Don’t ‘fiddle’ and miss this one

By John Lyle Belden

“Seneca and the Soul of Nero” is a new play by Southbank Theatre Company artistic director Marcia Eppich-Harris, but stands well in style and content with other great historical tragedies. I sense it could have been written at any time between now and the 900s, when the myth that Emperor Nero “fiddled while Rome burned” became popular. 

The premiere Southbank production of the play, at the IndyFringe Basile stage through Oct. 2, resembles a Bardfest event in its excellent handling by director Doug Powers and a cast that includes David Mosedale as Stoic philosopher Seneca and Evren Wilder Elliott as teenage “Princeps” Nero. 

Despite the abundance of written material in the First Century, much of it surviving to today, the true history of Nero is anything but clear, with contemporary accounts often written by those who didn’t like the young tyrant and centuries passing to add myth and legend to his story. The fiddle didn’t even exist at the time, but it was possible to draw a bow across a lyre, an instrument that Nero did enjoy playing — and he embraced music and theatre at a time when its practitioners were in lower regard than prostitutes (never mind an alleged god-king). Just as we don’t mind the words that Shakespeare put into the ancients’ mouths, Eppich-Harris is perfectly entitled to her well-researched dramatic license, especially as she captured the spirit of the era and its abundant lessons for today’s social and political climate. 

Seneca was Nero’s tutor when he ascended to the throne, and the boy, feeling immediately in over his head, smartly kept the philosopher on as principal advisor and speechwriter, as well as trusted military leader Afranius Burrus (David Molloy) to head his guard. Also on the scene were his ever-hovering mother Agrippina (Rachel Snyder), naive half-brother Britannicus (Brant Hughes), and dutiful but suspicious stepsister/wife Octavia (Bra’Jae’ Allen) whom he would ignore in favor of the beautiful and ambitious Sabina (Trick Blanchfield). At Seneca’s side were faithful wife Pompeia Paulina (Jenni White) and his nephew, the famous poet Lucan (Noah Winston).

Elliott brilliantly brings us along on the emperor’s journey, as he grows older and more at ease with power, but no more mature. At first troubled by signing off on the deaths of the justly condemned, Nero comes to find a quick murder is an easy solution to an immediate problem — but then more issues pop up in its place. Each death takes a little more of his soul, power-madness devolving to madness, reducing him until nearly no one is left, and the knife is in his hand.

Mosedale stands ever solid, defending his young charge as long as he can while defending himself against the hypocrisy of living large yet espousing Stoic principles. In the end, he must choose between Nero and Rome. White’s Pompeia leads the greater example, steadfast to her husband but never wavering on their moral stand. 

Snyder embodies the complex Agrippina without slipping into villainous caricature, perhaps even engendering some sympathy as the evil she sows grows out of her control. Molloy exemplifies the “good soldier” completely, bearing his orders until his sense of justice can do no more.

An exceptional look at history and the dynamics and hazards of unfettered power, “Seneca and the Soul of Nero” is worthy to stand among the Classics. We encourage all who can to see it, and to those reading this in the future to consider bringing to your own stages.

Find information at southbanktheatre.org and tickets at indyfringe.org. Note that COVID-19 vaccination and masking are required of all audience members. Home viewing via “on-demand” streaming available Oct. 15-Nov. 14 (see Southbank site for details).

IndyFringe 2021

The Indianapolis Theatre Fringe Festival — now just called IndyFringe — returns after a year’s hiatus (y’all know why). Aside from reducing the overall number of performance sites, there are two main changes this year: First, performances are Thursday through Sunday for three weekends, extending the festival and eliminating the performers’ frustration of near-empty houses on weekdays. Second, the emphasis is mainly on local and regional acts — something the festival had been trending towards over the last several years, but now essential with travel uncertainties.

Wendy and John are taking their “Iron Fringe” approach, seeing as many of the shows as possible. This post hosts the links to the reviews. Now that ticket prices have crept up to $20 each (performers still get 80%) we feel it’s even more important to help you decide what fits your tastes, or might be worth taking that hour to see.

One show we won’t make it to, but can highly recommend, is Lear’s Shadow by Indy Bard Fest (IndyFringe Theatre), a revival of a performance from the 2019 Shakespeare festival. The play by Brian Elerding has a modern woman using the Bard’s mad king to make sense of her situation. Nan Macy “is incredible, both as (the lead) and as (Lear), as we come to learn the parallels between the two — picking favorites, pushing away a loved one, psychological trauma, and the need to rage against something that can’t be controlled.” (She may have different co-stars in this year’s production.)

We can also recommend Acts of Gratitude by Dance Kaleidoscope (Athenaeum). OK, we haven’t seen this one, but for those familiar with the world-class work of David Hochoy’s renowned company, all I have to say is: Here is nearly an hour of Dance Kal for only 20 dollars! We were lucky enough to see the DK 2018 show, but honestly, sell-outs are the rule.

LINKS TO THIS YEAR’S REVIEWS:

Abraham Lincoln: Hoosier Hero by Danny Russel

Act a Foo Improv Crew

A Dry Rose’ by Missy Koonce

Being Black by OnyxFest

The Betsy-Patsy Show by Elizabeth Young-Collins

Beyond Ballet by Indianapolis Ballet

Big Gay Debutante Ball by Meg Anderson

The Breakfast Clue by Defiance Comedy

Cabaret Latino: Songs of the Americas by Magic Thread Cabaret

Chasing Temples by Betsy Murphy

Classical Collaborations by Crossroads Dance Indy

Climate Follies by Jim Poyser

Copyright/Safe by Catalyst Repertory

DadBod by Brad Hinshaw

Deadpan Jan: My Life is not a Sex Party, or is it? by Jan Gudaitis

Downtown Magic! With Jordan Rooks

Driving Kenneth and Betsy Ross by Garret Mathews

Grace and Nick – Have You Been Drinking? by Grace Bahler and Nick Polk

Honk Squawk Love by Paige Scott

How I Got My Warts Prayed Off by Mandee McKelvey

Jordan Allen’s Magic Party

Joyous Faggotry by Ron Popp

Narnia by Agape Youth Theater

Oak Island in Concert by American Lives Theatre

The Old Man and the Old Moon by Carmel High School

Pixel the Cat Does Shakespeare by To The Rescue Theater

Radium Girls by CYT Indy

Rocket in Your Pocket! Father Ned in Space, the Musical by Clerical Error Productions

Second Annual Tap Cabernet by Circle City Tap

Shakespeare’s Histories: Ten Epic Plays at a Breakneck Pace by Tim Mooney

Shopping Network! by Betty Rage Productions

Simon Ferocious: Improvised Music Legend by Stroopwafel Improv

Small Gods/Big Problems by Mary Karty

Stewart Huff: Do Jokes Still Work?

Too Much Light Makes The Baby Go Blind by UIndy Theatre

Transitory State by Theatre Unchained

We’ve Come a Long Way, Ladies! by Of Thee I Sing

Wife Material by Toni Smith

Win, Lose or Die! by ComedySportz Indianapolis

Returning to the stage

By John Lyle Belden

Things are starting to look more “normal,” and that includes the central Indiana stage scene. Of course, the pandemic is still around, especially with Covid-19 variants still infecting and killing many. But with improving numbers of the vaccinated and taking common-sense measures by all of us, we can still celebrate our arts.

Alas, even though I’m vaccinated against diseases, I’m still not immune to Gremlins. One such critter has affected the Stage Schedule page on this site. So, until we get it fixed, check out the list below for ongoing and announced shows. In addition, check IndyFringe.org for more events leading up to the festival in mid-august.

See you in the audience; Curtain Up!

***

Last updated: July 25, 2021

Schedules subject to change, especially with changes in public health conditions.

See websites or call for Covid-19 safety policies.

2021

June 24 -Aug. 15

“The Sound of Music,” Beef & Boards Dinner Theatre, 9301 N. Michigan Road; http://www.beefandboards.com

July 23-Aug. 2

“The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas,” Ricks-Weil Theatre Company at H.J. Ricks Centre for the Arts, 122 W. Main St. (US 40), Greenfield; fb.com/RicksWeilTheatreCompany

July 28

“Sleepaway,” Summit Performance Indianapolis at The Park at the Phoenix (Phoenix Theatre Cultural Center), 712 North Illinois St., Indianapolis; (Free tickets) summitperformanceindy.com

July 30-Aug. 7

“Anton in Show Business” (all-female) Betty Rage production at Outback Stage at The District Theatre, 627 Mass. Ave., Indianapolis; IndyDistrictTheatre.org

Aug. 5-7

“Godspell,” Eclipse Summer Stock Stage at The Park at the Phoenix (Phoenix Theatre Cultural Center), 712 North Illinois St., Indianapolis; phoenixtheatre.org

Aug. 6-7

“Tuesdays With Morrie,” Live staged reading by Carmel Community Players at PrimeLife Enrichment, 1078 Third Ave. SW, Carmel; carmelplayers.org/whats-on-stage/tuesdays-with-morrie/

Aug. 6-13

“Crazy For You,” Footlite Musicals, 1847 N. Alabama, Indianapolis; footlite.org

Aug. 6-14

“Alice In Wonderland,” Mud Creek Players (outdoors), 9740 E. 86th St., Indianapolis; mudcreekplayers.org

Aug. 8

Sam C. Jones w/ Hank Ruff, in concert at The Park at the Phoenix (Phoenix Theatre Cultural Center), 712 North Illinois St., Indianapolis; phoenixtheatre.org

Aug. 13-14

“The Silent War,” Live staged reading by Carmel Community Players at PrimeLife Enrichment, 1078 Third Ave. SW, Carmel; carmelplayers.org/whats-on-stage/the-silent-war/

Aug. 13-22

“Hedwig and the Angry Inch,” Zach & Zack productions at The Park at the Phoenix (Phoenix Theatre Cultural Center), 712 North Illinois St., Indianapolis; tickets.zachandzack.com, phoenixtheatre.org

Aug. 19-Oct. 3

“Newsies,” Beef & Boards Dinner Theatre, 9301 N. Michigan Road; http://www.beefandboards.com

Aug. 19-Sept. 5

INDYFRINGE (Indianapolis Theatre Fringe Festival) Mass. Ave. area, Indianapolis; http://www.indyfringe.org

Aug. 20-Sept. 5

“The Two Kids That Blow Sh*t Up,” Fonseca Theatre, 2508 W. Michigan St., Indianapolis; fonsecatheatre.org

Aug. 20-21

“Ripcord,” Live staged reading by Carmel Community Players at PrimeLife Enrichment, 1078 Third Ave. SW, Carmel; carmelplayers.org/whats-on-stage/ripcord-2/

Aug. 26-28

“Under the Big Top,” Gregory Hancock Dance Theatre at The Tarkington, Center for the Performing Arts, downtown Carmel; gregoryhancockdancetheatre.org, thecenterpresents.org

Sept. 10-Oct. 3

“Always, Patsy Cline,” Actors Theatre of Indiana at The Studio Theater, Center for the Performing Arts, downtown Carmel; atistage.org, thecenterpresents.org

Sept. 10-19

“Boeing Boeing,” Carmel Community Players at The Cat, 254 Veterans Way, downtown Carmel;; carmelplayers.org

Sept. 16-26

“Arsenic and Old Lace,” Epilogue Players, 1849 N. Alabama St., Indianapolis (corner of 19th and Alabama); epilogueplayers.com

Sept. 17-Oct. 3

“A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder,” Footlite Musicals, 1847 N. Alabama, Indianapolis; footlite.org

Sept. 18-Oct. 3

“1980 (Or, Why I’m Voting for John Anderson),” Storefront Theatre of Indianapolis, 717 Broad Ripple Ave., Indianapolis; storefrontindy.com

TBA

“King Liz,” Fonseca Theatre, 2508 W. Michigan St., Indianapolis; fonsecatheatre.org

Oct. 6-31

“The Book Club Play,” Indiana Repertory Theatre, 140 W. Washington St., Indianapolis; irtlive.com

Oct. 7-17

“Dracula,” Main Street Players at Westfield Playhouse, 220 N. Union St., Westfield; westfieldplayhouse.org

Oct. 7-31

“Alabaster,” Phoenix Theatre, 712 North Illinois St., Indianapolis; phoenixtheatre.org

Oct. 7-Nov. 21

“Phantom,” Beef & Boards Dinner Theatre, 9301 N. Michigan Road; http://www.beefandboards.com

Oct. 8-23

“The Color Purple: The Musical,” Booth Tarkington Civic Theatre, Center for the Performing Arts, downtown Carmel; http://www.civictheatre.org, thecenterpresents.org.

Oct. 8-17

“Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf,” Bard Fest production at The Cat, 254 Veterans Way, downtown Carmel; http://www.indybardfest.com

Oct. 9-10

“Legend of Sleepy Hollow,” Buck Creek Players (outdoors), 11150 Southeastern Ave., Indianapolis (Acton Road exit off I-74); buckcreekplayers.com

Oct. 22-31

INDY BARD FEST (Shakespeare Festival): “Measure for Measure” at IndyFringe (downtown Indy), “Antony and Cleopatra” and “Love’s Labors Lost” at the Cat (Carmel), “Macbeth” at Theater at the Fort (Lawrence); http://www.indybardfest.com

Oct. 28-30

“There’s No Place Like Home,” Gregory Hancock Dance Theatre at The Tarkington, Center for the Performing Arts, downtown Carmel; gregoryhancockdancetheatre.org, thecenterpresents.org

Oct. 29-Nov. 21

“Lombardi,” Actors Theatre of Indiana at The Studio Theater, Center for the Performing Arts, downtown Carmel; atistage.org, thecenterpresents.org

Nov. 5-14

“Rosie the Riveter,” Buck Creek Players, 11150 Southeastern Ave., Indianapolis (Acton Road exit off I-74); buckcreekplayers.com

“Elizabeth Rex,” Indy Bard Fest at Theater at the Fort, 8920 Otis Ave. (Lawrence); http://www.indybardfest.com.

Nov. 19-Dec. 12

“Holiday Inn,” Footlite Musicals, 1847 N. Alabama, Indianapolis; footlite.org

Nov. 26- Dec. 18

“A Charlie Brown Christmas,” Booth Tarkington Civic Theatre, Center for the Performing Arts, downtown Carmel; http://www.civictheatre.org, thecenterpresents.org

Nov. 26-Dec. 26

“A Christmas Carol,” Indiana Repertory Theatre, 140 W. Washington St., Indianapolis; irtlive.com

Nov. 27-Dec. 19

“Bakersfield Mist,” Phoenix Theatre, 712 North Illinois St., Indianapolis; phoenixtheatre.org

Dec. 2-12

“The Christmas Express,” Epilogue Players, 1849 N. Alabama St., Indianapolis (corner of 19th and Alabama); epilogueplayers.com

Dec. 3-4

“The Nutcracker,” Gregory Hancock Dance Theatre at Pike Performing Arts Center, Indianapolis; gregoryhancockdancetheatre.org, thecenterpresents.org

Dec. 3-5

“Holiday Shorts,” Carmel Community Players at The Cat, 254 Veterans Way, downtown Carmel;; carmelplayers.org

Dec. 3-24

“Elf: The Musical,” Booth Tarkington Civic Theatre, Center for the Performing Arts, downtown Carmel; http://www.civictheatre.org, thecenterpresents.org

Dec. 9-19

Irving Berlin’s “White Christmas,” Main Street Players at Westfield Playhouse, 220 N. Union St., Westfield; westfieldplayhouse.org

Dec. 10-19

“It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play,” Buck Creek Players, 11150 Southeastern Ave., Indianapolis (Acton Road exit off I-74); buckcreekplayers.com

2022

Jan. 26-Feb. 20

“Fahrenheit 451,” Indiana Repertory Theatre, 140 W. Washington St., Indianapolis; irtlive.com

Jan. 28-Feb. 20

“The Big Bang: The Musical,” Actors Theatre of Indiana at The Studio Theater, Center for the Performing Arts, downtown Carmel; atistage.org, thecenterpresents.org

“Love Bird,” Phoenix Theatre, 712 North Illinois St., Indianapolis; phoenixtheatre.org

Feb. 4-13

“Good People,” Buck Creek Players, 11150 Southeastern Ave., Indianapolis (Acton Road exit off I-74); buckcreekplayers.com

Feb. 4-19

“The Diary of Anne Frank,” Booth Tarkington Civic Theatre, Center for the Performing Arts, downtown Carmel; http://www.civictheatre.org, thecenterpresents.org

Feb. 7-27

“Calendar Girls,” Epilogue Players, 1849 N. Alabama St., Indianapolis (corner of 19th and Alabama); epilogueplayers.com

Feb. 10-20

“Of Mice and Men,” Main Street Players at Westfield Playhouse, 220 N. Union St., Westfield; westfieldplayhouse.org

Feb. 12-27

“The Black Dahlia,” Gregory Hancock Dance Theatre at The Academy of GHDT, Carmel; gregoryhancockdancetheatre.org

Feb. 25-March 6

“The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime,” Carmel Community Players at The Cat, 254 Veterans Way, downtown Carmel;; carmelplayers.org

March 11-26

“Wait Until Dark,” Booth Tarkington Civic Theatre, Center for the Performing Arts, downtown Carmel; http://www.civictheatre.org, thecenterpresents.org.

March 17- April 10

“The Magnolia Ballet,” Phoenix Theatre, 712 North Illinois St., Indianapolis; phoenixtheatre.org

March 23-April 10

(TBA), Indiana Repertory Theatre, 140 W. Washington St., Indianapolis; irtlive.com

March 31-April 10

“Flaming Idiots,” Main Street Players at Westfield Playhouse, 220 N. Union St., Westfield; westfieldplayhouse.org

April 1-10

“Fly Babies,” Buck Creek Players, 11150 Southeastern Ave., Indianapolis (Acton Road exit off I-74); buckcreekplayers.com

April 7-9

“Exodus,” Gregory Hancock Dance Theatre at The Tarkington, Center for the Performing Arts, downtown Carmel; gregoryhancockdancetheatre.org, thecenterpresents.org

April 20-May 15

“The Paper Dreams of Harry Chin,” Indiana Repertory Theatre, 140 W. Washington St., Indianapolis; irtlive.com

April 21-May 1

“Becky’s New Car,” Epilogue Players, 1849 N. Alabama St., Indianapolis (corner of 19th and Alabama); epilogueplayers.com

April 22-May 8

“The Fantasticks,” Carmel Community Players at The Cat, 254 Veterans Way, downtown Carmel; carmelplayers.org

April 27-May 22

“Working: The Musical,” Actors Theatre of Indiana at The Studio Theater, Center for the Performing Arts, downtown Carmel; atistage.org, thecenterpresents.org

April 28-May 22

“No AIDS, No Maids, or, Stories I Can’t F*ckin’ Hear No More,” Phoenix Theatre, 712 North Illinois St., Indianapolis; phoenixtheatre.org

April 29-May 14

“Matilda: The Musical,” Booth Tarkington Civic Theatre, Center for the Performing Arts, downtown Carmel; http://www.civictheatre.org, thecenterpresents.org

May 10-June 5

“Steel Magnolias,” Indiana Repertory Theatre, 140 W. Washington St., Indianapolis; irtlive.com

June 2-12

“Rumors,” Main Street Players at Westfield Playhouse, 220 N. Union St., Westfield;; westfieldplayhouse.org

June 3-19

“Little Women: The Broadway Musical,” Buck Creek Players (outdoors), 11150 Southeastern Ave., Indianapolis (Acton Road exit off I-74); buckcreekplayers.com0

June 9-11

“Antony and Cleopatra,” Gregory Hancock Dance Theatre at The Tarkington, Center for the Performing Arts, downtown Carmel; gregoryhancockdancetheatre.org, thecenterpresents.org

June 10-19

“A Medley of Murders,” Carmel Community Players at The Cat, 254 Veterans Way, downtown Carmel; carmelplayers.org

June 16-26

“Now and Then,” Epilogue Players, 1849 N. Alabama St., Indianapolis (corner of 19th and Alabama); epilogueplayers.com

Aug. 12-21

“Shipwrecked! An Entertainment,” Carmel Community Players at The Cat, 254 Veterans Way, downtown Carmel; carmelplayers.org

Indiana Ten Minute Play Festival

By John Lyle Belden

In our restricted world, there are not a lot of opportunities for live entertainment. Fortunately, IndyFringe has managed a nice setup in its “pocket park” next to the theatre building, where an audience can sit at tables spaced about six feet apart. The actors use the garage-style opening of the Indy Eleven stage to set up their play space. (See indyfringe.org for upcoming shows at this unique venue.)

Last weekend, that little space held a big variety of entertainment as Fringe presented the Indiana Ten Minute Play Festival. The seven brief comic dramas had a surprising degree of depth and content, even at their silliest, thanks to sharp writing and excellent acting from a fun group of players.

We started with “Hurry Up, It’s Almost Bedtime” by Janice Neal, directed by Anthony Nathan with Emerging Artists Theatre. David Molloy is Frank, who is likely dead, which spells trouble for fellow senior-home residents Rose (Linda Grant), Lucille (Wendy Brown) and Betty (Joy Shurn). Nurse Brittany (Stephanie Anderson) hasn’t caught on, yet. The fast-approaching bedtime of the title gives them an idea to ensure that Frank’s body is found in his bed. While the idea of this play sounds macabre, the Golden-Girls-style repartee among the ladies makes this a nice dark comedy.

“Aloha Apocalypse,” by Marcia Eppich-Harris – directed by Megan Ann Jacobs with Rapture Theatre – is based on an actual event not that long ago when an “incoming missile” alert was sounded in Hawaii. Sophie (Laura Baltz) and Ed (David Molloy) are a mainlander couple on vacation who discover they may only have minutes to live. What to do? After a comically-arranged farewell video to their children, there’s the agonizing wait for The End. Feeling his conscience bother him, Ed makes a confession of infidelity. That doesn’t help them, but it makes things even funnier for us. Fate has the last laugh, of course, when it’s announced that the crisis is a false alarm. Baltz and Malloy have great chemistry, even when the reactions are unstable. A newscaster voice is provided by Thomas Sebald.

“Don’t Toy With Me” by Andrew Black, directed by Casey Ross of Catalyst Repertory Theatre, brings the focus not only down to 10 minutes long but also to 10 inches high, as Thomas Sebald plays a GI Joe action figure that has arrived at the Malibu Beach House occupied by Beach Glam Ken (Grant Nagel). At the moment, they don’t hear the godlike voices of their child masters, so they can be themselves. They remark on how so much of their world is “out of order,” like the canteen or juice bottle they feel compelled to “drink” even if no liquid comes out. Eventually the mistress of the dreamhouse, Malibu Barbie (Kyrsten Lyster), arrives. And even if she can be temporarily distracted by a fashion faux pas, her power over Ken is too strong for the men’s relationship to last. The sharp script and this talented trio make this the most hilarious bit of the evening. And it helps that the actors have their “articulated” movements down, especially Sebald.

“Are You Busy Tonight” – by Russell Ridgeway, directed by Anthony Nathan – is what Mother (Wendy Brown) asks son Kevin (Nathan) in this funny roller coaster of a phone conversation. At first Kevin is annoyed at his mom wanting to invite her to an evening at the theatre, but after suggesting that she ask if someone else is free, he becomes even more exasperated to find out he – her son – was the 28th person she thought to ask! And that included a couple of friends who had died. Nathan is at his best acting flustered, and Brown is a force of nature, so they mint comedy gold here.

Heritage Christian High School Theatre Department presents a teen rite of passage with “Promposal!” by Josie Gingrich, directed by Spencer Elliott. Sam (Bradley Bundrant) likes Anna (Cate Searcy) but over time she has become distant. So, what better way to win her over than by asking her to the Senior Prom, in an extravagant gesture reminiscent of the ’80s movies she likes to watch. Our scene begins as Anna exits the Cafeteria thoroughly embarrassed, and Sam follows, desperate to find out how his perfect plan went so wrong. This sweet and authentic look at high school life, loaded with unforced humor, feels pitch-perfect. Bundrant and Searcy nimbly portray how two such different personalities – he impulsive and loud, she quiet and wanting to be invisible – can eventually feel meant for each other.

Mark Harvey Levine is great at making these short-form plays – Phoenix Theatre patrons may remember some years back he presented a series of them there in “Cabfare for the Common Man.” In this festival, Levine brings us “Ordained,” directed by Megan Ann Jacobs. Sharon (Kyrsten Lister) is manic, unabashed, double-espresso perky, and just recently ordained as a minister by the SacredChurchOfAngelicMinistry.com. Now, at this airport waiting lounge, she has found Abby (Case Jacobus), who is single, and Gary (Grant Nagel), who is also single. Let’s get them married! The resulting scene is wildly hilarious, even as what seems to be an encounter with a well-meaning lunatic starts to have the odd feel of destiny. Jacobus and Nagel play it well, taking the oddness in stride, and Lister is in her element.

What better way to finish an evening of unusual stories than with “Sock Puppet Fetish Noir,” by Kelly McBurnette-Andronicos, directed by Casey Ross, who also stars (stepping in for Missy Rump, who couldn’t make it for health reasons). Jane (Ross) pays a visit to an unusual detective, Inspector Darryl, a puppet sock who will only talk to her sock placed on her hand. It seems some “friends” have gone missing, last seen going into the laundry with their partners. But it turns out that Melvin (David Molloy), the man at the other end of Darryl’s arm, has been keeping secrets in that jar on the desk. So, yes, it’s very weird – quite funny – and with up-for-anything actors like Ross and Malloy, it somehow works.

This was a one-weekend event, so hopefully one or more of these scenes will pop up again somewhere. The festival was an excellent exhibition of local talent and creativity, part of the great and varied Indy theatre scene that we look forward to seeing more of as current events allow.

Bard Fest presents a ‘First’

By John Lyle Belden

As local theatre struggles to get on stage, the organization Indy Bard Fest (with the help of companies that have presented the annual Shakespeare festival under its banner) is adapting to the times. Its first production is a free outdoor staging of the Bard-inspired “Shakespeare’s Long Lost First Play (Abridged)” by Reed Martin and Austin Tichenor (of the infamous Reduced Shakespeare Company).

Bard Fest director Glenn Dobbs has persuaded the trio of Matt Hartzburg, J.B. Scoble, and Kelsey Van Voorst — no strangers to Shakespeare, parody, on-the-spot improv, or even the abridging of Wlm. Shkspr. — to put on silly clothes and risk their lives and dignity at a “Pestilent Pocket Park” in front of a bunch of masked strangers at strategically scattered tables.

It seems that some trivial historical bones were not all that were recently found in a Leicester, England, parking lot; there was also an entirely too long and overwrought script by an aspiring young playwright from Stratford-Upon-Avon. It turned out to be much ado over nothing, a winter’s tale for another era, a massive comedy of errors, but measure for measure a potentially great first draft if broken up into thirty-odd comedies, tragedies and histories.

However, Van Voorst (whom I did “mark down as an Ass” in a past review) claims she has gotten the whole monstrosity edited down to a watchable two acts, and Hartzburg and Scoble, having nothing better to do in quarantine, are playing along.

Imagine if the Complete Works of William Shakespeare were tossed into a blender (metaphorically, paper ruins the blades, trust me) and an improv company was ordered to perform it as soon as possible, with whatever was laying around the prop room (or purchased from the local dollar store, judging by at least one price tag we saw hanging). Yes, it’s Just. That. Fun. Perhaps it’s the incredible talent involved; maybe it’s the incredible flexibility of the material of a serious playwright who loved bawdy jokes; and maybe it’s also the fact that under the law, parody is fair game even if you are poking at Disney. Yes, we all know “Lion King” = “Hamlet”, but did Uncle Walt’s company steal other ideas, and characters like Ariel and Iago, from the Immortal Bard?

There’s even an overarching plot to this mess, involving two famed magical beings (from different Shakespeare plays) who don’t get along, and carry out their feud by scrambling characters and plots from various plays into, eventually, a single setting — kinda like “Into the Woods” (does Sondheim know about this?). 

Alas, poor playgoer, I’m committing this to the ether after the opening weekend performances of July 31-Aug. 2 at the IndyFringe Pocket Park are done. But hark! There are more stagings planned for Aug. 7-8 at The Cat performance space in downtown Carmel; Aug. 21 and 23 in Indy’s Garfield Park; Aug. 28-30 in Noblesville; and more locations in September. See indybardfest.com for details. Oh, and mark that admission to all performances is free! (Sack and other accommodations may cost; donations are always welcome.) 

ALT: Intense drama includes talkback after every show

By John Lyle Belden

American Lives Theatre, the latest new company to the Indianapolis stage scene, makes a bold and provocative debut with its production of Pulitzer finalist “Gloria” by Branden Jacobs-Jenkins.

In the offices of a New York-based magazine, aspiring writers, stuck as assistants to faceless editors, snipe at each other as they lament their lack of opportunity, discuss their exit strategies, and seek to take advantage of the breaking story of a celebrity death. Dean (Joe Barsanti) is facing his 30th birthday with the vain hope that his memoir on his struggles in a dying industry will make all this worth it. Ali (Morgan Morton) is very go-along-get-along, which infuriates super-ambitious Kendra (Kim Egan). It’s the last day for intern Miles (Joshua Short), who is questioning his career path, now that he has seen the beast from the inside. The general commotion in this room infuriates Lorin (Tom Weingartner), trying to keep up with the demands of being chief fact-checker down the hall. Meanwhile, Gloria (Bridget Haight) — generally quiet and kinda weird, but a constant presence for the past 15 years — keeps dropping by, appearing anxious. Could this have something to do with the housewarming she hosted the night before, to which only Dean showed up?

This is about all I dare reveal of the plot. Director (and ALT founder) Chris Saunders notes that the content of this play includes a “trigger warning” due to a very specific trauma at the heart of the story. But I won’t spill, as the shock is an essential part of the drama. 

Fortunately, there is plenty of satirical and workplace humor, even as the characters become haunted by their circumstances. Haight also plays Nan, an editor with her own perspective that receives attention. Most of the cast also have additional roles, notably Short as a rather in-charge Starbucks barista. All have talents well up to their task.

“Gloria” is not so much about what happens, but rather how we deal with it. As each person comes to terms with their role and reactions, it becomes a question, as Saunders asks in the post-show discussion, “who owns the rights to trauma?”

Yes, there’s a talk-back — after every performance. Saunders hosts, and the actors may also get involved. Given what happens in the play, this can be a very important part of the overall experience.

Performances are Friday, Saturday (Jan. 17-18) and the next Friday through Sunday (Jan. 24-26) at the IndyFringe Theatre, 719 E. St. Clair. Get info and tickets at americanlivestheatre.org or indyfringe.org.

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.

Walken in a winter wonderland

By John Lyle Belden

For those wanting a little something different during the holidays, Defiance Comedy presents a horror thriller in the form of a comedy musical, “Silent Fright.”

It’s Christmas Eve on the North Pole, and with Santa away on his annual duties, the elves are vulnerable to an evil spirit that stalks the workshop. It possesses their souls, making them mindless zombies which take on a voice that sounds like (a bad impression of) Christopher Walken. 

Ryan Ruckman is our traditional Narrator, who should have warned his other role, party elf Jingle Jams — but apparently these stories don’t work that way. Shelby Myers is Trinket, Santa’s assistant, who is in a relationship with chef elf Butterscotch (Chad Woodward), but things are getting too serious. Totally not serious is Kelsey VanVoorst as Candy Sparkles, the friendship elf. Not being taken seriously is Meg McLane as Pipette, the science elf; she’s a bit green (literally).  And John Kern is old elf Chutney Frostbottoms, just three years from retirement (so, yeah, he’s doomed). 

Director Matt Kramer wrote the play and songs, which go for a full two acts, so this isn’t just one of Defiance’s Fringe shows. But it has all the goofy humor you’d expect from the creators of Fringe hits “Volleybrawl” and “Autumn Takes a Tumble.”

Come for the comedy, stay for the weird voice work. Performances are Friday and Saturday evenings, Dec. 6-7 and 13-14, and a matinee Dec. 15, at the IndyFringe Theatre, 719 E. St. Clair Street. Get info and tickets at www.indyfringe.org; follow @DefianceComedy on social media.

Searching for something to believe in at ‘Prospect Hill’

By John Lyle Belden

What or who do you have faith in? What is it telling you? And are you truly listening?

These questions of faith and the angels among us come alive in “Prospect Hill,” a new play by Bruce Walsh, presented by Fat Turtle at the IndyFringe Theatre.

Jacob is a therapist badly in need of help, himself. His husband, Rex, a cancer survivor whose last round of chemo left a particularly frustrating side effect, obsesses with kitchen renovations to avoid their waning relationship. Jacob has given up alcohol, but finds addictive urges satisfied by the constant snacks and sodas brought by his young patient, Ethan, a driver for PepsiCo.

And it doesn’t help that Jacob has been in contact with his Mennonite father, who doesn’t approve of him being gay, let alone his relationship.

Ethan has his own problems: His girlfriend is expecting their child, but now wants nothing to do with him, in part due to his drug addiction. He wants to make more to help support the baby, so, hearing that Rex retired from his sales job in his 50s, asks him for “financial advice.” Relishing the challenge, Rex sees the young man as a potential protege. 

But when the inevitable conflicts occur, a sort of miracle happens. Could Ethan be the “third angel” in their relationship?

Directed by Fat Turtle Managing Director Aaron Cleveland, our well-chosen trio of actors bring out three vivid characters, each searching for meaning in his own way.

Zachariah Stonerock presents the stoic Jacob as a miserable mensch who has been worn down over time, so occupied with pleasing others he has no idea how to be happy, himself. Going through the motions, he simply repeats a mindfulness exercise he had just heard from Rex in his session with Ethan — to hilarious effect — almost accidentally making a sort of breakthrough.

Craig Kemp as Rex counters with energy and humor, masking a deep desperation. He needs to feel vital. not only in his loins (another comic point), but in his mind, as his salesman’s instincts are aroused by the prospect of “selling” Ethan to his old pharma company as a potential employee. Meanwhile, despite proclaiming his atheism, he is hooked on a “six-part series” on PBS on the world’s religions, finding inspiration in spite of himself.

As for 20-ish Ethan, Evren Wilder Elliott* excellently presents a character who seems at first so simple, yet has depths and aspects that even surprise him. “I am here because I am a prophet,” Ethan says — to be fair, it wasn’t his idea — which seems absurd, until it isn’t. The actor channeled the insecurity of playing their first “male” role to convincingly give us a grown boy full of bluster and desire to do right, yet lacking the personal discipline to pull it off. 

This locally-based script (Prospect Hill is a neighborhood in Bloomington) makes an excellent debut, a nice blend of human drama with laugh-out-loud moments. It’s still a work in progress, as the ending seemed a little muddled, hinting at more story to tell (perhaps a sequel play or trilogy could come of this?), but it raises some interesting points on faith, relationships, and what we seek to do with our lives.

Performances run through Nov. 24 at the IndyFringe Basile Theatre, 719 E. St. Clair, downtown Indianapolis. Get info at fatturtletheatre.com and tickets at www.indyfringe.org.

– – –

*Trans actor formerly known as A.M. Elliott

Full ‘Hamlet’ enriches familiar story

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

By Wendy Carson

By now we all know the story of Hamlet. It’s one of Shakespeare’s most produced plays and you’ve likely seen more than one version of it. However, Doug Powers and the Carmel Theatre Company have chosen to give us a different take by giving us an almost entirely unabridged look at the play.

Before you balk at the 3-plus hour running length (with intermission), note that with these rarely acted scenes returned to the story, it just deepens the richness of the characters. It also brings the secondary plot forward (remember Norway?) bringing more closure and purpose to many of the characters.

Honestly, I had forgotten many of the scenes and speeches performed and was touched by the true beauty of not only their narrative but the language itself.

Also, the starkness of the stage and minimalist set pieces help remind you that this show is about listening to and understanding the characters. In order to fulfill this task, one must have great actors and Powers has outdone himself in procuring them.

Brian G. Hartz sizzles as Hamlet, pulling forth all of the rage and deviousness that the character embodies. Miranda Nehrig turns Ophelia into a young woman who’s confusion and frustrations over Hamlet’s behavior help lead her to her desperate end. Both have skill in communicating beyond saying the lines, especially Nehrig’s talent for adding volumes with a single facial expression.

Eric Bryant as Claudius and Jean Arnold as Gertrude present the quintessential parents who are bewildered as to why their son has so quickly changed his demeanor. Their recent nuptials so soon after the previous King’s untimely death never cross their mind as a possible reason.

While most of the Bard Fest offerings have cast women in several men’s roles, Powers uses his casting choices to their maximum effect. Jo Bennett plays Horatio as a dear friend but in later scenes there seems to be romantic tension, which they pull off with great aplomb.

However, the best example of this is with the character of Guildenstern, played by Gorgi Parks Fulper. Instructed to play upon her history with Hamlet to obtain information, she is asked to use her feminine wiles. Meanwhile, Benjamin Mathis plays Rosencrantz as the perfect second banana who seems to always be left out of the whole scheme.

Alan Cloe is perfect as wise but tragic Polonius. Noah Winston is a fiery force as his son, Laertes.

Casting is also clever in its players with two or more roles: Fulper and Mathis also play palace guards in the opening scene. Janice Hibbard is the messenger to Norway, and later is that country’s warrior princess Fortinbras. The ghost of murdered King Hamlet (the title character’s dad) is portrayed by Tony Armstrong, who also plays an identical character in the play-within-the-play that Hamlet (the younger) sets up to watch his stepfather’s reaction; later Armstrong is the gravedigger who unearths Yorick’s skull.

In addition, kudos to Rachel Snyder and Kyrsten Lyster as members of the traveling troupe of Players.

There is some intense swordplay in this production, so credit is due to Bryant as fight choreographer.

Remaining performances are 7:30 p.m. Friday, 7:30 Saturday (with talkback following) and 1 p.m. Sunday (Oct. 25-27) at the IndyFringe Theatre.