By Wendy Carson
Once upon a time, there was a boy, a girl, their two fathers and a wall. Thus begins “The Fantasticks,” a little fairy tale of love, deception, desire, foiled plans and happiness presented by Actors Theatre of Indiana.
From the opening strains of the show’s most famous song, “Try to Remember,” you are whisked back to a time when the world was filled with dewy-eyed optimism, and happily-ever-afters can be found at every turn. Therefore, it is very easy to see why this show holds the unbeatable record of running continuously for 42 years and 17,161 performances.
In fact, the aforementioned song is performed by El Gallo, who serves as the narrator and possible villain of the story. Joining him in his unfurling of the story is The Mute, who not only sets the mood by providing props and ambiance to help set each scene but also presents our storyteller with a sounding board of sorts with which to judge the proceedings.
As the beginning of the show approaches, the audience is privy to the standard calls to the cast and crew that are generally kept backstage for only them to hear. All of the main characters enter wearing all black clothes and are provided with a few articles of color by our narrator and his assistant to wear in order to differentiate one from another. Only the two fools are actually allowed any more of a costume for themselves.
The basic story is hardly unique, a son and daughter of two feuding families fall in love despite being separated by a “grudge wall” and seek to marry. What sets this apart is that the fathers are actually best friends and are merely pretending to feud in order to get their children together. They even go as far as to hire a renowned robber to abduct the girl so that the boy can save her and they can drop the sham of a feud and all be joined together in happiness.
While it does appear that this is the outcome, after a bit the children grow jaded and restless for adventure so the boy leaves to seek his fortune and experience life. The girl is left to her daydreams and decides to run away with her would-be abductor in order to find her own adventures. The fathers now feud in earnest and the wall is resurrected.
Heedless of our narrator’s warnings, the world is a harsh place that scars and reshapes them both. They are reunited, worse for wear, with eyes fully opened to the bitter realities of life and adulthood.
Laura Sportiello’s portrayal of Luisa, the girl, is so beamingly bright one might need sunglasses to take it all in. Michael Ferraro’s subtle turn as the boy, Matt, seems almost wooden in comparison. Both Paul Collier Hansen and Michael Elliot do an excellent job of balancing the roles of Henry and Mortimer, the fools, somewhere directly between menacing and pathetic.
In an inspired stroke of casting genius, the roles for the fathers, Bellomy and Hucklebee are both portrayed by women. Judy Fitzgerald and Cynthia Collins excellently embody these roles and make you forget the roles could ever be played by men.
With this level of talent already present it is hard to believe that it could be surpassed, but Logan Moore and Holly Stults manage to do just that. Moore’s stunning portrayal of El Gallo brings menace, delight, snark, and morality to the mix. The ease in which he shifts from seductive to dangerous is wondrous to behold. Assisting him is his narrative duties is The Mute, brilliantly brought to life by Stults. She not only helps out keeping the action going but wordlessly gives the audience commentary and a voice throughout the show.
“The Fantasticks” won’t have an endless run here, playing through Sunday (Sept. 27) at The Studio Theater in The Center for the Performing Arts in downtown Carmel. Call 317-843-3800.