“First Monday in October” at Epilogue Players

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reviewed by Ken Klingenmeier

Epilogue Players continues its current season with First Monday in October, the 1978 play by Jerome Lawrence & Robert E. Lee, who are perhaps best known for their Inherit the Wind (1955) and Auntie Mame (1956). The play is a behind the scenes look at the U.S. Supreme Court while imagining the conflicts resulting from a woman being named to the august body for the first time. It was not until 1981, that this actually happened when President Ronald Reagan appointed Sandra Day O’Connor to the bench.

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Ken Ganza and Veronique Duprey star as Justice Daniel Snow and Justice Ruth Loomis in Epilogue Player’s “First Monday in October”.

The conflict in the story is rooted in a staunch liberal justice, Daniel Snow (played by Ken Ganza), having a battle of ideologies with the new justice, the conservative Ruth Loomis (portrayed by Veronique Duprey). Their disagreements are over legal procedures and principles, and frankly take quite a bit of concentration to keep up with. Mr. Ganza does a respectable job with his role, making Snow an irascible sort of legal genius, used to having his way and to being the smartest man in the room. Ms. Duprey presents a rather haughty and equally smart justice, who feels out of place at first, but quickly finds that she is a voice for the opposition in terms of her dealings with Snow. These two actors work well opposite each other in their lively exchanges about legalities and temperament.

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(From left) Ken Ganza as Justice Daniel Snow and Duane Mercier as Chief Justice Crawford in Epilogue Player’s “First Monday in October”.

The other main characters in the play are Chief Justice Crawford, played with an easy efficiency by Duane Mercier, and Justice Snow’s law clerk Mason Woods, offered in an equally easy fashion by recent IU theatre grad, Ryan Claus. Both offer stabilizing factors in the storyline, mostly to quell the more forceful side of Snow. The six other justices appear from time to time in minor roles, although Mike Harold does a fine job as Snow’s direct adversary, Justice Webb.

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(From left) Ryan Claus as law clerk Mason Woods and Veronique Duprey as Justice Ruth Loomis in Epilogue Player’s “First Monday in October”.

As mentioned, the plot, while interesting, can be a bit difficult to follow – at least, it was at times for me. It was hard to grasp, in the face of recent events, that Justice Loomis, who had worked on the 9th Circuit Court in California, was the conservative in the story. I believe some of my confusion might have simply been due to the evolution of political terms and of the ideological standards of these divisive factions. The actors all do an exemplary job playing the script as written, but these political changes added to the necessity for my increased concentration.

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The cast of Epilogue Player’s “First Monday in October”.

Bottom line: this is a challenging play, as much for the audience as for the players. Half entertainment, half course in legalities – one does come away with a lot to think about.

First Monday in October continues through May 21st. Reservations and ticket information is available by calling 317.926.3139 or online at http://www.epilogueplayers.com.

 

CTC’s “Side by Side by Sondheim” at The Cat

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reviewed by Ken Klingenmeier

Carmel Theatre Company is back! Guided by the able hands of John Clair and June McCarty Clair, the recently homeless theatre company, displaced by the demise of its Studio 15 digs on 1st Ave NE, has found a new home on 1st Ave SW in Will Woods’ new venue – The Cat, formerly known as The Warehouse. Last night, Mrs. K and I had the pleasure of attending the kick-off show for this new alliance – Side by Side by Sondheim.

This celebration of premier Broadway lyricist and composer Stephen Sondheim has been in the works since last December and was originally slated to be produced at a local church. But fate and some luck lead the production, directed by Ellen Kingston, to this comfortable setting in downtown Carmel, just across the street from the Indiana Design Center, where one may park to attend.

With fine keyboard accompaniment by David Duncan and Dede Mantock, the show features local singing talents – Thom Brown, Carolyn Lynch, Gail Payne, Matthew Vire and director Ms. Kingston – performing the 30 or so songs in the revue-style program.

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Every cast member has a chance to shine – Ellen Kingston leads the way with her emotional “Send in the Clowns”, Thom Brown presents a slightly quirky “Could I Leave You?”, Gail Payne offers a wistful “I Think About You”, Matthew Vire has great fun with the neurotic “Buddy Blues”, and Carolyn Lynch is perfect in the part of Maria (from West Side Story) as she shares the “A Boy Like That/I Have a Love” duet with Ms. Payne.

The ensemble is best when performing scenes from the musicals Sondheim wrote. Mr. Vire and Ms. Lynch share in the humorous “Barcelona”, the three ladies end the first act with a rousing “You Could Drive a Person Crazy”, and Ms. Kingston and Mr. Brown join forces for “You Must Meet My Wife”. Mr. Vire, Ms. Lynch and Ms. Kingston share in the remarkable “Getting Married Today”.

There are a plethora of costumes to suit the many moods and scenes in the show. Ellen Kingston was at work on these as well, with notable assistance by Patricia Dorwin. Dresser Debbie Coon was no doubt a busy lady backstage.

All told, the show is a very entertaining 2 hours of memorable Sondheim tunes with added anecdotes and info from Ms. Kingston’s narration. The only marks against the proceedings might be what I saw as an unevenness in the energy set forth in some of the singing performances. I couldn’t tell if this was an attempt at subtlety or a genuine lack of spark after a long rehearsal week. Regardless, it didn’t detract from all that gleamed in the show – nor in the enjoyment the opening night audience obviously felt and showed at the curtain call.

CTC’s Side by Side by Sondheim continues at The Cat (254 1st Ave SW in Carmel) weekends through May 13 with one Sunday matinee on May 7 at 2:30 PM. Evening shows are at 7 PM. For reservations go to http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/2912415 or call CTC at 317-688-8876.

On opinion-giving: what, why, when?

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Opinion on Red Keyboard Button.

by Ken Klingenmeier

I am not sure what triggered this question/comment by a friend of mine, who is about my age. He left it in the comment section of my previous review, which celebrated my 250th entry on this blog. He wrote this: I haven’t read all of the reviews listed but I have a question. Is there one which is a pan? And then he followed with this question: Do you ever pan a play?

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the term “pan” in this respect – it means to heavily criticize, especially a performance. The question got me to thinking how I would answer, and as a result I took rather a long form approach to it, to express a justification, I guess. Here is what I have to say:

Hi Paul: That is a fair enough question. And the answer is – no, I think not. Some may argue that I did not like THEIR show, and they felt bad about it – but that is just the nature of opinion giving, I think.

I, like you, have been in a lot of plays and even directed quite a few. Some have been better than others – all of them have been a lot of work. Every single person in every play I have been involved with – well, I actually can think of one, just one bad apple, who actually got removed from a cast for trying to undermine the production to his liking. (Not sure what his problem was, but he was a rare bird) – all but this one person worked their tail off to do their best in a show.

As I said, the resulting shows weren’t all stellar. Most were good, some were really very good – but some, a few at least, could have been a lot better – but not for any other reason than there was an uneven set of talent, or the cast was not directed with a good enough amount of experience or insight, or the script itself was lacking.

I consider myself to have a pretty good eye for what is right on stage and what could be better in a production. I can see when there is a struggle on someone’s or something’s account – it could be the tech is going wrong, or an actor has a brain fart, or what was planned had a flaw in blocking or intensity or pacing. None of these events happening would require me to pan (or write a negative review about) a show. Even if all these things happened in the same show, I wouldn’t feel like that was necessary.

This is not the big city, NYC – but, the area where we live is an extraordinary one, full of talented directors, actors, and designers – both professional and on the community theatre level. (These days I find it quite amazing that when I look at a community theatre cast list when it is announced, I see far more names of people I don’t know than members of “the old gang”! Where are all these people coming from?)

But, back to the matter at hand. Basically, I don’t feel it necessary – or productive – to pan any show I have seen. I have seen one show since I have been doing this review blog – one show that was very, very bad. The piece was a jumble of flawed decisions by the director, miscast actors, and a damn silly script. After watching it, I decided I could not find ANYTHING good about it – so I skipped writing a review. It was not my place to destroy the production so that whoever read such a review would tend to not buy a ticket (which would support the theatre) or give the show a chance for its own sake. The fact is, many other people might enjoy the show as an entertainment, and would likely overlook what I saw as problems.

That is not to say, I never write any negatives. I have disagreements with choices in shows and I address them. I find mistakes or lack of understanding in choices and I point those out – sometimes instructing the director or actor, directly or indirectly, on what I believe could be done to make it better. There are no perfect shows – or if there are, they are as rare as 5 carat diamonds. Also rare is the show that is all bad.

And that leads me to explaining the essence of my job as I see it – my mission, if you will, as a reviewer of Indianapolis area theatre. First of all, boost the wonderful theatre community we are SO LUCKY to be amidst. They are more often than not – astounding. Second, point out what might be a problem and if possible, give my opinion on what could make it better, in my perception. Third, do no harm.

I have actually lost a friend over a review. They failed to understand that I was giving them a critique of how their work might be better. I failed to do a good enough job expressing that idea. Luckily such a reaction is rare, but I learned the importance of clarity in this work. And if something is absolutely god-awful, it is better to concentrate on what is right in the matter than to destroy someone’s hard work and intentions just to prove a point.

So, bottom line: I craft my reviews to try to promote live theatre in Indianapolis. None the less, I give my opinion about things, but I never want to be so opinionated that I will wound someone’s impression of themselves or of their work. I praise loudly when I am wowed, and I am OFTEN wowed by this theatre community. Finally, I criticize carefully because, hell, it is just MY opinion, after all.

“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

 

“Beyond the Rainbow” at Actors Theatre of Indiana

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reviewed by Ken Klingenmeier

ATI finishes its 2016-17 season batting 1.000 as it closes with William Randall Beard’s Beyond the Rainbow, the song-filled tale of Judy Garland’s life as an entertainer and icon. Centering on the 1961 Carnegie Hall concert given by the then 38 year old singer/actress/star, the unique show structure displays both the concert experience and a running storyline of the triumphs and troubles of first Girl Judy, then of Judy, the rising star.

Director Don Farrell has created a masterwork of staging and performance with his cast of six, featuring a trio of terrific Judys aided by three particularly strong turns by his supporting actors.

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(From left) Annie Yokom, Katy Gentry and Anjali Rooney star as Judy, Garland and Girl Judy in ATI’s production of “Beyond the Rainbow”.

“Garland”, the concert performer in the piece, is presented in an astonishingly accurate depiction by Katy Gentry. Ms. Gentry rolls through the Garland concert catalogue not merely expertly sounding as Ms. Garland did – her rendering of the singer is enhanced with all the stage mannerisms and indeed even the “look” of the celebrated star. Ms. Gentry’s undeniable vocal talents are a significant piece of the portrayal, but her acting abilities carry us into the presence of Judy Garland.

Likewise, Annie Yokom, who provides a struggling “Judy”, the post-Andy Hardy Garland in the story, has her character’s voice and style mastered. Touching on the many conflicts and influential factors in Garland’s adult life, Ms. Yokom’s performance is intense and evocative, imparting the often rougher side of her character’s career as a star. Her outstanding singing talent is on display in several numbers and again, the spot-on replication of Garland is uncanny.

Garland’s earlier years are shown through Anjali Rooney’s spirited offering, “Girl Judy”. This young actress has an easy manner on stage and she handles her role with polished professionalism as well as a delightful singing voice.

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Seen with Annie Yokom (seated) as Judy, supporting cast members (from left) Roger Ortman, Grace Sell and Dave Ruark appear in a scene from ATI’s production of “Beyond the Rainbow”.

The supporting roles in this show demand a wide array of characters from each of Mr. Farrell’s charges. Grace Sell, Dave Ruark, and Roger Ortman fill the bill, providing a series of fully realized characters in Ms. Garland’s life. Ms. Sell is terrific as Judy’s pushy mother, Ethel, and brings a varied disposition to the powerful columnist, Hedda Hopper. Among Dave Ruark’s long list of characters is Garland’s supportive father – Frank Gumm, her first husband – director Vincente Minnelli, and a boyish Mickey Rooney, all done with an adroit touch. Roger Ortman shines in his diverse roles including the harsh MGM studio head, Louis Mayer and, in an absolutely explosive performance, Garland’s second husband – Sid Luft.

Musical support for this song-rich program is provided by Musical Director John Bronston at the piano – with Greg Gegogeine playing bass, Steve Stickler on multiple woodwinds and Greg Wolff handling percussion. This small group provides big music and is a vital part of the show. P. Bernard Killian’s smart and simple set design allows for seamless storytelling, while costumes by Stephen Hollenbeck and wigs/makeup by Daniel Klingler put finishing touches on the magic. Erin Meyer’s lighting adds dramatic effect.

Bottom line: The layers of combined songs and stories are crafted to play off each other, realizing the quote by Garland that “The story of my life is in my songs.” Indeed, this assembly of words and lyrics act as an emotional memoir of the legendary Miss Judy Garland. And ATI has yet another exciting and unique offering.

Beyond the Rainbow continues at ATI’s Studio Theatre in the Center for the Performing Arts in Carmel through May 14. You can get information about the schedule and tickets by calling 317.843.3800 or by logging onto http://www.atistage.org .

  • – Photo provided by ATI

“The Music Man” at Booth Tarkington Civic Theatre

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reviewed by Ken Klingenmeier

Meredith Willson’s iconic Broadway musical, The Music Man, is the final installment in Tarkington Civic Theatre’s stellar 2016-17 season. Full of insightful direction and inventive choreography, both provided by Anne Nicole Beck, the show opened last night with a sparkle and a smash. Brent E. Marty provides the inspired musical direction.

Ms. Beck’s immense cast of 42 fills the stage with remarkable performances from top to bottom. Leading the way is Steve Kruze as slick, traveling salesman Professor Harold Hill. Kruze manages a difficult role with pellucidity, energizing the role which brought Robert Preston much fame. Though I feel Kruze lacked the full spark he brought to his earlier Civic appearance as Frederick Frankenstein in 2016’s Young Frankenstein, he nonetheless makes the most of his significant talents here, always focused on Hill’s divided attentions as he hoodwinks the townspeople and unexpectedly finds true love. Joining him as Marion (the librarian) is a lovely Mikayla Reed Koharchik. Ms. Koharchik offers a definitive version of the reluctant miss, using her beautiful (and powerful) vocal talents to maximum effect. Her Marion is gracefully aware of what is happening to her as Hill first confronts her with his charms, then finds he cannot do without her.

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Steve Kruze plays Professor Harold Hill in Tarkington Civic’s production of “The Music Man”

Adding texture to the show are distinctive performances by several supporting players including: Tom Beeler as a pleasingly frustrated Mayor Shinn; Robyne J. Ault as his over-the-top arts loving wife, Eulalie Mackecknie Shinn; Krista Wright as Marion’s hopeful mother, Mrs. Paroo; and Joe Steiner as Hill’s vengeful rival, anvil salesman Charlie Cowell.

Joel Flynn takes the role of town “trouble-maker” Tommy Djilas, showing some impressive talents as a featured dancer; third-grader Jack Clark does himself (and the Clark family) proud as he sweetly plays young Winthrop Paroo, highlighted by his delightful rendition of “Gary Indiana”; and John Hall, Eric Turpen, David Brock and Darrin Gowan join forces as the combative school board members turned barber shop quartet, offering a selection of beautifully harmonized arrangements.

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Mikayla Reed Koharchik plays Marion Paroo in Tarkington Civic’s production of “The Music Man”

It would be difficult to list all the contributions of the other 30 performers, just know that they add lots of glow and shine to the impressive proceedings. Also noteworthy is the fine Broadway level orchestra, under the baton of Trevor Fanning, which richly accompanies the action onstage.

And what action! Favorite numbers from my perspective include: the lively “Seventy-Six Trombones” which displays the entire cast in a bright rendition; the wonderfully original and complex movement of “Marian the Librarian” featuring the two leads with a dozen or so young adult performers; and the all-stops-out, full-cast, dance-filled “Shipoopi”. The show is full of terrific and interesting staging ideas throughout.

Finally, kudos must go to the imaginative scenic and lighting designs by Ryan Koharchik  and the plethora of costumes designed by Andrienne Conces. Andrew Boyd added his skillful work with the period style wigs.

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The entire cast in a rousing rendition of “Seventy-Six Trombones” in Tarkington Civic’s production of “The Music Man”.

Bottom-line: Here is yet another thoroughly enjoyable show from the magnificent Tarkington Civic organization. The high quality of their productions this entire season has certainly been on a par with any of the professional companies in our theatre-rich area.

The Music Man continues at Carmel’s Center for the Performing Arts through May 13th. For ticket information and reservations call 317.843.3800 or go online at http://www.civictheatre.org .

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This evening, Booth Tarkington Civic Theatre announced the shows in the upcoming 2017-18 season – starting with Annie, which opens on October 12, 2017. This will be followed by Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat (Dec. 15), a non-musical Sense and Sensibility (Feb 2), Agatha Christies’ And Then There Were None in the Studio Theater (Mar 23), and finally Hairspray (Apr 27). Young artists productions of The Cat in the Hat, James and the Giant Peach and Guys and Dolls are also included. Season tickets are available now – call 317.843.3800 for information.

 

“Picasso at the Lapin Agile” at Mud Creek Players

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reviewed by Ken Klingenmeier

Steve Martin’s play Picasso at the Lapin Agile had it’s first full public performance on October 13, 1993 in Chicago at the Steppenwolf Theatre. To quote Mr. Martin, “the play attempts to explain, in a light-hearted way, the similarity of the creative process involved in great leaps of imagination in art and science”. Martin does this in a truly unique and original way, presenting a chopped salad of interesting characters and ideas, imagining a meeting in 1904 of Picasso and Einstein. The plot never moves in one direction toward any gripping conclusion, but rather runs on a variety of courses, much like the “nimble rabbit” alluded to in the name of the bar it is set in.

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The cast of Mud Creek Players’ production of “Picasso at the Lapin Agile” on the set by Jay Ganz.

Mud Creek Players’ production of the piece is ably directed by Kelly Keller, in his directing debut, with assistance by Mason Odle. Keller does himself proud as all the facets of a solid production are put into place here, with strong character development, a rich understanding of their motives, and wonderful tempo, pacing and rhythms throughout.

The cast is full of new faces, new to me that is. Brad Root (Pablo Picasso) and Justin Lyon (Albert Einstein) present satisfying depictions, brimming with energy and life. Root’s Picasso is an impassioned man – a bit full of himself, but confident and very much alive in the moment. Lyon bears a strong resemblance to the young Einstein, and carries this through with a remarkably vulnerable characterization of the great scientist.

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Savannah Jay as Suzanne and Brad Root as Palo Picasso in Mud Creek Players’ “Picasso at the Lapin Agile”.

Collin Moore makes the most of barfly Gaston with a hilarious rendering of the man and his often absurd observations of life. Monya Wolf does memorable work in the featured role of Germaine, a waitress with strong points of view, and Eric Matters is deftly on the mark as her barkeep/partner, Freddy. Robert C. Boston, Jr. is perfectly cast as opportunist art dealer, Sagot, and Savanna Jay has some wonderful moments as Picasso’s young lover, Suzanne. Also noteworthy is Lexi Odle, who maximizes her brief time on stage with a humorous, well-timed, punch-lined exit.

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Justin Lyon as Albert Einstein in Mud Creek Players’ “Picasso at the Lapin Agile”

The play is performed on Jay Ganz’ authentic looking set, with adroit costuming by Tanya Keeler, and lights designed by Collin Moore.

Bottomline: As mentioned earlier, all the facets come together here for what is a thought-provoking, fast-moving and entertaining show. This was Mrs. K’s and my first visit to Mud Creek Players in many years and I hope that this type of production quality will have us returning soon.

Picasso at the Lapin Agile continues at Mud Creek Players through May 6. You can get information about the schedule and tickets by calling 317.290.5343 or by logging onto http://www.mudcreekplayers.org

  • – Photos by Colman Love

Note: this play is rated PG-13 for adult language and situations.

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