Searching for something to believe in at ‘Prospect Hill’

By John Lyle Belden

What or who do you have faith in? What is it telling you? And are you truly listening?

These questions of faith and the angels among us come alive in “Prospect Hill,” a new play by Bruce Walsh, presented by Fat Turtle at the IndyFringe Theatre.

Jacob is a therapist badly in need of help, himself. His husband, Rex, a cancer survivor whose last round of chemo left a particularly frustrating side effect, obsesses with kitchen renovations to avoid their waning relationship. Jacob has given up alcohol, but finds addictive urges satisfied by the constant snacks and sodas brought by his young patient, Ethan, a driver for PepsiCo.

And it doesn’t help that Jacob has been in contact with his Mennonite father, who doesn’t approve of him being gay, let alone his relationship.

Ethan has his own problems: His girlfriend is expecting their child, but now wants nothing to do with him, in part due to his drug addiction. He wants to make more to help support the baby, so, hearing that Rex retired from his sales job in his 50s, asks him for “financial advice.” Relishing the challenge, Rex sees the young man as a potential protege. 

But when the inevitable conflicts occur, a sort of miracle happens. Could Ethan be the “third angel” in their relationship?

Directed by Fat Turtle Managing Director Aaron Cleveland, our well-chosen trio of actors bring out three vivid characters, each searching for meaning in his own way.

Zachariah Stonerock presents the stoic Jacob as a miserable mensch who has been worn down over time, so occupied with pleasing others he has no idea how to be happy, himself. Going through the motions, he simply repeats a mindfulness exercise he had just heard from Rex in his session with Ethan — to hilarious effect — almost accidentally making a sort of breakthrough.

Craig Kemp as Rex counters with energy and humor, masking a deep desperation. He needs to feel vital. not only in his loins (another comic point), but in his mind, as his salesman’s instincts are aroused by the prospect of “selling” Ethan to his old pharma company as a potential employee. Meanwhile, despite proclaiming his atheism, he is hooked on a “six-part series” on PBS on the world’s religions, finding inspiration in spite of himself.

As for 20-ish Ethan, Evren Wilder Elliott* excellently presents a character who seems at first so simple, yet has depths and aspects that even surprise him. “I am here because I am a prophet,” Ethan says — to be fair, it wasn’t his idea — which seems absurd, until it isn’t. The actor channeled the insecurity of playing their first “male” role to convincingly give us a grown boy full of bluster and desire to do right, yet lacking the personal discipline to pull it off. 

This locally-based script (Prospect Hill is a neighborhood in Bloomington) makes an excellent debut, a nice blend of human drama with laugh-out-loud moments. It’s still a work in progress, as the ending seemed a little muddled, hinting at more story to tell (perhaps a sequel play or trilogy could come of this?), but it raises some interesting points on faith, relationships, and what we seek to do with our lives.

Performances run through Nov. 24 at the IndyFringe Basile Theatre, 719 E. St. Clair, downtown Indianapolis. Get info at fatturtletheatre.com and tickets at www.indyfringe.org.

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*Trans actor formerly known as Ann Marie (A.M.) Elliott

IndyFringe: Orgasmo Adulto Escapes From The Zoo

This show is part of the 15th Annual Indianapolis Theatre Fringe Festival, a/k/a IndyFringe, Aug. 15-25, 2019 on Mass Ave downtown. Info, etc., at www.IndyFringe.org.

By Wendy Carson

Despite the show’s bizarre title, and being produced by locally-renowned troupe, No Exit — purveyors of edgy material and unique productions — this show is delightfully accessible to the average audience. The inclusion of a Sign Language interpreter ensures no one will be unable to experience this spectacle.

The actors involved, however, are costumed more like characters from a Doctor Seuss book but that is just to emphasize the absurdity intended by the source material.

We are directed to peruse our “Menu” and are served up a two- or three-course meal of monologues and sketches that changes for each performance. The offerings are shortened works by renowned European playwright Dario Fo and partner Franca Rame. These are portrayals of situations that, although exaggerated, still present political systems, social context, and somewhat ordinary situations that the audience can easily identify with.

In “A Woman Alone” we meet a harried wife (Carrie Bennett) who has a lot on her plate. Between a creepy and demanding brother-in-law, her baby, an abusive husband, perverted intrusions and a persistent young lover she is just trying to keep up with everyone’s demands for her time while staying somewhat sane.

“Waking Up” shows us a portrait of a woman (Andriana Zermeno) who is at her wits end coordinating her work, baby (A.M. Elliott), and husband. Her struggle to remember where she left her key offers great insight in discovering how she has become the mess we are presented with.

The final story, “Monologue of a Whore in a Lunatic Asylum” is presented almost entirely without words but relays the trials and tribulations of women whose voices were rarely heard anyway. Anastasia N. Greenberg gives a stunning performance in the title role while Elliott and Bennett embody the cold indifference of the Doctors responsible for her “care”. Zermeno makes a tiny cameo as an escaped patient witnessing the end of this tragic tale.

Again, I urge you to not be put off by the irreverent title or cartoonish look of the show. Remember, satire is meant to be exaggerated and missing these important scenes from our history is the way to realize how far women have come and how much further we have yet to go.

Performances are today through Saturday (Aug. 17-24) at The Oasis at the Murat Shrine (go in the Shriner entrance on the north side of the building, 502 N. New Jersey).