LAFF mocks ‘Fellowship’ journey

By John Lyle Belden

It’s the third month and third show for Loud and Fast Funny, and, speaking of trilogies, LAFF tackles the first chapter of the Lord of the Rings film saga with “Fly, You Fools.”

Like the Jurassic parody done earlier this spring, this one-hour silly reenactment of the blockbuster “Fellowship of the Ring” is originally by Recent Cutbacks, a New York troupe with Hoosier roots. Once again we get LAFF members Jim Banta, Christian Condra and Pat Mullen taking on various roles, frequently doubling up (Condra as Merry and Pippin!), assisted by Olivia Schaperjohn at the Foley table with sound-effects, as well as stepping in as a certain Elven queen. The props are once-again low-budget — almost too much so in the Mines of Moria — adding to the humor.

Though so much of what we remember from the Rings films happens in the second and third movies, there was still a lot, and much to mock, in the one that started it all. From celebrity casting to the oddities of a fantasy world, to a man’s distinctive chin, nothing is off-limits. Even the “eagle question,” popular among online fans, is addressed. 

For a good laugh, and a reminder of how cool it was to see Tolkien done live-action on the big screen, take off to see “Fly You Fools,” performances 8 and 10 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays through June 8 on the intimate cabaret stage of the District Theatre, 627 Massachusetts Ave. Get info and tickets at www.indyfringe.org. Follow the fellowship at facebook.com/LAFFshows.

 

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At the District: Travel from Waukegan to Mars on a bicycle

By John Lyle Belden

When one has access to an age-altering carousel, why let a little thing like death stop you? After all, Mr. Electrico told him he would “Live forever!”

To understand what I mean by this, see the Midwest premiere of “Ray Bradbury Live (Forever)” at The District Theater, presented by IndyFringe – in just two more performances, today and tomorrow (May 4-5), before continuing its national tour.

Bradbury wheels onto the stage, played by lifelong fan and Emmy-winning actor Bill Oberst Jr. He then removes a tarp from a lecture stand, places it on his bicycle, and proceeds to talk to us about his life, career and feelings on topics such as writing and the importance of libraries. We get a glimpse of his growing up in Waukegan, Ill. (“it’s not ugly to a child”), and Los Angeles (near Hollywood, which he often visited). We even meet his charming wife, Maggie (played locally by Jenni White).

The “science fiction writer who never drove a car” also engages us with mesmerizing dramatic excerpts from “A Sound of Thunder” (from whence we get the term “butterfly effect”), “Something Wicked This Way Comes,” and “The Martian Chronicles.” Oberst’s skill makes Bradbury’s words come alive, helping us feel the greatness imbedded in these stories, and what they say about being human and the human desire to mess with forces they barely understand.

In fact, Oberst crafted the entire show from the words of Ray Bradbury — from his texts, to letters and interviews. The script was vetted by the Ray Bradbury Estate, as well as Dr. Jonathan Eller, Director of IUPUI’s Center For Ray Bradbury Studies, who attended the opening performance. We hear such nuggets as, “I don’t predict the future, I try to prevent it;” “I write fantasy because I believe in fantasy;” and from a poem: “Give book, Give smile.”

Oberst said after the show that he tried for years to get friends who more resembled Bradbury to portray him on stage before finally deciding to take on the role himself. Wearing a comfortable suit, appropriate hairstyle, trademark black-frame glasses, and a friendly and enthusiastic demeanor, he does just fine. Behind the sparse stage is a large screen that shows facts and trivia about Bradbury prior to the show (come early, none of the slides repeat), and supporting scenes and illustrations during the performance. Note there are some strobe-effects during the telling of “Sound of Thunder.”

This excellent premiere – first performances since opening in Los Angeles – came about in part with the help of IndyFringe CEO Pauline Moffatt, who said she saw Oberst in a previous Fringe and encouraged him to return, aided by the perfect synergy with the Bradbury Center here in Indianapolis.

For devoted fans, casual fans, or anyone interested in discovering this American literary master, you have two more chances in Indy: 8 p.m. today and 4 p.m. Sunday at The District (former location of Theatre on the Square), 627 Massachusetts Ave. downtown. Call 317-308-9800 or visit IndyDistrictTheatre.org or IndyFringe.org.

For those who can’t make it, or are reading this on or after May 6, find info and future performances at raybradburyliveforever.com.

‘The Golden Girls,’ like you’ve never seen them before

By John Lyle Belden

The Loud and Fast Funny gang is at it again, presenting mature ladies with “mature” content in “The Golden Girls: The Lost Episodes.”

This mostly-drag parody of the old hit TV show was originally written by David Cerda and developed by Hell in a Handbasket Productions of Chicago. LAFF are local actors, presenting this hour-long treat at the cabaret second stage of The District Theatre, managed by IndyFringe.

The mood is set as the audience enters to the sounds of classic television show themes from the 1970s and ‘80s, interspersed with the audio of commercials from the era (remember L’eggs panty hose?), as well as network jingles from NBC, the original TV home of the Girls.

Then, it’s the strains of “Thank You For Being a Friend,” and we meet our small-screen friends: Rose (Jim Banta), Blanche (Pat Mullen), Dorothy (Dave Ruark) and Sophia (Olivia Schaperjohn). They launch into two half-hour episodes, with words and innuendo that the network censors would certainly not allow, joined by Christian Condra as a handsome doctor in the first part, and Jazzercise Jeff in the second. There is no nudity, just a couple of edgy costume choices — but still, don’t take the kids.

While a touch raunchy — like some grandmas get when young’uns aren’t around — the plots are also funny and entertaining, much like if the Girls were a show on HBO. In the first, silly Rose deals with an episode of restless-leg syndrome as she prepares for a big dance contest. In the second, the hot aerobics instructor has a thing for Blanche — and Sophia? — while Dorothy makes an attempt to show her “nice” side.

Between the episodes, a swingin’ Condra comes out to host a game show in which two audience members get a shot at a genuine Golden Girls-themed prize.

A fun Fringe-length show at a Fringe ticket price, performances are Fridays and Saturdays, two shows each night, through April 27. Get info and tickets at indyfringe.org

LAFF Shows also staged the recent production of “Hold On To Your Butts,” and will present another Recent Cutbacks-produced show, “Fly, You Fools” — a parody shot-by-shot re-creation of “Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring” (in one hour) — May 3-25. Get to know the troupe at facebook.com/LAFFshows.

A grand tribute to Samuel L. Jackson, and some dinosaurs

By John Lyle Belden

The Fringe Festival favorite, “Hold On To Your Butts,” is back on stage in Indianapolis. Indiana native Nick Abeel and Recent Cutbacks had toured the show around the country, including at a past IndyFringe, but now trust it to local actors Jim Banta, Pat Mullen and Olivia Schaperjohn.

The show is a one-hour shot-for-shot reenactment of the film “Jurassic Park” (never mentioning the title for legal reasons) with Banta and Mullen portraying nearly all the roles and Schaperjohn – clever girl – providing the sound effects. With so many funny and memorable lines scattered throughout the film, just reciting them with appropriate overacting and minimal, cheap, homemade props is sufficient to make this whole experience entertaining.

In a tribute to his awesomeness, and for providing the title line for this parody, Samuel L. Jackson is the only actor clearly identified and portrayed with a handsome cutout mask. The show also has lots of fun with Jeff Goldblum, whose shirt is more open each time he’s portrayed.

The trio is totally up to the task, commiting to this wacky enterprise. The intimate confines of the District Theatre secondary cabaret stage add to the atmosphere, especially when Banta and Mullen’s antics take them through the audience.

For those who are fans at all of the movie, this is a great way to both laugh at and remember the thrill of watching it in the theater, or a darkened living room, looking over your shoulder for ‘raptors. And remember that Sam Jackson was in it, too.

Performances are 8 and 10 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays through March 30 at the District Theatre, 627 Massachusetts Ave. in downtown Indy. Get info and tickets at www.indyfringe.org.

P.S. Recent Cutbacks also made a shot-for-shot parody of “Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring” called “Fly, You Fools!” which will be at the District Theatre in May, with these same actors, a/k/a Loud And Fast Funny Shows (LAFF).

‘Yank!’ — A different kind of bravery

By John Lyle Belden

Emotions run high during war — excitement, anger, patriotic fervor, devotion, and love. For some soldiers thrown into the crucible that was World War II, the ones they wanted to embrace with all their might weren’t the pin-up girls.

This is the world of “Yank!” the musical making its Indianapolis premiere at the District Theatre.

Stuart (Jonathan Krouse) answered the call to join the fight against Hitler and Tojo, but first he has to fit in with Charlie Company. He can barely hold a rifle, and he’s not sure about his feelings towards his fellow soldiers, especially Mitch (Tanner Brunson), the only one to treat him with kindness. The others suspect he’s different, and even call him “Light-Loafers,” but they come to accept him, because “your squad is your squad.”

On the way to the front, two things happen: Stuart and Mitch start to explore their feelings for each other, and Stuart meets Artie (D. Scott Robinson), a photographer for Yank! magazine, wise to and willing part of the gay underground just outside the U.S. Army’s notice. While Charlie Company goes to combat, Stuart — an aspiring writer, keeping a detailed journal — joins Artie as reporters behind the lines.

Stu is doing well out of harm’s way, but he still has feelings for Mitch. Then he gets the assignment to write about his old unit, and how war has changed them. More changes are coming for Stu, and he will discover how war is especially hell for a gay soldier — facing danger from his own people as well as the enemy.

The cast includes Isaac Becker, Dominic Piedmonte, Scott Fleshood, Joshua Cox and Bryant Mehay as fellow soldiers. Jerry Beasley, Lance Gray and Kevin Bell play hardened officers and NCOs, as well as somewhat softer characters. Jessica Hawkins wonderfully portrays “every woman,” from radio entertainers to a lesbian WAC working for Gen. MacArthur.  

Krouse and Brunson turn in wonderful performances, one constantly feeling deeply, the other deeply conflicted. The supporting cast is solid; Beasley earns his stripes. And with us usually seeing Robinson these days behind the scenes as producer or director, it’s good to see him show his excellence as an actor.

This is a different kind of love story, but still touching — love is love, after all — and an eye-opening look at a hidden part of our history. While the characters are fictional, there was a Yank! Magazine, and playwright David Zellnik thoroughly researched the secret lives of gay soldiers and sailors of the era.

The songs, by David and his brother Joseph Zellnik, are snappy and sentimental in a style befitting the 1940s setting, including some interesting harmony.

Had this been a boy-meets-girl rather than boy-meets-boy, “Yank!” would look like the cinema hit of 1945. But it’s 2019, and LGBTQ GIs are only now living out of the closet. Thus, this show is equal parts entertaining and important. Director Tim Spradlin deserves praise for bringing this gem to downtown Indy, as well as IndyFringe for hosting it at the District (former site of Theatre on the Square), 627 Massachusetts Ave.

This production runs through March 24; get info and tickets at indyfringe.org.

Bring on BOLT, with a ‘sad story’ worthy of the telling

By John Lyle Belden

A new Indianapolis theatre company, Be Out Loud Theatre (BOLT), comes “out” in a big way with the Tennessee Williams rarity “And Tell Sad Stories of the Death of Queens.” For one of Williams’ short dramas, this “play in two scenes” is a rich, satisfying gumbo of New Orleans sass and sadness.

As confessed “transvestite” Candy Delaney (Lance Gray) approaches her 35th birthday, she brings home Karl (Chris Saunders), a brooding, conflicted man, in the hopes of making him as close to a husband as she can hope for. The French Quarter provides some shelter to local gays – as does Candy, a landlord of three properties: “Queens make the best tenants,” she purrs – but this is still around 1960 and being “queer” can be dangerous. Candy’s dreams of normalcy are marred by the catty upstairs renters, Alvin (Joe Barsanti) and Jerry (Christian Condra).

Given the title (and that I was unfamiliar with the script), I couldn’t help bracing myself for a fatal moment. But actually the plot is more about the life of queens in that time and place. In Tennessee Williams fashion, the story is so much about wanting not only what one doesn’t have, but what might not be possible. Gray commands the stage as Candy spins her dreams, her plans, somehow believing she can will them to be. Saunders projects danger, even just standing still; he wants things – money, affection, to be comfortable with himself – but the stigma of the queer keeps them just out of reach of his clenched fists.

BOLT founder and director Michael Swinford makes a bold statement with his premiere production. He said he wanted to start with an LGBTQ-focused play that predates Stonewall and the AIDS generation. For a stark reminder of how life used to be – even in carefree New Orleans – this was an excellent story to tell.

“And Tell Sad Stories of the Death of Queens” plays through Jan. 20 on the cabaret second stage at The District Theatre (former home of Theatre on the Square), 627 Massachusetts Ave., now managed by IndyFringe. For info and tickets, visit http://www.indyfringe.org.

Bard Fest: What a fool this mortal be to have missed ‘Midsummer’

This show is part of Bard Fest, central Indiana’s annual Shakespeare festival. Info and tickets at www.bardfestindy.com.

By John Lyle Belden

This time, I’m going to do something a little unusual. As you can tell from the amount of postings we’re making at PWJW, there was a lot of theatre opening last weekend. Lost in the shuffle was the Agape Performing Arts Company youth production of Shakespeare’s popular comedy, “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” So I didn’t see it, but I do want to say something about it – and recommend it – anyway.

The Agape program is based out of a church, but attracts young performers, 8 to 18, from all over central Indiana. It is “Christian” in its members’ faith, but rather than trying to stage church-sanctioned morality plays, it boldly takes on classic stage works, and lets the moral lessons reveal themselves. Thus they have mounted ambitious productions such as the musicals “Les Miserables” and “Pirates of Penzance.” In a more daring move, they now take on what may be the Bard’s most “Pagan” of his folio.

But I’m sure these kids are doing an excellent job of bringing out, as Shakespeare’s plot does, the fickle humanity of the immortal realm, as well as the human foibles of the people wandering the woods. It will be a valuable experience for them, whether they in coming years become Royalty of the stage, or like the humble Mechanicals, just tread the boards from time to time for fun. It should be a good experience for you the audience, as under able adult supervision and with some big productions under their belts the cast and crew have set themselves an ever-increasing standard of performance.

I spoke with one of the parents recently, who said that they had researched accurate period dances to make the play more authentic. That’s the cool thing about having student actors, we all get to learn something.

And besides, this show is always fun and entertaining – and you get to see someone in a donkey head.

Follow Puck down to the District Theatre (formerly TOTS) at 627 Massachusetts Ave. for performances Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m., Sunday at 3:30 p.m.