Fonseca: Story of family stuck in ‘Mud’

By John Lyle Belden

The magic of live theatre is such that more than persons become characters in the drama. A house, for instance, can have a role, or even the concepts of time and culture.

This house on a street in the Mud Row area of West Chester, Penn., has a lot to say, through the people who occupy it. While the means to buy it was less than honorable, it sits firmly in the hands of a pair of sisters at a time when African Americans owning anything was an accomplishment. Each woman takes a different approach to improving their chances of future prosperity – Frances by joining the Civil Rights protests, and Elsie Mae by marrying her unborn child’s father, a member of the “Talented Tenth” – a designation for those meant to uplift fellow Blacks, but here, ironically, a form of elitism.

The daughters of Elsie’s girl, Regine and Toshi, today find themselves with a complex relationship to the old house, as gentrifying developers come around, money in hand, to turn it into a parking lot.

This is life on “Mud Row,” the play by Dominique Morisseau at Fonseca Theatre Company, directed by Josiah McCruiston.

Frances (Lakesha Lorene) and Elsie (Jacquelyn Owens) Jeter are each critical of the other’s intended actions, seeing confronting the police by one, and high society by the other, a fool’s errand — even dangerous. Still, they are family, bound by love and fierce pride. Lorene and Owens also imbue these women with unflagging optimism, foremothers to be honored alongside their ancestors. Their scenes cut in from time to time among modern moments, giving context and fleshing out the “character” of the home.

Regine (Aniqua ShaCole) is no longer a Jeter, having married Devin (Marcus Elliott), and glad to have gotten away from the Mud Row house to live in Philadelphia. However, Grandma Elsie’s Will gave it to her, which she only found out when notified of the cash offer from the developer. Now, the couple has returned, she to resolve difficult memories and he to get an appraisal for a higher price.

Having been abandoned for years, the home is eerily well kept. The reason, at least for the last few months, is a pair of squatters: Toshi (Anila Akua), who abandoned the family years ago for a life of crime and addiction, and her fellow recovering-addict boyfriend Tyriek (Brenton Anderson).

Morisseau’s funny-in-context humor gets quite a few laughs as each couple grouses about “who’s occupying MY house?” as well as the inevitable and mildly violent first encounter.

Akua gives an excellent portrait of a woman struggling with addict-brain, wanting to do good and feel she’s better than the streets, while part of her insists that’s where she belongs. She’s uncomfortable with trust, making her seem even more unreliable. Tyriek, bless his simple soul, has been thug so long he hardly knows any other way to act, though he desperately wants to strive for respectability. Anderson lets us see the flashes of street wisdom and noble eagerness that make him ultimately likable.

ShaCole and Elliott portray Regine as a woman gone bougie, while Devin always had been. Though likely a concept she only heard of in a college history class, she finally managed the family’s Talented Tenth dream, but felt resented by her grandmother for achieving it. Toshi, though, doesn’t remember things the same way.

McCruiston imbues this play with what he calls the spirit of “Sankofa,” a West African word meaning “to retrieve,” in this context to go back to a place and time to recover something important. Fonseca producing director Jordan Flores Schwartz notes she chose this play to begin a 2022 Season of Healing. These characters will need plenty of that.

To further give context to the play, McCruiston set up viewings of “West’s Neighborhood: A Black Woman’s View of the Suburbs” videos by Rachel West, an educator living in the Chicago area. One is shown pre-show, while the second is screened during intermission.  

To paraphrase an unrelated song, will they pave over the past to put up a parking lot? See “Mud Row” through March 20 at 2508 W. Michigan St., Indianapolis; tickets and information at fonsecatheatre.org.

Summit’s ‘Crew’ a bold workplace drama

By John Lyle Belden

You see the signs, and not just the unusual ones on the bulletin board. Management holds a lot of private meetings; rules start tightening up; workers leave and are not replaced; rumors circulate. The writing is on the wall, perhaps literally when notices go up: people are going to lose their jobs, and perhaps the entire workplace will soon close. 

What had been unthinkable in times of booming industry and union strength has become too common now. I went through a similar situation, perhaps you have, too. And in a recent era, this was the fate of Detroit auto workers in Dominique Morrisseau’s “Skeleton Crew,” the drama presented by Summit Performance at the Phoenix Theatre.

Faye (Dwandra Nickole Lampkin) is within months of 30 years at the plant. She is also: a proud UAW rep; a feisty cancer survivor who can’t – won’t – give up smoking; stubborn protector of her crew, especially Shanita (Akili Ni Mali) and Dez (Kerrington Shorter); practically a mother to the foreman, Reggie (Daniel A. Martin); wise and philosophical, always with something to say; eager to take your money in cards, but not always successful; and a multi-skilled worker who never seems to leave the factory. The fact that she is gay is honestly her least significant trait. 

Shanita is the best on the production line, proud of following her father and helping build something others will be proud to own. She doesn’t even let pregnancy slow her down. As for Dez, he’s got big plans, nice shoes and a gun in his bag. He talks smooth and means well, but the fire within him isn’t always under control. He and Reggie don’t get along, as they seem to assume the worst of each other. Then again, Reggie is right that Dez has been gambling on the premises. 

And as word swirls around that the plant is doomed, someone is quietly stealing from the plant – taking their severance one metal part at a time.

Needless to say, there is a lot of drama and tension as the uncertainty builds. But Morisseau has sprinkled in a healthy dose of workplace humor, and a bit of feeling among the members of this workplace family. It doesn’t take much digging nowadays for these skilled actors to bring the emotions – from concern to frustration – to the surface. Lampkin is a rock. Mali radiates confidence. Shorter gives substance to the angry-young-(black)man archetype. And Martin, known to many for his comic skills, again shows his true range.

Director Melissa Mowry strikes the right balance in the look and feel of the play. The stage (designed by Mejah Balams) is a plant break room, a temporary respite from the noise and stress just outside the back-wall door. Opaque windows show images of industry, and at transitional points in the story, silhouettes of cast members moving rhythmically – men as machines – choreographed by Mowry with the actors. It’s a brilliant visual element that sticks with you.

Powerful drama with strong performances, “Skeleton Crew” has two weekends remaining, through March 13 at the Phoenix, 705 N. Illinois St. For tickets, visit phoenixtheatre.org or go to summitperformanceindy.com.

Phoenix: ‘Love’ in an unusual place

By John Lyle Belden

True story: In the middle of the Pacific Ocean, an area bigger than many countries, there is a vast sea of human-generated garbage. Now, what if a solitary seabird called Nigel, who lived on a remote island off New Zealand (also true), instead occupied a tiny patch of land in those plastic-infested waters?

This sets the stage for “Love Bird,” a play by K.T. Peterson at the Phoenix Theatre. Note that I write “solitary” above rather than “lonely,” as in this fantasy, Nigel (portrayed by Scot Greenwell) constructed a couple of companions from the washed-up flotsam.

Elegant Saundra he adores, and wishes would return his affection. Nigel creates an extravagant nest, and even composes a song for her on his homemade instrument. But also, there’s easygoing Jessica, who likes to hang around in a nearby tree (a shrubbery, she corrects in his head). She’s the kind of friend who is easy to talk to.

“What a world we create for ourselves,” Nigel remarks, with no sense of irony.

He has a ring-pop secreted in a shell-covered box for his true love. The nearby pod of whales converse mainly with each other, so Nigel instead argues with some oncoming storm clouds. Suddenly, another flesh-and-blood seabird appears.

Norman (Bill Simmons) has different plumage, a gregarious personality, and likes to draw in the sand – mostly portraits of eggs. He comes bearing a gift of clothespins. He also seems to have been observing Nigel from afar, which is bothersome. 

Concerns are put aside, however, as Nigel sets up a wonderful dinner party for Norman, a double-date with Saundra and Jessica. Eventually, the storm butts in, and changes everything.

The portrayals of these birds (Nigel is a gannet, Norman is unspecified but resembles a brown boobie) are fascinating and highly entertaining. With the help of creative makeup, clownish clothing by Beck Jones, and movement to mimic creatures not used to walking everywhere, what we get is anthropomorphic but not human. Rather than seeing bird costumes revealing the personality within, we observe pure personalities with the hint of an avian exterior.

I wanted to love this play more than I did. There was much affection for Nigel among the audience, partly because Greenwell is just so darn adorable. In fact, it is the stellar talents of both him and Simmons – who provides contrast, tension, and eventually revelation – that elevate this performance above issues I had with the text. The human-relatable metaphors get muddled, as the characters make references both to being birds (“when I was a fledgling”) and being stuck in an office job with a “Karen.” And is it really that necessary for a bird to have a boat?

One obvious point in the play is the ubiquitousness of the garbage, from which Nigel makes his world,* and that Norman is tempted to eat. (This brings on one hilarious literal “gag.”) The fact that it goes without comment should perhaps be distressing to us, as our junk becomes “normal” to the creatures who live there. But in its colorful arrangement by set designer Kyle Ragsdale, and the way Nigel/Greenwell relishes its pieces, it comes across more quaint than invasive.

Directed by Jolene Mentink Moffatt, with the quirky weirdness you often get in plays like this (which has long been a hallmark of the Phoenix), this romantic comedy like no other might not be for everyone. But it is worth a look for its visuals and performances. At the core, it’s just a couple of bird-brains looking for companionship, and we can all relate to that.

One weekend of performances remain, through Feb. 20 on the mainstage at 705 N. Illinois St., downtown Indianapolis. Get info and tickets at PhoenixTheatre.org.

(*The trash was not a factor in the life of the real Nigel, as he lived on a relatively clean island with concrete gannets placed by researchers to attract the birds. Poor Nigel was the only taker, making him Internet-famous. The lone but not lonely bird passed away in February 2018, next to his concrete “mate.” Other live gannets have since taken his place on Mana Island, two miles north of New Zealand. [Source: Washington Post])  

IndyFringe: Being Black: The Play – The Life

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 show begins with a young lawyer being called by his buddy to go downtown to protest the George Floyd killing. He’s about to go but his psychiatrist wife begs him not to. He’s got kids and responsibilites and while ten or twenty years ago they would have been leading the charge, they need to work for change in a different way.

We shift to a woman landing her dream job because her qualifications were beyond belief, her test scores were off the charts and everyone loved her at the interviews. As she begins filling out her hiring package she is then told that the comapany wants her to change her hairstyle to something less “ethnic”. We she balks she is notified that this is a non-negotiable requirement.

Now the smooth talking DJ on WBLK is playing love songs when he gets a call from his baby sister. She things his soul is in danger because he plays secular music on the radio. He tries to defend his choices by illustrating that Jesus was preaching love throughout the bible but she refuses to hear him. Later he is almost arrested at a coffee shop for refusing to give up his seat to a white customer (even though they are the only ones in the shop).

Mike, our lawyer’s buddy from before, ends up shot during the protest because he tried to hit on a girl and she went crazy and started a riot. He bemoans that fact that during his two tours of duty, he never felt so threatened and scared as he did that night. It was like the military declared war on blacks using the same tanks and guns he used to defend the country.

My words here will never convey any of the powerful messages delivered in this show. Your emotions will range from anger, sorrow, horror, laughter and hopefullness. This world needs to change because these stories are far too typical of a day in the life of a black person in America.

Hear their voices, watch their truth and join the fight for real change in our country. “Being Black,” by Vernon A. Williams, is presented by OnyxFest at the IndyFringe Theatre, featuring Grant Berry, Monica Cantrell, Tommy Gray, Ms. Latrice, Deserae Kay, Ricky Kortez, Rav’n Partee, and Leonard Harris.

IndyFringe: Climate Follies

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

“Climate Follies” is a fast-paced revue of about a dozen skits and scenes getting silly and absurd about a very serious topic – our global climate crisis.

At ClimateFollies.com, it is noted that this show, by local playwright and former NUVO editor Jim Poyser, is a work in progress. So expect anything, and perhaps go back to a later performance to see what updates are made.

The madness starts from when you enter the room at the Murat Oasis, ushered to your seat by constantly noisy (upcycled prop) leaf-blowers. The cast of Jaddy Ciucci, Kerrigan Howard, Beverly Roche, Dena Toler, and Anabel Watson – with understudy Maddie Davies, stage manager Kieran Shay, and director Raphael Schwartzman – present everything from heavy-handed metaphors (Captain: “There’s a hole in the [ship’s] hull!” Tourists: “Fearmonger!”) to the sublime but icky requiem for a “me”-gan, who takes reducing his carbon footprint to the extreme. The players mostly keep their masks on, which aside from being Covid-compliant, help to keep the focus more on what’s being said than who’s saying it.

Not everything seemed to work – I don’t really get the point of the “Happy Trail” puppet bit – but these folks are trying their best. We’ve known about all these climate problems for years; worldwide events have been dropping reminders (and glaciers); what more do these activist actors have to do? Pound it into your head with a baseball bat?

Oh, and there’s a bit called “Baseball Bat.” It’s audience participation.

If you like issue-driven Fringe shows, this should already be on your list. Bring a friend.

Diamond’s rough drama gets Monument-al treatment

By John Lyle Belden

Two academics, an actor, and a doctor walk onto a stage.

Thus begins the drama “Smart People” by Lydia R. Diamond, presented by Monument Theatre Company at the Fonseca Theatre Company’s Basile Theatre. We are introduced to our four characters each finding themselves in frustrating circumstances: tenure-track Harvard professor Brian White (Maverick Schmidt) berates his students for not getting the gist of what he sees as obvious conclusions; psychology prof Ginny Yang (Kim Egan) tries to present her research findings, interrupted by trivial questions; aspiring actor Valerie Johnston (Barbara Michelle Dabney) struggles to apply her MFA-informed approach to a Shakespeare role while the director gives her inconsistent, illogical instructions; and Dr. Jackson Moore (Jamaal McCray) answers to an administrator berating him for taking life-saving initiative with a patient over his supervisor’s instructions. Ever feel like people just don’t get what you are trying to say?

Over the course of these two long acts, their four lives somehow weave together (how small was Cambridge, Mass., in 2008?), leading up to a borderline-intervention dinner with the whole cast late in the play. While each person’s niggling frustration continues through the plot, the big controversy is in White’s research, in which he publicly presents that he has biologically quantified “white privilege” (Diamond abandoned subtlety; the professor’s name is only Exhibit A).

The play has a lot to say, and says it, as things progress mainly because that’s how Diamond wrote them, which means I have to give a lot of credit to this foursome in giving their individual characters dimension and some degree of credible life.

It’s an interesting comedy that includes jokes the characters themselves point out aren’t funny. Yet there are some bits of humor, mostly in the same vein as Avenue Q’s “Everyone’s A Little Bit Racist” (but without the singing). Mainly we get a series of interesting scenes with thought-provoking points. For instance, White’s rants point out well-meaning white liberals’ self-imposed blindness to their passive racism. But flaws in the research, such as the near-impossible task of defining a singular “white” culture to have this inborn bigotry, get brushed aside. Non-whites other than African-Americans get token mention. In one moment, Yang counsels an off-stage Japanese-American woman who identifies as white – apparently the psychologist’s insistence in this unseen person embracing an Asian identity eventually leads to a suicide attempt, but this plot thread leads nowhere.

One can tell that this play looked awesome in the scripts given to the cast and director Rayanna Bibbs. There’s so much “meat” to chew on as an actor, a wide range of emotions, controversial moments to make your audience do a “wait-what?!” And it all caps off with the then-improbable election of Barack Obama (not a big spoiler). For those reading this who really dig such drama exercises, and the big-issue conversations you’ll have on the way home, “Smart People” could be a smart choice. Even better, Monument is doing a pay-what-you-can season.

So, whether you want to give a donation for the company’s artistic efforts, or you are just a fellow starving artist who can only give what’s in your pockets at the moment, make your reservation at monumenttheatrecompany.org. The play runs through Aug. 15. Find the stage at 2508 W. Michigan, indoors (box office staff are masked).

Even when history is changed, have we?

By John Lyle Belden

From time to time, we all consider what the world would be like if certain historical events didn’t happen – or if others did. These kinds of thought experiments take on a particular point of view in “Apologies to Lorraine Hansberry (You too, August Wilson),” by Rachel Lynett, presented live in the space behind Fonseca Theatre, directed by Jamaal McCray.

“This exists in the mind of every person of color,” says Lynett through a cast member. Welcome to Bronx Bay, an all-Black state created after the just-completed Second Civil War. We who are White, Latinx, etc., are granted a brief stay to see how the story before us plays out.

Alice (Chandra Lynch) is a struggling restauranteur – the problem being that since she is a quarter Asian, she’s attempting a “Korean fusion” eatery. Her husband Lorenzo (Chinyelu Mwaafrika) is supportive, though privately believes tofu has no place in gumbo. Their close friend Jules (Latrice Young) has a new partner, Yael (Aniqua Sha’Cole), recently approved to live in Bronx Bay. We also meet their freind Izaak (Josiah McCruiston).

Everyone on the stage looks like they belong there, but a stunning revelation threatens friendships, relationships and the tranquility of this new utopia. “People died to make these rules,” Alice reminds the others. But does that make what is happening right?

In the second act, we find ourselves in another imagining of Bronx Bay, a place for families like couples Alice and Jules, and Lorenzo and Izaak. So, how does Yael fit in?

The thesis statement of this absurd drama is literally written on the set pieces: “Blackness Iz Not A Monolith.” The “apologies” of the title allude to the tendency to see a playwright’s telling of a Black experience as “the” Black experience. The five persons we see before us are actually speaking Lynett’s words; so, being Black is the perspective of a young queer African-Latinx woman from California who lives in Arkansas?

To the credit of the writer, as well as McCray and the cast, rather than being confusing – even when going totally meta – this darkly comic journey is entertaining and thought-provoking. There’s even an alternative-history game show.

Scenic Designer Bernie Killian provides an interesting stage for an immersive “in the round” experience. Seating is properly spaced around the stage, however, there is no tent or awning so sunscreen and/or hats are recommended, especially during afternoon performances.

One weekend remains of this World Premiere production, May 28-30, at Fonseca Theatre, 2508 W. Michigan, west of downtown Indianapolis. Tickets and information at fonsecatheatre.org.

Past pain reflects present in IRT drama

By John Lyle Belden

The drama “No. 6,” presented by Indiana Repertory Theatre, is set in an early-21st-century American city where a white police officer has killed a black man, and violent responses to apparent injustice ensue.

Doesn’t narrow it down much, does it?

That’s the problem, and that’s why the IRT chose this play by T.J. Young, inspired by this repeating narrative, centered on the April 2001 riots in Cincinnati. A fully-produced stage performance, directed by Dwandra Nickole Lampkin, was captured by public television station WFYI and is available to stream at irtlive.com through April 4.

The steady progress of unrest has finally reached the storefront of the Anderson family’s laundry/cleaners, while proprietor Ella (Milicent Wright), with teen twins Felix (Jamaal McCray) and Felicia (LaKesha Lorene), shelter in the upstairs apartment. Felicia, who is on the autistic spectrum, dwells on her dinosaur obsession while Felix is out on the streets, scavenging for food from what past looters left behind. But he comes back with more than Spam – dragging in an unconscious white man.

Our mysterious houseguest (Michael Stewart Allen) has booze on his breath and a gun in his backpack, but as the others discover who he is, they find themselves in the very heart of the city’s issues.

Wright is a rock, as always, the mother-hen and conscience of this play. She has reasons behind her righteousness and shows real pain with her perspective that makes her feel genuine, not just a means to the drama’s message. McCray plays an emotional, impulsive idealist – like a teenager – but also reflecting the open spirit of his martyred father. Lorene gives a sensitive, endearing portrayal of an unconventional genius who has an uncanny grasp of the big picture at work here – big, as in global.

Allen hits all the emotional buttons as a man finding himself in a sort of Purgatory, never completely likable nor hateable. He is forced to deal with the perspective of those not like himself, while we must also acknowledge his. Still, what can one do when he is literally part of the problem?

“People across the globe take to streets and cry, ‘Never again!’” Young says in his program note. “And then it happens again. And again. And again.”

This play is important because it continues the much-needed conversation – but also see it because it is gripping drama with solid human performances, punctuated by sound (credit Matthew Tibbs) and light (Xavier Pierce) that makes the danger feel real and immediate, even in an otherwise comforting home (scene: Rob Koharchik). Support local professional theatre, and boot it up on the big screen.

Hard lessons continue at Fonseca Theatre

By John Lyle Belden

The setting of the play “Hooded, or Being Black for Dummies,” by acclaimed playwright Tearrance Arvelle Chisholm, is “Today.” Says so right there in the program. So this examination of our understanding of race in early 21st Century America is taking place in 2020. Just add masks on all the characters – sadly, no need to change any of the story.

Fonseca Theatre Company brings back this drama from its first season (I wrote about it then, too), again directed by Ben Rose, in the wake of the real-world drama of this tumultuous summer. Rose noted that actor preparation took on a more serious tone this time, and he was grateful to also have Chinyelu Mwaafrika and Joshua Short return to star.

Marquis (Mwaafrika), a suburban teen from posh (mythical) Achievement Heights, outside Baltimore, has gotten caught up in the latest online challenge and is in a police holding cell for trespassing. His cellmate, Tru (Short), fits the conventional African-American stereotype, and is amazed that Marquis doesn’t. Eventually, Marquis’ adoptive limousine-liberal mom Deb (Megan Ann Jacobs) arrives to spring them from the clutches of Officer Borzoi (Keegan Jones). Tru then gets to experience Marquis’s world, with his nice home and all-white classmates at Achievement Preparatory Academy: jocks Hunter (Joseph Mervis) and Fielder (Maverick Schmidt), and top girls’ clique led by Meadow (Vicki Turner) with Prairie (Jacobs) and Clementine (Sarah Ault).

Seeing Marquis as “too White,” Tru fills a notebook with “Being Black for Dummies” in the hope of connecting him with his racial heritage. But the book falls into the wrong hands, with tragic results.

Meanwhile, Marquis dreams of visits by ancient gods – fair-skinned Dionysus (Schmidt), who wants him to take the easy life; and dark-skinned Apollo (Jones), who whispers to him a dark secret.

This show is spiced with a surprising amount of humor, and the production does include a “laugh light” to let you know when it’s safe to react without being racist. However, there are a lot of hard questions and uncomfortable discussions. Also, the characters make an embarrassing number of assumptions, including the fateful conclusions drawn by school Headmaster Burns (Mervis) that sound a lot like your “I’m not a racist, but…” friend when telling you the “truth” about a Black victim of a shooting. Thus does this fictional story connect solidly with our real world; Chisholm’s characters are each simultaneously flesh-and-blood and living metaphor. You know this person; you’ve met this person; you’ve seen this person on the news; you are this person.

The cast do a great job of communicating all this to us through their cloth masks, and with the intimate (yet with seating properly distanced) stage in the backyard of the FTC building, we even hear clearly when the mic-packs sputter. This was an important and enlightening drama already, and today it feels more vital to make the effort to experience. Fonseca staff even have nice masks available for a donation.

All performances are 8 p.m., continuing Saturday, Sunday (Aug. 22-23), and Thursday through Sunday, Aug. 27-30, at 2508 W. Michigan, Indianapolis. Details and tickets at fonsecatheatre.org.

Fonseca returns with reflection of our ongoing racial struggle

By John Lyle Belden

Current and recent events compelled Fonseca Theatre Company to stage “Hype Man: A Break Beat Play” as its first production while live theatre starts to return to central Indiana. But more telling of the persistent seriousness of its issues is that this drama by Idris Goodwin was written over two years ago.

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From left, Aaron “Gritty” Grinter, Grant Byrne, and Paige Neely in the Fonseca Theatre Company production of “Hype Man: A Break Beat Play”

In a large, racially diverse, American city, in a time not long before 2020, up-and-coming white rapper Pinnacle and his Black hype man Verb wait on the creator of their beats, Peep One, to arrive at the studio so they can rehearse for their appearance on the Tonight Show. She enters, telling them she was delayed by traffic around a police chase. Minutes later, social media alerts give the full story: An unarmed black teen was killed, shot 18 times by cops while attempting to surrender.

The show must go on, as Pinnacle is focused on his national TV debut and upcoming tour, but as his hip-hop hit, “The Boy Shine,” gets its ovation, Verb makes a gesture for racial justice that throws their lives into chaos.

Local recording artist Grant Byrne plays Pinnacle, “born between a rock and a Glock,” blind to the fact that despite the disrespect he gets from uptown whites, his fair skin gives him a veil of privilege – and as a member of the hip-hop community, responsibility. Byrne manages to keep him likable, but driven and too focused on his “brand,” needing to learn to get out of his own ego and his fear of getting bogged down by serious issues like injustice. Still, his stage style is tight, as, with a wry smile, he spins Goodwin’s rhymes like they’re his own.

Local entertainer and the show’s music director Aaron “Gritty” Grinter is Verb, Pinnacle’s childhood best friend and long-time collaborator. The most complex character, his TV moment was to be a personal comeback, after past (unspecified) incidents had him in court-ordered therapy. The young man’s shooting affects him deeply, “I was that kid so many times!” Grinter is well-suited to the role, a natural motivator channeling the fire awakened within the Hype Man.

Indy native Paige Neely is Peep One, who tries to walk the middle path between the others’ bold personalities. Having been adopted by an apparently middle-class family (likely white), she doesn’t deny her blackness but identifies mostly as a woman in hip-hop, which is struggle enough. She understands Pinnacle’s fixation on the business of showbiz, but knows what Verb wants to accomplish is even more vital. Neely makes her more three-dimensional than the script seems to suggest, ably going from referee to friend, to a girl with her own mind and dreams, as the story demands.

This play is the directing debut of Daniel A. Martin, who is experienced with more comic fare, but as (among other things) an improv artist, does well with a trio in a very collaborative, sharing environment. The drama feels as real as the latest TV and online news, and though the death described is fictional, it has occurred in one form or another numerous times (including here in Indianapolis). The play doesn’t exploit, make light of, or preach on the issues, but helps to continue our local and national conversation.

In consideration of the ever-present health issues, FTC producing directors Bryan Fonseca and Jordan Flores Schwartz, and company staff, are taking the Covid-19 threat seriously. The stage (excellently designed by Daniel Uhde) is outdoors, behind the Basile Building, 2508 W. Michigan St., with plenty of parking at the adjacent park. There is appropriately-spaced seating, hand sanitizer handy, and all (except for actors while acting) are required to wear face masks (this was policy before the Mayor made it mandatory countywide). Local artist Kathryn Rodenbach made and donated some nice cloth masks, which can be picked up for a donation of whatever you want to give.

“Hype Man” runs through July 26. Get details and tickets at fonsecatheatre.org. To delve deeper into the issues of the play, Fonseca added this page as well.