Incredible ‘Cabaret’

NOTE: As the Word/Eagle is in flux with the renaming and corresponding change in official website, John is putting his reviews here — for now.

By John Lyle Belden

The Actors Theatre of Indiana production of Kander and Ebb’s “Cabaret” is one of those “even if you’ve seen it before” shows that you absolutely should see.

And if you are only familiar with the Joel Gray/Liza Minnelli movie version of the musical, you haven’t seen it like this – as ATI and director Billy Kimmel opt for the “revival” version of the production. This perfectly suits the brilliant Ben Asaykwee as the randy Emcee (in the Tony-winning style of Alan Cumming).

Asaykwee struts and coos his way through the story of American writer Cliff Bradshaw (Eric J. Olson) and wayward English singer Sally Bowles (ATI co-founder Cynthia Collins) in Berlin just as the Nazis are seizing power. Collins is appropriately brash and charismatic and in great voice. Olson tackles an everyman role (though gay, or at least bisexual) with the perfect touch, our proxy to events that are at first unbelievable in a fun and entertaining sense, then chilled with approaching calamity.

Patrick Vaughn is smooth as the deceptively charming Ernst Ludwig, Debra Babich is strong yet sweet as landlady Fraulein Schneider, and Darrin Murrell as Jewish shopkeeper Herr Schultz makes you ache to know that such a wonderful man is unwilling to see the growing danger around him. Also notable are Judy Fitzgerald as working-girl Fraulein Kost, Nicholas Roman and Kenny Shepard as sensuous bookends Bobby and Victor (and other roles as needed), the BEAUTIFUL Kit Kat girls Nicole Bridgens, Jenee Michelle, Ashley Saunders and Carol Worcel (who also choreographed) and the BEAUTIFUL orchestra.

As history lesson, allegory, love story and brilliant entertainment, this show works on all levels. See it through Nov. 20 at the Studio Theatre (next to the Tarkington) in The Center for the Performing Arts, 4 Center Green, Carmel. Call 317-843-3800 or see www.atistage.org. Note there are a few table seats right next to the stage; inquire with the box office as to availability.

John L. Belden is Associate Editor at The Eagle (formerly The Word), the central-Indiana based Midwest LGBTQ news source.

A difficult ‘Winter’

NOTE: As the Word/Eagle is in flux with the renaming and corresponding change in official website, John is putting his reviews here — for now.

By John Lyle Belden

Being a caregiver for a parent with Alzheimers or a similar condition is one of the most difficult jobs imaginable. With every struggle, you tell yourself, “It’s not about me!” yet you are in your own kind of pain.

In “Blackberry Winter,” playing through Nov. 19 at Theatre on the Square, Vivienne (Gari Williams) speaks to the audience about her caring for a mother who once made the world’s best coconut cake, but in these days would hardly recognize the kitchen.

The play is by Steve Yockey, whose dramas “Octopus” and “Wolves” have played on Indy stages. Those works dealt with stresses of fear and distrust in regards to intimate relationships. In this show, relationship struggles involve memories, objects and beloved family members.

Yockey’s style of including fantasy elements with animal metaphors also comes into play here, as Vivienne occupies her mind by coming up with a “creation myth” for Alzheimers. As the disease has no happy ending, she warns, don’t expect one to her story.

To embody the myth/fable, two of the main animals of the forest come to the stage: Gray Mole (Dan Flahive), who finds happiness simply by digging in the dirt, and optimistic, idealistic White Egret (Chelsea Anderson) who is sure she has found a way to make life better for all the denizens of the woods – at least the ones she sees above ground.

Their story is told in three parts, as Vivienne weaves in more of her monologue. She speaks of how in the mental clouds of this disease, what is real and true becomes blurred by confabulation and “comforting fictions.” We learn the significance of the scarves, the iron, the horse and the trowel, and why Vivienne is “a terrible person” – it’s not just because she fills the swear-bank.

And we see how White Egret’s wonderful idea goes horribly wrong.

This play is thought-provoking and challenging, especially if a relative with dementia is in your life. But in that case, this can also be comforting from shared experience as the spotlight is firmly on the caregiver’s role. Directed by Lori Raffell, this is an excellent glimpse into a difficult subject, with great performances delivered with gentle humor by the on-stage trio.

Find TOTS at 627 Massachusetts Ave., downtown Indianapolis; call 317-685-8687 or see www.tots.org.

John L. Belden is Associate Editor at The Eagle (formerly The Word), the central-Indiana based Midwest LGBTQ news source.