IndyFringe: Is Your Brain Still Cooking?

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

How much do you remember from your “good old days”? As people grow older, being able to retain memory is vital — and now it can win valuable prizes!

In this game show, presented by a local channel that has given up on appealing to the younger demographics, a going-nowhere actor (played by Jim Banta) is host to the titular contest, which features contestants Edmund (Dan Flahive), a retiree who keeps conversational topics on Post-it notes attached to his jacket; and Ruby Flo (Case Jacobus), a silver sinner whose hobby is being a blue-hair in blue films. She makes the most of her character’s license to say outrageous things, providing some of the biggest laughs of the show, ever frustrating the show’s producer (MaryAnne Mathews).

This is the latest by frequent IndyFringe contributor and retired Evansville journalist Garret Mathews. It is not one of his stronger scripts — at times things felt in disarray, testing Banta’s improv skills. Flahive being a talented and patient soul helps keep things anchored in his own way. Thus, this comedy is a fine example of Fringe’s function to test new material and aid the development process. Weaknesses are more than compensated by the air of nostalgia, as our contestants reach back through time and memory to tell of past places visited, things done and people loved. 

Don’t expect Tony material, but feel free to laugh, and remember — and consider for yourself: “Is Your Brain Still Cooking?” Performances are 3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday at the District Theatre Cabaret (formerly TOTS), 627 Massachusetts Ave.

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Fat Turtle @ the Fort: Go see ‘Joan’

By John Lyle Belden

Something precious has been stuck in a house for a long time.

Joan Wright was once an “author, traveler and businesswoman,” but in the three years since her husband died she has just been Joanie, a lonely woman spending her days in a bathrobe, knitting and watching the world out her back window.

But changes are coming. Her adult daughters are planning to move halfway across the country, and suddenly an old friend is in her living room, inviting her to a gathering of “the old gang” to celebrate her upcoming birthday. It’s exciting, and a bit frightening, but does it feel right?

This is the essence of the new drama, “Go Be Joan,” by Nathaniel Adams, a premiere by Fat Turtle Theatre at Theater at the Fort.

Kathy Bauchle plays Joan as a strong woman throughout – sometimes channeling that strength into her stubborn insistence on “not being a burden” by getting into nice clothes and out of the house to be among others.

Her girls each have their own issues, especially with the changes that life cast their way. Elder daughter Katherine (Afton Shepard) wears her constant nervous smile like a shield as she tries to maintain control of every situation she’s in. Her little sister Lindsie (Audrey Stonerock) has been taking care of Joan the past few years and really, really, wants their mother to move to St. Louis with them. Shepard and Stonerock swing from comaraderie to conflict and back like real siblings, as the deeper layers of the plot are revealed.

Katherine’s daughter Cara (Natalie Marchal) adds another generation to the mix, with her own quirks and concerns. She seems a bit two-dimensional and cliché at first, a selfish child preoccupied with the digital world in her smartphone, until Joan’s insistence on communicating yields to us a nice insight into Cara and her post-Millennial perspective. In return, we see the girl help her grandmother into the 21st century – which in the context of Joan’s shutting herself off from the world in recent years takes on special relevance.

Dan Flahive is neighbor and old friend John Patty, who delivers the invitation – and a mysterious wrapped gift – to Joan. He, too, lost a spouse years ago, so has a special insight into their situation. Flahive’s knack for playing a best friend you feel you’ve known and loved all your life is in full effect here. He plays it coy enough to balance the chemistry between his and Bauchle’s character deftly between platonic/agape friend and possible love-interest.

Fat Turtle artistic director Brandi Underwood directs.

This is a good start for a promising play, and an excellent opportunity for local audiences to support local art. The characters and their story touch our hearts with gentle humor and an insightful look at how we grieve and learn to go on living.

Oh, and my opening statement above refers to more than just the title character.

Performances of “Go Be Joan” run through July 28 at 8920 Otis Ave., on the grounds of Fort Benjamin Harrison in Lawrence. Get information and tickets at www.fatturtletheatre.com.