IRT stages solid ‘Steel Magnolias’

By John Lyle Belden

When the Indiana Repertory Theatre takes on familiar material, there is always an effort to make it fresh. This is especially important when the play has also been a beloved film.

For “Steel Magnolias,” the essence of the story has not changed, but the IRT has brought in the sets and cast from their co-production at Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park. With unfamiliar faces, it is easier to see them as their characters, and for their part they have had a lot of practice inhabiting them.

If you are unfamiliar with this story, this is an excellent opportunity to discover what millions have enjoyed since it premiered on stage in 1987, and on film in 1989. Robert Harling wrote the play based on events in his own family. “All the characters were based on real people, Mama’s friends,” he said in a 2017 interview. The scenes all take place in the women’s sanctum of Truvy’s Beauty Shop, the main plot centering on young Shelby and her mother, M’Lynn.

Directed by Laura Gordon (who previously worked with IRT on “Boeing Boeing”), the cast are Susan Lynskey as Truvy, the benevolent queen of this domain; Kate Abbruzzese as Shelby, whose fierce spirit strives to compensate for physical frailty; Annie Fitzpatrick as M’Lynn, a loving Mom dealing with the fact her girl inherited her stubbornness; Gina Daniels as Clairee, as close to high society as one gets in small-town Louisiana; Brittany Anikka Liu as Annelle, a young woman with a bad past hoping to build a better future with her faith; and Naomi Jacobson as feisty cantankerous Ouiser, whose rough edges guard a kind heart.  Their polished performances feel genuine, with a relaxed air like we’re all invited guests, or just fellow customers waiting our turn at the beauty chairs.

This show has what recent lingo would call, “all the feels.” There are scenes of rollicking hilarity, with dozens of quotable lines, as well as wells of wet-eyed emotion – sometimes within moments of each other. It is wondrous, charming, cathartic, and uplifting.

One doesn’t have to be from the South to understand the spirit of the play – that women are delicate flowers made of the sturdiest stuff, because they have to be. See it for yourself through June 5 at the IRT, 140 W. Washington St., downtown Indianapolis. For information and tickets, visit irtlive.com.

Footlite makes ‘Rotten’ a sweet show

By John Lyle Belden

Once upon a time, and what a time it was! It was the Renaissance, and in England there were many people you know well – if you are a scholar of the Renaissance in England. But for the rest of us there was one superstar, who was actually quite famous in his own day.

William Shakespeare!

But the hit Broadway musical “Something Rotten!” is not about him (though, being himself, he butts in). It concerns one of his many theatrical rivals, who is so unknown he’s downright fictional (this is a musical, not a documentary), Nick Bottom! And we see the lengths Bottom went to be on top.

Written by Kary Kirkpatrick, Wayne Kirkpatrick and John O’Farrell – with some lines by the Bard which are public domain anyway – this show is brought to the stage by Footlite Musicals, directed by Ed Trout, through this weekend.

Nick hates Shakespeare – a feeling borne of jealousy because he kicked Will out of his acting troupe, telling him to try something else, like writing, and he did. Now Nick (Kayvon Emtiaz) and his brother, genius poet Nigel (Roy Bridges) are struggling to get a play produced. It was going to be about Richard II, but you-know-who is getting one on stage first, and the patron Lord Clapham (Joshua Cox) is going to pull funding unless the Bottoms come up with a sure-fire original show.

And what is worse, now Nick’s wife Beatrice (Jessica Hawkins) is disguising herself as a man to find work to feed them.

Desperate, Nick seeks out a soothsayer (Darrin Gowan), calling himself Nostradamus (the famous one’s nephew), to find out what the future of theatre will be. Surprisingly, the mage is not a fraud, and he forsees – musicals!

Meanwhile, Nigel encounters Portia (Ellen Vander Missen), daughter of strict Puritan pastor Brother Jeremiah (Dennis Jones). Nigel discovers Portia secretly enjoys poetry and plays, beginning their secret though chaste affair. She inspires him so much, he even shows some verses to Shakespeare (Rick Barber), but Nick warns his brother off dealing with the Bard, as they have their own show to create.

With past monarchs off the table, what well-known aspect of history could our playwrights use for their first musical? “The Black Death” is dying in rehearsals, so Nick gets more desperate, and paying his last farthing, asks Nostradamus what Shakespeare’s greatest work will be, so that he may copy it in musical form.

The visions are cloudy, but the answer seems to be “Omelette.”

So, songs about eggs it is.

Yes, this comedy with singing is just as silly as it sounds, and even more funny. While an homage to everything Shakespeare — as well as parodying his superstar status (both then and now) — practically every modern musical hit gets skewered in the process. We even get the Jewish producer, Shylock (Dan Miller). Ervin Gainer is the Minstrel who gets the whole thing started off.

Could we all use a good laugh now? This is a great laugh. All performances are spot-on and hilarious, especially Emtiaz as our frustrated hero, Barber as the jaded icon (secretly stuck for a new idea as well), Hawkins as the take-it-in-stride spouse, and especially Gowan as the seer who barely believes the bits that are in focus – “a bunch of cats, on stage, singing… no, wait… no, it’s actually a bunch of cats on stage singing.”

If you like Shakespeare or musicals at all, you must see this almost-Shakespeare musical. Performances are Thursday through Sunday at the Hedback Theatre, 1847 N. Alabama St., Indianapolis. Info and tickets at footlite.org.

Traumatic issues taken seriously in new drama

By John Lyle Belden

Over time, I have gotten to know persons who shared their struggles with Dissociative Identity Disorder, which pop culture gave the misleading label of “multiple personalities.” This mental health condition is complex and usually borne of deep personal trauma. 

Therefore, the Trigger Warnings for “Coping with Autumn,” the new drama written and directed by Megan Ann Jacobs for Theatre Unchained, presented by Arts for Lawrence, should be taken seriously.

Autumn (Kyrsten Lyster) is under observation after her arrest for killing her boyfriend. She decides that if you are going to watch, she will give you a show, telling you the story of how she arrived in this unfurnished cell.

During her narration, we meet the occupants of her mind: Dee (Maresa Eileen Kelly), the eternal child who won’t tell her what happened when alone with her father, appears shortly before her mother (Rachel A. Snyder) divorces and moves them from Wisconsin to Indiana. Joy (Ethany Reeder Michaud), the impulsive, takes over when potential new high school friends invite her to a party, then ensures Autumn has a “good time.” When regrets set in, Vera (Roci Contreras), the confrontational, appears to make sure those classmates never bother her again.

Like many misfits, Autumn feels more at home at a distant college. There, she is befriended by Kasey (Brittany Magee). They bond over poetry and spend a lot of time together, until Kasey invites Autumn to a “small” get-together. Naturally, it’s another wild crowd, and then the bag of drugs comes out.

Before her “friends” emerge, Autumn exits, and meets Steven (Thomas Sebald). He seems so nice, and perfect. He pampers her, gives her fancy meals and nice gifts. Then he starts making demands. Is this what love is like? Must be, she thinks, and does everything she can to please him – until she can’t. Kasey has been shut out, and Steven has charmed Mom. Who can help her? I’ll give you three guesses.

The second act features Autumn’s trial and aftermath. New allies include therapist Dr. Weber (Kelly Keller) and pro bono attorney Alex (Joe Wagner), who feels a personal connection to the case. But Sebald returns to the stage as a prosecuting attorney, the resemblance not lost on Autumn. 

Lyster, who has shown so much range in past roles, is amazing here. Magee, who joined the cast late into the production, is incredible in support. Snyder is superb, and by happy accident has a physical resemblance to her “daughter.” Their portrayals of well-meaning but damaged women never slip into cliche and evoke appropriate emotional responses from the audience and each other.

This ain’t “Inside Out.” The two adolescents and child that represent portions of
Autumn’s psyche are neither cartoonish nor comic relief. The dissociation is handled respectfully in smooth transitions with Lyster so that we easily see the four actors as aspects of the same woman. 

Sebald plays Steven so disarmingly kind (when the monster is hidden away), it’s easy to see how men like this character can charm and trap women who find no one believes them when relationships turn abusive. And when he’s a beast, “evil” is an understatement.

Cast and crew took this sensitive topic seriously. During a post-show talk-back, dramaturg Max Andrew McCreary said he shared his mental health research with them, including that according to one source, it is estimated that nearly half of adults have at one time had a sort of dissociative incident, from a moment feeling outside one’s body, all along the spectrum to rare cases of true DID (fictional Autumn’s condition is on the spectrum). All involved took consent into account throughout the entire process, from the first rehearsal. Sebald, who said he had helped workshop Steven/Prosecutor, said this was especially essential for him to feel comfortable in his role. This atmosphere of trust helped make the action in this drama more raw and natural, which some in the audience noted in their comments.

If you have experience with abuse and/or psychological trauma, be careful about seeing this. But for any who can manage, this is highly recommended. Remaining performances are 7:30 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, May 19-21 (post-show talkbacks on Thursday and Saturday) at Theater at the Fort, 8920 Otis Ave., Lawrence (off the north end of Indy’s Post Road). Get info and tickets at TheatreUnchained.org or ArtsForLawrence.org.

Phoenix show reminds us ‘Magical’ isn’t always good

By John Lyle Belden and Wendy Carson

Hard to describe is an understatement for the one-woman show “No AIDS, No Maids, or Stories I Can’t F*ckin’ Hear No More,” written and directed by Ball State graduate Dee Dee Batteast (which she has performed elsewhere as a Fringe show), performed by LaKesha Lorene at the Phoenix Theatre.

In a stage set reminiscent of Mister Rogers (shout out to designer Mejah Balams), Lorene enters and, appropriately, changes her shoes. But the lessons she has are not for children.

With film and television stills and clips for emphasis, we are confronted with the fact that Black and Gay characters continue to fall into predictable tropes, visual stereotypes, and predictable – even expected – caricatures. Even if we go beyond the gay man (usually played by a straight man) suffering and dying of HIV/AIDS, or the Black person relegated to servitude (Are we actually past that? “The Help” was in 2011.) there is one character type that never goes away, the legendary Magical Negro, as well as our best friend, the Magical Gay.

You would expect a show with sitcom and movie comedy bits and an upbeat woman to be funny. But when our Moderator implores us, “Laugh for me!” it suddenly becomes difficult. What we see before us in this moment is a shuffling, dancing Minstrel player, someone an audience 100 years ago would have laughed at easily and heartily – perhaps even 75 years ago. This shock to the system even wears on Lorene, as she struggles to keep the Magical past in our yesteryear, and work towards a new norm.

However, she laments, we are “shaping the new generation in the mold of the old.” To get a role, to make a living, you must pass the audition, where the white casting directors have their expectations, and will eventually find the eager young actor willing to bend to them.

While this is more a lecture, or elaborate sort of TED talk, rather than the stand-up one-person you might have expected, “No AIDS, No Maids” is not dry. You are challenged, but also amused (some laughs you won’t feel guilty for) and even a little entertained while you get plenty to think about one the ride home, as well as be reminded of when you see a non-white and/or non-straight character on the screen. This presentation gives perspective to the push for more “normal” characters of the types we used to automatically treat as otherwise.

Batteast’s trust is well placed in Lorene, who commands our attention for the full hour, even when she has ducked out of sight for a moment to put the old suit on – or to cast the damn thing away. We look forward to seeing her in her next role, which we suspect won’t involve cleaning up or helping some White person find their purpose.

This show runs through May 22 at the Phoenix, 705 N. Illinois, Indianapolis. Get information and tickets at phoenixtheatre.org.

Civic’s ‘Matilda’ a fun and inspiring adventure

By John Lyle Belden

“Roald Dahl’s Matilda, The Musical” not only features Dahl’s brilliant dark satire but also the sharp wit of songs by Tim Minchin, with book by Dennis Kelly. Booth Tarkington Civic Theatre presents this “miracle” on its stage at the Center for the Performing Arts in Carmel through May 14, directed by Suzanne Fleenor.

In a generation of British children convinced they are wonderful and special, there is Matilda Wormwood (Alexis Vahrenkamp), whose parents take a different approach.  Her mother (Mikayla Koharchik) resents that the birth kept her from a ballroom & salsa dance contest; her father (John Walls) can’t get over the fact that she is not a boy, like her dull-witted brother, Michael (Matthew Wessler); and they both can’t stand she insists on always reading books full of stories. Why can’t she just watch telly like a normal kid? 

Mr. Wormwood is working on the deal of a lifetime, not letting pesky stuff like ethics get in the way. Meanwhile, Mrs. Wormwood works on her dance steps with slinky partner Rudolpho (Michael Humphrey). To their delight, Matilda, who has been “a little bit naughty,” will go away to school, where she’ll be sorted out by sadistically cruel Headmistress Miss Trunchbull (Evan Wallace).

Fortunately, our heroine has some allies. She befriends local librarian Mrs. Phelps (Kendra Randle) and thrills her with stories she spins about an Escapologist (Matthew Sumpter) and an Acrobat (Isa Armstrong). Her sweet but mousey teacher Miss Honey (Julia Bonnett) sees the girl as gifted and pledges to help her reach her potential. On the schoolyard, precocious Lavender (Nye Beck) declares that she and Matilda are Best Friends.

While the title character is the show’s focus, its events also involve her classmates. The plight of brave Bruce (Cole Weesner), betrayed by his sweet tooth, helps bring the children to the realization that “the Trunchbull” must be defeated. But it’s Matilda’s most special “gifts” that will turn the tide.

This fun musical is a great showcase of young talent, and an entertaining inspiration for the kids of all ages watching. The adults aren’t bad either – actually the ones who act badly, Koharchik, Walls, and especially Wallace, are the best.

So, put aside the Telly and enjoy the antics of some truly “revolting” children. For information and tickets see civictheatre.org or thecenterpresents.org.

ATI show truly Works

By Wendy Carson

In the early 1970s, Studs Terkel set out to interview various people about their jobs. The result was the book, “Working: People Talk About What They Do All Day and How They Feel About What They Do.” In 1977, it was turned into a musical by Stephen Schwartz and Nina Faso, with songs by artists including James Taylor.

Much has changed since then, so in 2012, a revised version was created to include a few newer occupations and songs, with the help of Lin-Manuel Miranda. This updated version of “Working: The Musical” is what Actors Theatre of Indiana presents for us.

The performance consists of six actors playing a number of varied personas. With a supremely talented cast and an ever-changing roster of characters, picking out highlights can be challenging, but here are the moments that echoed with me.

Don Farrell flexes his range by giving us an unapologetic yuppie investor and later, Joe, who is searching for purpose and his memory now that he is retired.

Cynthia Collins is at the top of her game as the sassy waitress who considers her work to be the epitome of quality.

Adam Tran’s turn as Joe’s caretaker in “A Very Good Day” is so sweet and moving it may drive you to tears.

The determination to be more than their job and give their children a better future is shiningly evident in Aviva Pressman’s take on “Millwork,” as well as Lillie Eliza Thomas on being “Just a Housewife” (with Pressman and Collins) and her ode to family history in “Cleaning Women.”

Adam Sledge embodies the blue collar worker throughout most of his songs, including Taylor’s “Brother Trucker,” showing the pride one takes in work we usually never even think about.

Direction is by ATI newcomer Lysa Fox.

The show is perfectly summed up in the closing number, “Something to Point To,” where we are reminded that all any of us really wants is something we can show others that we had a hand in making.

Adjust your personal work schedule to fit in this delightful tribute to the working men and women who built our great land, and you just might catch your own personal story being played out onstage.

“Working” is on the job through May 22 at the Studio Theater in the Center for the Performing Arts in downtown Carmel. Get info and tickets at atistage.org or thecenterpresents.org.

NOTE: There was an edit to the original post to correct a singing credit.

Shakespeare fun and foolishness set to music

By John Lyle Belden

It’s hardly a new idea to base a musical on a Shakespeare play (a recent Oscar-winning remake of an Oscar-winning film comes to mind). New York based songwriter Shaina Taub, with Kwame Kwei-Armah, adapted the Bard’s comedy “Twelfth Night” for its musical debut in Central Park in 2018.

Southbank Theatre Company brings that version to the IndyFringe Theatre (outdoors preferably, but on the Basile stage in bad weather) through May 8. 

If the story doesn’t easily spring to mind, note it is where we get the quote, “If music be the food of love, play on.” The play checks many of the boxes for a Shakespeare comedy: disguises, mistaken identities, siblings separated, wild wooing, nobles who will not marry, and ending up with a wedding anyway.

What makes this musical version exciting and interesting is that Taub’s songs do more than just put a tune behind Shakespeare’s words. They illuminate the themes of this old story, making it fresh and relatable. This makes the show the perfect companion to a traditional production of the play.

For instance, our central character Viola (Michelle Wofford), a woman recently arrived in mythical Illyria (vicinity of today’s Albania) finds it safer to disguise herself as a man, opening up surprising opportunities. In the song “Viola’s Soliloquy,” she sings of “the Devil’s blessing” that simply wearing trousers gives her.  

Viola, taking the name Cesario, finds her/himself between Duke Orsinio (Dave Pelsue), his employer, and the Countess Olivia (Natalie Fischer), who keeps spurning Orsinio’s advances, but has found herself smitten with Cesario. However, the Viola within the disguise pines for Orsinio, who only sees in her a dutiful young man.

Still, this wouldn’t be a Shakespeare comedy without the silly subplots. There is much opportunity for merriment in the Countess’s court, with sack-sotted Sir Toby Belch (Mark Cashwell), worst-at-wooing Sir Andrew (Kim Egan), mischievous Maria (Brittney Michelle Davis) and Fabian (Jordan Paul Wolf), who all seek to take pompous Molvolio (Hannah Boswell) down a peg or two.

Then there is the arrival of Viola’s lost-at-sea twin brother Sebastian (Matthew Blandford), accompanied by his rescuer Antonio (Z Cosby), who braves arrest to be by the man he secretly loves. Other roles are played by Brant Hughes, Ron Perkins and Yolanda Valdivia, who is also on hand as Officiant for the inevitable marriages. 

All this is accompanied by a live band, and the wit and wisdom of accordion-wielding jester Feste (Paige Scott).

With all the action of the classic comedy, but condensed down to a manageable hour and a half, this romp is an excellent showcase for the talented cast. Scott is simply amazing, whether giving chiding counsel, a beautiful ballad, or some handy narration to the audience. Speaking of fools, Boswell is a riot in an arc that goes from bombastic to pathetic, but always fun. Cashwell employs his improv skills and comic chops to great effect. Pelsue has long cornered the market on cool-guy-who-can-sing, so is totally in his element. Fischer has the sweet/feisty mix down perfectly. And Wafford is endearing with an inner strength befitting the character. Everyone else? Awesome, awesome, awesome – directed by Max McCreary with musical direction by Ginger Stoltz.

Performances are Thursday through Saturday evenings, and Sunday afternoon, at IndyFringe, 719 E. St. Clair, Indianapolis. Get information at southbanktheatre.org and tickets at indyfringe.org.

Little-known story of man’s American ‘Dreams’

By John Lyle Belden

While most know how the United States has failed to be a land of opportunity for natives and people of African descent, we might be less familiar with the manner with which Asian immigrants have been treated. The 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act made coming to America difficult, but in the 20th century, circumstances gave some hope by way of “paper families” – exploiting the loss of official records in events like the Great San Francisco Earthquake to claim relatives in the States.

This process, and the consequences of its necessary deception, are dramatized in “The Paper Dreams of Harry Chin,” by Jessica Huang, on stage (after a two-year delay) at the Indiana Repertory Theatre.

It’s been one year since Laura (Anne Bates) departed, but still too early for the traditional month when the Dead come to visit – however, she’s not Chinese, so she haunts her daughter Sheila (Allison Buck) and husband Harry (David Shih) anyway. 

Her arrival takes Harry Chin back to past moments, meeting young Laura as he struggles with his English, yet managing enough to tell her an old story. The supernatural effect then takes him further back, to when he was Leong Cheung Yu, leaving behind his name and past life to become the alleged relative of a Chinese American named Chin, complete with backstory he must memorize to the last word. He coaches a fellow immigrant (Linden Tailor), who grows more nervous every moment. Reciting the papers exactly becomes literally the most important thing in their lives.

Flashing back from the present-day of the 1970s to decades past takes its toll, as his boss (Sam Encarnation) re-appears as his Immigration interrogator. Harry sees the face of the woman he left behind (Stephanie Soohyun Park) in the interpreter assigned at his questioning, and later in a surprise visit from Susan, the girl he had last seen as an infant.

The restless dead have a lot to teach Harry, Sheila (a person “of two worlds,” they note) and, most importantly, us. After all, “Haunting is helping,” as Harry’s old companion says. 

Be sure to read the historical notes in the play program, as they add clarity to what is happening on stage. Huang based this on the actual story of a man who lived in Minnesota after arrival via a “paper family,” so this dramatization contains a lot of discomforting truth, as well as the strength of character of a man trying to do the best he can for himself and his people – both those he left, and the new family he makes here.

Shih excellently gives us the fiercely proud Chin. Buck is both caring and curious, portraying a woman at the crossroads of immense possibility – not only in learning more about her true heritage (in shocking fashion) but also being in the “women’s lib” era with the openings that entails. Bates has Laura loving fiercely as well, to her limit and beyond. Tailor entertains in his supporting roles. Park catches our heart in softly tragic moments. Encarnacion is appropriately frightening as the face of cruel bureaucracy.

Jaki Bradley directs this otherworldly yet accessible story, set in the IRT’s intimate Upperstage, with clever set design by Wilson Chin. 

An important story, as well as a bold and fascinating drama, “The Paper Dreams of Harry Chin” continue through May 15 at the IRT, 140 W. Washington St., Indianapolis. Get info and tickets at irtlive.com.

District drama explores daunting ‘Place’

By Wendy Carson

By Wendy Carson

The District Theatre presents “What Is This Place? A Journey of Self in the Aftermath,” in which five souls ask the title question, while knowing on some level exactly where they are.

Welcome to their nightmare – where you, too, will likely go one day.

I first saw a version of this show in August of 2016, at IndyFringe. In the six years since, playwright Jan White has reshaped it into an even greater work of beauty and hope. If you go back to that first review, I didn’t say much about the show because I didn’t want to spoil the mystery for anyone. However, the current version allows more room to meditate on the performance.

The story begins with Darlene (Holly Hathaway) being flung in through a door which she cannot unlock to make her escape. She claims to know the place, because in her past she saw her mother inside it. She protests that she wants to leave, but is afraid of what lies beyond the door.

The other denizens of this place are: Maggie (Miki Mathioudakis), a wealthy widow, distantly connected to Darlene, who has transformed into a sloppy, hot mess; Sophia (Brittany Magee), a perky, meditating, goof who searches for peace she cannot find; Cindy (Bianca Black), who just wants to sleep, but no combination of drugs and alcohol are able to work; and finally, Jake (Chad Pirowski), the apparent caretaker, whose silence makes him appear creepy.

Periodically, each person will go to a space at the side of the stage to view pieces of their memories, which we are privy to by way of a video screen. It does not take us long to realize what this place actually is, but the point here is the characters’ journey to that same discovery. Once they fully acknowledge it, they must then decide whether to leave or stay (each option has its benefits).

As each woman comes to terms with that which landed them there, they must also deal with the fact that some questions never have answers, that perhaps “everything happens for a reason” is nonsense, whether you accept it or not. Eventually, they find the darkness they have in common, and how to wield it as a key to that door that perhaps was never really locked after all.

While this is a story about grief and loss, it also embodies the accomplishment and hope that lies at the end of that road.

Performances are truly remarkable, considering the gut-wrenching dramatic exercise this play puts the cast through, under the direction of Rosana Schutte. We get small bits of relief, in humorous moments with Cindy’s substances, Maggie’s endless Doritos bags, or Sophia’s attempts at serenity with bells and “tapping.” Still, the pain is never far from them, lurking just outside the windows. Our heart goes out to all five, even Jake, who has the darkest truth.

Remaining performances of “What Is This Place?” are Friday and Saturday, April 29-30, with ASL interpretation, at the District, 627 Mass. Ave., Indianapolis. For info and tickets, go to IndyDistrictTheatre.org.

CCP with ‘Fantastick’ musical

By John Lyle Belden

It might be late April, wild weather and all, but at The Cat in downtown Carmel, it’s a special kind of September, as Carmel Community Players bids you to follow “The Fantasticks.”

Written by Tom Jones (the American songwriter, not the Welsh singer) and Harvey Schmidt, the musical is noteworthy for its world-record Off-Broadway run (1960-2002, plus later revivals, tours, etc.) as well as its charming contrast of simple staging and story with deep universal themes. It also has a hit song, “Try to Remember,” which gets under way right near the beginning.

This light-hearted fable presents The Boy, Matt (Theodore Curtis) and The Girl, Luisa (Brook-Glen Gober), who grow up neighbors, but with a wall between them. It seems Hucklebee, The Boy’s Father (Kevin Shadle), and Bellomy, The Girl’s Father (Kevin Caraher), are feuding – probably something about gardening – and forbid the youths to meet. So, naturally, they rendezvous in secret and fall in love.

All this is presented and explained by The Narrator (JB Scoble), who also appears as the suave bandit El Gallo. Making the scene complete is The Mute (Hannah Janowicz), who provides and spirits away props and curtains, and embodies the Wall when needed.

But it’s revealed to us that the fathers only pretend to feud! To complete the scenario and ensure the Happy Ending, they arrange for The Girl to be in peril so that The Boy can rescue her, and the two families can rejoice and unite. To achieve the faux abduction, the men hire El Gallo, who gets help from Henry, The Old Actor (Duane Leatherman), and his apprentice, Mortimer, The Man Who Dies (Thom Johnson). Their plan seems to execute perfectly, so everyone is happy now – right?

This was a dream job for director Rich Phipps, who saw “The Fantasticks” during its original New York run. He opts for the less-problematic “abduction” script that avoids the original’s use of the term “rape” in its literary sense to lessen discomfort and confusion. Still the style, with its commedia dell’arte influences, manages to communicate the story’s dark and serious aspects even while peppered with elements of absurdity.

Scoble is in his element as El Gallo. You can tell Kevins Shadle and Caraher are having fun with this show, as are Leatherman as the master who has forgotten more Shakespeare than you’ll ever know, and Johnson, as clever a fool as one could ask for. Curtis is a young artist showing a lot of potential, and Gober is ever charming. Janowicz displays natural mime skills, enhancing the scenes without stealing them.

A fun and entertaining musical with a moral for all ages, performances run through May 8 at The Cat, 254 Veterans Way, Carmel. Get information and tickets at CarmelPlayers.org.