IndyFringe: ‘Beneath the Surface’

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 John Lyle Belden

When you first see what is going on — kids barely out of middle school coming on stage to present a show they developed about difficult issues they think about and face — I couldn’t help but mentally lower the bar and pray this wasn’t like that bad SNL skit of naive kids presenting awkward “awareness” scenes.

Now I must apologize to them, and ask that you, too, give this show a chance. Beneath the Surface of “Beneath the Surface,” by Sugar Creek Players Youth Troupe, is earnest searching for understanding, and expression of what the world is like when you are 14 or 15, no longer child but not quite adult — you remember, right? What we see is bravery beyond the tamping down of stage fright.

Budding comic Liberty Owens is “Conscious,” the narrator and facilitator of our look into four archetypal characters: Veronica the young activist, Alex the “jerk,” Jasper the poet (who is on the Autism spectrum) and Juana the Mexican immigrant. Drawing conclusions about them yet? Please note the title of the play — yes, these kids have layers.

I ask you cooperate with Conscious — she’s a little silly, and prone to telling groaner-jokes (could you do better at her age?) — but she is only helping us understand our subjects as they strive to understand themselves, and each other. So when she asks which person’s story you want to see continue, speak up and suggest someone; they are all intriguing, and sharply presented with earnest emotion.

Just as the film “Eighth Grade” is now bringing this crucial point in our lives to the national conversation, you get to see something of this in person, developed and performed by local teens. Note some hard issues are addressed, and it doesn’t have an artificially happy end — in fact, as in the real world, struggles continue. But if you came to see a Fringe show, here’s a doggone Fringe show. My troubled teen self of years past salutes them.

Isabella de Assis-Wilson as Juana is joined by Sara Adams (Veronica), Terran McCarty (Alex) and Evan Baldwin (Jasper) for the Tuesday, Aug. 21, performance. Remaining performances feature Sonora Kay (Veronica), Sara Adams (Alex) and Austin Coon (Jasper). All are on the main stage of the District Theatre (formerly Theatre on the Square), 627 Mass Ave.

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Satisfy your ‘Curious’ity at IRT

By Wendy Carson

Christopher John Francis Boone is 15, a mathematical genius but he finds all social and physical interactions to be terrifying. This is because Christopher is autistic. He lives alone with his father, who told Christopher that his mother died of a heart attack two years ago.

His great love of animals causes him to go out one night to visit the neighbor’s poodle, Wellington, only to find it murdered. Since he’s found kneeling with the dog, he is initially accused of its death. When the policeman tries to calm him down, the touch causes Christopher to lash out and be arrested. The misunderstanding is cleared up, but he is left with a warning on his permanent record.

Discovering that others think the murder of a dog is too irrelevant to be investigated, Christopher decides, against his father’s strong wishes, to do so himself. This results in him having to talk to his neighbors, who to him are strangers, but he is determined to overcome his fears and solve this mystery.

While he does eventually find out the murderer’s identity, the journey to that information has him discover a huge family secret and embark on a journey that tests his resolve and the very limits of his abilities, challenging his autistic limitations.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time,” opening the 2017-18 season at Indiana Repertory Theatre, is based on Mark Haddon’s critically-acclaimed 2003 novel of the same name. It won the 2015 Tony for Best Play. However, due to the novel being written in first-person and the production of it needing to have the various characters fleshed out and enacted, many technical alterations were made to bring the tale to the stage.

Shiobhan (played by Elizabeth Ledo), one of Christopher’s teachers, reads much of his inner dialogue from a notebook. He has written the story there in hopes of turning it into a book once it has concluded.

Much of the cast morphs from one character to another while also voicing the self-doubts and thoughts of Christopher. The medium of stage allows for non-linear and abstract elements required to tell the story, and even briefly goes “meta” with the cast discussing the play as themselves with Christopher.

This production includes IRT’s landmark casting of Mickey Rowe as Christopher, making him the first American actor with autism in the role. Familiar faces Robert Neal and Constance Macy portray his father and mother.

The entire cast, which also includes David Alan Anderson, Margaret Daly, Mehry Eslaminia, Eric Parks, Gail Rastorfer and Landon G. Woodson, do an impeccable job, true to the standards of an IRT performance.

Thought-provoking and surprisingly relatable, this drama brings you on an unusual journey through a unique mind, as well as through the English countryside and heart of London. And when you go, be sure to stay after the curtain call for a unique, and highly entertaining, mathematical encore.

No dogs were actually harmed in the making of this play, which runs through Oct. 14. Find the IRT at 140 W. Washington St. downtown or online at irtlive.com.