Bard Fest cast brave Albee classic

By Wendy Carson

Let me begin by saying the old adage is true: Nothing good happens after 2 a.m.

This is the precise hour in which our tale begins. George (Tony Armstrong) and Martha (Nan Macy) have arrived home from one of her father’s numerous parties just in time to continue the “festivities” by initiating the new professor into the way of life at their provincial college. Since Martha’s father is the President (and ersatz owner) of this establishment, Nick (Matthew Walls) and his wife Honey (Afton Shepard) feel compelled to attend.

What begins as two couples sharing cocktails quickly escalates into a verbal brawl in which no one is safe. At first, Nick and Honey gape in shock as the barbs fly back and forth. but as time passes and alcohol is consumed, their own skeletons explode out of the closet for all to see.

Edward Albee’s classic play, “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” shows the author’s mastery of language and its power. Martha’s tongue is a lethal weapon, which no man, save perhaps George, can survive. However, George can hold his own in this melee.

Watching Martha and George go at each other is akin to seeing different beasts battle for dominance, the saddest thing is that they honestly do love each other, in their own way. Macy is a black belt at this sort of verbal karate, complete with Martha’s sharp tools of wit and psychological warfare. Armstrong presents George as the weathered stone taking on wave after wave of abuse, but with the eerie calm of one who has little left to lose, and one more devastating ace to play.

Walls brings his own cockiness, in which Nick manages for two of the drama’s three acts to feel that he will come out of this skirmish unscathed, and perhaps ready to exploit what he’s heard. But too late he finds he’s way too Kansas for these Ivy League-level head games. Shepard manages a lot with her character, an easy foil for Albee’s humor who, with the help of lots of brandy, devolves from a waif lost in the playground to a girl lost in the woods.

For those unfamiliar with the play, or the Oscar-winning Elizabeth Taylor film, note this production, directed by Matthew Socey, is a wild ride, an emotional roller coaster with no brakes, so engaging you may not notice it runs three hours. No story told or alluded to is without importance (except one bit in the first scene, more on that later) and only at the end do we get a full view of the field of play. However, while the show is very intense, it can be amusing to notice how often various couples in the audience knowingly look at each other after some of the exchanges.

Oh, and to save you a minute or two of Googling during the first intermission, the answer to Martha’s question is, “Beyond the Forest.”

Presented by Indy Bard Fest as part of its Prestige Project of great stage plays not written by Mr. Shakespeare, performances continue Thursday through Sunday, Oct. 14-17, at The Cat theatre 254 Veterans Way in downtown Carmel (note there are some construction street closures, but it’s possible to reach the building). Get info and tickets at indybardfest.com.

IRT: Join the ‘Club’

By Wendy Carson

Book clubs are meant to be a gathering place where friends, both new and old, can commune together over literature – but are they, really? Many devolve into socially-acceptable drinking parties in which wine and gossip are far more important than some silly book.

Ana (Andrea San Miguel) is determined to have her Book Club – begun prior to Oprah’s, she notes – to be the gold standard to which all others should be measured. In fact, her group has been selected by a notable Dutch documentary director to be the subject of his newest work, captured by an all-seeing-eye camera installed in their living room.

This is “The Book Club Play,” by Karen Zacarias, directed by Benjamin Hanna and playing on the main stage at the Indiana Repertory Theatre, its first production before live audiences in over a year.

Ana’s group is comprised of her best friend, club co-creator Will (Will Mobley); faithful gal-pal Jen (Emily Berman); oh-so-perfect husband Rob (Sean Davis); and new (black) co-worker Lily (Cassia Thompson).

Will and Ana are literary elitists who insist that even though book choices rotate, they MUST be considered classic literature. Jen is doing her best to just get each book read (and find her keys), while Rob is only here because it’s at his house and he likes the snacks.

Lily appears to be the only member who is actually participating and gaining something from the group. Therefore, it’s no surprise that she disrupts the dynamic by not only choosing a recently popular novel as her selection, but also by inviting her neighbor Alex (Adam Poss) to the group.

Each of our actors also play short cameos of other people interviewed in the documetary.

Davis is spectacular as the jock husband who gains amazing insight into his being when he actually reads one of the books they choose. Berman plays Jen’s socially awkward bestie perfectly, embodying the comic timing of the role. Mobley does an excellent job of keeping the neurosis of his character in check with the desperate need for validation to bring out the empathy within. San Miguel brings Ana to life as controlling and haughty, while keeping her vulnerable. Thompson’s subtle turn at Lily keeps her part of the action without overtly betraying her role as instigator of the drama that unfolds. Poss is brilliant as the agent provocateur, questioning the club’s motives, choices, and inherent prejudices (both literary and social).

Aside from brilliant comedy, with moments of slapstick, this production is impressive for the simple yet elegant living room set coming alive between scenes with the words of various books projected on the walls, the work of scenic designer Junghyun Georgia Lee.

While a quote from the show describes it as “Lord of the Flies with Wine and Dip,” I think it’s better described as “A coed version of The Talk that you’d actually want to watch.” Oh, and please don’t exit the theater quickly as there is one final joke at the end of the credits.

Performances run through Oct. 31 at the IRT, 140 W. Washington in downtown Indianapolis. Get info and tickets at irtlive.com.

Comedy classic comes to Epilogue

By Wendy Carson

Epilogue Players presents the popular comedy, “Arsenic and Old Lace,” by Joseph Kesselring, directed by Brent Wooldridge.

If you have not seen the amazing 1944 Frank Capra film of this show, starring Cary Grant, we are doing our level best to keep as many plot spoilers out of this review as we can. Also, find it and watch it now! It is a true classic and you will be better for seeing it. However, don’t you dare let that deter you from seeing this delightful version of the darkly hilarious show.

Our story is set in 1941 Brooklyn at the home of Abby (Serita Borgeas) and Martha (Hazel Gillaspy) Brewster, two darling older women who think of nothing more than bringing joy to all of those around them in any way possible. They share their home with their dear nephew Teddy (Scott Prill) who is convinced he is Teddy Roosevelt.

While their nephew Mortimer (Jaime Johnson) is a big-time theater reviewer living in downtown New York, he frequently visits his Aunts because he is dating Elaine Harper (Caity Withers), the daughter of their neighbor Reverend Dr. Harper (Ron Pittman).

Since Teddy’s affinity for blowing his bugle at all hours is a bother to their other neighbors, there are regular visitations by an assortment of policemen throughout the show. This presence makes for great tension when their villainous third nephew, Jonathan (Daniel Scott Watson) shows up with his hesitant partner Dr. Einstein (Mike Harold).

And apparently there are bodies, lots of them. Mortimer is faced with a dilemma, with the best resolution being Happydale Sanitarium. With lots of farcical ins and outs, misunderstandings and plot twists, and a fair amount of physical humor, we find entertaining insanity running through this fun production, “It practically gallops!”

The remaining dates are today (Thursday) through Sunday, Sept. 23-26, at 1849 N. Alabama St. (on the corner). Get info and tickets at epilogueplayers.com.

Story of doomed campaign a winner for Storefront

By Wendy Carson and John Lyle Belden

Storefront Theatre of Indianapolis presents its first live production in exactly two years, the comic drama “1980 (Or, why I’m voting for John Anderson),” by Patricia Cotter, directed by Ronan Marra.

As you would surmise from the title, the year is 1980 and Kathleen (Carly Wagers) is a wide-eyed innocent come to make a difference, and earn some college credit, by working for John Anderson’s presidential campaign in Boston. At 19, she has led a sheltered life and is about to have her preconceptions – about life, politics, even herself – shattered.

Brenda (Bridget Haight), the campaign office manager (when she’s not tending bar next door), tries to teach her to face her fears and follow her passions but actually shows her how messy a blue-collar worker’s life can get when one tries to do just that.

Will (Jamaal McCray), who recently arrived from the campaign’s Chicago office, makes her aware of the racism inherent even in a city historically known as the cradle of liberty. His experiences echo incidents that we are currently facing. He also gives Kathleen a glimpse into office politics, not just the kind that involves elections.

Robin (Chelsea Anderson), however, is like the professor emeritus of the group, a blue-blood who has not only worked on past campaigns, but also knows various politicians from social events. Her jaded world outlook, psychological manipulation (masking her own mental issues), and pure ambitious nature are a force beyond anything Kathleen has ever experienced.

Also part of this play are two faces only seen on a TV that was crappy by that era’s standards. One is John B. Anderson (you need to include the middle initial when Googling, or the unrelated country music star comes up first), a moderate Republican from Illinois serving in the U.S. House of Representatives. He was highly intelligent, capable, and popular among fellow lawmakers, but in the 1980 Presidential primaries was quickly overshadowed by eventual nominee (and President) Ronald Reagan – the other face we see on the screen. Anderson managed the near-impossible feat of running as an Independent, getting on the ballot in every state. Still, even in badly-tinted color, Reagan’s charisma shined through to the voters.

Musing on Anderson’s long-shot chances, Brenda says, “If he can win, what’s that say about the rest of us?” In rock-solid performances, all four of our characters confront questions of what it means to “win,” and what is worth the risk. Also, reflecting what’s sometimes called politics’ “silly season,” this show is leavened with plenty of laugh-out-loud humor.

We know how the story turns out for the men on the TV debate stage (even Anderson, who passed away in 2017 after a long career in politics and public service). But this play focuses on the ones, like us, watching it all unfold, doing our small part – how does our “campaign” turn out? That’s what’s important, no matter what year it is.

Storefront Theatre is at 717 Broad Ripple Ave., Indianapolis. Performances of “1980” run though Oct. 3. Get info and tickets at storefrontindy.com.

Hilarious ‘Gentleman’s Guide’ at Footlite

By John Lyle Belden

As Monty Navarro discovers he is related to the noble D’ysquith family, we become fully aware of two things: first, that him having eight people between himself and the wealth and position of being an Earl means we have the idea behind at least half of the title, “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder;” and secondly, that we are in for quite the old English style farce with its skewering of Edwardian-era class structure and manners, as well as other kinds of violence happening to numerous D’ysquiths, all played by the same game actor.

This Broadway hit by Robert L. Freedman and Steven Lutvak, on stage at Footlite Musicals, stars handsome devil Troy Bridges as Monty. He is our narrator (this play is his confession) and exudes enough charm to somehow seem the story’s hero – especially considering how boorish and slimy that Daniel Draves portrays each D’ysquith whom our aspiring gentleman has to dispatch.

As for the “love,” Ellen Vander Missen plays Sibella, with whom Monty is smitten, with an interesting mix of sweet and shallow. A girl can’t marry below her station, after all, but who she loves is her business. However, during his ascent, Monty encounters D’ysquith cousin Phoebe (not directly in the succession line, thank goodness) who is a very good girl, and good to marry. Sydney Norwalk plays this role with the right degree of grace – a bit naive, but never the fool.

Our other notable role is the mysterious Miss Shingle, ably portrayed by Claire Slaven. Other parts (aside from nearly half the cast in Draves’s award-worthy effort) are filled by Heather Hansen, Leigh Query, Kelsey McDaniel, Matthew Blandford, Josh Vander Missen, and Footlite favorite Jerry Beasley.

Director Kayvon Emtiaz conducts this macabre mix of music and mayhem as effectively as Jill Stewart leads the orchestra. Each comic beat hits to hilarious effect, making for a surprisingly upbeat dark comedy complete with jaunty tunes like, “I’ve Decided to Marry You,” and “Why Are All the D’ysquiths Dying?”

Avoid all the death and mayhem of the real world at the entertaining mayhem of “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder,” running through Oct. 3 at 1847 N. Alabama in downtown Indy. Get tickets and info at footlite.org.

IndyFringe: Shopping Network!

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

Whether it’s the middle of the afternoon and the middle of the night, we can turn on our TV friends with big smiles, big hair, and eager voices, recommending us the most wonderful things to buy for only three low payments of $29.99 (plus shipping and handling).

It’s “Shopping Network!” presented by Betty Rage Productions at the District Theater. Celebrating the network’s 20th Anniversary, in memory of founder Q.V. Coolidge and his wife, their adult children, Ross and MarySueBeth (Kait Burch and Brandon Russell) host a special sale — which must generate a million dollars or the net goes under — with the help of producer Ellen (director Callie Burk-Hartz) and stagehand L. N. (Audrey Stonerock). 

Wouldn’t you love the Gregorian Calendar Birthstone Necklace, or a selection of American Hero Plates with faces with notables including Dale Earnhardt Jr. (just don’t eat off them, OK)? The lady calling in from Bismarck, North Dakota, will take twenty. 

Burch and Russell have excellent chemistry, even when sparks fly between the siblings. And the overall atmosphere is over-the-top fun. Even technical glitches (which hopefully won’t happen again, and Callie might not forgive me bringing them up) worked into the frantic seat-of-pants nature of this production.  

The audience for this show is also the Studio Audience for the Show, responding to cue cards to applaud, or say “WOW!” 

And you’ll want to cheer for their special guest, the hosts’ aunt, Jennifer Coolidge (Kelsey Van Voorst doing a spot-on impression of the comic actress as one of the New-Agey Hollywood celebrities often spotted on shopping shows). The highlight is the Jennifer Coolidge Candle, with which our star says “I can smell colors,” that lucky audience members get to take home.

This could be the last time you see Ross and MarySueBeth on screen (the big one projected at the back of the theater), so have your credit card ready (for Fringe tickets, I mean).

IndyFringe: Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind

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

The title of the show was never said in the 24 tiny plays presented by the University of Indianapolis Theatre at the Murat Oasis. To be more accurate, it’s: “Too Much Time Makes the Audience Get Cookies.”

The series, “neo-futurist plays” by Greg Allen performed by UIndy students Refik Dogruyol, Nick French, Kyle Jeanor, Kielynn Tally and Kelli Thomas, is represented by cards numbered 1-24 at the back of the stage. The audience chooses the order, so the show is different every time.

The topic and form of each vary widely, from funny to absurd to introspective to disturbing to deadly serious. There’s also a bit of audience participation within the action. And remember, Play 23 does not exist.

It’s easy to see how this was one of the hottest tickets the last time it was at the Fringe. Add to this the fact it’s hard to get this many scenes done in 48 minutes (an average of 2 minutes per play). The performance we saw clocked in at 51 minutes — and we did get cookies!

IndyFringe: Win, Lose, or Die!

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

By Wendy Carson

The ComedySportz Indianapolis team is back with another hilarious show for all ages. In this “Comedy Cage Match” of sorts, six performers play various improv games in order to be the last one standing, and win the big prize.

While the roster of players is mostly the same, there are occasional substitutions, and with audience feedback fueling their efforts, the show is always unique.

Contestants enter with “Survivor”-like introductions and each carries an envelope with a particular game inside.

Leading the mayhem is Ed Trout as game master Phineas Pheabody. He oversees the competition and counts the audience votes to determine who will be given immunity from elimination. Eliminations are totally random, as they are determined by a roll of the dice from an audience member.

So take an hour out of your schedule and check out this zany competition, held in the District Theater. Regardless of who is named champion, the viewers are the true winners.

IndyFringe: Act A Foo Improv Crew

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

Put simply, Act A Foo Improv Crew is “Who’s Line” hilarity with Hip-Hop swagger. For several years, these young men have been spinning improvisational games around Indy, and they just keep getting better.

And don’t think these gentlemen won’t “go there.” When a suggested person, place or thing courts controversy, emcee Daniel A. Martin gives an “oh, well” grin and the Crew makes it funny. So, I’d say the content is for teens who have seen R-rated movies, and older.

Still, it gets far more silly than dirty. The performance I witnessed had a spot-on Edward Scissorhands, an entertaining mime of Build-a-Bear, and a mangled charade of Red Lobster restaurant that more resembled SpongeBob Squarepants. There was also a trio of Denzel Washingons trying to out-”Training Day” one another. In other words, just another day for AAF.

So bring your best suggestions — or your worst, they can work with it — to the IndyFringe Theatre and be ready to roll out of your seat laughing

IndyFringe: A Dry Rose’ – A Lesbian Love Story or Something Very Similar

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

By Wendy Carson

A frustrated author and her best friend decide to go out for a drink (it’s 80’s night after all) and launch themselves into a journey of seeking love in this era versus the era they grew up in.

Since there are not any “Plain Old Lesbian Bars” anymore (their former “homo away from home”), they end up at Swipe Right, a place for internet dating matches to meet up in person. This leads to a hilarious game about who is with whom and whether they will last past this evening (you’ll be playing this yourselves the next time you’re at a bar, trust me).

Add to this the intrigue of a cute new neighbor in the author’s building as well as their new bartender friend and you’ve got a sweet little story unfolding.

What makes this show really work is the brilliance of the script. The dialogue is sharp, realistic and witty (it’s got great wits).

This show by Missy Koonce (last seen at Diva Fest) is pleasantly funny and uplifting, so pour yourself a glass of rose (I hear it’s making a comeback) and settle in for a whirlwind of romantic comedy. You’ll have to wait for tomorrow (Aug. 29) for a taste, but a good wine ages well.