Mud Creek springs delightful ‘Mousetrap’

By Wendy Carson

Agatha Christie’s “The Mousetrap” is the longest running play in the world. It opened in 1952 and ran continuously in London until a 14-month absence due to COVID, but is back thrilling audiences every night once again.

The show’s staying power is the strength of its story as well as the characters involved. Christie is known for wickedly cutting dialogue, and this script does not disappoint. Mud Creek Players now gives us the opportunity to get caught up in this “trap” here in Indiana.

The story seems somewhat simple at first – the classic whodunit. In the early 1950s, Mollie (Audrey West) and her husband Giles Ralston (Nicholas Gibbs) decide to turn their newly inherited Monkswell Manor in the English countryside into a lodging house. After a foreboding story of a murder is heard on the radio, the guests begin to appear, each more quirky than the one before.

Christopher Wren (Gideon Roark) is a hyper imp who claims to be an architect (named after the original Wren, famed church designer of the Baroque era). Snooty elitist Mrs. Boyle (Jennifer Poynter) is aptly described as a “perfectly horrible woman.” Major Metcalf (Jason Roll) frequently retreats offstage, and has all that he needs in his little bag. Also arriving is Miss Casewell (Zoe O’Haillin) with her macho attitude and unplacable accent.

There is also the unexpected guest, Italian-accented Mr. Paravicini (Jim Gryga) whose car may or may not have broken down in the snow. Oh yeah, there’s also a huge blizzard trapping everyone inside the house. Finally, Detective Sergeant Trotter (Mike Sosnowski) eventually arrives on skis to question everyone about the aforementioned murder.

When the first body drops in Monkswell, paranoia ramps up as it seems that everyone had the opportunity and motive to kill. A vital clue hints that another will soon die as well.

Director Kelly Keller has taken immense pleasure and care in preparing this exquisite mixture of laughs and chills. The cast aids with steady accents and lovely performances. West and Gibbs make a nice couple, but we see them acting a little secretive at first, and is Giles being suspicious or just showing his British stiff upper lip? Roark has Wren wear his dysfunction on his sleeve – which makes him both suspect and too scattered to have pulled off an elaborate crime. Poynter (a much nicer person offstage) seems to relish being perfectly dissatisfied with absolutely everything. Roll plays the Major as someone unusually curious about everything, but with an easy smile and cheerio attitude. O’Haillin may as well have “I have secrets” tattooed on Casewell’s forehead, and while not unfriendly is frequently on edge and chainsmoking (fake stage cigarettes). Gryga has the most entertaining role, as Paravicini is definitely up to something, and is charmingly up front about how untrustworthy he is, but murder? Sosnowski gives us an engaging “let’s go over this again” style detective, constantly reminding himself – and us in the audience – of the clues.

Genuine Brit Craig Kemp supplies the voice of the radio announcer, quite the honor for those who know “Mousetrap” lore.

Another aspect of this classic is Christie’s brilliant misdirection and final twist. Not only is it satisfying to discover the first time, audiences return with this knowledge to better appreciate the acting and character development. In fact, Mud Creek is offering a $5 discount on a subsequent ticket to the show. However, once you know, longstanding tradition (and Christie’s hatred of spoilers) demands you not tell a soul.

Performances run Thursday through Sunday through May 6 at the Mud Creek Barn, 9740 E. 86th St., Indianapolis. Info and tickets at

CCP brings us wild wild ‘West’

By John Lyle Belden

There are a lot of people with love-hate relationships with their siblings. It’s a story as old as Cain and Abel. And what if, as in the Genesis story, despite all your hard work the divine blessing falls on your brother?

Placed in an all-American setting, this is the story of “True West,” by Sam Shepard, presented by Carmel Community Players at the Ivy Tech Noblesville Auditorium. Austin (Robert Webster Jr.) is working on a screenplay while housesitting for his mother (on an Alaska vacation) at her home near the Mojave Desert in California. At least he’s trying to work, as his estranged brother Lee (Matt Walls) constantly interrupts while hanging around the kitchen. Austin wants peace, Lee wants the car keys. Austin is developing his script, Lee has been casing the neighborhood for TVs and appliances to steal.

Austin’s Hollywood agent, Saul (Gary Curto), visits to check up on the writing, and comes under the fast-talking influence of Lee. The next day, there’s an offer on a script – but it’s not one Austin wants to write, or that Lee can, as much as he wants to.

The play unfolds in a darkly comic manner as the two brothers bicker, switch activities, and drink – a lot –manifesting in what will be for Missy Rump, both playing Mom and as assistant director and stage manager, one hell of a mess to clean up.

Director Eric Bryant gets the best out of actors truly playing to their strengths: Webster as the embodiment of noble intentions seeming to lead nowhere, Walls as one whose intimidating glance is backed by a sharp mind. Add alcohol and stress, and their flaws come to the surface in (for them) maddening and (for us) entertaining fashion.

Regarded as a modern classic, with hit Broadway, Off-Broadway, and Steppenwolf runs, “True West” is one of those plays everyone should see at least once, and this production fits the bill.

Performances are Thursday through Sunday, April 27-30, at 300 N. 17th St., Noblesville. Get info and tickets at

– P.S. Yes, it is odd for a “Carmel” company to play out of town, but you can help bring them home to a stage of their own. See website for details.

No mystery why you should see ‘Clue’ at IRT

By Wendy Carson 

With all the recent variants (I find the Simpsons version very amusing) as well as a modern upgrade of the original, I think it’s safe to say most of us have played the game of “Clue” at least once. Add to this the widespread interest in murder mysteries (real and fictional) and that the board game is the subject of a film with a large cult following, and you have the perfect recipe for a hilariously good night of theater.

Adapted to the stage by Sandy Rustin, based on the movie script by Jonathan Lynn, the delightfully kooky script has been taken up by Indiana Repertory Theatre director Benjamin Hanna and brought together a dream team of local and regional talents to elevate “Clue” to previously unknown comical heights. Though the plot and characters echo Lynn’s screenplay, there are numerous brilliant additions (apparently the house was built by the Parker Brothers) to keep you laughing anew. Even the game board shows up at one point, as a handy map to the labyrinthine mansion.

Scenic designer Czerton Lim pulls out all the creative stops in giving us a set with multiple slamming doors, secret passageways, moving walls, and tributes to the game and movie (yes, that is Tim Curry as Mr. Boddy in the painting).

John Taylor Philips brings out all of Wadsworth’s condescending arrogance in his turn as the butler and ersatz host of the evening’s events. Andrea San Miguel brings all of the maid Yvette’s cheeky mischief and charm. Henry Woronicz plays up Colonel Mustard’s dotage, yet keeps him somewhat austere. Emjoy Gavino subtly shows Mrs. White’s predatory instincts while still keeping her endearing. Beethovan Oden’s turn as Professor Plum highlights the character’s belief that he is the smartest man in any room. Emily Berman’s version of Miss Scarlet is even more sultry and sassy than expected. IRT favorite Ryan Artzberger easily adapts to each of his three roles, even with mortal wounds.

Eric Sharp takes full advantage of his character’s expansion in this script and brings a delightful bumbling nerdiness to Mr. Green. Claire Wilcher adds another level of comic genius to her spectacular performance as the seemingly prim Mrs. Peacock. Not to be outdone, Devan Mathias plays three different roles with such gusto that two of them have to be killed to keep her from stealing the show.

Whether you have seen the movie, played the game or just want to see a show that will have you laughing almost non-stop, get a “Clue,” playing through May 20 on the IRT mainstage, 140 W. Washington St., downtown Indianapolis. NOTE: Dressing up as any of the characters (old or new), also adds another level of enjoyment to the experience. (I was one of many “Peacocks” on opening night.)

Get info and tickets at

Epilogue: Secrets of neighborhood ‘Miracle’ revealed

By John Lyle Belden

As posted in the program, playwright Tom Dudzick was inspired by an actual shrine to the Blessed Virgin Mary erected in his childhood Buffalo, N.Y., neighborhood by a barber who said She had appeared to him in his shop. Thinking, “there’s a story here,” Dudzick made up the Nowak family of his comedy, “Miracle on South Division Street,” on stage Thursday through Sunday at Epilogue Players.

In the year 2000, Ruth (Shannon Clancy), an aspiring actress and writer, calls a family meeting. Garbage-truck driving brother Jimmy (Grant Bowen) is on hand, and mother Clara (Letitia Clemons) arrives to critique Ruth’s method of preparing lunch. Soon, sister Beverly (Jeanna Little) joins them, persuaded to put off bowling practice (big tournament tonight!) to find out what is going on.  

These Nowaks, Polish Catholics of varying piety, are caretakers of the famous statue, revered in the neighborhood but ignored by the Vatican. Ruth has both good and potentially bad news: rather than pen her in-progress novel, she will write a play about the shrine, for which a producer has already approached her; however, the story of the statue will be quite different from the one Clara has had them tell their entire lives.

Family mayhem ensues. But as revelations crash like waves upon the family – “like if the Hardy Boys were Catholic!” Jimmy declares – a bigger story comes into focus, bringing fresh meaning to the “Blessed Mother.”

The characters occupy two ends of a spectrum, with Clara embodying a traditional mother type that Clemons imbues with a loving spirit, and simple-pleasures Beverly an upper-Midwest archetype. Meanwhile Ruth has Big Apple ambitions and one foot in the closet, while Jimmy is courting danger by seeing a woman outside the faith. Bowen balances a man/boy character who doesn’t want to make waves yet feels the need to make his own way. Clancy ably handles the burden of being the fulcrum on which the plot balances, a sister and daughter resigned to being the truth-teller, though she feels it could cost her the trust and love of her family.

Directed by Ed Mobley, this very funny heart-filled family drama is a reminder that miracles do happen – often in ways we don’t expect.

Performances, through April 30, are at Epilogue’s corner stage at 1849 N. Alabama St., Indianapolis. Info and tickets at

‘Classic’ mysteries presented at President’s house

By John Lyle Belden

One of the more fascinating theatre experiences in Indy is the unique productions by Candlelight Theatre, taking place in the rooms of the Benjamin Harrison Presidential Site. The Indianapolis home of Benjamin and Caroline Harrison has been restored and preserved with furnishings, art and accessories of the Harrisons, or of the period (late 1800s), so with seating for approximately 20 persons at a time we get an intimate immersive experience of a bygone era.

Thus we gain a new perspective on old stories, such as the spooky scenes of Candlelight’s spring production, “Classic Murder.” Guided to three different rooms of the historic house, we see Edgar Allan Poe’s “Fall of the House of Usher,” adapted by Candlelight’s resident playwright James Trofatter; “In Memoriam,” inspired by a popular Agatha Christie story, adapted by Marlene Remington; and “The Summer People,” by Shirley Jackson, adapted by Brainerd Duffield. Direction by Jill Whelan and Mavis Washington.

In the Sitting Room, we meet Ethan (Drew Carlson), concerned friend of Roderick Usher (Ken Eder). The servant, Miss Gray (Jill Whelan), is taking the dreary atmosphere in stride, even though Roderick’s dear sister, Madeline (Erin Fralick) looks like a living wraith. Madness is closing in on Usher, and could take everything and everyone with it! Even those familiar with the Poe tale can get a chill from the up-close view of this tragedy.

In the Back Parlor, five guests – played by Donna Wing, Brendan O’Sullivan-Hale, Hazel Gillaspy, Ellis Hall, and Stephen Moore – arrive at a mysterious isolated house. A letter alerts them that there is a purpose behind their assembly: vengeance from beyond the grave! Complete with all the twists and humor one expects from a Christie mystery, “In Memoriam” could also surprise you with the who, the how, and the why. 

Many of us have read Jackson’s “The Lottery” (I did in high school), so note its tense atmosphere with the potential of ordinary people doing extraordinarily macabre things also permeates “The Summer People.” When “city” couple Janet and Robert (Ann Richards and Steve Viehweg) decide to stay in their New England summer rental past Labor Day, the townies who had served their every need all summer (Coleen Kubit and James Hayes) don’t take the news well. In some places, change of season means more than just the calendar.

One weekend remains of “Classic Murder,” Friday and Saturday, April 28-29, at 1230 N. Delaware St., downtown Indianapolis. For information and tickets (as well as info on tours and other programs of the Harrison home), visit (click on “Visit” to bring up the menu for Candlelight Theatre).

KidsPlay: Ghoulish giggles at ‘Gravestone Manor’

By John Lyle Belden

We have always found it fun and fascinating to see the rising talent in local youth theatre programs. Even if we don’t see the kids return to area stages as they age, it’s good to know they can take the skills and confidence they learn to use wherever life takes them.

But for now, let’s indulge in some Halloween-in-April fun in Greenfield with the KidsPlay Inc. production of “Gravestone Manor” by Flip Kobler and Cindy Marcus. Directed by Christine Schaefer and Jeff Pipkin, the cast of third-through-eighth graders smartly deliver a set of scenes with spooky themes which are far more silly than scary.

After KidsPlay’s traditional dance opening, our Ghost Host, Griffin (Anthony Stunda), delivers the “boom-flash” as he introduces the sketches while struggling with minor issues like lights, sound, costumes, and props. 

The show starts off strong with a pair of girls (Ellie Stearns and Kyndall Watkins) trying to escape a haunted house while a cursed object literally brings out the best and worst of their personalities, to hilarious effect. Next, a “normal” meet-the-family dinner is complicated by Luna’s (Reese Weitekamp) clan of domesticated werewolves, especially brother and obedience-school dropout Bane (Jackson Martinez). 

Then we tune into Transylvania TV, as our undead host Blinky McQueen (Riley Lederman) sets up a date for a boy (Brady Diehl) with the most frightening monstrosity a tween can suffer. The bachelorettes – vampire Sarafina (Aria Studabaker), banshee Aisling (Callie Smith), and “hex practitioner” Tabitha (Molly Wallace) – would fit right in a grown-up “reality” version.

In the next bit, Studabaker returns as a girl taking applications for the monster under her bed. Could it be the ogre (Diehl) feeling obligated to speak in a Scottish accent, or perhaps the goblin (Liam Walker) with a compulsion to talk in rhyme? There’s always the clownish phantom (Spencer Pipkin), or zombie Pete (Carter Pipkin), who also shows up later at the support group “Monsters ‘R’ Us.” At that gathering, led by Lederman as another batty vampire, various characters come to grips with their ilk not being as scary in this otherwise frightening modern world. Cursed mummy Hotep (Everett Sumpter) is taking it especially hard. 

The show closes with a return to the fact that the most frightening thing in the world is the adolescent mind, featuring Adrienne Romberg as the frontal-lobe supervisor and Jack Joyner as the synapse that decides to turn his powers of disruption to heroic ends.

The cast also includes Joe McCoy, Amelia Melby, Nora Smith, Charlotte Sumpter, Olivia Turpin, and Charles Wallace. Stage managers are Blair Connelly and Alec Cole. Choreography by Frances Hull.

As usual, you don’t have to be related to one of the kids to enjoy their performance. A long rehearsal schedule and Schaefer’s ability to get the most out of young performers ensure excellent execution of comic timing and crisp delivery of lines, enhanced by the energy and fun-spiritedness of youth.

Finally, we give a shout-out to the eighth-grade “graduates” who are aging out of the KidsPlay program: Brady Deihl, Riley Lederman, Adrienne Romberg, and Charlotte Sumpter.

Performances of “Gravestone Manor” are 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday (April 21-23) at the H.J. Ricks Centre for the Arts, 122 W. Main St. (US 40) in Greenfield. Tickets are just $5 each at the door.

Soothing story of ‘Spitfire Grill’ in Westfield

By John Lyle Belden

“The Spitfire Grill,” a musical presented by Main Street Productions in Westfield, takes place in the Wisconsin wilderness town of Gilead. The name of this fictional yet familiar place carries significance from Bible and literary references to the “balm of Gilead,” an actual medicine in antiquity, and since then a poetic name for a soothing cure.

For one young woman, Percy (played by Chrissy Crawley), the balm comes in the form of a beautiful autumn picture clipped from a magazine. Paroled after five years in prison, she travels to the town in that image. Upon arriving, Sheriff Joe Sutter (Scott Fleshood) tells her the foliage has gone for the winter and there is hardly anything in Gilead except for the run-down diner. Being the only job, and boarding room, for miles, she stays at the Spitfire Grill with its flinty but fair owner, Hannah (Georgeanna Teipen).

Treated with suspicion, especially by local mail-carrier and town gossip Effy (Susan Boilek Smith) and Hannah’s agitated nephew Caleb (Daniel Draves), Percy is off to a rough start. But Caleb’s wife, Shelby (Katelyn Maudlin), comes out of her shyness to befriend the newcomer. Then, while discussing Hannah’s long-unfulfilled desire to sell the Spitfire, they come up with a clever idea to give it away.

“Something’s cooking at the Spitfire Grill,” indeed.

Tom Riddle completes the cast as a mysterious visitor, out beyond the woodshed.

This musical, by James Valcq and Fred Alley, based on the 1990s film by Lee David Zlotoff, is directed for Main Street Productions by Brenna Whitaker, with a cozy set by Ian Marshall-Fisher, stage managed by Tonya Rave. The result is a sweet story of starting an unlikely comeback, whether it’s from prison walls or a nowhere town with scrub trees and an abandoned quarry.

Crawley gives us a complex character, equal parts tough and sweet – with both traits serving her well. Teipen imbues her maternal role with the right amount of sass. Fleshood embraces the Mayberry style of charming and respected lawman, apt for this setting. Draves appropriately makes Caleb increasingly harder to like but stops short of villainy. In contrast, Maudlin has Shelby continuously rise to the occasion. Smith adds a little intrigue and a bit of comic relief with her constant busybody.

The original Off-Broadway production in late 2001 was noteworthy for giving audiences some American spirit when they most needed it. We’ve been through a lot in the last few years, as well, so this could be good for what ails you. Find your balm in Gilead, taking a seat at “The Spitfire Grill” with performances through April 23 at the Basile Westfield Playhouse, 220 N. Union St. Get info and tickets at

GHDT: Once more, with feeling

By John Lyle Belden

We have written about a number of recent productions by Gregory Hancock Dance Theatre, and how founder/director/choreographer Gregory Glade Hancock is an excellent visual storyteller. But dance is more than that; dance is art, and art evokes.

Hancock has been open about his journey and his love for dance, his late mother, and places he’s visited and worked, especially India. These things, in turn, inform the dance he creates. “I don’t even have a name for some of the moves,” he confesses. But his troupes, presently the seven principal dancers and the “G2” student team, understand his movement language to beautifully communicate it to us on stage.

This year, as GHDT celebrates its first 25 years, rather than long-form storytelling, we see pieces from various works Hancock has done, getting a bit of the story with a lot of the emotional heft. This is especially true with “Illumination,” a production focused on spiritual themes, especially hope.

Performed on Easter weekend, which coincides with Passover and Ramadan, this series of dances touch on many cultures and faiths. While there are one- and two-person numbers, there is no true “star,” so I’ll list the performers here alphabetically: Hannah Brown, Zoe Hacker, Allie Hanning, Audrey Halloway, Chloe Holzman, Camden Lancaster, Abigail Lessaris, Thomas Mason, Evangeline Meadows, Josie Moody, Audrey Springer, Rebecca Zigmond.

After opening with a piece from 2016’s “The Violin Under the Bed,” the dances, some rarely seen, date back to the 1990s and early 2000s. Highlights include Brown and Payton in “Between Heaven and Earth,” written for two sisters and reflective of any companionship that life conspires to separate; “The Song of Bernadette,” with Lessaris as the Saint and Moody as the Vision; Lancaster and Mason in “1968,” an imaginative piece inspired by the Prague Spring; and Holzman in “1941,” an emotionally-charged solo reflecting on an event in the Holocaust. There are also lighter moments, such as one from “Crop Circles,” an Irish-inspired frolic on “the mysteries of Nature,” as Hancock puts it.

“Illumination” has one more performance, tonight as I post this (April 8). But the 2023 journey is not over for GHDT. The next production, “Director’s Choice,” will be at the Tarkington at the Center for the Performing Arts in downtown Carmel. With a quarter-century of works to draw from, Hancock’s selections will prove to be a sentimental journey for long-time patrons, and a nice “sampler platter” for new fans.

Wendy and I first got to know Hancock and his company while seeing his work in “La Casa Azul,” the musical with dance based on the life and work of Mexican artist Frida Kahlo. GHDT will present “The Music of La Casa Azul” with the Carmel Symphony Orchestra on Aug. 5 at The Palladium (also at the Center for the Peroforming Arts).

Find tickets for these shows at For more information on GHDT, see

Clever casting lends depth to ‘Hollow’

By John Lyle Belden

There is something unusual about “Two Mile Hollow,” the play by award-winning writer (and Butler alum) Leah Nanako Winkler at the Phoenix Theatre, as well as the titular estate, a mansion in the rich neighborhood of East Hampton – home to the family of a Hollywood legend.

Years have passed since the death of Oscar-winning movie star Derek Donnelly, but his widow Blythe (Milicent Wright) still holds fast to his memory. Their children – Joshua (Eddie Dean), Mary (Paige Elisse), and Emmy-winner Christopher (Jay Fuqua) – want to get hold of Derek’s possessions. Christopher arrived with his personal assistant, Charlotte (Arianne Villareal), which becomes an additional complication.

It quickly becomes evident that this is a clever comedy, taking its swings at elitism and lifestyles of millionaire performers, done with heavy-handed melodrama. But it is in its intended casting that this play becomes a brilliant work of satire. It’s not just the uncomfortable things said by these characters that deliver the desired punch, but who we see saying them.

If you find yourself confused – “Are they…?”— just note that they are as they present themselves, and go with it. Immerse yourself in the layers of meaning, let yourself laugh at the goofy things you find there. If more serious aspects soak in, that was the intended effect.

I would go into detail on the excellence of the performances, but I don’t want to give too much of a hint of what is happening. Wright’s casting brings big expectations, which she and company exceed. Mikael Burke returns to direct another provocative piece of theatre art.

Scenic design by Inseung Park makes the house at Two Mile Hollow its own character, complete with the smiling face of the late patriarch, the serious whimsy of Post-its, and signs of decay that the characters either ignore or fail to notice.

Appropriately, the big concept comes with big laughs, like if a “Dr. Strangelove” style film were made by the Wayans Brothers and directed by Wes Anderson. To see what we mean, performances run through April 30 at the Phoenix Theatre Cultural Centre, 705 N. Illinois St., downtown Indianapolis. For info and tickets, see

The ‘flip’ side of the American ‘Dream’

By John Lyle Belden

Some lucky people find themselves in a rather American dilemma: Is it better to hold on to a legacy, or to cash out? This situation is at the heart of the new comedy, “Dream Hou$e,” by Ellana Pipes, playing at Fonseca Theatre Company.

Latinx sisters Patricia (Yolanda Valdivia) and Julia (Lexes Rubio) have this good fortune, inheriting the family’s beautiful mission-style home, hand-built over a century ago, from their mother who recently passed. Wanting to get the most out of their property, Patricia contacted the real estate reality TV show, “Flip It & List It!” Suddenly, the host Tessa (Jean Arnold) appears with her crew (Brant Hughes, Chris Creech and Mad Brown) to record every step of the house’s transformation.

At first reluctant, the sisters are stunned into compliance with the amount the home could sell for. But things take a turn when, as renovations begin, the walls begin to bleed.

This is not the only bit of magic around, as the sisters (as siblings do) can suspend time for a moment when they really need to discuss something. Otherwise, we tackle some real-world issues of neighborhood transformation/gentrification, the struggle to preserve culture, and how does one best move on when dealing with unavoidable change?

Arnold is a wild joy to behold as the ever-upbeat TV host. She’s savvy in the ways of media and real estate, lacing her persistent charm with an all-business demeanor. However she’s never mean, even taking a liking to the young women; her candid honesty helps keep her from coming off as the villain.

Valdivia and Rubio shine in their own ways. They each approach the situation differently, and have issues to resolve with the house, and each other. Still, their portrayal shows the tested patience of a family bond, with the easy give-and-take of a comedy duo.

Director Jordan Flores Schwartz says it is in Pipes’s script that the community in the play is called “Highville,” so it is either by fate or coincidence it is staged in the Near-West Indy area of Haughville. Given ongoing events in the surrounding city, this does seem apt.

With equal parts hilarity and heart, “reality” and the surreal, this “Dream Hou$e” is well worth a look. Performances run through April 16 at 2508 W. Michigan St., Indianapolis. Tickets and info at