Fonseca’s debut drama shows what we are capable of building

By Wendy Carson*

I honestly don’t know what is more horrifying about Robert Shenkkan’s play, “Building the Wall,” the details of atrocities committed or the sheer fact that I can see all of it happening in the real world, pretty much the exact way it does in the script.

The story revolves around a college professor conducting an interview with a reluctant prison inmate. Throughout their dialogue, you discover why Rick has been incarcerated – and his truth of the situation that led him here.

Clay Mabbitt does an amazing job at weaving Rick’s story without forcing a biased slant on the situation. This is a man who sees himself as inherently good but also acknowledges he allowed much of the inhumane treatment to continue, climaxing with their inevitable final solution to the situation.

Millicent Wright as the academic, Gloria, deftly leads him through his tale. Since his lawyer prevented him from defending himself or even speaking at his trial, she wants to help him get his story out in his own words so that he can finally be heard.

Again, the story presented here is fictional, but it contains so many references to actual historical events and situations that it feels just a bit too real. In fact, we found it hard to believe it was written in 2016, and not this year.

This is the first play for the newly-founded Fonseca Theatre Company, established by a group of central Indiana artistic people led by the company’s namesake – and this play’s director – Bryan Fonseca. Like his past work establishing the Phoenix Theatre, this is the first of a planned season (and seasons to come) of thought-provoking, important theatre on West Michigan Street.

Aside from helping create an enduring arts scene in the near-westside of Indy, FTC’s mission is to embrace and celebrate diversity in all its diverse forms. As one can guess from the present-day setting and the play’s title, its inspiration comes from the President’s promise, and the continued heated debate, regarding immigration and immigrants. What does a play with a black woman and a white man have to do with this? In “Building the Wall,” it is not Latinx people who have to justify what they’re doing or explain how they got where they are.

In the end, this is everybody’s problem.

Performances are Fridays through Sundays, through Oct. 7, at FTC’s temporary home, Indy Convergence, 2611 W. Michigan. See www.fonsecatheatre.org for details and tickets.

(John Lyle Belden also contributed to this review.)

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IndyFringe: ‘Failure: A Love Story’

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

“Of course I’ll die, and so will you… In the meantime, I’m going to do something outrageous!”

That line by Jenny June, the second of the three doomed Fail sisters, captures the spirit of this wonderful play by Philip Dawkins — told in a style reminiscent of Roald Dahl with maybe a bit of Neil Gaiman or Terry Gilliam.

We start with the deaths of Chicago clockmakers Henry and Marrietta Fail, and are informed that their three daughters will be dead as well within a year. They will pass in reverse order of their births — by blunt object, disappearance and consumption. With this knowledge in hand, we proceed with a surprisingly uplifting, whimsical and life-affirming story.

If it weren’t for the youthful faces, and the words “Carmel High School” on the program, one would swear this is a full-Equity professional production. The casting, delivery, movement, and performance — even when playing a carefree bird or ticking clock — are as flawless as the Fails’ timepieces and their daughters’ boundless optimism. If I were part of a Best of Fringe voting, this would be my nominee.

Cast standouts include Morgan Goodrich as tomboy swimming enthusiast Jenny June, Mady Phillips as beautiful younger sister Nellie, Allie Crawford as stoic older sister Gerty, Austin Audia as adopted brother John N., Ayden Stewart as Mortimer Mortimer, the young man who would love them all, and Jenna McNulty as a cheeky cuckoo and flighty parakeet.

The play carries a bit of philosophical heft, as well, with themes of time, and the river flowing into the nearby lake, as well as mortality. It also makes 1928, the last year the Twenties roared, feel like a magical time, or at least a moment — as the nation would discover — just before the magic runs out. But these elements work with the story rather than weigh it down.

Remaining performances are Friday and Saturday at the Firehouse union hall, third floor, 748 Mass Ave. Don’t let time run out on seeing this one.

IndyFringe: ‘Intrusion’

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

In an America where one of the horrors of civilization is believed to be long vanquished, an insomniac looks across the street at the nearby hospital to see an injured woman enter. Curious, she goes closer and hears a word that chills her — Rape!

In the utopia of “Intrusion,” (now also an Off-Broadway show) written and performed by Qurrat Ann Kadwani, there has been no report of sexual assault in 20 years. This first person — a bystander who becomes an activist — is one of eight characters Kadwani presents coming to terms with this new world that is starting to feel like the old one — a/k/a the one we unfortunately live in now. Among them, a reporter feels the chill of getting the story of a generation, a prosecutor worries the rape trial will be a career killer, a psychologist tries to address such an emotionally fraught topic with clinical detachment, a politician laments that this is coming up during an election year, and a third-grader just wants to be told what’s going on.

Can something so insidiously imbedded in our culture be “cured, like polio”? Kadwani easily slips from one persona to another, as the mood gets more and more uneasy. A lone “outlier” rape accusation inspires more women speaking up. Many more. While some are concerned for public safety, still others don’t like these events upsetting — perhaps negating — the status quo they invested so much in. The fragile nature of our social construction is revealed in a popular game.

Kadwani brings us an excellently written and executed one-woman show. My more critical inner voice couldn’t help but consider that this was just one more “issue play” — the stories of personal pain, the stark statistics of the pervasiveness of sexual assault in America and worldwide, I’ve heard them all before, so many times. But to our horror and shame, that fact is very much the point.

Make this New Yorker feel welcome; performances are in the first floor of the Firehouse union hall, 748 Mass Ave.

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: ‘Hers is the Head of a Wolf’

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

First of all, let me tell you that this show is about Schizophrenia. It’s initial scene makes that unclear and there is the ambiguity of the situation where it could be about something else (read: lycanthropy). Now that you know this, lets talk about the show.

This show is powerful and amazing. It does a great job of giving insight to the real struggle of a victim of this disease and those around them who are either trying to help them or just be a part of their life.

I was especially impressed by the portrayal of Danny, who starts as her tutor and then begins to turn into a boyfriend. His character is not white-washed wholesome nor entirely cut-and-dried sympathetic. He gets angry and loud at times but is tender and concerned at others which is a much more realistic look at how one would be in the real world.

The therapist, Dr. Hamilton, is genuinely concerned and clearly doing his best to help guide his patient through learning to cope with this debilitating disease. However, even at his most earnest, his voice and advice does sound a bit patronizing.

Then of course, there is our heroine(?) Elise. She literally strips herself bare and exposes her fear, vulnerability, and sheer revulsion at her plight. She struggles to overcome her demons (whose voices we eventually hear for ourselves). She didn’t ask to be like this. She doesn’t want to be like this. She just wants to feel safe for once in her life.
What becomes of each of our players is for you to witness and by all means, you really should witness this. Just know that the show is gut-wrenching and can be overwhelming (much like the condition it portrays).
One performance remains, 9 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 21, at the IndyFringe Indy Eleven Theatre, 719 E. St. Clair, just east of the Mass Ave. and College intersection.

IndyFringe: ‘Atlanta Burning, Sherman’s Shadows’

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 do what I must, rather than what I wish,” laments Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman, a Union commander during the Civil War (in)famous for his scorched-earth March to the Sea in 1864, an effort to shorten the war (which did end the next year) by bringing its horrors to the civilian population of Georgia.

Playwright Lance Sherman Belville, a descendant of the general, presents an insight into the man’s thinking as he relates his plans to a trusted assistant and his general staff shortly before his fiery assault on Atlanta. We learn of his past relationship with Robert E. Lee (a classmate at West Point), his longing for his lost son, and his desire to not repeat what he saw as the greater tragedy of the siege of Vicksburg.

The show’s director, Lynn Lohr, plays the Major who Sherman uses as his sounding board, his “fool” to tell him what is wrong with the plans he is nevertheless determined to execute.

We also have a young Private, portrayed by Connor Buhl — who also plays a Union soldier in reenactments and at Connor Prairie. This, plus being the only player in full period uniform, makes him the most interesting and compelling character. He plays harmonica, and engages the audience without breaking character before the show, leading us in songs of the era.

The playwright plays his great-great uncle, holding and reading from the script that he (as Beville) says he is “still revising.” It’s a curious and brave choice, but he often stumbles over his own words, marring what is otherwise a highly-recommended living history lesson.

If you can ignore the papers in the playwright’s hand, or at least see them as reports or correspondence or maps in Gen. Sherman’s, sit back with some hardtack (provided) and get a new perspective on the story you may only know from a long-ago high school lesson or scene from “Gone With the Wind.” Performances are at the Indyfringe Basile (main) Stage at 719 St. Clair St., near the intersection of Mass Ave. and College.

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.