Review: A farcical mystery, or mystery farce?

By John Lyle Belden

Up at The Center for the Performing Arts in downtown Carmel, the Booth Tarkington Civic Theatre presents “The Game’s Afoot,” a Sherlock Holmes-inspired comedy by Ken Ludwig, through Nov. 7.

Actor William Gillette (Josh Ramsey) is so comfortable playing Holmes that when a hated theater critic (Christine Kruze) is stabbed in his home during a dinner party – an affair set up to find out who had shot and wounded him during his last performance – he puts on the deerstalker hat and seeks to unravel the mystery, much to the consternation of the police detective (Carrie Ann Schlatter). Theatre friends (and suspects) played by Bill Book, Jean Childers Arnold, Alex Ray and Emily Howell, with Wendy Brown as Gillette’s mother, all add to the chaos and physical comedy Ludwig farces are famous for.

The gorgeous set is complete with the necessary doors to slam, a stairwell for entrances and even a hidden room with its comical moments. And the manner(s) in which our victim is dispatched does point out the real-world fact that if you’re not practiced at it, killing someone can be a lot harder than you think.

The play’s run ends Saturday. Get info and tickets at 317-843-3800 or http://www.civictheatre.org.

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Review: Online life taken to disturbing depths

By John Lyle Belden

In the near-future, the Internet evolves into the Nether, where people log on immersively to work, go to school and be entertained. Some never leave. This world is explored in a disturbing new drama, “The Nether,” playing through Nov. 22 at the Phoenix Theatre, 749 N. Park Ave. in downtown Indianapolis.

A detective (Sarah McGee) investigates “Papa” (Bill Simmons), who has developed, within the Nether, the Hideaway, where residents can indulge the most depraved of urges – but if it’s virtual and all participants are adults, what’s the harm? When desires that are dangerous in the real world are fulfilled to your five senses, even if no one is physically hurt, does it still chip away at something within you?

Deep, uneasy questions are explored, confronting the dark possibilities of our online culture. Sure, in the bright and happy musical “Avenue Q” we sing that “The Internet is for Porn,” but when Papa says it in a firm voice of affirmation, it no longer seems so amusing.

The impressive set splits the stage between the cold sterile interrogation room and a beautiful Victorian parlor within the Hideaway. The lush virtual world is in contrast to the ruined outside world hinted at in conversation — with references to an environment with few trees and little natural beauty remaining — a world it would make sense one would want to escape, maybe even permanently.

Rich Rand plays a Hideaway user, and Paeton Chavis and Scot Greenwell portray Nether avatars; they, Simmons and McGee all give compelling performances. Unless easily offended or triggered, mature audiences should welcome the challenge of this play. Info and tickets at 317-635-7529 or phoenixtheatre.org.

Review: Fun but unusual “Family” show

Gomez Addams (Eddie Curry, center) is caught between honoring the wishes of his daughter Wednesday (Samantha Russell, left) and wife Morticia (Erin Cohenour) in a scene from
Gomez Addams (Eddie Curry, center) is caught between honoring the wishes of his daughter Wednesday (Samantha Russell, left) and wife Morticia (Erin Cohenour) in a scene from “The Addams Family: A New Musical Comedy,” playing at Beef & Boards Dinner Theatre through Nov. 22. — B&B photo

By John Lyle Belden

Beef & Boards Dinner Theatre, 9301 Michigan Road in northwest Indianapolis, hosts “The Addams Family: A New Musical Comedy,” through Nov. 22.

High schooler Samantha Russell more than holds her own in her excellent portrayal of Wednesday Addams next to seasoned pros including Erin Cohenour (Morticia), Eddie Curry (Gomez), Amanda Butterbaugh (Grandma), Jeff Stockberger (Lurch) and Shaun Rice as Uncle Fester, the role he played on national tour.

The story — with Wednesday falling in love with a “normal” boy and trust issues developing between her parents — shows a family that, despite their oddities, are good-natured people we can somewhat identify with. The songs are fun and the comic hijinks entertaining. Though the subplot of Fester’s love affair with the Moon (yes, the actual heavenly body) is a little distracting, it still fits into the odd family culture the Addamses have been famous for, for generations.

The cast also includes Simon Barnes as Pugsley Addams, Blake Spallacy as Wednesday’s beau, and John Vessels and Sarah Hund as his parents. Thing is uncredited, which is unfair as he is quite “hand”some. (No Cousin Itt in this production — maybe in a sequel? — which I’m guessing was a relief to the costume crew.) Also, Jennifer Ladner, Samuel McKanney, Amy Owens, Peter Scharbrough, Kenny Shepard and Christine Zavakos appear as ghostly ancestors — trapped by Fester on this side of the grave until they help Wednesday fulfill her destiny — to help give the show more of an old-time big-dance-number musical feel.

Full disclosure: Your family will enjoy spending time with this family. Get info and tickets at 317-82-9664 or beefandboards.com.