OnyxFest: New voices bring truth, drama and song

OnyxFest takes the stages of the IndyFringe Theatre this weekend and May 19-20. The festival is devoted to the stories of African-American playwrights.

According to the festival press release: A recent survey reveals the number of productions written by African Americans in a single year is as low as five percent. IndyFringe recognizes this lack of diversity and seeks to change the landscape of local theatre by bringing together storytellers, actors and audiences in its two theatres. OnyxFest is determined to be the vehicle to expose theatre-goers to the voices and talent of new and emerging black playwrights.

The four plays selected for this year’s OnyxFest are:

“The Quilting” by Mijiza Holiday of Indianapolis, an autobiographical play that depicts the abuse the playwright’s mother endured and how her strength had the ability to heal.

“Black Lives Matter (Too)” by Angela Jackson-Brown and Ashya Thomas of Muncie, one part play and one part story poem that explores the struggles and triumphs of black people from slavery to the present.

“Truth – The One Man Show” by Ryan Bennett of Indianapolis, the culmination of 152 years of truth coming from the souls of four individuals: Silas Christian, a runaway slave; Harley Wallace, a Ku Klux Klan member; Malik Muhammad, a civil rights activist and Jackson Thomas, a misguided young man, all of whom are fighting for their families.

“The Wedding Bells: A Musical about Tying the Knot” with book and lyrics by Nicole Kearney of Indianapolis, music by Warren Lankford. Bride-to-be Etta receives an unexpected visit from her ex-husband as she prepares for her wedding. As she and her bridesmaids try to deal with him without telling the groom, chaos ensues. Will her past ruin her future?

IndyFringe is located 719 E. St. Clair St. (just east of St. Clair/College/Mass Ave. intersection) and online at www.indyfringe.org.

Hero-ing ain’t easy

By Wendy Carson

We have all heard of Hercules and that he performed numerous “labors” as penance for his past misdeeds. He is always thought of as a noble hero – but what if he was actually a douche?

In “Mad Mad Hercules,” presented by NoExit and Zach Rosing Productions, we see him as a horny, drunk asshole who disrespects everyone and only aspires to become a constellation. To do so, he must complete these labors, which he has no desire to work for. True, he has been tortured and almost killed his entire existence by his reluctant stepmother, Hera. Still, that is no excuse for him being this big a tool.

This being Greek theatre, we have a Chorus to keep things going, fill in exposition, pose as occasional characters in the story and so on. Matthew Altman, Carrie Bennett Fedor, and Devan Mathais do an wonderfully energetic and whimsical job in this case.

Ryan Ruckman portrays Hercules so well, you will fight to keep yourself from punching him out. Nathan Thomas brings great passion to his character, Iolas, who must force Hercules to accomplish those tasks. He had always thought of Hercules as his hero, until he met him.

Beverly Roche is hilarious as Hippolyta, the leader of the Amazons. She also does a great job puppeting Galinthias, who was transformed by Hera into a polecat for helping to birth Hercules.

Speaking of puppetry, Matt Roher is a master at transforming himself into many of the creatures that are essential in the labors. His turn as the Ceryneian Hind is a marvel to behold.

Dena Toler gives a solid turn as the Trisha-Yearwood-idolizing Hera. However, it is her touching portrayal of Echidna, the monstrous mother of the Nemean Lion, that truly shows her amazing depth as an actress.

Josiah McCruiston is delightful as Eurystheus, Ruler of Hercules’s homeland and biggest pain in his ass.

Seemingly underused in the cast is Tony Armstrong as Zeus, the loving father who just can’t keep it in his pants.

The show, written by Bennett Ayres and Directed by Zack Neiditch, is an irreverent and thoroughly enjoyable interpretation of this epic tale. Be sure to catch it before it, too, is but a legend.

Find “Mad Mad Hercules” at the IndyFringe building, 719 E. St. Clair (just east of the Mass Ave./College/St. Clair intersection) in downtown Indianapolis, through May 7. Get info and tickets at www.indyfringe.org.

IndyFringe: Passing Notes

By Wendy Carson

This is one man’s journey through the remembrance of his first love and other fleeting moments of childhood. He deftly navigates the awkwardness of teenage mating rituals and the overall cluelessness of boys into the minds of girls. As he points out, life for a teenage boy is a series of stupid statements and them making up for them.

The story unfolds through the two young actors reading the various notes they wrote to each other during these years, as well as providing insight on the meanings behind their words. However, the narrator is also there, berating his younger self for his bumbling behavior.

While the tale is overall pretty predictable (think, “The Fault in Our Notes”), it is pointed out to us that “clichés are that for a reason.” Still, this is an excellent portrayal of a familiar story.

Performances are Saturday and Sunday, Aug. 27-28, on the Theatre on the Square second stage. Info and tickets at indyfringefestival.com.

IndyFringe: Spaghetti Western 3D

By Wendy Carson

Welcome to Javelina, Texas, and the 47th annual Javelina Town Pageant. It is celebrated on the anniversary of the release of the famous movie made about the town, “The Promised Land.”

The four spunky ladies of our troupe are here to reenact a, thankfully, abridged version of the film (in 3D!). Sadly, this does mean that they have to cut the “flying armadillo scene” but the remaining offering is delightful, nonetheless. Near the beginning, a box of spaghetti is paraded across the stage in just the first of many, many, visual gags predominant throughout the show.

Lest you think this is all just silliness and kooky humor, the show provides us with numerous important facts: Lesbians were invented in 1852, and “sociopathic” is the true definition of masculinity, just to name a few.

An overall hilarious show that will have you laughing and singing along, despite yourself.

Remaining performances are Saturday and Sunday, Aug. 27-28, at the Indy Eleven Theatre. Info and tickets at indyfringefestival.com.

IndyFringe: Windy Wynazz is Rich and Famous

By Wendy Carson

Welcome to the world of Windy Wynazz, a failed showgirl desperately trying to convince you (and herself) that she is indeed a superstar. From the moment you enter to the second you leave, this non-stop trip throughout her “career” will have you laughing so hard you cry.

Even though the character portrayed is a “red hot mess,” the talent and innovation she uses to showcase this is truly inspired. From sticking high heeled shoes into her shorts and picking them up as phone calls when each falls out, to the inspired dance number with a tiny red chair, the skill it takes to perform this show is amazing.

I must note, for those who might be wary, there is a lot of audience interaction, but nobody will be humiliated or embarrassed here, except for Windy Wynazz, herself.

See her Friday, Saturday or Sunday, Aug. 26-28, at the Indy Eleven Theatre. Info and tickets at indyfringefestival.com.

IndyFringe: An Alien of Extraordinary Ability

By Wendy Carson

This is one of the most interesting takes on a magic show I’ve seen in a while. Simon Coronel not only shows you a simple trick, he shows you how it is done. However, this is immediately followed up by a similar illusion that is vastly more complex to help further amaze you at his level of skill.

His interactions with various audience members (yes, there is audience participation, but he does practice “consensual magic”) is a delight and even when you know what is going to happen or how the trick is done, his deft use of misdirection will always surprise you.

This is a great evening of magic for the whole family that will keep you laughing no matter whether you are seeking the truth or reveling in the wonder of it all.

Performances are Friday and Saturday, Aug. 26-27, on the Phoenix Theatre underground stage. Info and tickets at indyfringefestival.com.

IndyFringe: The Rhythm Chronicles

By Wendy Carson

The Rhythm Chronicles strives to give the viewer a history lesson on the evolution of tap dancing in America. However, much of this is done through the use of a pre-recorded “conversation” between two disembodied voices. Not only is this device sluggish and often condescending, it greatly detracts from the dancing itself, which is the whole point of the show. Also, it doesn’t help that the voices speak over a dark empty stage, further making the show feel disjointed.

That said, let’s talk about the dancing. From the opening Irish step-dancer and aAfrican tribal performer, the dance numbers highlighted are wonderful. The skill, athleticism as well as the style are all excellent and the dancers are all a joy to watch. Each number builds upon the previous, leading up to a grand finale that is worth the whole ticket price alone.

Hopefully, Circle City Tap Company will find a way to rework this show with a better narrative tool so it can be the fully realized gem that the show should be.

And a note for hoofers of any skill: all in the audience are invited down to the stage at the end to join in the Shim-Sham Shimmy.

Performances are Friday, Saturday and Sunday, Aug. 26-28, on the Phoenix Theatre main stage. Info and tickets at indyfringefestival.com.