IndyFringe: The Last Man

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 John Lyle Belden

This sci-fi drama starts out strong, taking us down a path of eerie possibilities. 

Colin (Craig Kemp) runs into The Party Shop at a local mall, where the cheerful clerk, Delta (Caity Withers) hardly notices that his clothes are torn and he is stained with blood and grime. He insists on having some of the water and snacks from the shop, but, “Sorry sir, that’s for customers, only,” she smiles. So he says he wants to plan a party, Christmas in August, and he tells her a story of advances in Artificial Intelligence and Nanotechnology. And how in the 22nd century, out of nostalgia people built shopping malls that echoed the 20th century. And how there were AI “people” that were so convincing, not even they could recognize they weren’t human.

“That’s silly,” Delta says with a perfectly happy and helpful face.

Back in the 21st century, Erica (Alfton Shepard), a Professor of Advanced Nanotechnology, has recruited a couple of promising students, Charlie (Claire Shutters) and Bill (Manny Casillas) to help her with her next breakthrough. First, she is in need of emergency heart-valve surgery, and Dr. Toowan (Steve Jerk) assures her that the odds of failure are extremely low — but a phone message from the future is insisting she not go through with it, and that the fate of the world is at stake!

Local doctor and author L. Jan Eira panned this little thriller, which features some tech that is only a couple of breakthroughs away, and even temporal tinkering that acknowledges “time travel” has its limits. Hardcore sci-fi fans may recognize the plot beats, but it is kinda fun to play “spot the replicant.”

The acting is great, but this script really needed two full acts to explore its potential. The dynamite opening scene is followed by some good ones; then a rushed climax to a chunk of closing exposition. But it’s an interesting story nonetheless. Don’t let its weakness stop you; Fringe tickets are inexpensive, and you can say you saw it first when this story gets a bigger, better treatment — later in the 21st century.

Performances are today and Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday (Aug. 21-22 & 24-25), by the Indiana Firefighters Museum at 748 Massachusetts Ave.

Fat Turtle @ the Fort: Go see ‘Joan’

By John Lyle Belden

Something precious has been stuck in a house for a long time.

Joan Wright was once an “author, traveler and businesswoman,” but in the three years since her husband died she has just been Joanie, a lonely woman spending her days in a bathrobe, knitting and watching the world out her back window.

But changes are coming. Her adult daughters are planning to move halfway across the country, and suddenly an old friend is in her living room, inviting her to a gathering of “the old gang” to celebrate her upcoming birthday. It’s exciting, and a bit frightening, but does it feel right?

This is the essence of the new drama, “Go Be Joan,” by Nathaniel Adams, a premiere by Fat Turtle Theatre at Theater at the Fort.

Kathy Bauchle plays Joan as a strong woman throughout – sometimes channeling that strength into her stubborn insistence on “not being a burden” by getting into nice clothes and out of the house to be among others.

Her girls each have their own issues, especially with the changes that life cast their way. Elder daughter Katherine (Afton Shepard) wears her constant nervous smile like a shield as she tries to maintain control of every situation she’s in. Her little sister Lindsie (Audrey Stonerock) has been taking care of Joan the past few years and really, really, wants their mother to move to St. Louis with them. Shepard and Stonerock swing from comaraderie to conflict and back like real siblings, as the deeper layers of the plot are revealed.

Katherine’s daughter Cara (Natalie Marchal) adds another generation to the mix, with her own quirks and concerns. She seems a bit two-dimensional and cliché at first, a selfish child preoccupied with the digital world in her smartphone, until Joan’s insistence on communicating yields to us a nice insight into Cara and her post-Millennial perspective. In return, we see the girl help her grandmother into the 21st century – which in the context of Joan’s shutting herself off from the world in recent years takes on special relevance.

Dan Flahive is neighbor and old friend John Patty, who delivers the invitation – and a mysterious wrapped gift – to Joan. He, too, lost a spouse years ago, so has a special insight into their situation. Flahive’s knack for playing a best friend you feel you’ve known and loved all your life is in full effect here. He plays it coy enough to balance the chemistry between his and Bauchle’s character deftly between platonic/agape friend and possible love-interest.

Fat Turtle artistic director Brandi Underwood directs.

This is a good start for a promising play, and an excellent opportunity for local audiences to support local art. The characters and their story touch our hearts with gentle humor and an insightful look at how we grieve and learn to go on living.

Oh, and my opening statement above refers to more than just the title character.

Performances of “Go Be Joan” run through July 28 at 8920 Otis Ave., on the grounds of Fort Benjamin Harrison in Lawrence. Get information and tickets at www.fatturtletheatre.com.