New ‘Oak Island’ musical a treasure

By John Lyle Belden

At last, “Oak Island: A New Musical” by Marian University alums Joe Barsanti (music) and Brandi Underwood (book and director) has its world premiere on the Basile stage at the Indyfringe Theatre. The show’s music was introduced in concert during the 2021 IndyFringe Festival, and this is its first full staging, produced by American Lives Theatre.

Oak Island is an actual place, located near Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada. It has been the subject of stories and legends since at least the 1700s, as well as a recent nine-episode reality TV series. Like many islands from the Maritimes to the Caribbean, it is rumored to be the location of buried treasure (a top candidate for whose is pirate Capt. Kidd; more fanciful legends cite the Knights Templar, among others). For generations, repeated expeditions found old coins and mysterious objects. But time and again, when it seems a definitive answer is within reach, seawater floods in and the shaft collapses. Professional treasure hunters make plans to solve the mystery (and beat the “curse”) to this day.

But this musical is not about the treasure hunt; it focuses on the hunters, and one family in particular.

Frank (John B. Hayes) let this obsession take over his entire life, sharing the search with his son Will (Joseph Massingale) while his wife Grace (Carrie Neal) and other son Drake (Zach Hoover) stayed behind in the States. But now the father has died, leaving his sons to consider their legacy.

Andrew Horras and Tommy McConnell play Will and Drake, respectively, as young boys in flashback and memory, competing with the lure of distant gold for their father’s affection. In one of the best scenes, “Nothing You and I Can’t Do,” we see the adult brothers remember an impromptu backyard treasure hunt their father prepared for them, as their younger selves race about following the clues. Each came away with a different perspective on and lessons from the event, reflected in the bitter friction between them now.

Wendy noted that another song, “Miles Between Us,” sounds like something you’d hear on the radio.

Other roles are played by Maggie Lengerich, Jack Lockrem, Kerrington Shorter, and Dan Flahive, who portrays friendly Oak Islander Paul as well as rival treasure hunter Eugene, who offers to buy Frank’s claim from the sons.

The musical shows a lot of promise, with the creators always open to feedback. It manages to dwell on loss without becoming too maudlin, and creates an interesting conflict not only with two sons having very different experiences with their father – the more estranged struggling with the lost opportunity to reconcile – but also with the siren song of obsession. Is there an obligation to make their father’s sacrifices worthwhile? Does the next generation carry on the search, knowing what it could cost?

Massingale and Hoover, who sang their roles in the Fringe concert, comfortably embody the siblings, even with their roiling mix of emotions that include equal parts love and resentment. Hayes gives us a no-nonsense father (ironic when considering the eccentricity of his mission) while Neal’s Grace lives up to the name, understanding and accommodating to a fault. All four personalities are quick to point out selfishness in the others, while blind to their own.

We have an excellent opportunity with this show to be able to say you saw it before it potentially goes on to bigger stages. Performances run through Sunday at 719 E. St. Clair, off Mass Ave. in downtown Indianapolis. For information and tickets, visit americanlivestheatre.org or indyfringe.org.

IndyFringe: Not Dead Yet

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 Wendy Carson

Dana Dunn is a retired actress. She gave up Hollywood while her star was on the rise and relocated back to middle-America to live a more normal life. She is quite happy not acting again for the rest of her days, living with her sister, Lana, who was her hair and makeup stylist. The two are lovingly close.

Dana’s devoted nephew, Shawn, is trying to bring her into the modern world by giving her an iPad fully loaded with all of the websites she would need, as well as links to accounts devoted to her and her career. He also has a tip that Ron Howard (a huge fan of Dana’s work) is casting a new movie and would be thrilled if she would consider joining the cast. Needless to say, Auntie Dana is having none of it.

After returning from a dear friend’s funeral, they are joined by Tom and his sister Sandy, who grew up next door. While Tom is sincere and level-headed, Sandy is a whiny, self-centered bitch on wheels. It is obvious that while they have both gotten older, neither of them has ever grown up.

At Dana’s birthday party — given by Grayson, her biggest fan and dear friend — we meet Sam Snyder, an aspiring actor who can only get a job spinning a “Cash 4 Gold” sign. Afterward, Dana and Lana pick up the iPad and start playing around on it. After many drinks, Lana takes a picture of Dana laid out on the couch and posts it to Twitter noting #DanaDunnIsDone. The next morning, everyone is convinced she is dead and, of course, hilarity ensues.

Miki Mathioudakis brings Dana to life with a perfect combination of spunkiness and willfulness. Forba Shepherd crafts Lana as a devoted sister but also highlights the character’s sly, manipulative side.

John Joyner does an understated job portraying Tom as the dependable rock that is always there for everyone. Tina Nehrling plays every neurotic affectation that combines to create the psycho powerhouse that is Sandy. Sean Q does a great job of playing the loving yet driven Nephew, Sean.

Lance Gray as Sam and John B Hays as Grayson spend so much time chewing scenery and just being overall fabulous, you can tell they are loving every second that they are embodying their characters.

Still, it’s very nice to see a show in which “ladies of a certain age” are written with dignity and respect, and are more than just caricatures themselves.

This comedy by Jan White has performances Friday and Saturday (Aug. 23-24) at the IndyFringe Theatre, 719 E. St. Clair.