IndyFringe: The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane

This is part of IndyFringe 2022, Aug. 18-Sept. 4 (individual performance times vary) in downtown Indianapolis. Details and tickets at IndyFringe.org.

By John Lyle Belden

Essentially, if you see a Fringe performance listed as being by Carmel High School theatre department, just go see it. I’ve now seen four of their professional-quality IndyFringe offerings, and I am still in awe of their 2018 show.

This production, “The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane” is a fairly new play (likely an Indiana premiere) by Dwayne Hartford based on the 2006 award-winning children’s book by Kate DiCamillo.

On Egypt Street of an American city in the 1930s, little Abilene (Kate Sullivan) is given a fine china rabbit by her grandmother Pelligrina (Madison Alig). Abilene names him Edward Tulane, and adores him – as she should, the self-centered rabbit thinks. The spoiled, well-dressed rabbit silently makes demands that apparently only Pelligrina can hear, so she tells Abilene a bedtime story for Edward to also hear, a dark tale that puzzles the china toy.

Then, during a sea cruise, Edward falls overboard and his long journey begins. He becomes “Susanna,” the proxy child of a fisherman (Micah Phillips) and his wife (Sullivan); “Malone,” the companion and keeper of secrets for hobo Bull (Phillips) and his dog Lucy (Eden Hammond); “Clyde,” the scarecrow on the farm of an Old Lady (Alig); and “Jangles,” the treasured dancing doll of doomed Sarah Ruth (Juliet Malherbe, also our Narrator) and her loving brother Bryce (Sam Tiek), who makes him kick to his harmonica playing for nickels on the streets of Memphis, Tenn. However, an angry diner owner (Aaron Young) brings the journey to an abrupt end.

At last, Edward sits in a doll-shop window, older and repaired – but wiser? As the novel says, “If you have no intention of loving or being loved, then the whole journey is pointless.”

The play features a recurring song, “North Star,” by student director Ella Asher with Sarah Warf and Micah Phillips. Eden Hammond choreographed bits of movement. And an on-stage musician, Seth Jacobsen, strums the guitar and expresses Edward’s thoughts.

This Hans Christian Anderson-esque story with rich thematic layers and childlike wonder is excellently rendered by the teen cast and crew. Adapted to under an hour from a full-length 80-minute play, this production does not feel rushed or missing any pieces – like with Edward, the cracks don’t show. This is essential viewing for all children and kids-at-heart.

One performance remains, 1:45 p.m. today (as we post this), Saturday, Aug. 27, at the District Theatre.

IndyFringe: The Old Man and the Old Moon

This is part of IndyFringe 2021, Aug. 19-Sept. 5 (individual performance times vary) in downtown Indianapolis. Details and tickets at IndyFringe.org.

By John Lyle Belden

Why see this new folktale, created by PigPen Theatre Co. of New York, and presented complete with on-stage musicians and shadow puppets by Carmel High School students?

As one character puts it, “I like a good story.”

And quite a tale it is. Jack Sullivan, who narrates, acts, sings and plays some guitar, introduces us to the Old Man (Micah Phillips) whose job it is to refill the Moon after light leaks out, and the Old Woman (Madelyn Wood) who had been by his side for years, but now wants to take a walk — which includes stepping on a boat headed westward on the Sea.

Panicked, the Man looks for a ship to follow her, but ends up – by mistaken identity – on one headed to the south, and war. Will he find his wife? Will the crew survive this risky voyage? What actually happened to Lt. Pericles Llewelyn McWallander? We do understand that “dirigible” also means “air balloon,” right? And, most importantly, what will happen when all the light has finally leaked out of the Moon?

“The Old Man and The Old Moon” is an adventure fable full of wonder, whimsy, and music, also featuring Ella Asher, Kyle Barker, Josh Baxter, Theo Curtis, Seth Jacobsen, Kaylyn Johnson, Sarah Warf, and shadow puppetry by Elliot Clancy with Marybeth Okerson. Direction by Maggie Cassidy and Grace Fellabaum, with stage manager Gavin Griffin, sound by Ryan Dafforn, lights by Arthur Mansavage and technical direction by Andrew Okerson.

This charming show is an excellent choice for all ages, with plenty of seating room in the Basile Auditorium at the Athenaeum.

IndyFringe: And Then They Came For Me

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

The Carmel High School theater program — practically a professional company, considering the quality of its shows — presents this historical drama, written by James Still (playwright-in-residence at the Indiana Repertory Theatre).

Consider it a companion piece to “The Diary of Anne Frank,” as it relates the stories of people who knew her, but with events she couldn’t have known about while in hiding. The focus is on two young people — Eva Geiringer and Helmuth Silberberg — whom we know much about because they survived the Holocaust. The acted scenes are intercut with audio and video footage of these two from recent interviews.

The student actors give stunning performances: Maddie Nagel as Eva, with Austin Audia, Kelsey McShay and Luke Vreeman as her family; Ryan Yauger as “Hello” Silberberg, with Kate Barthuly and Jack Sullivan as his parents; and Emily Chrzanowski as Anne, looking like she just stepped out of one of the old photographs. Sullivan also has the unfortunate but important role of a Nazi Youth, showing the contrast of the regular German’s life of indoctrination and exploitation of his naive faith in the Reich.

The narrative itself is riveting, with events of miraculous survival, as well as stories of those who perished so close to their potential liberation.

Direction is by Maggie Cassidy, with student assistants Madi Diehl (sound), Delaney Kibler (costumes and lights) and Gabrielle Marshall (projection, poster and logo design).

To see both the future of Indiana theatre, and a stark reminder of humanity’s past, remaining performances are 10:30 p.m. Saturday and 6 p.m. Sunday at the IndyFringe building, 719 E. St. Clair.

IndyFringe: ‘Failure: A Love Story’

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

“Of course I’ll die, and so will you… In the meantime, I’m going to do something outrageous!”

That line by Jenny June, the second of the three doomed Fail sisters, captures the spirit of this wonderful play by Philip Dawkins — told in a style reminiscent of Roald Dahl with maybe a bit of Neil Gaiman or Terry Gilliam.

We start with the deaths of Chicago clockmakers Henry and Marrietta Fail, and are informed that their three daughters will be dead as well within a year. They will pass in reverse order of their births — by blunt object, disappearance and consumption. With this knowledge in hand, we proceed with a surprisingly uplifting, whimsical and life-affirming story.

If it weren’t for the youthful faces, and the words “Carmel High School” on the program, one would swear this is a full-Equity professional production. The casting, delivery, movement, and performance — even when playing a carefree bird or ticking clock — are as flawless as the Fails’ timepieces and their daughters’ boundless optimism. If I were part of a Best of Fringe voting, this would be my nominee.

Cast standouts include Morgan Goodrich as tomboy swimming enthusiast Jenny June, Mady Phillips as beautiful younger sister Nellie, Allie Crawford as stoic older sister Gerty, Austin Audia as adopted brother John N., Ayden Stewart as Mortimer Mortimer, the young man who would love them all, and Jenna McNulty as a cheeky cuckoo and flighty parakeet.

The play carries a bit of philosophical heft, as well, with themes of time, and the river flowing into the nearby lake, as well as mortality. It also makes 1928, the last year the Twenties roared, feel like a magical time, or at least a moment — as the nation would discover — just before the magic runs out. But these elements work with the story rather than weigh it down.

Remaining performances are Friday and Saturday at the Firehouse union hall, third floor, 748 Mass Ave. Don’t let time run out on seeing this one.