CCP drama presents public family’s private truths

By Wendy Carson

In “Other Desert Cities,” presented by Carmel Community Players, the Wyeths aren’t an ordinary family.

The father, Lyman, is a retired Hollywood actor and staunchly Republican former politician and foreign ambassador. The mother, Polly, also a past actor, is a devoted political wife. Her sister, Silda Grauman, was writer and costar of their forgettable series of movies – their Tinseltown legacy. Silda is also a resentful recovering alcoholic whose circumstances force her to endure living with her sister’s family.

It’s Christmas time, and Lyman and Polly’s grown children have come home to Palm Springs, Calif., for the holidays. The son, Trip, lives nearby and works in the entertainment industry, producing a trashy, exploitative reality show. The daughter, Brooke, is a troubled novelist residing in New York. After a broken marriage, mental breakdown and institutionalization, a combination of effective therapy and completing another book has brought her out of her darkness and back to the desert.

The family has lived in the public eye, yet hides dark secrets. It turns out that Brooke’s book is a memoir focused on her older brother Henry, who committed suicide years ago after being implicated in a deadly bombing. Considering Henry a free-spirited hero and best friend, Brooke blames their conservative parents for his fate.

The resulting conflict drives the plot of this acclaimed drama by Jon Robin Baitz. Brooke (Shannon Samson in top form) wants her parents’ blessing before the book publishes, but their pushback, especially from Polly (Vickie Cornelius Phipps, a sharp performance with cutting edges) pushes everyone to the brink. Lyman (Ronn Johnstone, giving the impression this role was written for him) struggles to avoid the growing conflict, but secrets have their own inevitable weight. Trip (Jeremy Tuterow, delivering a lighter counterpoint) also wants to avoid drama, and doesn’t recognize the apparent monsters in Brooke’s book as their parents. Meanwhile, Silda (Miki Mathioudakis, excellent as usual) gives full reign to her bitterness in entertaining fashion.

To discover these fascinating secrets and lies, take the Clay Terrace exit to visit “Other Desert Cities,” through Feb. 11. Call 317-815-9687 or visit carmelplayers.org.

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Soured friendship flavors ‘Suite’ farce

By John Lyle Belden

A Hollywood star-studded 1940s benefit for the war effort is the backdrop of the comedy “Suite Surrender,” on stage through Feb. 26 at Carmel Community Players.

Claudia McFadden (Gergeanna Teipen) headlines the big show at the Palm Beach Royale Hotel, but her former friend and hated rival, Athena Sinclair (Jill O’Malia) is on the bill as well. Fortunately, hotel manager Mr. Dunlap (Sydney Loomis) has them booked in suites on opposite sides of the building. Unfortunately, they both feel entitled to the Presidential Suite, and make themselves at home in its east and west bedrooms.

It is up to Dunlap, Claudia’s assistant Pippet (Thom Johnson) and Athena’s assistant Murphy (Addison D. Ahrendts) to keep the divas from even seeing one another, lest the sparks fly hotter than the fires started by rowdy shore-leave sailors in the downstairs lobby. Caught in the middle are hapless bellhops Otis (Colton Martin) and Francis (Steve Jerk), local socialite and event organizer Mrs. Osgood (Kate Hinman), and nosy journalist Dora Del Rio (Marjorie Worell).

Naturally, this all results in one hilarious farce, with goofy misunderstandings, frantic wild takes and lots of well-timed physical humor. Loomis is a master of manic mannerisms. Johnson’s minion-under-pressure shtick works perfectly. Teipen and O’Malia practically purr in their cattiness. Worell is literally whacked like a tennis ball to great effect. Hinmon hits the right comic notes, but don’t let her sing. Martin and Jerk recall the great pratfalling comics of the era. Ahrendts adds a touch of romance while getting in a few funny moments herself. And the biggest trooper of them all is little dog Sergio as Claudia’s Mr. Boodles.

As the hijinks work their way to the inevitable happy ending, watch for the twist, with its bit of wry commentary on show business.

Find CCP at 14299 Clay Terrace Boulevard, north of downtown Carmel. Call 317-815-9387 or visit carmelplayers.org.

John L. Belden is also Associate Editor and A&E editor of The Eagle (formerly The Word), the Indianapolis-based Midwest LGBTQ news source, which has a brief version of this and other theatre reviews.

CCP brings fun in the ‘Park’

NOTE: As the Word/Eagle is in flux with the renaming and corresponding change in official website, John is putting his reviews here — for now.

By John Lyle Belden

Some days, all you need from a stage play is just an easy-going fun comedy. Maybe something by Neil Simon? Then head on up to the Carmel Community Players stage in Clay Terrace for its production of Simon’s first hit, “Barefoot in the Park,” playing weekends through Oct. 16.

In the winter of 1963 in New York, a free-spirited new bride, Corie (played by Lauren White Hall), has chosen an oddly-shaped fifth-floor walkup for a first apartment for her and her husband, Paul (Nicholas Barnes), a rather straight-laced young lawyer. It’s not what he would have wanted, but out of love for Corie, Paul tries to make do with the living arrangements – broken skylight and all. Making the situation even more interesting are visits by Corie’s mother Ethel (Bridget Schlebecker) and eccentric upstairs neighbor Victor (Will Pullins). A horizon-expanding evening with the four enjoying drinks and a dinner out proves fateful for all.

Hall is effervescent and charming, and Barnes ably plays the more reserved but still likeable half of the duo, making it believable that these two opposites did attract one another. Schlebecker and Pullins are natural scene-stealers in two of the more fun roles of the Simon repertoire. And Joe Meyers hits the right note as the telephone repair man whose timely advice helps fix more than a broken line.

Director Lori Raffel (also executive director at Theatre on the Square) found a fun solution to the problem of the set change between the first two scenes – a time-consuming transformation of the apartment from bare to fully-furnished. Under half-light, the cast brings out the bed, tables, couch, etc., to a dance routine. Raffel said she even got help from a member of Dance Kaleidoscope in arranging the actors’ steps with minimal improvisation. The result is almost as entertaining as the play itself.

As for the play, “funny,” “romantic” and “satisfying” are words too easy to throw around, but they fit so well here, to the greatest extent of their meaning.

Put on your shoes and head up to the top of Carmel. Info and tickets at 317-815-9387 or www.carmelplayers.org.

John L. Belden is Associate Editor at The Eagle (formerly The Word), the central-Indiana based Midwest LGBTQ news source.

Review: Hitchcock, hilarity and ice cream

By John Lyle Belden

The downside to classic old films is, well, that they’re old. There’s a good chance you’ve already seen them, maybe more than once, or at least have heard about them so much that you know their plots, including the “spoilers.” This is especially problematic for mystery thrillers, which rely on you getting surprised by that twist near the end.

To keep them entertaining, the trick with such well-worn stories is how they’re told. Case in point: Patrick Barlow’s manic re-imagining of master of suspense Alfred Hitchcock’s classic, “The 39 Steps.” This London and Broadway hit is now playing on the stage of Carmel Community Players in the Clay Terrace shopping center.

The dramatic elements of Hitchcock’s movie are still there: In 1930s London, a man attending a performance by “Mr. Memory” meets a mysterious woman who insists she go home with him, then reveals she is being followed. During the night, the woman is murdered and the man is on the run, trying to clear his name. All he knows is that secrets are about to be taken out of the country, and that the espionage involves a master spy with part of his finger missing and something called “The 39 Steps.”

So, that’s the plot, but even if you know all the answers, it’s still worth both your time and your dime (actually a bit more) to see Barlow’s version, brought to life by central Indiana actors Jay Hemphill, Libbi Lumpkin, Neal Eggeson and Craig Kemp, under the direction of Lori Raffel.

The delivery of the story’s scenes rely more on slapstick than suspense, combined with wink-to-the-audience use of stagecraft, where chairs become cars; trunks become trains; curtains and windowshades just hang in midair where needed; and a supporting actor inhabiting two roles slyly converses with himself.

Eggeson and Kemp are identified in the program only as “Clown 1” and “Clown 2,” nimbly taking on all the roles of people encountered by our hero, Richard Hannay, played dashingly by Hemphill. Both Clowns bring the funny as they propel the plot forward, including Eggeson’s gender-bending turn as a Scottish inkeeper’s wife, Kemp’s entertaining portrayal of Mr. Memory and the goofy chemistry between them as the thugs in pursuit of our hero.

Hemphill plays a Hannay who is at times blusteringly confused as to what is going on, and at other moments a little self-aware that he’s the hero of the play, balancing this dance with our expectations and the fourth wall perfectly.

Lumpkin – a fierce balance of beauty, brains and bravery – fills the pumps of both the murder victim and the woman Hannay ends up handcuffed to during one of his escapes. Even at her most irritating and irritated at the other cast members, she never loses her charm with us.

Aside from our foursome, credit must also be given to stage manager Mark Peed, whose necessary interventions add to the magic rather than distract. And watch for references to other Hitchcock classics hidden in the story.

Another fine feature at CCP is the availability of ice cream at the concessions during these hot summer weekends. “Alfred Hitchcock’s The 39 Steps” plays through Sunday at 14299 Clay Terrace Blvd., Suite 140, Carmel. Call 317-815-9387 or visit carmelplayers.org.

Review also in July 30 edition of the Greenfield Daily Reporter.

Step to it

Hoosier-made short
Hoosier-made short “The Dean’s List” is among the dozens of movies (short and feature-length) at the Indy Film Fest, July 16-25 at the Indianapolis Museum of Art. – Photo provided

Only one live theatre opening is on our schedule for this weekend, “Alfred Hitchcock’s ‘The 39 Steps'” at Carmel Community Players. This Tony-winning show takes a comedic approach to the classic Hitchcock thriller.

But that’s not the only thing happening in “theaters.” Of course, there are lots of movies — you could see “Minions” or watch “Jurassic World” again — but more importantly, the Indy Film Fest gets under way tomorrow (Thursday) and runs through July July 25 at the Indianapolis Museum of Art. It promises lots and lots of features and shorts that you’re not likely to see anywhere else, or at least so easily. Click on that link a couple of sentences back for the whole lineup and more details.

— See you in the audience!