IndyFringe: Fallen from the Toy Box

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

It’s been four years since The Fourth Wall have been at IndyFringe and once you see their latest show, you will want to convince them to not wait so long to come back and entertain us.

This show is full of entirely new content and spectacularly shows off their virtuosity as performers. Hillary Abigana is a master flautist; C. Neil Parsons brings loads of personality and spunk to the Bass Trombone; and Greg Jukes’ percussion abilities prove that there is not a thing that he cannot bring a pleasing tune from. Plus, they are all accomplished dancers and can utilize their bodies’ movements in ways that will astonish you.

We begin with a touching number with a toy soldier trying to woo a wind-up ballerina but other forces are working to keep them apart.

We are then encouraged to embrace the wonder of childhood as various games with balloons occur. They each balance a balloon of their head, try to keep one from falling by passing it among themselves and even move around holding balloons in place with various part so their body. Oh yeah, did I mention that they are all playing instruments during these feats?

They then present us with three different pieces of artwork that they have choreographed a piece for, each picture created by a child under the age of seven.

There is even a game of Hide and Go Seek played throughout the space with flashlights.

I don’t want to spoil the rest of the surprises they have in store for you. At one point in the show a young child spontaneously shouted out “Yay!” I can’t think of a better compliment to bestow on this group.

Remaining performances are Friday and Saturday nights (Aug. 23-24) at The District Theater (former TOTS location), 627 Massachusetts Ave.

Phoenix hosts stunning tribute to artist’s life, GHDT’s ‘La Casa Azul’

By John Lyle Belden

“La Casa Azul” translates to “The Blue House,” the place where Mexican artist Frida Kahlo’s life both began and ended, the place she always called home, no matter where her celebrated and tragic life took her.

“La Casa Azul: The Musical” is a newly-revised production by Gregory Hancock Dance Theatre playing at the Phoenix Theatre in downtown Indianapolis. It combines dance and sung-through drama, much like a cross between a ballet and an opera with Latin-flavored music. The actors all embody various individuals and chorus parts, with the exceptions of Valerie Nuccio as Kahlo and JL Rey as her husband, muralist Diego Rivera – who vividly resemble their real-life counterparts – and Abigail Lessaris as La Muerte, the beautiful dancing embodiment of Death.

The whole these parts combine to is an exceptional theatrical experience: stunning, sad, humorous, thought-provoking and inspiring.

Nuccio holds our focus throughout, the hero of the story, winning our hearts despite no effort made to make us love her. Kahlo was brash and outspoken, an unapologetic Communist who hated America and its citizens’ condescending attitudes; still, above all she was a proud woman devoted to her homeland. But the stage also belongs to Lessaris, as Death is ever present. Never speaking a word, her movement and constant attendance speak volumes. At times, Kahlo can even sense her dancing near, occasionally even helping her to her feet to live another day – La Muerte is patient.

The ensemble includes Alyssa Lopez as Kahlo’s sister Christina; Johnathon Contreras as the boyfriend who was with her in a near-fatal accident; Bill Book as her father, who encouraged her to paint during her recovery; Onis Dean as various doctors who rarely give good news; and Dick Davis as Henry Ford (who Kahlo despised) and exiled Leon Trotsky (with whom she had an affair). Jessica Crum Hawkins, who played Kahlo in the 2015 premiere of “La Casa Azul,” portrays Trotsky’s wife.

Gregory Glade Hancock not only provided the choreography, but also the costume design, music and lyrics – with Kate Ayers. The songs flow as easily as the dancing, easing us through the plot. For clarity, a full synopsis is printed in the program. Stage direction is by Mexican artist Georgina Escobar.

The costumes are a vibrant tribute to Mexico and its culture, as well as the dapper decadence of New York in one scene. The set is adorned with a fractured portrait of Kahlo, a reminder of her many facets which only come together when we see her life completed.

For anyone with an interest in Frida Kahlo and her art, seeing this is almost a duty. Performances run through July 28 on the Russell main stage of the Phoenix, 705 N. Illinois St. See LaCasaAzulTheMusical.com for information and tickets.

IndyFringe: ‘Aphrodite’s Refugees’

This show is part of the 14th Annual Indianapolis Theatre Fringe Festival, a/k/a IndyFringe, Aug. 16-26, 2018 on Mass Ave downtown. Info, etc., at www.IndyFringe.org.

By Wendy Carson

It’s hard to not hear the word “refugees” in the news today. It’s bandied about on an almost daily basis. This tends to numb us to the meaning and situations that cause people to succumb to this status.

When show creator Monica Dionysiou witnessed an exhibit by Doctors Without Borders in her hometown of Boulder, Col., she felt inspired to revisit her family’s stories of their own struggles during the many battles for dominance on their home island of Cypress, and how they came to America in the first place.

You can now witness the beauty, tragedy, and resilience of these people in her stunning offering, “Aphrodite’s Refugees.”

She artfully weaves the history of the island as well as its struggles for independence from the various countries warring over it. (Cypress is located in the Mediterranean near Greece and Turkey, which both have claims.) The stories begin with recordings of her family in their own words which are then interpreted by her and her partner to show the changes in the landscape of the island throughout the years.

Dionysiou’s partner, Aaron Young, literally illustrates the struggle by painting the backdrop of the ever-changing landscape of her homeland. He also illuminates important points of the story with further drawings and animations to enhance the drama. Plus, the finished landscape is available for sale at the end of each performance so you can acquire a spectacular original piece of artwork to help you remember these bittersweet tales for long afterward.

We also find out the connection to the Greek goddess of the title. She is the deity of love — but, alas, her brother is Aries, God of War, and in their immortal games he’s holding the cards.

Performances are today and tomorrow (Aug. 25-26) at 6 p.m. Saturday and 1:30 p.m. Sunday, at the Indyfringe Indy Eleven Theatre, 719 St. Clair St. (just east of the College and Mass Ave intersection).

CCP: Artist ‘dying’ to get popular in Twain farce

By John Lyle Belden

Mark Twain’s almost-forgotten farce, “Is He Dead?” has come alive in Fishers, thanks to Carmel Community Players.

Twain, the celebrated American author and humorist, wrote the play while traveling Europe and had planned on staging it in 1898, but those performances never happened. The script was rediscovered in 2002 and, adapted by noted playwright David Ives, finally reached Broadway in 2007.

Now it’s here.

A fictional version of actual master painter Jean-Francois Millet (played by Jaime Johnson) struggles to get noticed or even sell a single painting from his shabby home in Barbizon, France. His international circle of disciples, Chicago (Matt Hartzburg), Dutchy (Adam Powell) and O’Shaughnessy (Kelly Keller) recognize his genius, as do landladies Bathide (Lucinda Ryan) and Caron (Susan Hill), who don’t mind getting art for rent payments. But moneylender Bastien Andre (Larry Adams) wants real Francs in payment for debts owed, and threatens to foreclose not only on Millet’s studio, but also Monsieur Leroux (Keven Shadle), whose daughter he desires. However, Marie (Morgan Morton) is repulsed by Andre and is in love with Millet. Meanwhile, her sister Cecile (Monya Wolf) has her eye on Chicago.

Desperate for a way to quickly raise thousands of Francs, our artists get an idea after a clueless English art buyer (Dave Bolander in one of a number of hilarious roles) states that genius is only rewarded after the artist has died. Chicago then talks Millet into “contracting an illness” so horrible as to guarantee publicity of his impending “death.” Meanwhile, Millet appears in a dress as his twin sister, the Widow Tillou, to inherit the inevitable riches.

This being a comedy, of course, things don’t go entirely as planned.

Twain’s wry humor is woven throughout this satirical farce, and little moments of 19th-century style silliness work in the overall context. Johnson plays Millet as a down-on-his-luck everyman who just wants what’s due him, playing it straight against the comic antics of his students – and his scenes in drag are “Some Like it Hot” hilarious. Chicago, our lone American character, appears to be Twain’s surrogate in the story, a fast-talking charming schemer in the mold of Tom Sawyer, and Hartzburg turns on the charm in the role. Powell is like a caricature of a caricature, but is so likable it works. Wolf gets in some great moments with the old girl-disguised-as-man gag. And Johnson is delectably “boo-hiss!” worthy as our top-hatted melodrama villain, complete with twirled mustache.

Direction is by Mark Tumey, who said he came to love the play while portraying Andre in a production in Arizona.

The show’s social commentary on art and fame resonates a bit today, but mostly this is just a fun evening with the work of one of America’s greatest writers. As CCP is still seeking a full-time home, performances for this play are at Ji-Eun Lee Music Academy, 10029 E. 126th St., Suite D, in Fishers, through June 24. Call 317-815-9387 or visit carmelplayers.org.

IndyFringe: Calder the Musical

By Wendy Carson

This little show seems to be the early contender for biggest audience (move over, DK!). It’s a touching look into the life of a man who’s name most of us have never heard, but whose artistic output we are all familiar with.

Alexander “Sandy” Calder was a typical artist – a sensitive and misunderstood little boy, a wayward, searching young man and a misunderstood genius who is responsible for giving the world the mobile. Narrated by Thalia, the Muse of Comedy, we are taken to various times in the artist’s life that shaped his creations and legacy.

One thing to note, this script is being workshopped here in the hopes of being developed into a full-length show. However, what is presented does whet the appetite for more. The circus scene alone is amazing.

The production also presents possibly the largest cast and crew of any of this year’s offerings. I am bringing up this point because the caliber of talent involved so impressively high, I am unable pick out a single member of the team to focus on.

Just know that if you want to be able to experience this magic for yourself, you should go now and buy your tickets online at indyfringefestival.com. Every single performance so far has been a sell-out and that momentum does not look to subside. One performance remains: 3 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 27, on the Theatre on the Square main stage.

Have the time of your life

From memecrunch.com
From memecrunch.com

No big openings in local theatre companies this weekend – feel free to see continuing productions at Phoenix, TOTS, Beef & Boards and IndyFringe, as well as what Bobdirex and Eclectic Pond are up to.

Actually, there is one “new” show in town. The touring production of the stage musical version of “Dirty Dancing” is under way through Sunday at Clowes Memorial Hall. Sounds like fun, if you loved the movie, and who doesn’t love that movie?!

For us, this is one of our favorite weekends of the year. Aside from the bigger-than-ever Pride festival, there is the Independent Music and Arts Festival at the Harrison Center for the Arts at the corner of 16th and Delaware streets downtown. The IMAF is all free, and you get to see some great local art, shop among area artisans and crafters, and see and hear several great musical acts.

Meanwhile, just a block away from IMAF is the Talbot Street Art Fair, celebrating its 60th year Saturday and Sunday. Entry is free, with dozens and dozens of booths to check out. Many people complement Wendy on her tie-dye dresses; she gets them at the Talbot Street fair, from Kiss of Color. Please check them out.

Away from downtown, there is also the Indianapolis mayor’s office-hosted Veterans picnic from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday at Garfield Park (free food for those who served and their families), and Holy Rosary’s annual Italian Fest Friday and Saturday with lots of generously-portioned food. On Sunday, the 4th Annual Irvington Folk Festival (through June 20) gets started just a few miles east of downtown.

So there you are: Go have some fun!