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.

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IndyFringe: ‘Beneath the Surface’

This show is part of the 14th Annual Indianapolis Theatre Fringe Festival, a/k/a IndyFringe, Aug. 16-26, 2018 on Mass Ave downtown. Info, etc., at www.IndyFringe.org.

By John Lyle Belden

When you first see what is going on — kids barely out of middle school coming on stage to present a show they developed about difficult issues they think about and face — I couldn’t help but mentally lower the bar and pray this wasn’t like that bad SNL skit of naive kids presenting awkward “awareness” scenes.

Now I must apologize to them, and ask that you, too, give this show a chance. Beneath the Surface of “Beneath the Surface,” by Sugar Creek Players Youth Troupe, is earnest searching for understanding, and expression of what the world is like when you are 14 or 15, no longer child but not quite adult — you remember, right? What we see is bravery beyond the tamping down of stage fright.

Budding comic Liberty Owens is “Conscious,” the narrator and facilitator of our look into four archetypal characters: Veronica the young activist, Alex the “jerk,” Jasper the poet (who is on the Autism spectrum) and Juana the Mexican immigrant. Drawing conclusions about them yet? Please note the title of the play — yes, these kids have layers.

I ask you cooperate with Conscious — she’s a little silly, and prone to telling groaner-jokes (could you do better at her age?) — but she is only helping us understand our subjects as they strive to understand themselves, and each other. So when she asks which person’s story you want to see continue, speak up and suggest someone; they are all intriguing, and sharply presented with earnest emotion.

Just as the film “Eighth Grade” is now bringing this crucial point in our lives to the national conversation, you get to see something of this in person, developed and performed by local teens. Note some hard issues are addressed, and it doesn’t have an artificially happy end — in fact, as in the real world, struggles continue. But if you came to see a Fringe show, here’s a doggone Fringe show. My troubled teen self of years past salutes them.

Isabella de Assis-Wilson as Juana is joined by Sara Adams (Veronica), Terran McCarty (Alex) and Evan Baldwin (Jasper) for the Tuesday, Aug. 21, performance. Remaining performances feature Sonora Kay (Veronica), Sara Adams (Alex) and Austin Coon (Jasper). All are on the main stage of the District Theatre (formerly Theatre on the Square), 627 Mass Ave.

IndyFringe: ‘The Pope Walks Into A Bar, Father Ned!’

This show is part of the 14th Annual Indianapolis Theatre Fringe Festival, a/k/a IndyFringe, Aug. 16-26, 2018 on Mass Ave downtown. Info, etc., at www.IndyFringe.org.

By Wendy Carson

Whether you are a hardcore fan of the British television sitcom, “Father Ted,” or have never even heard of it, you will enjoy this show.

The residents of the tiny island of Perpendicular are an odd lot. They consist of 75 humans and 450 sheep; the most popular pastime is rock stacking; and their primary industry is a wonky Viagra factory which leaks fumes — much to the delight of many inhabitants (one whiff will get you stiff). They are blessed with a cadre of three misfit priests, Father Finn Flannagan (who is crass, lustful and perpetually drunk), Father Dermott McDermott (who is woefully naive and daft), and the eternally put-upon Father Ned (who does his best to oversee this circus). Add to this a dotty (and possibly murderous) housekeeper and you have the setting for a delightful farce.

The story centers on the impending visit to the island by His Holiness himself, The Pope. He is visiting the far-flung parishes across the globe and has decided that Perpendicular Island would be a fitting representation of the Irish. The Bishop then shows up to try to get this madhouse in order and not disgrace his position, or the church as a whole.
There is also the arrival of an ad agency to name Father Flannagan as their spokesperson since he is the primary consumer of their product, Boggy Dew Whiskey, as well as a spunky young reporter from the area news show. Of course, hilarity ensues.
So, avail yourself of the offerings of The District Theater’s bar, sit back and prepare to laugh yer feckin’ arse off.
Presented by Clerical Error Productions, performances are on the Cabaret stage of the District Theatre (formerly Theatre on the Square), 627 Mass Ave.

IndyFringe: ‘Inter(Actions)’

This show is part of the 14th Annual Indianapolis Theatre Fringe Festival, a/k/a IndyFringe, Aug. 16-26, 2018 on Mass Ave downtown. Info, etc., at www.IndyFringe.org.

By John Lyle Belden

I’ve heard it famously said that in traditional dances, every movement tells a story. To be honest, that should be true of every good dance performance. For a brilliant example I bring you the young women, and one man, of Crossroads Dance Indy.

As I’ve stated elsewhere, modern and interpretive dance isn’t my thing, so if I found this series of movement pieces engaging, I think anyone can.

It’s not just step-to-the-narrative ballet — though there is a bit of classical ballet, beautifully done — but something more like “feeling” a story rather than hearing it.

The opening piece, “Black Rock Canyon,” to the music of Fleet Foxes, Arcade Fire and Interpol (a minute of this was presented at the Wednesday Fringe preview event) was designed (by Lauren Curry of Indianapolis Movement Arts Collective) to portray life in a religious cult. But the movement themes — women struggling in unison together towards and away from the dark singular presence, who moves among them, judging them, forbidding a budding relationship — could be seen as so much more. I could picture the woman in black as Fate or Death, working among the frantic common folk in their daily struggles, reaching out inevitably to one…

The show’s highlights (for me) included an absolutely beautiful routine to “Female” by Keith Urban, choreography by guest artist Nicole Dean; and an awesome interpretation of the Beatles’ “Eleanor Rigby” — bless you, Ashley Youmell, for making “Ellie” the eternal optimist.

I have to note as well the uncompromising skill of these local dancers — unison where there should be unison, flow into flow, “random” movement that’s anything but. I’m sure a dance professional could nitpick the heck out of their performance, but I’m not a dance person, and maybe you’re not a dance person, so that doesn’t matter. Just know that some of the best storytelling at this year’s Fringe is done without saying a word.

Crossroads Dance’s “Inter(Actions)” is performed at the District Theatre (formerly Theatre on the Square) mainstage, 627 Mass Ave.

IndyFringe: ‘Act VI Scene I (Shakespeare and Zombies)’

This show is part of the 14th Annual Indianapolis Theatre Fringe Festival, a/k/a IndyFringe, Aug. 16-26, 2018 on Mass Ave downtown. Info, etc., at www.IndyFringe.org.

By Wendy Carson

From the title, you would expect this to be something like a Shakespearean version of “Shawn of the Dead.” However, nothing could be further from the truth. The play is introduced by The Bard himself (who also returns to narrate the various scene changes) without explanation as to its provenance.

We are presented with two young lovers being secretly married amidst the protestations of their families. When the Priest asks if anyone has reason for the two not to be wed, an armed stranger bursts in and bids them to bar the door as the dead have risen and are attacking the town. The story then follows the next four weeks in the lives of these four characters. Their personal relationships, the fight among their inner demons, and their ultimate fight to survive in this new situation.

While the plot may sound like a zany re-hash of various other books, TV shows and movies, it is played with all of the austerity that one would expect in a play written by Shakespeare. Even though the dialogue is pure Shakespearean English, it translates well to the story and makes the style so much more accessible to a modern audience.

I would highly recommend bring teens and children to see the show to get a taste for the style of plays before they actually dive into the actual works of Shakespeare. Who knows what this sort of project could inspire?

“Act VI, Scene I” is presented by The Lord Chamberlain’s Men at the District Theatre (formerly Theatre on the Square), 627 Mass Ave on the secondary Cabaret Stage.

Permit yourself to enjoy ‘Forbidden Broadway’

By John Lyle Belden

That beloved but misnamed (not actually on a “Square”) spot on Mass Ave. has returned to life with a wonderful send-up of the world of Broadway musicals.

Actors Theatre of Indiana presents “Forbidden Broadway’s Greatest Hits” all this month at the District Theatre (former home of Theatre on the Square), its first production under new name and management. ATI regulars Cynthia Collins, Don Farrell, Judy Fitzgerald and Logan Moore, with Brent Marty at the piano, give us the parodies made famous in the off-Broadway show that has been savaging its on-stage neighbors since 1982 – no one is safe, from Bob Fosse to “Les Mis” to Spongebob.

It’s impressive what gets made fun of – lay-offs of the cast of “Beauty and the Beast,” the rotating stage of “Les Miserables,” those massive headpieces in “Lion King.” Wendy loves that one of her pet peeves, actors reliant on visible microphones, gets skewered by a big-singing stage legend.

Speaking of legendary actors, they get parodied as well, including some girl named Carol and this guy named Mandy.

The result is so very funny. The more you know about the source material, the more hilarious it all is, but this show had everyone laughing.

And these five people playing it all are practically legend-level themselves – they should beware, lest someone down the street at IndyFringe makes fun of them!

Performances through July 29 at the District, 627 Massachusetts Ave., downtown Indianapolis. (ATI then returns to its home in Carmel to start its 2018-19 season, which concludes with more Forbidden Broadway next summer.) For info and tickets, see atistage.org.