IndyFringe: Tasty Bits – The Magic and Stories of Taylor Martin

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

Locally-based magician Taylor Martin — popular for his historical and drag characters — has accumulated a lot of interesting experiences. He has been posting them on Facebook, each under the title “There’s a Story to be Told.” One reader said the snippets of his life are like “Tasty Bits,” and thus Martin had a title for his latest Fringe Show.

That’s also a story he told.

I know Martin well enough to recognize that was his Jethro Tull album playing as we entered the venue. We are totally in his element. 

We meet Rodney the Younger, Rodney the Elder, and Madame Esmarelda, but what’s more unusual, we get to know Taylor Martin himself.  He has so many “Bits” — from touring, his past as a singing telegram, and all the interesting and famous people he has met — that he has placed many of them into envelopes. In true magician style, audience members are asked to pick the next one he will tell. These he will only tell once during the run of the show, so each performance is different. Others he will tell every time, like how he came to be friends with Penn & Teller. 

Martin has performed and produced in nearly every IndyFringe, but this show is unlike any other he’s done. There will be illusions, such as his 100-year-old magic box; but you also get the story of how he now has a 100-year-old magic box. 

If you know him at all, you know this is going to be good. If you don’t, well, he has some stories to tell you. Performances are today through Friday and Sunday by the Indy Firefighters’ Museum, 748 Massachusetts Ave.

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IndyFringe: The Last Man

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

This sci-fi drama starts out strong, taking us down a path of eerie possibilities. 

Colin (Craig Kemp) runs into The Party Shop at a local mall, where the cheerful clerk, Delta (Caity Withers) hardly notices that his clothes are torn and he is stained with blood and grime. He insists on having some of the water and snacks from the shop, but, “Sorry sir, that’s for customers, only,” she smiles. So he says he wants to plan a party, Christmas in August, and he tells her a story of advances in Artificial Intelligence and Nanotechnology. And how in the 22nd century, out of nostalgia people built shopping malls that echoed the 20th century. And how there were AI “people” that were so convincing, not even they could recognize they weren’t human.

“That’s silly,” Delta says with a perfectly happy and helpful face.

Back in the 21st century, Erica (Alfton Shepard), a Professor of Advanced Nanotechnology, has recruited a couple of promising students, Charlie (Claire Shutters) and Bill (Manny Casillas) to help her with her next breakthrough. First, she is in need of emergency heart-valve surgery, and Dr. Toowan (Steve Jerk) assures her that the odds of failure are extremely low — but a phone message from the future is insisting she not go through with it, and that the fate of the world is at stake!

Local doctor and author L. Jan Eira panned this little thriller, which features some tech that is only a couple of breakthroughs away, and even temporal tinkering that acknowledges “time travel” has its limits. Hardcore sci-fi fans may recognize the plot beats, but it is kinda fun to play “spot the replicant.”

The acting is great, but this script really needed two full acts to explore its potential. The dynamite opening scene is followed by some good ones; then a rushed climax to a chunk of closing exposition. But it’s an interesting story nonetheless. Don’t let its weakness stop you; Fringe tickets are inexpensive, and you can say you saw it first when this story gets a bigger, better treatment — later in the 21st century.

Performances are today and Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday (Aug. 21-22 & 24-25), by the Indiana Firefighters Museum at 748 Massachusetts Ave.

IndyFringe: A Life of Sorrow — The Life and Times of Carter Stanley

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

In 1966, a man looks back on his life and career playing “hillbilly music.” He is Carter Stanley of the legendary Stanley Brothers, who, along with performers such as Bill Monroe, brought Bluegrass out of Appalachia and into our radios and concert halls.

Historian and fellow Virginian Gary Reid presents this one-man show he has developed over the last 10 years. He strums the guitar and sings some “high lonesome” verses, but this is storytelling, not a concert. Still, what stories he has to tell! We hear of Carter and Ralph Stanley’s upbringing, the father who left — twice — and the bizarre way they got their home up on Smith Ridge in the Clinch Mountains. Then, after Carter’s service in World War II, comes the music career, starting with a home-town radio show. He goes from getting into trouble for copying one of Monroe’s songs to eventually playing in his band. Along the way, we hear about characters like Suicide Jones, Fiddlin’ Powers and Pee Wee Lambert.

“I have an independent streak about me!” he declares, but notes “the music was always first.” While he didn’t stray far from the Gospel, he would still enjoy a jar of Dewey’s Finest moonshine on occasion.

Reid’s gentle manner draws you in and keeps you. Like the music, this isn’t anything loud or fancy, but it comes out just right. For anyone with an interest in the roots of “roots” music, “A Life of Sorrow” is highly recommended. When anyone asks me what I liked in the Fringe this year, this show comes first to mind.

Last performances are Friday and Saturday, Aug. 23-24, at the Firefighter’s Hall, 748 Massachusetts Ave. Reid can also be seen around the festival area, playing guitar or selling CDs of classic Bluegrass. Tell him howdy for us.

 

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: ‘Breakneck Julius Caesar’

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 like to joke with Tim Mooney that, contrary to the title, while there was a lot of stabbing, no one’s neck was broken in this performance (I could also mention that despite all the talk of Noble Romans, there was no pizza). But what we do have is, like his “Breakneck Hamlet,” a full Shakespeare drama condensed to less than an hour, leavened with humor — and in this case, some historical perspective.

We even get some audience participation, such as when the Citizens of Rome cry out (cues are put on a screen for our convenience). In fact, this show is notable not only for how much the script is cut down (and not noticeably, unless you are a Shakespeare scholar) but also for what is added. We get maps, historical asides (Brutus stabbed him where?!) and context for not only Rome but also the Elizabethan audience who first saw the play.

Mooney delivers it all, complete with costume changes, with precision and an easy style that never feels rushed. His mastery of the material is evident throughout, making the show both entertaining and enlightening.

Friends, Hoosiers, Fringe attendees: lend him your ears (he’ll give them back, promise!) at the Firehouse union hall, first floor, 748 Mass Ave.

IndyFringe: ‘Broadway’s Leading Ladies: A Tribute’

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

Presented by Dustin Klein and Tom Alvarez and their Magic Thread Cabaret, “Broadway’s Leading Ladies” is a rousing revue sung by local divas Shelbi Berry, Rayanna Bibbs and Virginia Vasquez.

From the moment the trio get to “work” on a hit from “Hamilton,” we are treated to one powerful performance after another. You’ll want Vasquez to “Gimme, Gimme” more, see Berry “Defying Gravity,” and be reassured that Bibbs is “…Not Going.” Yes, as the latter song says, you’re gonna love them.

Kudos also to the three-piece band of Klein, Greg Gegogeine and Greg Wolff, as well as Austin Schlenz for his on-stage assistance.

No tables at this cabaret, on the third floor of the Firehouse union hall (748 Mass Ave.), but we don’t care — they would only get in the way of the standing ovation.

IndyFringe: ‘Haunted – Tales Told and True’

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

Fringe audiences should be familiar with Loren Niemi, as he has been to past festivals telling stories with a political bent. This year, joined by fellow master storyteller Laura Packer, they choose not to frighten us with the occupant of the White House, but with more traditional forms of Ghost Stories.

Including tales some have sworn are true!

The pair take turns narrating their chillers, with different stories at each show. One is so original, in fact, that with suggestions from the audience, it is made up right on the spot — or is it? Niemi is so good, the story he improvised at the performance I saw sounded like it had been told for generations.

Packer likes to research local ghost lore in every town she visits, and I — a haunted Irvington resident — had not heard the one she told about a little store on North Meridian near Crown Hill. She also spoke about living in haunted houses — no doubt she’ll have something just as fascinating for you.

No campfire to sit around — it is the Firehouse union hall after all — but a nice time for those who don’t mind braving the bumps in the night.