Phoenix: Thinking of ‘The Children’

By John Lyle Belden

“The Children,” the title of a recent Broadway drama by Lucy Kirkwood, now at the Phoenix Theatre, doesn’t seem to tell us much. There are no youngsters on the stage — in fact, the trio we meet are all in their 60s. But this play understands that when we are grown, if we’re not thinking of our children and what we would do for them, we often indulge in that child still within each of us.

On the English coast, at a time that could be now, we are in the aftermath of a disaster much like the one that occurred several years ago in Japan: the triple-shock of earthquake, tidal wave and a crippled nuclear power plant.

Hazel and Robin (Donna Steele and Charles Goad) were among the scientists who engineered the reactor, now they live on the very edge of the irradiated zone. They are visited by past friend and colleague (as well Robin’s lover) Rose (Diane Kondrat). Old memories and issues are brought up, leading to moments of friction. But even more devastating is the issue of what happens next.

Directed by Phoenix artistic director Bill Simmons, this veteran cast give excellent, layered performances. In Hazel, Steele presents a fastidious character who prides herself on her maturity, while staying young as possible through healthy eating and yoga. Goad’s Robin seems fondly attached to the farm he is having to give up, but his daily trips to the barn have a darker purpose. Kondrat, once again a woman of many facets, gives us a Rose who has come a long way from her impulsive youth to a woman who has faced her mortality and must finally think outside herself. Their interactions throughout the play crackle with energy that rivals the broken facility on their horizon.

The larger questions surrounding nuclear energy and the environment stay in the background, as the issues at play here are more personal — dealing with reconciling out pasts, facing our ends, considering the next generation, and what we all must do to make our actions and lives meaningful. Sometimes it takes a disaster to make us truly think of The Children, and to force us to finally grow up.

Performances run through May 19 on the smaller Basile stage of the Phoenix, 705 N. Illinois St. in downtown Indy. Call 317-635-7529 or visit phoenixtheatre.org.

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One last note (this did come up with an audience member at the preview performance): Though she is in the promotional photo, actor Jolene Mentink Moffatt does not appear in the play. The publicity picture was taken long before casting decisions were made, and aside from being not quite old enough for the roles, she was busy with her recent run on the Phoenix’s “Hotel Nepenthe.”

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‘Hosanna’ to the Mud Creek ‘Superstar’

By John Lyle Belden

“Jesus Christ Superstar,” Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s rock opera passion play, opened, appropriately, on Good Friday at Mud Creek Players.

The production, directed by Michelle Moore, embraced its setting within the cozy confines of the MCP “barn,” with rough-wood sets and a punk aesthetic, backed by a five-piece rock band. Cast members filled the aisles at times, lending a feeling more immersive than crowded. The costumes appeared to be raided from “Hair” or “American Idiot,” but still worked in the overall look, making our two male leads better stand out — the disciple Judas (Michael Lipphardt) all business in a leather jacket, and Jesus (Onis Dean) dressed casual like a man who, naturally, would fit in anywhere.

For those unfamiliar with this telling of the last week of Christ’s life, these are the main two perspectives — Judas fearing what could happen, and Jesus frustrated that only he can see what must happen — followed by the points of view of Mary Magdalene (Pearl Scott), a woman in love with the man as much as what he stands for; and Caiaphas (Lot Turner), the High Priest who sees a threat not only to his own personal power, but also to the safety of Jews in occupied Roman Palestine.

Dean and Lipphardt sing their hearts out — and I worry for their throats. Scott is pure sweetness. Turner just oozes corruption, ably accompanied by Kata Ewigleben as Annas. We also get good vocals from Eli Robinson as Simon the Zealot and Austin Stodghill as the Apostle Peter. Jeremy Crouch is regal as Pilate, and Rick Barber absolutely fabulous as King Herod.

“Don’t get me wrong, now,” I won’t say this production is flawless, but taken as a whole, in the spirit of this time of year, it is an incredible experience and celebration of a foundational event of Christianity.

Performances run through May 4. Mud Creek Players is at 9740 E. 86th St. in northeast Indianapolis, near Geist. Call 317-290-5343 or visit mudcreekplayers.com.

DivaFest: An odd Irish ‘three men and a baby’

This is part of the 2019 Diva Fest, presented by IndyFringe at 719 E. St. Clair St., Indianapolis, through April 21. All shows are by women playwrights, presented as one-hour one-acts at a Fringe price. For information and tickets, see www.indyfringe.org.

By John Lyle Belden

Kate Duffy Sim once again blesses us with a brilliant parody of the British sitcom, “Father Ted,” which relates the quirky lives of priests living on a remote island off the Irish coast.

This time, in “Who’s Minding the Snapper,” Father Ned and company are visited by a very pregnant American woman. The baby quickly arrives, but the mother disappears — can Ned, dimwitted Father Dermott and drunken Father Finn successfully care for the little “snapper”?

Presented by Clerical Error Productions and directed by David Malloy, the surreal atmosphere and comic potential are enhanced by “cross-gender casting,” as the program put it. Sim ably plays Ned, while Bridget Schlebecker is a hoot as Finn. Kyrsten Lyster is outstanding as Dermott, displaying deft skill at the hard task of playing a “stupid” character so cleverly. Manny Casillas charms as the housekeeper Mrs. O’Boyle, while Anthony Logan Nathan is something to behold as brash, devious Mrs. McShane, who tends the home of a rival priest.

Case Jacobus is the “girl in trouble,” while actual rapper Nate Burner plays her rap-star boyfriend. “N8” also performs the opening theme, and spun some rhymes at curtain call to introduce the cast.

Hilarious with the right amount of heart, you’ll need to do penance if you miss this one. Performances are 8:30 p.m. Saturday and 5:30 p.m. Sunday (April 20-21).

DivaFest: Bittersweet ‘Tomato’

This is part of the 2019 Diva Fest, presented by IndyFringe at 719 E. St. Clair St., Indianapolis, through April 21. All shows are by women playwrights, presented as one-hour one-acts at a Fringe price. For information and tickets, see www.indyfringe.org.

By John Lyle Belden

In “I Say Tomato, You Say Cheese,” by MaryAnne Mathews, Tom Harrison is superbly charming as Joe Carpenter, an 85-year-old man living alone — aside from the spirit of his recently-passed wife, Annie (Wendy Brown) — as best he can.

Joe’s daughter Sarah (Laura Baltz) is getting concerned, as he tends to forget and lose track of things, and keeps getting into accidents while driving. The doctor (Stefanie Patterson) confirms that his cognitive abilities are indeed on the decline.

It doesn’t help the situation that there are constantly scammers out to take advantage of the elderly. The voice of the “IRS agent” on the phone Joe can deal with, with great humor. But the fast-talking roofing contractor (Joe Maratea) is a different matter.

Mathews’ gentle drama is an interesting look at this serious situation with characters we can relate to, or even feel we’re related to. The title refers to a family story melding the old song with the meal of tomato soup and toasted cheese — like this play, comfort food for the soul.

Remaining performances are 8:15 p.m. Friday and 3:30 p.m. Saturday (April 19-20).

DivaFest: Oh, ‘Dear’

This is part of the 2019 Diva Fest, presented by IndyFringe at 719 E. St. Clair St., Indianapolis, through April 21. All shows are by women playwrights, presented as one-hour one-acts at a Fringe price. For information and tickets, see www.indyfringe.org.

By John Lyle Belden

In “Dear Mavis,” by Enid Cokinos, there are big changes happening at the Rustbelt Herald-Times.

The newspaper’s chief editor has stepped down, replaced by the owner’s son, “Biz” Underhill (Spencer Elliott). The young man, fresh from college, wants to make changes, taking aim at the paper’s longtime advice columnist, Mavis (Forba Shepherd). He has her team up with young blogger Mique’ (Ashley Elliott) to write a new point-counterpoint column, and daily rather than weekly. This will not turn out well.

Holly Stults is Luella, Underhill’s assistant and Mavis’s dear friend; and David Mosedale is the elder Underhill, who comes in to clean up the inevitable mess.

Shepherd radiates dignity and wisdom as the disciple of Miss Manners who always has the right thing to say, and doesn’t mind using an old typewriter to say it. Spencer Elliott — .also the play’s director — contrasts well as the guy with big ideas but little sense. Ashley Elliott’s turn as a clueless Millennial edges towards caricature but gets to learn a bit towards the end.

Having been a newspaper journalist, seeing the industry’s changes first-hand, I felt at first that Cokinos had written a work of horror. But for those who don’t bleed India ink, this is a fun look at how sometimes the old ways are best, and can still win through.

Remaining performances are 7 p.m. Friday and 7:15 p.m. Saturday (April 19-20).

DivaFest: Truly inspiring

This is part of the 2019 Diva Fest, presented by IndyFringe at 719 E. St. Clair St., Indianapolis, through April 21. All shows are by women playwrights, presented as one-hour one-acts at a Fringe price. For information and tickets, see www.indyfringe.org.

By John Lyle Belden

In “aMUSEd,” by Megan Ann Jacobs, one of the lesser-known Greek Muses — Sebastian, the Muse of Comedy (Kyle Dorsch) — breaks his own rule against staying too long, remaining with his latest charge, author Anita (Becky Schlomann), until the moment she passes. He promises to finish their last work with a new human, but in his grief, chases off every person who moves in.

Enter Nikki (Kyrsten Lyster), a woman as determined to stay as Sebastian is for her to leave — New York apartments at this price don’t come along every day. The landlord, Tyler (Jerry Beasley), is just grateful someone is staying in his “haunted” flat.

Grant Nagel plays Nikki’s fiance, Ryan, a victim of Sebastian’s pranks, and Ilandia Johnson is Kasey, a local police officer tired of being called to arrest a “trespasser” she cannot see.

Jacob’s sweet story excellently showcases the comic talents of manic Beasley, wonderfully frustrated Lyster, and Dorsch’s acid wit like a young Jack Benny. Schlomann’s presence gives this all the right amount of heart.

Remaining performance is 4:45 p.m. Saturday, April 20.

It’s no myth: KidsPlay an excellent display of young talent

By John Lyle Belden

KidsPlay Inc. provides an excellent opportunity for aspiring performers, grades 3 to 8, to acquire and hone their skills. And that talent is put to great use in their spring production, “Fairy Tale Confidential.”

The play is presented as an expose of various stories we see or read (or pretend we’ve read, as the narrator points out) as we grow up. Eight scenes tackle Grimm tales, the works of Charles Dickens and Robert Louis Stevenson, the legends of certain guys in green tights, and even what happens after a boy gets the deed to a famous chocolate factory.

KidsPlay director Christine Schaefer always sets high standards, bringing out the best from her young actors, but this show — with its sharp gags and smooth blend of timeless charm and today’s attitude — is one of their best productions I’ve seen in more of a decade of watching this company work.

One bittersweet aspect of the spring show is that it is the last for eighth-grade members, who can move on to high school productions and beyond (several actors around central Indiana are KidsPlay “graduates”). There are 11 in this production, nearly all with speaking roles: Olivia Alldredge, as a friendly witch with a candy house; Elise Denger, a Wendy on a mission; David Hull, as the King of Everything; Trey Smith, as Dr. Jekyll’s Assistant; Ian Veldes, as “King of Comedy” Dickens; Ethan Stearns, as Stevenson; Ben Thompson, as Peter Pan; Owen Sickels, as narrator Warren Peace; Heaven Keesling, who is in the nifty opening dance number; Wesley Olin, as candymaker “Billy Bonkers;” and Max Everhart, as Hansel.

Other notables in this vast cast include Joseph Shininger as Rumplestiltskin and Bella Turner as the girl who is awful at names; Cialey Michalisko in an impressive debut as the secret to Dickens’ success; Olivia Greer as Sleeping Beauty and Josie Joyner as Cinderella, who could use a nap; Brayden Diehl as newly-minted sweets tycoon Charles and Corbin Elliott a hoot as his Grandpa; Ashley Pipkin as a sassy Gretel; Matthew Hentz as Dr. Jekyll and his hilarious alter ego; Jaxon Brittsan and Madison Raisor as Robin Hood and his sister, Roxie; Zora Coe as temperamental Tinkerbell; and third graders Anthony Stunda and Carter Pipkin off to a good start as Darling brothers John and Michael.

It’s worth the drive out to Greenfield — playing at the Ricks Centre for the Arts, 122 W. Main St. (US 40), 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday (April 12-14) — especially at only $5 a ticket. Advance tickets are available at Hometown Comics, 1040 N. State St. (SR 9), Greenfield.