Bard Fest: The essential ‘R&J’

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

By John Lyle Belden

In Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet,” the one line that stands out for me is near the end: “All are punished.” And as the opening narration famously indicates, the purpose of this tragic play is to show how all involved came to that end.

In the Catalyst Repertory production at Bard Fest, director Zach Stonerock has in his adaptation stripped it to its essence. No elaborate sets; costumes are simple black and white apparel; there are few props, or even weapons beyond a simple knife. The setting is “fair Verona,” but not fixed to any place or era. The focus is solely on the characters, their quirks and quarrels (especially the ongoing Montague-Capulet feud).

The famous “balcony scene,” for instance, is presented in two spotlights, like independent soliloquies. We are reminded that Juliet thinks she is alone, that in longingly asking “Wherefore art thou, Romeo?” she doesn’t expect an answer. But when he comes to her, we are so focused on their words and feelings that we hardly notice there was no balcony.

The play’s opening speech, by the way, is delivered by a Chorus who is a blind man – done with subtle brilliance by Tristan Ross. In this way he reminds me of blind Justice, who oversees these foolish men and women coming to their inevitable end.

Elijah Robinson is our impulsive, melancholy Romeo. He is too ruled by his emotions, but this is seen as wonderful to young Juliet, sweetly delivered by Kayla Lee. Her life is strictly ruled by others, but in this boy she sees hope of liberty, away from the constraints of their family names. Thus, despite her showing the dawning of wisdom, the young teen becomes a cult of one to her foolish husband-to-be.

Critical supporting roles are in excellent hands with Kelsey Leigh Miller as Friar Laurence, who tries in vain to make love triumphant; and Beverly Roche as Juliet’s Nurse, a far better maternal figure than her actual mom (Lisa Marie Smith).

Justin Klein is Paris, the young man from out of town caught in the middle of Verona’s passions. Klein is right at home in the Bard’s worlds, but should try to avoid pointy objects.

And to lighten the mood (making the darkness more contrasting) we get excellent comic relief from Audrey Stonerock as the put-upon Capulet servant Peter; and the awesome Kelsey VanVoorst as brash, boastful Mercutio, Romeo’s best bud. (Note to parents: Shakespeare included bawdy innuendo to entertain his audiences; you’ll get quite a bit here.)

With the right editing, “less is more” fully applies – especially here, as Stonerock delivers a fresh perspective on well-known material. The end is the same, thus we understand that “Romeo and Juliet” is not a love story, but a “tale of woe.” Woe to those who miss it.

Remaining performances are 8 p.m. Thursday, 7:30 p.m. Saturday and 5 p.m. Sunday at the IndyFringe Basile Theatre, 719 E. St. Clair, just east of the College and Mass Ave. intersection.

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Bard Fest: CTC makes ‘Much Ado’ really something

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

By John Lyle Belden

For those who tire of Shakespeare plays being set in all manner of different times and places, good news – Carmel Theatre Company’s production of the comedy “Much Ado About Nothing” retains its original setting of 1600s Italy. But for those who don’t want to see every random character and hear every scripted word (raises hand) this play has undergone some gentle editing, adapted by director Laura Kuhn, sparing us from the sprawl of characters the Bard typically populates his comedies with.

With easy to follow cast and plot, and sharply delivered lines, we get an entertaining romp that often has the feel of a TV sitcom. This establishes itself from the beginning, as returning soldier Benedick (Steve Kruze), whose wit is as sharp as his sword, starts verbal sparring with Beatrice (Christine Kruze), a slightly less cynical version of Kate from “Taming of the Shrew.” They each have such a disdain for love and marriage that – well, you can guess what’s in store for them.

But the big love story is Count Claudio (Jeffrey Bird) who longs to woo the maiden Hero (Elysia Rohn). His BFF Don Pedro (Matt Anderson) arranges the match, but Pedro’s sister Donna Joanna (Amanda Bell) doesn’t like it when people are happy – especially her brother – and sets out to ruin the impending marriage. She nearly succeeds, but this is a comedy.

The actors so far listed deliver brilliantly, as well as Tony Johnson as Hero’s father Leonato, David Whicker as his brother Antonio, Jarrett Yates as Don Pedro’s servant Balthasar, Leah Hodson as Hero’s attendant Margaret, Dustin Miller and Manny Casillas as Donna Joanna’s minions Borachio and Conrade, Daniel Young as Friar Francis, and Jim Mellowitz as the Sexton. As for Jim Maratea as Constable Dogberry, as his partner Verges (Guy Grubbs) would mark it at the appropriate time that he is “an ass,” his gaily executed performance takes his comic foil role to its limits.

Even for one like me who has seen a few “Much Ados” this earnest production delivers, with much laughter and appropriate melodrama. The scenes where one character listens in on others’ conversations are gems of physical comedy. The costumes looked perfect, but the set a bit too solidly built – hopefully they can find a way to smooth the scene changes by the second weekend.

As the play’s title implies, what doesn’t seem that big a deal becomes literally life-and-death situations. We laugh at those old-time attitudes, but one honest look at the Internet shows we’re never immune from the drama.

Remaining performances are 7:30 p.m. Friday, 1:30 p.m. Saturday and 1 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 5-7 at the IndyFringe Basile Theatre, 719 E. St. Clair, just east of the College and Mass Ave. intersection.

Bard Fest: ‘Merchant’ an entertaining comedy with troubling themes

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

By Wendy Carson

One of the things I love about Bardfest is that at least one production is more obscure or rarely produced. This year’s offering is “The Merchant of Venice,” presented by First Folio Productions, adapted and directed by Doug Powers.

The play is actually a romantic comedy, but has tragic overtones. It sports an easy-to-follow plotline and is immensely entertaining. Therefore, you may wonder why is it not done more often. I can only guess it is due to the overwhelming Antisemitism rife in the story’s main plot. So let’s address that matter: I believe it exists, not just to justify the character’s level of vengeance, but also because in the overwhelmingly Catholic nation, the Jews were a minority. This opens a dialogue regarding the mistrust, denigration and oppression of minorities. Especially in our turbulent modern times.

That all being said, let’s now get to the actual play.

The crux of the story is that Bassanio desires to woo the lovely Portia, a wealthy heiress. Since he has foolishly squandered his own fortunes, he turns to his beloved friend, Antonio, to loan him the money needed (which will be easily repaid by his new wife’s money). With Antonio’s funds tied up in his own business ventures, they must seek the aid of a local Jewish moneylender, Shylock. Having been slandered and ill-treated my Antonio for years, Shylock is loath to help him, but agrees to the loan provided he is delivered a pound of flesh upon default. Since the gentlemen know that there is no way this would occur, they agree.

Portia’s father passed away, but had devised a method to aid her in the choosing of the correct bridegroom. Three coffers are given, one each of gold, silver and lead, each with a warning regarding the contents – only one granting permission to marry. After other suitors fail, Bassanio chooses correctly.

Meanwhile, Antonio’s ships have all wrecked leaving him unable to repay the debt. Add to this that one of his friends, Lorenzo, not only eloped with Shylock’s only daughter, Jessica, but also converted her to Christianity, and the overwhelmed Shylock resolves to exact his revenge by literally collecting the promised pound of flesh. Bassanio offers to save his friend by paying twice the amount of the debt, but for Shylock, this is not about money, it is about his honor.

A trial commences and Shylock is granted his pound of flesh. However, the visiting lawyer – Portia in disguise – announces that upon taking his due, he not only must take the exact amount (no more, no less) but must also not spill a drop of blood in its collection. What will Shylock do?

Emily Bohn as Portia and Amanda Boldt as her maid, Nerissa, aptly bring forward the cunning that women are scarcely afforded in many of the Bard’s productions. Ryan Ruckman (Antonio) and Zach Taylor (Bassanio) portray not only the determination of each character but their intensely loving friendship. Ryan Reddick beautifully embodies the emotional sorrow and vengeance that drive Shylock to his end.

While John Mortell plays three characters throughout the show, his endearingly comic turn as Portia’s somewhat dimwitted servant, Balthasar, is truly a delight to behold. Bringing much-needed levity to a show that can be fraught with darkness.

The cast also includes Jim Banta, Aaron Cleveland, Ben Mathis, Pat Mullen, Rachel Snyder, Dwuan Watson Jr. and Lexy Weixel – all excellent.

Powers places the play in an Italy resembling the 1930s, as his Director’s Note explains, a time when rampant antisemitism has swept Europe, but its tragic endgame was yet to be revealed.

Remaining performances are 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 1:30 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 5-7, at the Indyfringe Indy Eleven Theatre, 719 E. St. Clair, just east of the College and Mass Ave. intersection.

IndyFringe 2018 Index

Reviews of shows at 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.

“Act VI, Scene I (Shakespeare and Zombies)” by The Lord Chamberlain’s Men

“Aphrodite’s Refugees” by Monica Dionysiou

“Arcade Fire! The Redemption of Billy Mitchell” by Catalyst Repertory

“Atlanta Burning, Sherman’s Shadows” by Lance Sherman Belville

“Autumn Takes a Tumble” by Defiance Comedy

“Beneath the Surface” by Sugar Creek Players Youth Troupe

“The Best of Taylor Martin’s Indy Magic, Vol . 3” by Taylor Martin

“Betsy Carmichael’s BINGO Palace” by Betsy Carmichael

“Breakneck Julius Caesar” by Tim Mooney

“Broadway’s Leading Ladies: A Tribute” by Magic Thread Cabaret (Klein and Alvarez)

“Cindy/Ella” by Elizabeth Griffin Speckman

“Failure: A Love Story” by Carmel High School

“Happy Fun Time at the Complex” by Captain Ambivalent

“Haunted – Tales Told and True” by Loren Niemi and Laura Packer

“Hers is the Head of a Wolf” by Monument Theatre Company

“Inter(Actions)” by Crossroads Dance Indy

“Intrusion” by Qurrat Ann Kadwani

“Let’s Play a Freakin’ Board Game” by Mark Cashwell

“Make ‘Em Laugh Workshop” by Dance Kaleidoscope

“Mary and Her Monsters” by Lou Ann Homan

“Millennial Magic” by Trigg Watson

“Mindless: Deception, Fraud and Other Lies” by Evan Northrup

“Paper Swords: A Musical” by Matt Day and Kelsey Tharp

“The Pope Walks into a Bar, Father Ned!” by Clerical Error Productions

“Roshambo” by Red Chair Players (Greenwich Academy, Conn.)

“The Supersonic Suffrage Story You Never Heard in School” by Sally Perkins

“There Ain’t No More!” by Willi Carlisle

“Too Old to be This Young” by Laura Hedli

“They Shall Take Up Serpents” by Garrett Matthews Productions

“The Truth*” by A Muse Zoo

“Why Be Normal” by Elizabeth Young Collins

IndyFringe: Dance Kaleidoscope ‘Make ’em Laugh Workshop’

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

Local fine arts legend and Dance Kaleidoscope artistic director David Hochoy once again gives his professional company a chance to take some risk and be creative, developing original dance routines for this Fringe revue. He had just one request — a tough one for serious dancers — Make ’em laugh!

Company members Brandon Comer, Manuel Valdes, Paige Robinson, Stuart Coleman, Missy Thompson, Timothy June, Jillian Godwin, and Mariel Greenlee knock it out of the park with their choreography (or would a better metaphor be “hilariously slip on a banana peel while rounding the bases”?). They each appear before their piece to give their concept, admirable on its own as they should be breathless from working each others’ dances.

They get off to a rollicking start with an energetic and saucy routine to a song from the musical “Cabaret.” As the dancers exited the stage, Wendy muttered, “Follow that!” Well, they did — again and again.

The next piece — celebrating children at “Recess” — had as much whimsy as humor. Other works have fun with topics including the high school prom, ghosts, the hassles of dancing to serious jazz, waiting in line, and even a humorous take on the occupant of the White House (with music by Randy Rainbow).

One number, June’s “Naptown Misfits,” shows the high degree of skill necessary to dance “badly” — which they do to hilarious effect.

One performance remains, 4:30 p.m. today (Saturday, Aug. 25) at the District Theatre (formerly Theatre on the Square), 627 Mass Ave. And as I’ve often said, where else are you gonna see a Dance K show for only $15?

IndyFringe: ‘Aphrodite’s Refugees’

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

It’s hard to not hear the word “refugees” in the news today. It’s bandied about on an almost daily basis. This tends to numb us to the meaning and situations that cause people to succumb to this status.

When show creator Monica Dionysiou witnessed an exhibit by Doctors Without Borders in her hometown of Boulder, Col., she felt inspired to revisit her family’s stories of their own struggles during the many battles for dominance on their home island of Cypress, and how they came to America in the first place.

You can now witness the beauty, tragedy, and resilience of these people in her stunning offering, “Aphrodite’s Refugees.”

She artfully weaves the history of the island as well as its struggles for independence from the various countries warring over it. (Cypress is located in the Mediterranean near Greece and Turkey, which both have claims.) The stories begin with recordings of her family in their own words which are then interpreted by her and her partner to show the changes in the landscape of the island throughout the years.

Dionysiou’s partner, Aaron Young, literally illustrates the struggle by painting the backdrop of the ever-changing landscape of her homeland. He also illuminates important points of the story with further drawings and animations to enhance the drama. Plus, the finished landscape is available for sale at the end of each performance so you can acquire a spectacular original piece of artwork to help you remember these bittersweet tales for long afterward.

We also find out the connection to the Greek goddess of the title. She is the deity of love — but, alas, her brother is Aries, God of War, and in their immortal games he’s holding the cards.

Performances are today and tomorrow (Aug. 25-26) at 6 p.m. Saturday and 1:30 p.m. Sunday, at the Indyfringe Indy Eleven Theatre, 719 St. Clair St. (just east of the College and Mass Ave intersection).

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.