OnyxFest: Your Love Will Be Judged

This play is part of OnyxFest 2022, a production of Africana Repertory Theatre of IUPUI (ARTI) and IndyFringe, “Indy’s First and Only Theater Festival Dedicated to the Stories of Black Playwrights.” Initial performances were the weekend of Nov. 3-6 at the Basile Theatre in the IndyFringe building. The second weekend of performances are Thursday through Saturday, Nov. 10-12, at the IUPUI Campus Center Theater, 420 University Boulevard, Indianapolis. Recordings of performances will be available at ButlerArtsCenter.org. For more information, see OnyxFest.com.

By Wendy Carson

In “Your Love Will Be Judged,” director and playwright Gabrielle Patterson takes us all to an alternate timeline where divorces are decided by a jury trial. We become privy to the deliberation of six jurors who each have their own strong ideas as to what choice will best satisfy the needs of an offstage couple.

Alicia Sims as Juror 2 feels that the whole thing is cut and dried, but aggressively argues with everyone regarding their choices and reasoning, sometimes nearly coming to blows – she is a sheer delight to watch every second. Haleigh Rigger brings a lot of charm as well as tone-deaf condescension to Juror 1’s “perfect housewife” character. Jacob Pettyjohn makes the “hit it and quit it” attitude of Juror 3 so slimy, you want to mop the floor after he passes. Rodney Smith as Juror 4 spectacularly brings out his character’s “old-school/back in my day” bluster. D’yshe Mansfield is masterfully mellow, filling Juror 5 with the distracted wisdom that only herbal enhancement can provide. Attempting to oversee and contain the varied personalities is Michael Martin Drain as the Foreman, showing all the resolve and exasperation that the position entails.

While, like Sims’ juror, you may feel that the verdict is obvious, the twists and turns of each player, as well as some prejudicial attitudes, will keep you guessing as to the outcome. This show is not only very funny, but also offers material for personal discussions of many of its topics for a good while afterwards.

Comedy with ‘Style!’

By John Lyle Belden

If an Asian playwright and Asian actors take on Asian stereotypes, is it still offensive? Is mocking these tropes this way self-effacing, creating awareness, or both?

You might find yourself pausing between bouts of laughter to consider these questions during Mike Lew’s comical cultural exploration, “Tiger Style!” on stage at the Fonseca Theatre, directed by Jordan Flores Schwartz.

Third-generation Chinese Americans, Albert and Jennifer Chen (Sean Qiu and Kim Egan) are the products of what could be called “tiger parenting,” pushed by their parents (Ian Cruz and Tracy Herring) to excel to the point of perfection at music and STEM careers – Albert is one of the best computer coders, Jen is one of the best oncologists. But instead of super-functional adults, they grew up to be self-aware Asian caricatures.

In the tech world, Albert is passed over for promotion because he’s too good at his job, while goofball slacker Russ the Bus (Jacob Pettyjohn) is better at socializing and getting along with everyone, which boss Reggie (Cruz) sees as more valuable for a supervisor. Albert is boggled at the fact that his deferential attitude, hard work and productivity didn’t pay off, and is appalled that even his Asian employer likes the white guy more than him. The stress literally eats him up inside.

Meanwhile, Jen is dumped by her do-nothing boyfriend (Pettyjohn as another slacker) because she didn’t turn out as “exotic” as he’d hoped. She spirals at the fact her super-structured life plan is out of whack, and that she can’t even keep a man who is way beneath her. The therapist she sees (Herring) doesn’t respect her need for an immediate breakthrough, so she and her brother resolve the only way to fix things is a hard reckoning with their parents.

“Secrets will be revealed that will threaten to tear the family apart” – or not.

I won’t say where this all leads, but Cruz also plays characters named “Tzi Chuan” (pronounced Schezwan) and “General Tso.” Herring adds a Chinese Matchmaker, and self-sacrificing Cousin Chen.

Lew crafted this play so that the more serious it gets, the more silly it gets, like life-and-death moments in a Monty Python sketch. In this, Cruz’s comic flair comes into full flower, as does Herring’s improv-honed skill for rolling through situations, smiling through the absurdity. As for Qui and Egan, rarely has naive overthinking been so entertaining. Pettyjohn committing to the White stereotype is just icing on the cake.

The lessons here, I suspect, are different depending on if you are Asian-American. Still, there is a lot to draw from this look at a culture both different from and intertwined with mainstream America.

Performances run through Aug. 14 at 2508 W. Michigan St., Indianapolis (just west of downtown), on the newly named C.H. Douglas and Gray Wealth Management Stage. Get info and tickets at fonsecatheatre.org.