CTC’s “In the Presence of My Enemies” at CAT Theatre

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reviewed by Ken Klingenmeier

Carmel Theatre Company’s production of June McCarty Clair’s newest play, In the Presence of My Enemies opened on the Cat Theatre stage this weekend. The promising script, which is Ms. Clair’s fifth offering – the first four being musicals – is directed by her husband, John Clair, and contains themes of grief and greed with a smattering of chaos.

This is the story of Sarah, recently widowed, who must face the tasks of making choices for her late husband’s funeral, while she deals with the children from his first marriage, whose objectives seem less than totally honorable. There are lessons in proper preparation here, which make the script a worthwhile endeavor, though I feel the writing is not yet in its best and final form.

Though the play is not overly long, in its two-act format it suffers a bit from having a single linear storyline. All the nuances of grief and conflict are done and redone to a point where, to my sensibilities, we begin seeing repetitions that do not score well. Perhaps a secondary storyline of some sort may be in order. If not, the play might have played better in its one hour length, which recently appeared at this year’s Diva Fest. I believe Ms. Clair is onto a valid and worthy examination of these human foibles, grief and greed, but some tweaking of the action might be beneficial.

The presentation likewise suffered from what I sensed was an under-preparedness by the cast. Missed cues, stops and starts, overtalking, line gaps – all appeared at times. It seemed the players were a good 3 or 4 days from readiness, and thus the show was less cohesive and smooth than I expect it will be later in the run.

Carmel Theatre Company’s In the Presence of My Enemies is offered at The CAT through June 30th. Information about tickets can be found at https://tinyurl.com/my-enemies

Note: These comments may seem harsh, and I have a sense of that myself as I read them – but I see my job on these pages not only to boost community theatre and theatre in general in the Indianapolis area, but also to be a resource for improving what is done. I do this at times by giving my personal sense of what I see and what I think might work in problem areas. I truly respect what efforts people put into their productions – believe me, I know the efforts first hand.

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“Violet” by Summer Stock Stage’s Eclipse program

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reviewed by Daniel Shock

Violet, this year’s production for Summer Stock Stage’s Eclipse professional program for young adults, tells the musical story of Violet, a young woman on a quest. With Book and Lyrics by Brian Crawley, based on a short story by Doris Betts, and music by Jeanine Tesori – a wonderful mix of country and gospel, the show was originally produced off Broadway in 1997 and revived on Broadway in 2014.   

The story begins in the south. North Carolina. 1964. 

Violet wants something. She wants to be beautiful. This will ease her pain and make her happy, she thinks. She was injured physically in childhood by an accidental flying axe blade and further injured in spirit by a guilt-ridden father who did not know how to seek forgiveness from her or himself. Now a young woman, Violet aims to erase the facial scar by traveling to Tulsa, OK to visit a miracle working TV preacher. She begins her journey by getting on a bus filled with other folks on their own journeys. Two of these are a pair of soldiers, Monty and Flick – one white, one black. Filled with the anxiety and anticipation of the coming conflict in Vietnam, they find themselves drawn to Violet – curious about her injury and amused by her naïve belief that a preacher can remove her scar. 

I wondered throughout the performance why Violet did not actually have a scar.  There is no theatrical make-up. The actress shows no sign that she has a scar at all. She talks about it. Other characters react to it. There are a few possible explanations. The one that seems most likely is that we are supposed to be convinced of the scar through the performances. A quick internet search seems to confirm that this has been the intention of the show since at least the Broadway production. I’m not sure that this works for me. The absence of a scar led me to ponder the weird possibilities, like the Twilight Zone episode where the beautiful girl awakens in a hospital and is pitied by all the other unseen characters – leaving the audience to wonder what is going on until the end reveal. There is no such twist in Violet. Possibly the intent is to place the audience in the omnipotent position of seeing Violet as she is – the physical reality does not matter.  I wouldn’t like that interpretation. I don’t think the Flick character would agree with that position. I think he recognizes that the scar makes her different.  She has been undervalued by society as he has. The physical does matter to Violet. Her worth as a human being along with her capacity to love and to be loved…THOSE do not depend on her physical appearance.  I write this to assure the reader and potential audience members: don’t waste your attention on this matter as I did. It will consume mental resources you should spend appreciating the fine performances of the cast. 

The cast is filled with young adults giving several standout performances.  Elizabeth Hutson plays Violet with confidence and strength. Her Violet is a strong, if naïve, young woman ready to join the world.  John Collins as Monty walks a fine line and gives us a complex character that you can both be repulsed by and have sympathy for. Mark Maxwell as Flick delivers a warm, sweet performance. His Flick connects with fellow outsider Violet, offering steadfast support and affection. Carlos Medina Maldonado must be recognized for his strong work in multiple roles as the Bus Driver and the Preacher. He offers a magnetic performance that draws your attention whenever he is onstage. Leah Broderick’s offering as Young Violet is heartbreaking. Her scenes with her father, well played by Eric J. Olson, are among the best in the show. Amanda Boldt, Gabriel Herzog, Terrence Lambert and Lilly Wessel all distinguished themselves in multiple roles. Finally, Chase Infiniti gave a jaw dropping vocal performance in the gospel number “Raise Me Up”. 

This production, directed by Emily Ristine Holloway, made for a nice evening. The simple set design by Geoffrey Ehrendreich along with the lighting design by Michael Moffatt was effective in evoking multiple locations in both space and time. Costumes designed by Jeanne Bowling were lovely and also fit the period. The music, directed by Ms. Bowling (pulling double duty both in costumes and music!), was enjoyable throughout. There was not a lot of dancing, but choreographer Cherri Jaffee brought out some great moments, notably the gospel choir in the second act. Sound was generally good and Zach Rosing’s sound design served the production adequately. There were a few instances where I felt I lost what the actors were saying or singing. Sometimes that was simply the orchestra overwhelming them and other instances seemed to be a lack of microphone.  

Violet earns my recommendation for some enjoyable performances from a cast that will surely be entertaining us for years to come. I look forward to seeing them in other shows. 

Violet runs through June 15 at the Phoenix Theatre’s Russel Stage, 705 N. Illinois Street, Indianapolis. Tickets are available on the website by clicking HERE or by calling the Phoenix Theatre Box Office at 317.635.7529 

“The Little Mermaid” at Beef & Boards Dinner Theatre

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reviewed by Ken Klingenmeier

Beef & Boards Dinner Theatre’s ambitious new production, The Little Mermaid is, of course, based on the 1986 eponymous Disney film which became 2008’s Broadway version of the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale from 1837. Director Elizabeth Payne and choreographer Ron Morgan have, with their fine work in this production, completed a trifecta of tremendous treats from B&B – counting the recent 42nd Street and Grease.

Prince Eric (Nate Willey) and Ariel (Sarah Daniels) are afloat (center) for the “Kiss the Girl” number in Beef & Boards’ production of “The Little Mermaid”.

The technical staff has gone all out for this one with multi-media set aspects, puppetry, an outstanding array of colorful costumes, blacklight features, plus flying (and floating) performers. Every scene is augmented with at least one upgraded stagecraft attribute. Coupled with the top level performances by the cast, the show is a very appealing experience for every audience member – young and old.

Sarah Daniels stars as Ariel in Beef & Boards’ production of “The Little Mermaid”.

All the major roles are filled by outstanding talents: Sarah Daniels (Ariel), Nate Willey (Prince Eric), Michael Ray Fisher (Sebastian), Peter Scharbrough (King Triton) and Kelly Teal Goyette (Ursula) all possess and display rich voices which lift the production. Ms. Daniels returns to B&B after her achievement as Sandy in Grease, once again charming us with her exceptional gifts, making her Ariel a sweet but persistent mermaid. Mr. Willey joins her in the story’s romantic coupling, finding just the right tone of regal character for his Prince. Mr. Fisher adds shine to the role of Sebastian, the crab recruited to guide Ariel’s choices. Peter Scharbrough’s stately King Triton conveys power, while Ms. Goyette is especially nasty as the villainous Ursula, albeit adding an evil charm to the portrayal.

There is conflict between siblings Ursula (Kelly Teal Goyette) and King Triton (Peter Scharbrough) in Beef & Boards’ production of “The Little Mermaid”.

There are also many exceptional supporting performers. Fifth grader Jack Clark does awesome work as Flounder, Chris Trombetta brings rollicking squawks and flutters as the busybody seagull – Scuttle, real-life twins Austin Glen Jacobs and Ryan Alexander Jacobs provide Ursula’s nefarious henchmen Flotsam and Jetsam, Brett Mutter has a lively seafood recipe as Chef Louis, and John Vessels adds his comical talents as the Prince’s guardian Grimsby. Kristen Noonan displays her fearless flying aerial talents in a few of the more extravagant production numbers.

Grimsby (John Vessels, center) leads a vocal contest of prospective princesses in Beef & Boards’ production of “The Little Mermaid”.

An array of beautiful feminine characters are supplied by the gifted dance ensemble – Jennifer Ladner, Kristen Noonan, Amy Owens, Sally Scharbrough, AnnaLee Traeger and Christine Zavakos. Danard Daniels Jr. and Logan Moore skillfully step into a series of supporting roles.

Ariel (Sarah Daniels) and Prince Eric (Nate Willey) from a scene in Beef & Boards’ production of “The Little Mermaid”.

Although B&B costumer Jill Kelly Howe has the advantage of a great many rentals from MSMT Costumes at her disposal here, her work at augmenting, arranging and fitting the plethora of costumes certainly deserves notice. Terry Woods leads the B&B orchestra through the challenging score, while Troy Trinkle coordinates the aerial facets of the show with Ms. Noonan. Also, special nods go to wig designer Kurt Alger, lighting designer Ryan Koharchik, and scenic designer Michael Layton for their noteworthy work on the production.

Bottomline: The entire family will enjoy this enchanting and spectacular version of the Disney favorite. Gold standard performances by this wonderfully talented group of actors and actresses will thrill the little ones. Kudos to B&B Artistic Director Eddie Curry for bringing together this absolutely brilliant cast.

The Little Mermaid continues at Beef and Boards Dinner Theatre through June 30th. Find show times and reservations at http://www.beefandboards.com or you may call the box office at 317-872-9664.

  • – photos by Julie Curry

“Harvey” at The Cat Theatre

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reviewed by Ken Klingenmeier

Improbable Fiction Theatre Company’s production of Harvey by Mary Chase is the latest American classic to be performed at Carmel’s very busy The Cat Theatre. Well directed by Dana Lesh, the show revisits one of theatre’s favorite characters, Elwood P. Dowd – famously rendered by James Stewart in the 1950 film adaptation of Ms. Chase’s 1945 Pulitzer Prize winning play.

Let me start by saying that Harvey is a beautiful old play – gently comic, slightly philosophical, never edgy or terse. The Elwood character portrays someone we all wish we could know, or even perhaps be at times! Most of the play’s other roles reflect us audience members – people who may be caught up in the world’s endless swirl, whether professional or social, or perhaps endeavoring to attain what one cannot attain. Elwood prefers the pleasant approach to life – collecting friends and congenial experiences. Several times in the course of the script he is asked by someone “Can I get you anything?”, and he invariably replies: “What did you have in mind?” – such a beatific answer. And let us not forget the pooka, Harvey – the invisible rabbit who reveals that anything is possible.

Elwood P. Dowd (Daniel Shock) meets with Dr. Sanderson (Matt Hartzburg) in a scene from Improbable Fiction Theatre’s production of “Harvey”.

Daniel Shock is a wonderful choice for the Elwood part, he makes the man a cheerfully amiable gent, squarely capturing what I can presume was Ms. Chase’s intent. Shock’s timing and delivery are perfect for the softly tender humor Elwood conveys, and his mannerisms are spot-on. For the most part, he is able to create his own version of Dowd, apart from the iconic film depiction. I did sense a time or two where I feel Shock slipped into a Stewartian cadence or vocal quality, but in any case – he stays far from being a parody in his choices.

(from front-left) Myrtle Mae (Becca Bartley), Veta Louise (Diann Ryan) and (back) Dr. Chumley (Scott Prill) in a scene from Improbable Fiction Theatre’s production of “Harvey”.

There are many other fine performances, as well. Diann Ryan is splendid as Dowd’s social climbing sister, Veta Louise. Ms. Ryan continues her status as one of our finest area comic actresses with her precisely ranged portrayal. Becca Bartley, is a delight as Veta’s persistent daughter, Myrtle Mae and she matches Ms. Ryan step for step in their scenes together. Scott Prill expertly shows a wide span of emotional conditions in his full portrayal of the harried sanitarium director, Dr. Chumley. Caity Withers and Mark Hartzburg make the most of their characters’ strange love relationship as they face off as Nurse Kelly and Dr. Sanderson. And Josh Gibson plays the put-upon orderly Duane Wilson with obvious relish.

Elwood P. Dowd (Daniel Shock) has a word with Nurse Kelly (Caity Withers) in a scene from Improbable Fiction Theatre’s production of “Harvey”.

Though uneven at times, the entire proceeding is a good example of what a large ensemble can do with prized material. Characters flit in and out and are never far from the humorous plot-line. A certain energy drop occurred in the final scene – usually that happens due to the rehearsal schedule spending more time on the early scenes than on the later ones – but the show as a whole is still very pleasing and, as full as it is with great performances, it was well appreciated by the audience.

Harvey runs through May 26th . The CAT Theatre is located at 254 Veteran’s Way (formerly 254 1st Ave SW) in Carmel. Tickets may be purchased by visiting the website at https://www.iftheatrecompany.org/where-to-see-us/ or buying them at the door.

  • – photos by Becca Bartley and 4th Wall Players

“See the Music, Hear the Dance” at Schrott Center

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reviewed by Ken Klingenmeier

Last evening See the Music, Hear the Dance opened it’s very limited run at Schrott Center for the Arts on the Butler University campus. The show is offered as a tandem performance by artistic director David Hochoy’s Dance Kaleidoscope company and the Indianapolis Chamber Orchestra under the direction of Matthew Kraemer. The program consisted of a trio of DK works accompanied by the ICO, plus one orchestral piece without dance.

It was my first chance to ever hear the ICO and I must say, they have an exquisite sound – rich and clear and perfectly blended. Their accompaniment for the DK offerings added a truly dynamic factor. The opening piece, “Ancient Airs and Dances” by Ottorino Respig (1879-1936) and the act two closer, “Ma Mere l’Oye (Mother Goose)” both benefited from the alliance between the two groups.

Paige Robinson (center) in the finale of Ma Mere l’Oye (Mother Goose)

The latter piece was officially noted as a world premiere. Based on a series of Mother Goose tales incorporated into this lyrical piece by Maurice Ravel (1875-1937) we visit Sleeping Beauty, Tom Thumb, and Beauty and the Beast, among others, in a soft and colorful array of dances. Costumes by Cheryl Sparks, Barry Doss, and Lydia Tanji aid the storytelling.

The highlight of the program is a presentation of George Gershwin’s masterpiece, “Rhapsody in Blue” featuring pianist Drew Petersen. This work is among my personal favorite compositions and the ICO and DK dancers absolutely wow the audience with their performance of it. Mr. Petersen is flawless as he masterfully interprets the classic Gershwin piece.

Dance Kaleidoscope dancers present a section of George Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue”

This is a work with many sections and the DK troupe expressed a myriad of ideas in showing choreographer Hochoy’s explications. Some conceptions work better than others, but those that ‘click’ are a joy to watch. For example, a famous section, the melodic interlude which Paul Whiteman adopted as his orchestra’s theme for many years, is presented as a formal dance – the men in blue tails and the women in billowing gowns (yet another nod to costumer Cheryl Spark’s prowess) as the dancers swirl as in a 1940’s musical number. It was unexpected, perfect, and refined. The long and thunderous standing ovation for all involved in the piece was well deserved.

Bottomline: the balance between musical production and dance is well presented on this occasion. Both the dance troupe and the orchestra are precisely rehearsed and give exciting performances. You will need to rush to see this coupling of live music and dance though, as it closes May 19th.

See the Music, Hear the Dance continues through this weekend with a final performance on May 19th. Go to https://dancekal.org to find performance schedules and to reserve tickets or call 317.843.3800.

  • – photos by Crowe’s Eye Photography

“The Children” at Phoenix Theatre

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reviewed by Adam Crowe

2019’s Indianapolis theatrical season has seen several shows that are popping up in cities all over the country. Local productions of A Doll’s House Pt. II, The Christians, and Newsies are just three examples of shows that are new and very popular everywhere. Another such example is playing for two more weekends at Indianapolis’ Phoenix Theatre. Lucy Kirkwood’s The Children is playing this season in most major American cities and the Phoenix production is an exquisite explanation of why.

Directed by Artistic Director Bill Simmons, The Children features Indianapolis’ own Charles Goad, Chicago’s Donna Steele, and former Hoosier Diane Kondrat. Over its 100 minutes, The Children uses a realistic, if somewhat heightened situation and explores mortality, duplicity, and what we all owe “the children”. Playwright Kirkwood is interested in how we live, both with ourselves and with others, and how our preconceptions about our own mortality can have devastating effects on others.

Hazel and Robin reside in a seaside British cottage and receive a surprise visit from long absent friend Rose. We soon discover that the idyllic cottage is located quite close to the site of a not-so-natural disaster, and these characters have ties not just to each other, but to the site itself. I won’t disclose why Rose is back for her visit, but the revelations come fast and hit hard once all three characters occupy the same room.

from left: Diane Kondrat, Donna Steele, and Charles Goad rehearse a scene for Phoenix Theatre’s “The Children”

While the themes are serious, there is a lot of humor in the play. More importantly, the themes are thoughtful and entirely accessible, despite the scientific pedigrees of all three characters. Kirkwood has created a story that is captivating and the cast’s performances are all excellent. All three actors are in top form, and they make it easy to understand why the play is being performed in so many theaters across the country. I always enjoy productions at the Phoenix, and this was certainly no exception. I cannot recommend this production highly enough. It is an enthralling evening of theater.

The Children runs through May 19th. Indianapolis’ Phoenix Theatre is now located at 705 N. Illinois Street. Free parking is available at the theatre’s own parking lot, just across Illinois street. Tickets may be purchased by visiting the website www.phoenixtheatre.org or by calling (317) 635-7529. 

  • – photos provided by Phoenix Theatre

“Forbidden Broadway” at Actors Theatre of Indiana

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reviewed by Larry Adams

Trying to get laughs is dismal

Specially when the lines aren’t there.”

Parody is a uniquely risky thing on stage. While most theatrical endeavors rise or fall on their own, parody stands in constant relation to that which it is lampooning, thus inviting- almost demanding- continual comparison. In the right comedic hands, this can be a true joy to watch. The problem comes when the parody itself is not nearly as inventive or witty as that which it’s attempting to skewer. Unfortunately, the final show of ATI’s 2018-2019 season, “Forbidden Broadway,” falls squarely in the latter camp.

The product of a series of Broadway song parodies originally performed in New York City nightclubs, Forbidden Broadway began its formal theatrical run in 1982. Since then, author Gerard Alessandrini has attempted to keep up with the ever-changing landscape of Broadway musical hits by continually refreshing his show with new material, resulting in twenty-one different “official versions” over the past three-plus decades. According to the program, Alessandrini has now taken a hiatus from the project (to work on- what else?- a “Hamilton” spoof), and after watching the latest iteration at Carmel’s Actors Theatre of Indiana this past Friday night, one gets the feeling that even he can sense this gravy train has just about run out of track.

The cast of “Forbidden Broadway” – from left: Don Farrell, Cynthia Collins, Logan Moore and Judy Fitzgerald

After an introduction I didn’t quite get, involving two men apparently lost in New York City while looking for theater- or something- the show thankfully abandons any pretense of a cohesive storyline and goes straight for the song parodies. This starts fairly strong with a solid send-up of Matt Stone, Trey Parker and “The Book of Mormon,” but then takes a long and deep dive into mediocrity for most of the first act, beginning with a virtually unintelligible riff on West Side Story… I think. Fortunately, the show is saved just before intermission by what has to be at least a ten-minute hunk on “Les Miserables” and its famous (though long retired) turntable stage, featuring the most popular song of the evening, “It’s Too High,” a spoof of Jean Valjean’s plaintive “Bring Him Home.”

clockwise from top: Logan Moore, Cynthia Collins, Don Farrell and Judy Fitzgerald satirize “Les Miserables” in a scene from ATI’s production of “Forbidden Broadway”

The second act fares slightly better, with long takes on “The Lion King” and “The Little Mermaid.” The jokes tend to be fairly obvious, telegraphed, and strung out a bit too far, particularly in a sequence on “Man of La Mancha” (We get it! He’s old! Start the song, already!), but some solid jabs are landed, especially concerning the Disneyfication of Broadway. A final piece on Sondheim edges toward poignancy but was maybe too inside baseball for me- or maybe just too late in the game to grab me back.

It’s not that the production itself was particularly off. Though occasionally pitchy- and surprisingly often committing the theatrical sin of overreaching when laughs were clearly not coming- all four actors threw themselves into the multiple roles required of them Friday night with gusto, throughout what must surely be an exhausting show night after night. The clear standout in both voice and manner was Indiana’s own Logan Moore, but castmates Cynthia Collins, Judy Fitzgerald and Don Farrell all gamely tackled the material on stage about as well as anyone could.

from left: Judy Fitzgerald, Don Farrell, Cynthia Collins, and Logan Moore with Keith Potts at the piano in a scene from ATI’s “Forbidden Broadway”

Pianist Keith Potts was truly a bright spot in the evening, and though the set was somewhat uninspiring, the lighting worked well with the scenes and Donna Jacobi’s costuming was nothing short of fantastic. No, the problem is that quite frankly Alessandrini’s songs just aren’t that funny. Simple word switches substitute for actual wit: The “Les Miserables” tearjerker “On My Own” becomes “On My PHONE” (Ah! I see what you did there!). “Can You Feel the Love Tonight” drags on interminably as the one-joke “Can You Feel the PAIN Tonight,” with Alessandrini mining the mega-hit “Lion King” for comedic gold and apparently deciding it’s in the orthopedic problems caused by the costumes- pretty astoundingly weak cheese for a theatrical quarry that offers more easy targets than an NRA convention. Unfortunately, most of the show’s humor rises only to about this level, reminiscent more of Bill Murray’s Nick the Lounge Singer than the genius of Tom Lehrer.

Bottom Line: If you’re in the mood for some really light fluff, and you REALLY like Broadway, this show might be for you.

But don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Forbidden Broadway continues at ATI’s Studio Theatre in the Center for the Performing Arts in Carmel through May 19th. You can get information about the schedule and tickets by calling 317.843.3800 or by logging on at http://www.atistage.org .

  • photos provided by Actors Theatre of Indiana

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