chapital

Bard Fest: First Folio Productions’ “Henry IV Part 1” at District Theater

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reviewed by Adam Crowe

This weekend sees the opening for Bard Fest 2019. A celebration of all things Shakespeare, BardFest features four different productions by different area companies. My particular assignment of this Fest was one of Shakespeare’s histories, Henry IV, Part One. (H4P1), performed on the main stage at the District Theater.

Abdul Hakim-Shabazz takes the title role in First Folio’s production of “Henry IV, Part 1”.

Adapted and directed by Glenn Dobbs, the founder of Bard Fest, H4P1 features a large and talented cast, tackling a difficult script. Shakespeare’s history plays are dense and reference quite a lot of action. Here, Dobbs has arranged his story to emphasize the trajectory of the future Henry V, even adding a bit of that play’s most famous speech. Prince Hal will eventually make his mark, but H4P1 shows us his mis-spent youth. In counterpoint, Hal’s rival Hotspur is fully grown and ready for action.

Falstaff (Matthew Socey) and Prince Hal (Matthew Walls) in a scene from First Folio’s production of “Henry IV, Part 1”

On opening night, the action was a bit clearer than the narrative. Both young Henrys are played by Matts – Matt Anderson as Hotspur and Matthew Walls as Prince Hal. Another Matthew, Matthew Socey, portrays the fabled John Falstaff, while another local radio celebrity, Abdul Hakim-Shabazz is the titular Henry IV. They are all ably supported by the large cast. And while the cast as a whole is somewhat uneven, all work hard to tell a complicated story.

A tavern scene with Prince Hal (Matthew Walls – center) from First Folio’s production of Henry IV, Part 1″.

On the technical side of things, the large set works well, offering the two worlds pulling at Prince Hal. Chris Plunkett’s lights and sound are effective, and Linda Findley Grow’s costumes add a nice touch of time and place.

Bard Fest offers a terrific opportunity to feed your Shakespeare hunger, and it only last two weekends, so make your plans now. Henry IV, Part One runs (in repertory) through October 27th, on the District Theater main stage. Other shows are being presented at the Indy Fringe Building and on the District’s second stage. Go to http://www.indybardfest.com for schedules and ticket information.

  • photos by Antonio Chapital

Bard Fest: Carmel Theatre Company’s “Hamlet” at Indy Fringe Basille Theatre

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reviewed by Larry Adams

There is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so.”

  • Hamlet

Years ago I attended a lecture by Kurt Vonnegut in which he presented a graphical analysis of why classic theater (i.e. Shakespeare) was beautiful and timeless, whereas modern theater (i.e. episodic television) was not. As you might imagine, the acerbic Vonnegut’s tongue was planted firmly in cheek as he literally “graphed” Magnum P.I. and then Shakespeare on the chalkboard at the front of the auditorium, but the point still seemed valid: certainty vs ambiguity. Modern television, or at least that of the 80’s, presented the viewer with a definitively good situation, which was then disrupted by a problem, which was then resolved by the end of the hour- up, then down, then up again on the graph. With Shakespeare, Vonnegut argued, it was never quite clear what was good or what was bad, a straight line across the graph, sending the audience out of the Globe Theater in London with things to endlessly ponder, argue and discuss. Like today’s movie phenomenon Joker, in which a disturbed loner’s murders become a blank slate for an angry mob to interpret as a social movement (in a film so cryptic that, ironically enough, seemingly everyone on the internet feels compelled to suffuse it with their own meaning too), the genius of Shakespeare is in its habit of leaving the audience with questions rather than answers. Great art, whether it be Joker, the Mona Lisa with her enigmatic smile, or even a blank white canvas with some slightly ochre-ish lines (for all you Yasmina Reza fans out there), is as much about the viewer as the artist.

And so it is with Hamlet, one of two productions opening the 2019 Indy Bard Fest this past Thursday night. Perhaps Shakespeare’s most famous and endlessly analyzed play, the story of the melancholy prince begins with a ghost and a demand for revenge- both of which are somewhat problematic concepts for the presumably Catholic Hamlet- winds its way through plots and counterplots, decisiveness and indecision, and ends in murder. Lots and lots of murder. What was the point- or rather points- of it all? Was Hamlet sane or mad? Is vengeance noble or tragic? Is life fleeting and ephemeral, or grand and eternal? These questions and more have fueled the careers of four centuries worth of theater critics, and now, via the vision and able direction of Doug Powers, will keep Indy Bard Fest audiences thinking far longer than their drives home.

from left – King Claudius (Eric Bryant), Hamlet (Brian G. Hartz) and Queen Gertrude (Jean Arnold) in a scene from Carmel Theatre Company’s “Hamlet”

First, let me get my gripes out of the way, because this is how theater critics earn their pay and get famous:

For one, the setting is, well… “stark,” would be one way of putting it. “Uninspired” might be another. Black box theater can be a particularly effective draw on the imagination, and undoubtedly is a must to some degree when turning over shows as quickly as Bard Fest requires, but the interior of the Fringe Theater on St. Clair Street is a bit too bland to pull this off with complete success. A little bit of window dressing would have helped immensely with setting the mood.

Volume, too, was sometimes a problem, even from the typically booming Prince Hamlet- particularly during softer moments of dialogue played against sparse but oddly superfluous pre-recorded bits of old-time radio and military-ish something-or-other. Shakespeare can easily enough begin to sound like word-salad to the modern ear without losing half the lines to a soundtrack.

Finally (in a gripe that admittedly sits squarely in the eye of this beholder), the play is served up with the fairly modern theatrical conceit of a contemporary setting, full of guards with semi-automatic weapons and courtiers in suits and ties. As someone who believes in proper context as the key to the interpretation of any writing, I must admit at the outset that I am not a fan of this technique, though I know it’s all the rage. Shakespeare was a product of a particular time, a particular place and a particular society; to tear his words from their milieu and stuff them into the semi-present can serve only to distract and misdirect from the bard’s original thoughts and themes. In the past, there was at least some novelty to this approach, but now it just seems tired, repetitive, and too clever by half.

Nowhere is this time-shift more jarring and out of place than during the second-act burial of (Spoiler Alert!) Ophelia, during which the two gravediggers are presented as black-clad, sunglasses-and-beret-attired 60’s beat poets- an anachronism within an anachronism- playing the whole scene seemingly purely for laughs. I get it that these are archetypal Shakespearean fools, and thus inherently somewhat comical, but there really is some meat on the bones of their dialogue and it gets lost here in the giggles. When the melancholy Prince Hamlet then uncharacteristically joins in the yucks- playing what should be a thoughtful speech on mortality practically as a burlesque- and the First Gravedigger/Beat Poet starts thumping two skulls like bongos, the production comes dangerously close to turning Shakespeare’s masterpiece into a Saturday Night Live parody of itself. This is surprising, as elsewhere in the evening, the humor Shakespeare himself crafted into his script is played flawlessly and to the desired effect; it’s unclear to me why the director felt the bard needed some over the top comedy help in this particular scene. It clearly generated plenty of laughs from the audience, but sadly detracted from the overall effect of the play.

On to the good (and there is a LOT of good):

First off, the direction. My personal beefs with Armani-wearing medieval kings and Bongo Gravediggers aside, Mr. Powers has molded a cast filled with wonderful characterizations held together by honest, powerful relationships, and he has birthed a production that (contrary to popular stereotypes of Shakespeare) is positively crackling with energy from its eerie start on the ramparts of the Danish castle to its bloody, climactic finish. When you rise from your seat after a three-hour performance on a work night disappointed only by the fact that there isn’t more to see, you know the director has nailed it.

“To be or not to be…” – Brian G. Hartz takes the title role in Carmel Theatre Company’s production of “Hamlet”

Second: the actors. Shakespeare is tough to perform. I haven’t attempted it since doing a skit at the front of Mrs. Pursell’s fifth grade classroom (I played Hamlet, coincidentally enough, in a portrayal I’m sure Central Elementary School still heralds as “A Triumph of the Prepubescent Performing Arts”). Every single one of this cast has brought their A game to this production, investing each line of dialogue with meaning and thoughtfully integrating their part or parts into the whole. Standouts in the supporting cast on this particular night were Tony Armstrong in multiple roles (but most particularly for his powerful rendition of a soliloquy about the death of King Priam and Queen Hecuba in the Trojan War) and Rachel Snyder, who, even in the fairly small role of the courtier Osric, nearly wordlessly delivers some of the play’s most appropriately laugh-out-loud moments.

Hamlet (Brian G. Hartz) contemplates his actions against King Claudius (Eric Bryant) in a scene from Carmel Theatre Company’s “Hamlet”

Of course, Hamlet belongs to its namesake, and I truly cannot imagine a more dynamic yet nuanced performance- amateur or professional- than the virtual acting clinic put on by Brian G. Hartz Thursday night. I have seen Mr. Hartz once before, in an outstanding performance as Dr. Martin Dysart in Equus, but his portrayal of the tragic prince sets a new bar for excellence in Indianapolis theater. He completely inhabits the character and soars through the wild range of emotions and intensities the character requires. His performance by itself is well worth the time spent and price of admission. If any Indy-area actors want to see how it’s all supposed to be done, this is the place and he’s the guy.

Finally: Shakespeare. Need I say more? Well, yeah, actually I do. Because, like a lot of people, I don’t really like Shakespeare. It’s old. It’s wordy. It’s difficult to follow in the theater and impossible to read on the page. It takes work, and I’m lazy.

But maybe it’s worth the work. Because it’s also important. It’s thoughtful. It’s surprisingly witty. It’s ambiguous. It’s a straight line across Kurt Vonnegut’s chalkboard and into your head. It’s practically timeless. And it’s at Indy Bard Fest right now.

Go see Carmel Theatre Company’s Hamlet at Indy Bard Fest. I may not be a big fan of Shakespeare, but if it were all done this well, maybe I could be. You can find tickets and schedules at indybardfest.com .

  • photos by Antonio Chapital

“Little Shop of Horrors” at Beef and Boards Dinner Theatre

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reviewed by Ken Klingenmeier

Beef and Boards Dinner Theatre continues their 2019 season with the 1982 off-Broadway hit – Little Shop of Horrors. Based on a low-budget 1960 film by Roger Corman – “The Little Shop of Horrors”, this comic/horror musical tells the story of timid florist worker, Seymour Krelborn, who obtains a mysterious plant which thirsts for human blood. Alan Menken wrote the music with lyrics and book by Howard Ashman.

B&B’s production is a comic strip storyboard coming to life – from the indispensable set by Michael Layton, through the colorful costuming by Jill Kelly Howe, to the highly keyed lighting by Ryan Koharchik. Adding to the fun are the freely stylized characterizations of the top level cast developed by director Jeff Stockberger and augmented by Ron Morgan’s frolicking choreography. And, of course, there is also Audrey II – but more on that later…

(from left) Mr. Mushnik (Douglas E. Stark), Seymour (Joey Boos) and Audrey (Jenny Reber) meet Audrey II, the plant.

The cast is led by Joey Boos as the nebbish Seymour. Perfectly filling the pitiful young man with endearing qualities of thankfulness and hope, Boos presents a character worthy of our empathy, even as he commits a series of very questionable actions. His top-notch singing talents add to our enjoyment. The girl of his dreams, florist shop co-worker Audrey, is offered here by Jenny Reber. Already an accomplished comic actress, Ms. Reber raises the bar on her talents with some very skillful vocal work. Her Audrey is a true delight to watch, and to hear.

Orin Scrivello, DDS (Logan Moore) intimidates Seymour (Joey Boos) in a scene from B&B’s production of “Little Shop of Horrors”

Douglas E. Stark takes the role of floral shop owner Mr. Mushnik and makes the most of every opportunity to entertain. Logan Moore has his Equity debut with a well-done, dynamic rendering of Orin Serivello DDS. Totally embracing the comic book idea for his character, Moore bursts with highly comical movement and patter that stretches the ideal.

(from left), Crystal (Devin Kessler), Chiffon (Jameela Leaundra), and Ronnette (Carlita Victoria) in a scene from B&B’s production of “Little Shop of Horrors”

Carlita Victoria, Devin Kessler, and Jameela Leaundra comprise the Skid-Row urchins – Ronnette, Crystal and Chiffon, respectively. Their function as story commentators and participants is energetically peppered with electric song and dance arrangements which give these ladies the chance to really show their talents. Brett Mutter busily handles 7 comic roles and makes each one distinctive and humorous.

The nefarious Audrey II is an awesomely impressive presence – the combined creation of puppeteer Josh Maldonado and deep-voiced vocalist Josiah R. McCruiston. As the plant increases in size, so do their duties, until Audrey II takes up much of the stage – a monstrous, albeit cartoonish, horror.

Seymour (Joey Boos) is threatened by Audrey II in a scene from B&B’s production of “Little Shop of Horrors”

Bottomline: this is an example of a perfect production – it entertains fully as comedy, musical, and horror show with wacky characters, romance, amazing songs and singing, eye-catching dances, wonderful stagecraft and an unexpected plot resolution. Go see it!

Little Shop of Horrors continues at Beef and Boards Dinner Theatre through November 17th. Find show times and reservations at http://www.beefandboards.com or call the box office at 317-872-9664.

  • – photos by Julie Curry

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