Another go-round with the ‘Girls’ in LAFF parody

By John Lyle Belden

Here we go again! The gang at Loud and Fast Funny Shows present “The Golden Girls: The Lost Episodes, Vol. 2,” Friday and Saturday nights through March 21 at the District Theatre.

It’s been nearly a year since LAFF put on the dresses and thanked us for being their friends. Most of the “girls” return: Dave Ruark as Dorothy, Pat Mullen as Blanche, and Jim Banta as Rose, joined by Frankie Bolda as Sophie. 

As with last year’s show, this is a parody originally by David Cerda and David Lipschutz of Hell in a Handbag Productions of Chicago, complete with mature language and immature behavior. And, to get us in the mood, we’re again treated to old sitcom themes and commercials while we wait for the show to begin. 

For an hour, we are treated to two quick episodes with a Golden Girls trivia game show in between, hosted by Christian Condra, complete with audience participation and prizes.

Condra also returns as sexy Jazzercise Jeff — short-shorts and all — and takes a turn as Rose’s blind sister. Joining the cast in multiple roles are Mark Cashwell (including as Dorothy’s date to the Sadie Hawkins Dance), Kayla Lee (playing Sophie’s rival), Tyler Lyons (roles include Dorothy’s ex-husband) and David Mosedale, whose major part is Jessica Fletcher in a “Murder, She Wrote” crossover.

This heartfelt jab at the old TV hits is hilarious as usual, though there seems to be even more sexual innuendo this time around, so it’s best for those old enough to remember the source material. 

Each night has two performances, 7:30 and 9 p.m., at the District, 627 Massachusetts Ave. in downtown Indianapolis. Get info and tickets at http://www.indyfringe.org.

Brave men step out from anonymity to share AA’s story

By John Lyle Belden

“My name is Bill, and I’m an alcoholic.”

This opening would be rather routine — for certain well-known but private meetings, or in shows and films about them — except that this is Bill W., a co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous, relating his story not only for mutual support, but also so we can understand the struggle that brought about the whole program.

In “Bill W. and Dr. Bob,” by Janet Surrey and Samuel Shem, presented by Stage Door Productions at the District Theatre, Bill (played by Kevin Caraher) is joined by Bob (Dan Flahive) as they each relate the paths their lives took them down, leading to their fateful 1935 meeting in Akron, Ohio.

Bill didn’t suddenly decide not to drink anymore, then sit down and create a 12-step system all on his own. It was a messy evolution, during which he started out feeling he didn’t need help, or didn’t deserve it. But eventually he was persuaded by an on-the-wagon friend, Ebby (Robert Webster Jr., who plays all other male roles), to get involved in the Oxford Group, a sobriety program that introduced him to reliance on a “higher power” (which doesn’t have to be the Christian God). Bill becomes an evangelist for the Oxford Group, but can’t get the drunks he rounds up for it to stay. When it’s pointed out to him that the only person he seems to be keeping sober is himself, he comes up with a radical idea. 

This play is not just about the men who started a movement; it is about the women in their lives, and their struggles, too. Bill’s wife, Lois (Afton Shepard), deals not only with being married to a drunkard, but also with financial burdens intensified by the Great Depression (Bill was a stock-market wizard, directly affected by the crash) and made no better by his sobriety as he spends all his time in unpaid charity work. Bob’s wife, Anne (Adrienne Reiswerg), is too devoted to leave him, but still driven to the edge of her tolerance by his refusal to accept help. Once the two men find each other — with the help of Akron socialite Henrietta (Karen Webster, playing all other female roles) — Anne wisely asks for Lois to join them so that the women can find support in each other as well. 

Directed by Dan Scharbrough, in this story we see the trial-and-error process, as the establishment of the organization seems to mirror the individual highs and lows of the addict on the way to sustained sobriety. Bill is easily frustrated, but Bob points out that even in the setbacks there is progress. 

The play resonated well with the packed audience at our performance, many indicating by their responses that they are familiar with the program. But this is also enlightening  — as well as entertaining and heart-warming — for those who never had the need to attend a “meeting.”

(And if you feel that something about their stories hits too close to home, you don’t have to look far for help.)

This production of “Bill W. and Dr. Bob” is presented in conjunction with The International Women’s Conference, which will be held Feb. 20-23 in Indianapolis, a four-day AA fellowship for women only. For more information, visit internationalwomensconference.org.  

Remaining performances are Friday through Sunday (Feb. 14-16) at the District, 627 Massachusetts Ave. (former TOTS site, now managed by IndyFringe). For tickets, go to www.indyfringe.org, and for company info visit “stage-door-productions” on Facebook. Out of respect for the subject matter, concessions will not offer beer or wine, but there is plenty of excellent coffee, provided by Sober Joe (www.soberjoe.com) of Bloomington.

Wacky wizard world, from a different perspective

By John Lyle Belden

The goofballs of LAFF (Loud and Fast Funny Shows) are back, and they’ve brought some friends.

In “Puffs,” an Off-Broadway show by Matt Cox, this time the parody target is the “Harry Potter” novels. However, the seven-year epic (presented in 100 minutes) is told from the perspective of what trademarked materials would call House Hufflepuff. It should be noted that the more you know about the Potter books and films, the more you will get all the jokes and references. But for fans, no matter what your House, this fun and touching take on the stories is a must-see.

The LAFF regulars — Matt Mullen, Jim Banta, and Olivia Schaperjohn — are our central trio of students, finding themselves sorted into the Puffs (rather than the Braves, Smarts, or Snakes) only to find that it is apparently a House of losers. The one exception is handsome prefect Cedric (Christian Condra), who is a shining leader up until the climax of Book 4. Afterward, Condra portrays He-whose-name-we-shouldn’t-be-talking-about (never mind the irony), with taped-down nose and hilariously dramatic flair. 

Dave Ruark rejoins the company as our Narrator, keeping this complex plot moving along. 

Various roles are ably filled by Mark Cashwell, who plays a lot of the faculty; Gorgi Parks Fulper, parts include Professor Sprouty, and an evil Puff escaped from Wizard Prison; Chelsea Leis Mullen, notably as charming and cheerful Leanne, as well as the Puffs founder; Tyler Lyons; Maddie Deeke; Kayla Lee; Anthony Nathan; Justina Savage; and Frankie Bolda, whose roles include Harry. 

While this is a very funny parody, what might be surprising is the amount of emotional heft this underdog (under-badger?) story carries, as the group that would be happy to rank third out of the four Houses grows to prove they are just as important as any other aspect of the Wizarding world. Since a lot of Potter fans grow up nerdy outsiders, they feel an affinity for the Puffs; this show allows them to not only laugh at themselves and other odd aspects of the epic, but also to affirm their steadfast gold-and-black badger pride.

Performances of “Puffs” are Fridays through Sundays through Jan. 4 on the main stage at the District Theatre, 627 Massachusetts Ave., managed by IndyFringe. Get info and tickets at www.indyfringe.org.

A king’s journey, from fun with Falstaff to hostilities with Hotspur

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

By John Lyle Belden

While I can heartily recommend any of this year’s Bard Fest shows, the one that has the most elements of Shakespeare’s storytelling is the oft-overlooked “Henry IV, Part 1,” presented by First Folio and directed by Glenn L. Dobbs. It combines comedy, drama, adventure, and a bit of actual British history in a rather entertaining package.

It is a story of the misspent youth of “Bonny Prince Hal” (Matthew Walls), the man who would eventually become the legendary King Henry V, as well as the struggle by his father, Henry IV (Abdul Hakim-Shabazz), to maintain a united kingdom.

Hal has his fun with best friend Ned Poins (John Mortell) as they jest with famed drunkard Sir John Falstaff (Matthew Socey) and his minions, cowardly Bardolf (Jonathen Scoble) and berserker Peto (Missy Rump). From these scenes we get a lot of laughs, and are treated to some of the Bard’s more colorfully-written insults.

Meanwhile, the King has to deal with a plot led by Henry Percy (Matt Anderson), known as Hotspur for his fiery temper, aided by relatives Worcester (Sara Castillo Dandurand) and Mortimer (Eric Mannweiler), the Scottish Earl of Douglas (Andy Burnett), and Welsh rebel Glendower (David Mosedale). On Henry’s side stand Sir Walter Blunt (Eli Robinson), Lord Westmoreland (Brian Kennedy), and eventually Hal, the Prince of Wales himself, having sworn off his prior foolishness.

The decisive battle that ensues gives the narrative a sense of completion, especially in Hal’s arc from boy to man, but leaves sufficient details to be resolved in the more serious “Henry IV, Part 2.” Still, this play easily stands alone.

Our cast inhabit the roles naturally — perhaps Socey is just an alias for Falstaff? Hakim-Shabazz is appropriately noble, Walls slips easily into Hal’s many modes, and Anderson can play a villain like no other. Also notable are Afton Shepard as Percy’s bitter wife (as well as a sweet “working girl” at the tavern), and Michelle Wafford as a Welsh lady betrothed to a man she loves but whose language she can’t understand, and especially as the in-charge Hostess of the Boar’s Head Tavern.

Remaining performances are 8 p.m. Thursday, 8 p.m. Saturday (with talkback afterward) and 1 p.m. Sunday at the District Theatre, 627 Massachusetts Ave.

Agape work their magic in terrific ‘Tempest’

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

By John Lyle Belden

“The Tempest” may be as close as Shakespeare came to what we now classify as sci-fi/fantasy. In its world, magic is assumed, without giving much backstory of how exiled nobleman Prospero came to own the spellbook, staff, and skills to use them. Maybe they were with him and his daughter in the leaky boat his treacherous brother sent to sea, allowing Prospero to summon a portal from the Mediterranean to an island near Scotland. Perhaps they were a prize from the witch who left behind her hideous son Caliban on that enchanted island. Perhaps he gained power as he found a way to release the faerie Ariel, who then swore obedience to him.

Sounds more like a cheap paperback than the Bard? Well, he did write fantasies for the masses — he just did it very well. And now we get an appropriately excellent production of “The Tempest” by Agape Performing Arts Company.

Agape, a church-sponsored youth program, gives teens and tweens the opportunity to explore moral lessons in various stage works, including “Les Miserables” and “Newsies,” and at a level of performance and production matching the various excellent “young performers” programs around Indy. 

Thus we have Evan Wolfgang play Prospero as a noble father who has a bold plan and the drive to see it through. He sees an opportunity for revenge, as the men who wronged him are on the open sea, and with a teleport spell and the ability of Ariel (Audrey Duprey) to call up and control a storm, brings them to his shore.

The tempest of the title is wonderfully portrayed with brilliant use of costume and movement. (Director Kathy Phipps designed the costumes and choreography is by Joel Flynn.) The boat rocks, the waves surge, and the crew cry out in barely contained panic. But all arrive safely, scattered by Prospero’s spell in accordance with his plans.

Prince Ferdinand (Grant Scott-Miller) is washed up alone and encounters Prospero’s daughter Miranda (Laura Sickmeier) and a courtship begins. 

Meanwhile, the prince’s father, King Alonso of Naples (Matthias Neidenberger) is with his brother Sebastian (Gilead Rea-Hedrick), advisor Gonzalo (Kathryn Rose), and Antonio, Duke of Milan (Nathan Ellenberger) — Prospero’s brother, whom Alonso allowed to take his title. Ever plotting, Antonio sees an opportunity for another power grab, which fortunately Ariel invisibly spies.

On another part of the island, the king’s jester Trinculo (Kennath Cassaday) and drunken butler Stephano (Maura Phipps) — who salvaged the booze — meet up with Caliban (Aidan Morris), who considers them gods for the power in their bottles, and persuades them to join him in his plot to kill Prospero so he can take over the island.

The large cast includes a number of sailors — including Jack London as Master of the Ship and Raymond Lewis as Boatswain — and Island Spirits, including Iris (Kidron Rea-Hedrick), Ceres (Evelyn Skaggs) and Juno (Gemma Rollison), who help celebrate the betrothal of Ferdinand and Miranda.

Yes, it’s a typically large number of names for this Shakespeare play that is like his comedies, but with dramatic elements and quite a bit of music  — lyrics by the Bard, music from traditional tunes, Gustav Holst’s “Planets,” and a composition by Michael Roth. But Kathy Phipps’ direction manages to keep the plotlines easy to follow.

Though all give great performances, notable turns include Duprey and Morris (both aided by excellent makeup by Angie Morris), as well as Maura Phipps, giving the best possible “drunken” performance by a person too young to imbibe.

See all set right with a spirit of redemption and forgiveness, in a most entertaining fashion and with all the spectacle that the District Theatre main stage can hold. Remaining performances are this weekend (Oct. 25-27), 7:30 p.m. Friday, 2 p.m. Saturday and 5 p.m. Sunday. 

IndyFringe: The Day Penny Drowned

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 Wendy Carson

A successful playwright, Penny should be on the top of the world. She and Brad are on their way to a romantic getaway to celebrate the success of her Broadway show. However, her family proceeds to force their way into her plans, and she is soon overwhelmed by their presence — as well as their drama.

Ed Faunce is delightful as Brad, Penny’s devoted husband. He does an excellent job of showing us that he will do anything to protect his wife, yet still makes mistakes along the way.

Bridget Schlebecker’s portrayal of Judy, Penny’s overbearingly self-centered sister, gives us some of the much-needed comic relief in the piece. Her character is a force of nature, sweeping in and ensconcing everyone in her own personal drama without a care for anyone else’s feelings, leaving a swath of confused exhaustion in her wake.

Jonathan ‘JB’ Scoble gives a subtle performance as Jeremiah, Judy’s slacker son who has absolutely no clue about anything but eating and getting high.

Kate Hillman does an amazing job with the character of Francis, Penny’s neglectful mom who has just been released from the Fishkill Federal Prison. She brings out all of the redneck trashiness of the character while also sprinkling in some very sharp verbal abuse towards her “neglectful” daughter.

Rounding out the cast is Nancy Picket as Penny. She manages to show us the devotion the character has for all those around her to the detriment of her own self. However, she becomes so overwhelmed by it, she jumps into the lake just to get away from it all.

Can she find a balance between all of the forces demanding her time and energy? Will her family just give her a day or two alone to regain herself and sanity? Is she in over her head and if so, will she sink or swim?

Find out for yourself.

A play by local author Elizabeth Young-Collins, Remaining performances are today and Saturday (Aug. 22&24) at the District Theater (former TOTS location), 627 Massachusetts Ave.

IndyFringe: A Thousand Words

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

C. Neil Parsons, bass trombonist and member of the comic ensemble, The Fourth Wall, presents a much more serious performance: a tribute to his father, Christopher Parsons, who served in the First Infantry Division in Vietnam, and was tapped by the Army to take photographs of the war and those who fought it.

The elder Parsons was also involved in the arts. He was a theatre director when he was drafted in 1968. The discipline he had developed for the stage — the ability to be still, attention to detail — served him well as he would be on “point” (the vulnerable first soldier out) on patrols. While he miraculously avoided serious physical injury, he would come to understand that the war had wounded him in a far deeper fashion.

Neil presents a slide show of his father’s photographs, and reads from his letters. He also plays haunting music on his instrument and gives his own perspective by reciting essays on Pain Tolerance, Chronic Pain, Permanence, and Betrayal — autobiographical insights that allow us to see the father in the son.

“Someone must not forget,” he says. And as a reminder, Neil offers buttons with lines from his father’s favorite Shakespeare passage. But it’s unlikely anyone will forget the tragic beauty of this very personal story of one man that resonates with the loss of thousands.

Remaining performances are Friday and Saturday (Aug. 23-24) at the District Theater (former TOTS location), 627 Massachusetts Ave.

IndyFringe: Jeannette Rankin: Champion of Persistence

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

You might not have heard of her, but after you see this one-woman show you won’t forget her. Jeannette Rankin campaigned nationwide for women’s suffrage, helping to bring it about in her native Montana. She was also elected twice to the U.S. House of Representatives, where she pushed for peace and various reforms.

At times she seemed on the wrong side of history — she could not bring herself to vote for America’s entry into World War II — but especially with her resistance to war in Vietnam, she mainly proved to be a woman ahead of her time.

Written and performed by J. Emily Peabody for Thorn Productions, she puts an irresistible energy into her portrayal of Rankin. What could have been a dry recitation of history comes across more like a rally.

To help spread knowledge of this persistent American hero, Peabody offers copies of her script, with details beyond what she presents in the Fringe-length show, for sale after each performance. She will be at the District Theater (former TOTS location), 627 Massachusetts Ave. on Thursday, Saturday and Sunday (Aug. 22, 24 & 25).

IndyFringe: Journey to Hell

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 Wendy Carson

Every Fringe, when I am putting together our schedules, I try to put in a single show that is for my pure enjoyment. “Journey to Hell” is this year’s pick.

The Indianapolis Men’s Chorus gives us a rousing night of hard rocking anthems that will get your fists pumping and have you singing along (it’s okay to, they’re not going to throw you out for it). If you’ve seen the musical, “Rock of Ages,” then you know what to expect from this.

The show starts off with a variety of “Hair Band” songs and the Chorus is decked out in all of the most tragic of ’80s styles.

We then move into the “Journey Megamix” where things move more to mainstream rock than metal.

We are then privy to a series of songs showcasing the “Hell” aspect of the title. This is where the overwhelming standout number, “Spooky Mormon Hell Dream” is presented. Having not personally seen “The Book of Mormon” I cannot say for sure exactly how it compares to the stage version but I would will say that this interpretation is worth the ticket price alone.

But before we are overwhelmed by the darkness, a suite of more “Heavenly” titles are offered.

I must say that while the singing is spectacular, the choreography on display is quite impressive as well. Plus, the omnipresent joy they exude in their performances shows that they are obviously having as good a time as the audience is.

Remaining performances are Friday through Sunday (Aug. 23-25) at The District Theater (former TOTS location), 627 Massachusetts Ave.

IndyFringe: Les Chanteuses

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 Wendy Carson

Magic Thread Cabaret brings us an hour of stellar voices raised in tribute to some of the most legendary Divas of our day. Plus, they give us three local ladies whose talents are a brilliant match to the beloved songs they are presenting.

Rayanna Bibbs leads off the night by taking the helm of Aretha’s “Respect”. She channels Jennifer Hudson in her performance of “I am Changing” and her turn at “Baby Love” will have you dancing in your seat. However, her standout number is “A Natural Woman” where she comes out in the most luxurious fur coat and shows you that she is worth every cent of the cost.

Our next Chanteuse is Bridgette Ludlow who roars in with “Midnight Train to Georgia”. Her amazing treatment of “Baby Love”, starting as a sultry torch song and then shifting gears into the bubbly dance song it is. But in my opinion, I think her most amazing work with her interpretation of “God Bless the Child” that I feel showcases her full range of talent in making me (who absolutely hates that song) thoroughly enjoy the song.

Our final singer is Enjoli’ Desiree. She is the one who is given the largest range of material to work with and she gives us her all. The soft yearning of “La Vie En Rose” is a surprising counterpoint to her roaring dominance of “Proud Mary”. She proves that there is not a sentiment she can perfectly express through song.

My one criticism of the show is that the Pianist spends a good portion of the show trying to upstage the singers. I know he is the artistic director, so that should mean that he understands that this is their time in the spotlight and he should allow them to shine.

While each singer assuredly deserves the title of Chanteuse, it is when their voices are brought together that make for some of the most magical performances of the night. So make it a point to pay tribute not only to the Divas being honored, but also the Divas honoring them.

Remaining performances are Friday through Sunday at the District Theater (former TOTS location) 627 Massachusetts Ave.