Searching for something to believe in at ‘Prospect Hill’

By John Lyle Belden

What or who do you have faith in? What is it telling you? And are you truly listening?

These questions of faith and the angels among us come alive in “Prospect Hill,” a new play by Bruce Walsh, presented by Fat Turtle at the IndyFringe Theatre.

Jacob is a therapist badly in need of help, himself. His husband, Rex, a cancer survivor whose last round of chemo left a particularly frustrating side effect, obsesses with kitchen renovations to avoid their waning relationship. Jacob has given up alcohol, but finds addictive urges satisfied by the constant snacks and sodas brought by his young patient, Ethan, a driver for PepsiCo.

And it doesn’t help that Jacob has been in contact with his Mennonite father, who doesn’t approve of him being gay, let alone his relationship.

Ethan has his own problems: His girlfriend is expecting their child, but now wants nothing to do with him, in part due to his drug addiction. He wants to make more to help support the baby, so, hearing that Rex retired from his sales job in his 50s, asks him for “financial advice.” Relishing the challenge, Rex sees the young man as a potential protege. 

But when the inevitable conflicts occur, a sort of miracle happens. Could Ethan be the “third angel” in their relationship?

Directed by Fat Turtle Managing Director Aaron Cleveland, our well-chosen trio of actors bring out three vivid characters, each searching for meaning in his own way.

Zachariah Stonerock presents the stoic Jacob as a miserable mensch who has been worn down over time, so occupied with pleasing others he has no idea how to be happy, himself. Going through the motions, he simply repeats a mindfulness exercise he had just heard from Rex in his session with Ethan — to hilarious effect — almost accidentally making a sort of breakthrough.

Craig Kemp as Rex counters with energy and humor, masking a deep desperation. He needs to feel vital. not only in his loins (another comic point), but in his mind, as his salesman’s instincts are aroused by the prospect of “selling” Ethan to his old pharma company as a potential employee. Meanwhile, despite proclaiming his atheism, he is hooked on a “six-part series” on PBS on the world’s religions, finding inspiration in spite of himself.

As for 20-ish Ethan, Evren Wilder Elliott* excellently presents a character who seems at first so simple, yet has depths and aspects that even surprise him. “I am here because I am a prophet,” Ethan says — to be fair, it wasn’t his idea — which seems absurd, until it isn’t. The actor channeled the insecurity of playing their first “male” role to convincingly give us a grown boy full of bluster and desire to do right, yet lacking the personal discipline to pull it off. 

This locally-based script (Prospect Hill is a neighborhood in Bloomington) makes an excellent debut, a nice blend of human drama with laugh-out-loud moments. It’s still a work in progress, as the ending seemed a little muddled, hinting at more story to tell (perhaps a sequel play or trilogy could come of this?), but it raises some interesting points on faith, relationships, and what we seek to do with our lives.

Performances run through Nov. 24 at the IndyFringe Basile Theatre, 719 E. St. Clair, downtown Indianapolis. Get info at fatturtletheatre.com and tickets at www.indyfringe.org.

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*Trans actor formerly known as Ann Marie (A.M.) Elliott

IndyFringe: The Last Man

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

This sci-fi drama starts out strong, taking us down a path of eerie possibilities. 

Colin (Craig Kemp) runs into The Party Shop at a local mall, where the cheerful clerk, Delta (Caity Withers) hardly notices that his clothes are torn and he is stained with blood and grime. He insists on having some of the water and snacks from the shop, but, “Sorry sir, that’s for customers, only,” she smiles. So he says he wants to plan a party, Christmas in August, and he tells her a story of advances in Artificial Intelligence and Nanotechnology. And how in the 22nd century, out of nostalgia people built shopping malls that echoed the 20th century. And how there were AI “people” that were so convincing, not even they could recognize they weren’t human.

“That’s silly,” Delta says with a perfectly happy and helpful face.

Back in the 21st century, Erica (Alfton Shepard), a Professor of Advanced Nanotechnology, has recruited a couple of promising students, Charlie (Claire Shutters) and Bill (Manny Casillas) to help her with her next breakthrough. First, she is in need of emergency heart-valve surgery, and Dr. Toowan (Steve Jerk) assures her that the odds of failure are extremely low — but a phone message from the future is insisting she not go through with it, and that the fate of the world is at stake!

Local doctor and author L. Jan Eira panned this little thriller, which features some tech that is only a couple of breakthroughs away, and even temporal tinkering that acknowledges “time travel” has its limits. Hardcore sci-fi fans may recognize the plot beats, but it is kinda fun to play “spot the replicant.”

The acting is great, but this script really needed two full acts to explore its potential. The dynamite opening scene is followed by some good ones; then a rushed climax to a chunk of closing exposition. But it’s an interesting story nonetheless. Don’t let its weakness stop you; Fringe tickets are inexpensive, and you can say you saw it first when this story gets a bigger, better treatment — later in the 21st century.

Performances are today and Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday (Aug. 21-22 & 24-25), by the Indiana Firefighters Museum at 748 Massachusetts Ave.