‘Naptown’ awakens

By John Lyle Belden

The Naptown African American Theatre Collective made an impressive debut with its opening one-night production of Austin Dean Ashford’s “Black Book,” directed by Dexter Singleton, on May 13.

NAATC is Indianapolis’s first Black Equity theatre company. A 501c3 nonprofit organization, it is dedicated to diverse employment and speaking to the Black experience in all its forms.

We hear from many such voices in “Black Book,” written and performed solo by Ashford, a many-times national champion of Forensics (the art of speech and debate) who expanded to theatre while pursuing his masters degree. (He is presently earning a PhD at Texas Tech.) The central character is based somewhat on himself, a Forensics expert spending a summer as debate coach for a high school in a mostly-Black inner-city neighborhood. He tells his own story, how he elevated himself from a rough childhood and young adulthood mainly through speech and debate. We also get many glimpses of his coach and mentor, based on famed educator Tommie Lindsey. 

We then meet his students, who naturally want to be anywhere but in class, but need summer school credit to graduate. There are four, but there should have been five. Just days earlier, one was shot by a gun-wielding teacher. One of our students caught the incident on his phone and the viral video only managed to get the teacher fired, not prosecuted. Another was a close friend, and the trauma of witnessing the death exacerbated his stuttering. 

Prior to the first class, Ashford’s character asked that the students watch the 2007 Denzel Washington film, “The Great Debaters,” about the life of Melvin B. Tolson, whom the school is named after. In turn, the kids call him out for trying to be some sort of outsider teacher-savior from a popular movie. “This ain’t ‘Dead Poets Society’!”

As he proves to his charges, and us in the audience, this is a more genuine story of how oratory arts can lift up young men and bring about changes individually, and hopefully beyond. He assures them that this isn’t his bid for sainthood, and speech and debate won’t eliminate the thousand little cuts of racism the youths will endure through their lives, but will give them the tools to assert their dignity and heal.

It also opens the spectrum of what it means to be successful: “You can be a champion, and never touch a ball.”

This drama, with plenty of amusing bits and portrayals, does follow the genre storyline to a degree as the coach mostly wins over the kids, and we end with a triumphant exhibition. However, it feels natural, not contrived, and results in the kind of local small victory that such characters can build on. And the way to that “happy” ending is, of course, a bumpy road. One irony that the teacher comes to grasp, and should stab at the hearts of adults watching, is that the one who would have been the best student in this class lies in his grave. We have a long way to go for true victory.

Ashford’s style is captured energy molded in numerous ways, aided by contorted body movements apropos to each character. Being first a master of speech and persuasion infuses his natural acting with commanding power. We are briefed before the performance that the audience should react freely and respond to any question tossed through the thin fourth wall. This we did with almost a feeling of obligation, giving the show the uplifting air of a traditional African-American church service.

During his instruction, Ashford asks, “What’s your big ‘Why’?” What is the purpose that drives you? We get the answer for his various characters, and a major clue as to the whole endeavor of NAATC. This illuminating look at contemporary culture, how it fails our young men, and a possible way to help remedy the situation, is part of a bold premiere season. 

Next, Naptown embraces Motown with “Detroit ‘67,” by Dominique Morriseau, opening Aug. 25. In spring the company swings to August Wilson’s “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” scheduled to open March 8, 2024. Then, on May 3, NAATC asks us to look into “The Light,” by Loy A. Webb. All performances are at the Phoenix Theatre Cultural Center, 705 N. Illinois St.

The Collective is led by the hard work of LaKesha Lorene, with Ms. Latrice Young and board president Camike Jones, editor of the Indianapolis Recorder, along with Mariah Ivey of the Madame Walker Legacy Center, Flanner House executive director Brandon Cosby, Ron Rice, and AshLee Baskin.

Please visit naatcinc.org to learn more.

Footlite ‘Succeeds’

By John Lyle Belden

We all know of a person who got into a prime position by dumb luck, fell upwards, however you want to call it. But wouldn’t it be wild if there were a simple instruction manual for the ambitious but unqualified?

“How To Succeed in Business Without Really Trying” at Footlite Musicals will show the way!

Based on a 1952 book of the same name by Shepherd Meade – who promoted it as satire, despite the fact he actually rose from mailroom to vice-president in his company – the musical was a hit in 1961, written by Abe Burrows, Jack Weinstock, and Willie Gilbert, with songs by Frank Loesser. More familiar with folks today are the hit revivals which appropriately featured the actors behind Ferris Beuller and Harry Potter in the role of the lead corporate climber.

J. Peirpont Finch (Brett Edwards) is literally on the outside looking in, as a window washer for downtown office buildings. But he has The Book (it was originally published with a yellow cover, so while similar, is not a “Dummies” book). He apparently has the fast-talking mind of a con man, but is somewhat ethical as he seeks to advance his career without committing any crimes or crushing anyone who isn’t acting a fool.  

Finch finds himself at World Wide Wickets (even back then, you needed the WWW to succeed) where he meets all manner of characters: A company president, J.B. Biggley (Graham Brinklow), with an easily exploitable private life; human resources manager Mr.  Bratt (Dan Miller) who will say yes to anything; friendly mail room manager Mr. Twimble (Jeffry Weber) who sees a long career as an end in itself; whiny Bud Frump (Josh Vander Missen), a literal mama’s-boy attempting literal nepotism (advancing as J.B.’s nephew); very hands-on department head Mr. Gatch (Jay Stanley); and various other executives and secretaries. This being the mid-20th century, women are consigned to the latter group, which includes Rosemary (Lauren Werne), who sees Finch’s potential; Smitty (Maggie Meier), Rosemary’s good-spirited bestie; Miss Jones (Joi Blalock), J.B.’s confidante and right hand; and Hedy LaRue (Sarah Marone-Sowers), J.B.’s worst-kept-secret of a mistress.

Will Finch climb the entire corporate ladder in the span of two Broadway comedy musical acts? Well, it would be a pretty lame show if he didn’t – but it won’t be easy, especially with conniving Frump around.

Edwards manages to heap on enough charm as Finch to help us overlook, and even cheer on, his otherwise questionable dealings. In a time when marrying well was one of the few easily attainable options for women, Werne makes Rosemary come off as brilliant. Solid stage veteran Brinklow manages to always emanate boss vibes, even when dancing like a Groundhog or doing a little knitting to relax. Vander Missen and Marone-Sowers show talent beyond being comic foils, holding our interest each in their own quirky ways.

Overall, this production, directed by Paula Phelan with choreography by Linda Rees, orchestra conducted by Aaron Burkhart and stage managed by Melissa Yurechko, does a brilliant job of satirizing office life, applicable to past eras and, to a degree, today. Does the number “Coffee Break” advance the plot? It doesn’t matter, we’ve all been there and appreciate a shout-out to the sacred bean. One could envision that with a more diverse, yet still corrupt and clueless, executive staff, Finch’s grandson could “succeed” just as wildly now.

Join the “Brotherhood” of witnesses to this sharply witty white-collar adventure. Performances run through May 21 at the Hedback Theater, 1647 N. Alabama St., Indianapolis. Get tickets and info at footlite.org.

ATI: World premiere musical exposes ‘Mr. Confidential’

By John Lyle Belden

Publisher Bob Harrison just wanted to make a magazine that everyone would buy, and everybody would talk about. He got his wish, briefly outselling Reader’s Digest, but what people – especially the famous – had to say was nearly more than he could handle.

This is the true story behind “Mr. Confidential,” the new musical getting its world premiere at Actors Theatre of Indiana. Both the book-of-the-musical and the big, detailed book of the same name are by Samuel Garza Bernstein, whose lyrics are set to music by David Snyder.

Harrison (Don Farrell) has gotten some notoriety around New York for his girlie magazines. No naughty bits are revealed, but frilly undies and bathing suits are enough to get him in trouble in 1952. Still, if visual suggestions of sex and sin can’t get published, what’s to stop printing words about it – especially when everyone privately buzzes about how the squeaky-clean image of Hollywood is a dirty sham.

Harrison gets everyone involved: his sister and business partner Edith Tobias (Cynthia Collins), headstrong niece Marjorie Meade (Shelbi Berry Kamohara), naïve nephew Michael Tobias (Jacob Butler), devoted girlfriend Jeannie Douglas (Diana O’Halloran*), and even legendary broadcast journalist Walter Winchell (John Vessels), who brings in zealous Commie-hunter Howard Rushmore (Tim Fullerton) to manage the magazine and provide provocative political content.

“Confidential” magazine is a hit, and soon Marjorie, tired of being little more than wife to Fred Meade (Kieran Danaan), heads out to Los Angeles to get Hollywood dirt right from the source, with informants including exotic model/actress Francesca de la Pena (Jaddy Ciucci).

Back in New York, Rushmore bristles at there being far more stories about “deviants” than secret Reds, and makes his move. Big Bob counters with an alleged brush with death that captures the nation’s attention, so his now-former managing editor enacts a most public and sensational revenge.

The cast also includes Judy Fitzgerald as Rushmore’s wife, Jason Frierson as the Los Angeles County prosecutor, Alex Coveny as Harrison’s attorney, and Emily Bohannon and Megan Arrington in various roles such as pin-up models and trial witnesses.

Farrell’s charisma and Collins’ no-nonsense approach set the high bar that all meet in their performances. Vessels’ knack for going from serious to silly in a heartbeat, complete with you-gotta-be-kidding-me expression, make him an excellent Winchell (and the judge at trial). Berry Kamohara employs her awesome voice exquisitely, especially when singing the potential classic, “Girl Next Door.” O’Halloran manages to project the air of a trusting woman with her own mind in a role where she could come off as a subservient ditz. Fullerton nimbly carries Rushmore down a path of single-minded obsession reminiscent of Javert in “Les Mis,” and just as self-destructive.

The show is enhanced by numerous projections of genuine headlines, photos, and magazine pages, as well as moments of celebrities declaring their shock at finding such stories about them in print. This, and versatile sets, are courtesy of Willem De Vries, with Baxter Chambers on lighting and Zach Rosing on sound. Kevin Casey is stage manager, assisted by Emma Littau.

Silly journalist that I am, I could be burying a lead here – that work is under way to get “Mr. Confidential” to a New York stage.

Is it ready for Broadway? I’m no expert, merely a long-time observer, so I am not qualified to say “no” (that’s too pessimistic for this blog anyway) but I’m sensing it’s not a “yes” – yet. To borrow from home improvement culture, I’d say this musical has “good bones.” The base story is fascinating, it has good songs, and meaty roles. My guess is that, like many that have gone on to meet Tony, this show will see some revisions and evolution as it makes its way to ever-bigger markets, and perhaps the Big Apple.

So, wouldn’t you like to get in on the ground floor, see what the fuss is about, and meet the guy who alerted eager readers to the possibility that Liberace was not a man’s man in the way they thought?

One weekend remains, performances Friday through Sunday, May 12-14, at the Studio Theater in the Center for the Performing Arts in downtown Carmel. For information and tickets, go to atistage.org or thecenterpresents.org. Bernstein’s book, “Mr. Confidential,” and other merch are also available for sale.

(*The actress was misidentified in the initial posting of this review. We apologize for the error and any confusion.)

Southbank: Levine show something to ‘See’

By John Lyle Belden

About the best way to describe the short plays of Mark Harvey Levine is like The Twilight Zone with a funny bone. To present the collection titled “Didn’t See That Coming,” Southbank Theatre Company has as director Anthony Nathan, who has acted and staged quite a few offbeat shows in recent years.

In these eight quick comedies, united by a theme of “Surprise” (also the title of one of the plays), we also get a talented sextet of Angela Dill, Paul Hansen, Terra McFarland, Alex Oberheide, Ryan Powell, and Michelle Wafford, in various roles.

The plots are a combination of Levine classics and new works. Dill and Hansen wake up to find their life is “Scripted.” Powell is a psychic of limited range but still able to sense a breakup with Wafford in “Surprise.” McFarland gets an unusual birthday present: Oberheide’s character in “The Rental.” In the most complex and unusual piece, Powell finds himself in “Plato’s Cave” with Hansen and Wafford. Oberheide and McFarland are a couple needing to let go of childish things in “Defiant Man,” featuring Hansen and Powell in their own Toy Story. Wafford can never get away from her parents, even when she’s away from her parents, in “The Folks,” with Oberheide as her date. Powell has his own night out planned but needs a sober appraisal from McFarland in “The Kiss.” Finally, an ongoing apocalypse is no excuse for letting the accounting department go slack, so Dill is sizing up Hansen in “The Interview.”

I’ve seen practically everyone here get their silly on in the past, so was not surprised to see them put their all into this, delivering absurdities with the appropriate confusion, bewilderment or calm acceptance each moment requires.

Nifty set design by Aric C. Harris gives us a versatile turntable stage, powered in part by stage manager Aaron Henze. As much of the humor is derived from close relationships, we recognize Lola Lovacious for her intimacy direction.

What you should see coming is an exceptional collection of hilarious and clever scenes. Performances are Thursday through Sunday at the Fonseca Theatre, 2508 W. Michigan St., Indianapolis. Get tickets and info at southbanktheatre.org.

Laughter and tears in Belfry’s ‘Crimes’

By John Lyle Belden

The Pulitzer Prize-winning comic drama “Crimes of the Heart” by Beth Henley takes on a special resonance in these times of heightened awareness of mental health issues and violence against women.

The Belfry Theatre presents this play, directed by Jen Otterman, at the Theater at the Fort in Lawrence in all its dysfunctional glory. Taking place in a roughly 24-hour period in a small Mississippi town in 1974, we meet the Magrath sisters: Lenny (Brooke Hackman) is turning 30 but feels ancient; Meg (Sarah Eberhardt) apparently put her Hollywood singing career on hold to rush home; and Babe (Becca Bartley) is getting bailed out after shooting her abusive rich attorney and State Senator husband in the gut. Cousin Chick (Ka’Lena Cuevas) thinks she’s helping, but is mostly a judgmental pill.

Also on hand are family friend Doc Porter (Tanner Brunson), who isn’t actually a doctor (why will be revealed), and young lawyer Barnette Lloyd (Mickey Masterson) who takes up Babe’s case because he has a “personal vendetta” against her husband.

While I do recommend this play for its sharp script and excellent performances, I must acknowledge there should be a “Trigger Warning” as there is frank discussion of suicide and attempted acts of self-harm. In fact, if one were to observe this as an armchair psychologist, you could see a lot of disorders on display, especially the effects of narcissistic abuse by the sisters’ grandfather (offstage, but very much a character in this story).

And yet, this is also a comedy. The dark humor pops up in little bits here and there, such as Lenny’s “birthday cookie,” and bubbles over in gut-busting moments including one that involves a broom and another that is triggered by the phrase, “you’re too late.” For anyone who relates to tragic circumstances, it’s easy to see how “we shouldn’t laugh at this” only triggers another round of guffaws through cast and audience alike.

Hackman naturally portrays Lenny as a character you just want to put your arm around, maybe to gently shake some sense into. Eberhardt as Meg presents us with a fallen honky-tonk angel who surprises you with her depth of spirit, but who can’t help being that girl in need of rescue. As Babe, Bartley plays a woman who is 24 going on 15, her life decided for her in a way she never wanted, desperate for a way out. Brunson comes across as a strong good ole boy, but more than Doc’s injured leg hasn’t healed properly. Masterson presents Lloyd as the kind of perfect gentleman that makes one suspicious. Finally, as Chick, Cuevas is great as the kind of person who means well, but, well, bless her heart…

Complex and compelling, “Crimes of the Heart” runs through Sunday, May 7, at 8920 Otis Ave., Indianapolis. Info and tickets at thebelfrytheatre.com or artsforlawrence.org.

Divafest: Exploring ‘alchemy’ of true self

By John Lyle Belden

Once considered a serious science, Alchemy was the pursuit of turning lead and other metals to gold. No doubt in the process a number of ancient wizards lucked upon some useful metallurgy. Through transformation, iron becomes the steel it was always meant to be.

In “Divine Alchemists,” what is forged is the self, a story told by those who understand as nearly all involved – playwright Lucy Fields, director Kaya Dorsch, actors Rowan Apple-Knotts, Kipp Morgan, Wilhelmena Dreyer, Maya Doss, and the characters they play – are trans or non-binary.

At a college’s informal board-game club, trans woman Aerith (Apple-Knotts) officially comes out to her friends, who are overjoyed – they finally get to present her with “Baby Trans Orientation”! 

In this world, you get the mentorship and equipment sorely needed in the real one. Aerith (pronounced “heiress”) is given a Cloak to help her blend in among the cisgender-heterosexual population, the “Misgender Deflection Remote” that acts like a magic wand to correct – or at least remove – uses of wrong gender or name, and access to the Transformation Station, which allows Aerith to dress reflecting her true self. 

College projects include a photography shoot for witchy Wisteria (Dreyer), with Aerith as one of the subjects. In turn, for a paper on the trans/non-binary experience, Aerith interviews non-binary Wisteria, trans man Iggy (Morgan) and non-binary Grayson (Doss).

The whole show has a bit of an afterschool special vibe, but even as every line spoken is part of the lesson it comes out naturally from characters who (as seems to be typical) always have to explain themselves, their experience, and, sadly, their validity. There is plenty of fierce humor as well, with moments including the impromptu game show, “Gender Those Clothes!” But there is also a serious undercurrent that especially reveals itself when one is denounced by the ones they love.

The actors reflect the passion and heart that Fields put into this play and Dorsch draws out; their exuberant performance isn’t just lifelike, it’s their lives.

In the real world, the remote control only mutes the ongoing news of trans people – especially children – being treated as less than themselves, less than human. This show alerts us that instead we need to turn the volume up on true respect and equality. The engine of society needs the mettle of every human alloy.

Presented by Theatre Unchained and IndyFringe for DivaFest 2023, performances of “Divine Alchemists” are at 7:30 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, May 4-6, at the IndyFringe Indy Eleven Theatre, 719 E. St. Clair St. (near Mass Ave.), Indianapolis. Tickets and info at indyfringe.org.

CAT’s ‘Almost’ is certainly entertaining

By John Lyle Belden

When you consider that the Carmel Apprentice Theatre, resident company at The Cat, involves those with limited (or no) experience taking the stage with the aid of mentors, it’s tempting to lower expectations. No need, though, with the CAT production of “Almost, Maine,” by John Cariani.

The northern edge of the United States has an exceptionally weird atmosphere, judging by TV shows like “Northern Exposure” or “Twin Peaks,” or the Maine-set novels of Stephen King. However, likely due to it being “almost” in good-natured Canada, the weirdness in our little township (they almost incorporated into a town) is more bent towards the sublime than the spooky.

Directed by first-timer Zach Kreinbrink with Jayda Glynn, this set of comedy scenes finds love in the air on a winter night.

Pete and Ginette (Tim West and Amelie Thibodeau) test how “close” they can get to each other. Glory (Caroline Ryker) carries her broken heart with her as she looks for the Northern Lights in East’s (Jake Williams) back yard. At the MoosePaddy Pub (“Drink Free If You’re Sad”), Jimmy (West) feels like the bad guy for losing Sandrine (Hannah Vaught), but a cheery waitress (Deanna Larkin) is on hand with her freebie flask.

Can love get through to Steve (Malcolm Marshall), who literally can’t feel pain? Marvalyn (Emma Leary) understands being hurt too well. Lendall (Brandt Ryan) is confronted by sweetheart Gayle (Allison Hermann) who is tired of all their love piling up, just sitting there. Out at frozen Echo Pond, a skating date isn’t going well for Phil (Brian Thibodeau) and Marci (Larkin). All this and more in a gently aburdist world where “falling in love” can literally involve gravity.

An excellent display of budding and hidden talents, this cast charms throughout. Hopefully we’ll see a bit more of these folks on area stages in the future.

For now, visit “Almost, Maine,” Thursday through Sunday, May 4-7, at 254 Veterans Way, Carmel (just south of Main Street downtown). Tickets and info at thecat.biz.

CCP brings us wild wild ‘West’

By John Lyle Belden

There are a lot of people with love-hate relationships with their siblings. It’s a story as old as Cain and Abel. And what if, as in the Genesis story, despite all your hard work the divine blessing falls on your brother?

Placed in an all-American setting, this is the story of “True West,” by Sam Shepard, presented by Carmel Community Players at the Ivy Tech Noblesville Auditorium. Austin (Robert Webster Jr.) is working on a screenplay while housesitting for his mother (on an Alaska vacation) at her home near the Mojave Desert in California. At least he’s trying to work, as his estranged brother Lee (Matt Walls) constantly interrupts while hanging around the kitchen. Austin wants peace, Lee wants the car keys. Austin is developing his script, Lee has been casing the neighborhood for TVs and appliances to steal.

Austin’s Hollywood agent, Saul (Gary Curto), visits to check up on the writing, and comes under the fast-talking influence of Lee. The next day, there’s an offer on a script – but it’s not one Austin wants to write, or that Lee can, as much as he wants to.

The play unfolds in a darkly comic manner as the two brothers bicker, switch activities, and drink – a lot –manifesting in what will be for Missy Rump, both playing Mom and as assistant director and stage manager, one hell of a mess to clean up.

Director Eric Bryant gets the best out of actors truly playing to their strengths: Webster as the embodiment of noble intentions seeming to lead nowhere, Walls as one whose intimidating glance is backed by a sharp mind. Add alcohol and stress, and their flaws come to the surface in (for them) maddening and (for us) entertaining fashion.

Regarded as a modern classic, with hit Broadway, Off-Broadway, and Steppenwolf runs, “True West” is one of those plays everyone should see at least once, and this production fits the bill.

Performances are Thursday through Sunday, April 27-30, at 300 N. 17th St., Noblesville. Get info and tickets at CarmelPlayers.org.

– P.S. Yes, it is odd for a “Carmel” company to play out of town, but you can help bring them home to a stage of their own. See website for details.

Epilogue: Secrets of neighborhood ‘Miracle’ revealed

By John Lyle Belden

As posted in the program, playwright Tom Dudzick was inspired by an actual shrine to the Blessed Virgin Mary erected in his childhood Buffalo, N.Y., neighborhood by a barber who said She had appeared to him in his shop. Thinking, “there’s a story here,” Dudzick made up the Nowak family of his comedy, “Miracle on South Division Street,” on stage Thursday through Sunday at Epilogue Players.

In the year 2000, Ruth (Shannon Clancy), an aspiring actress and writer, calls a family meeting. Garbage-truck driving brother Jimmy (Grant Bowen) is on hand, and mother Clara (Letitia Clemons) arrives to critique Ruth’s method of preparing lunch. Soon, sister Beverly (Jeanna Little) joins them, persuaded to put off bowling practice (big tournament tonight!) to find out what is going on.  

These Nowaks, Polish Catholics of varying piety, are caretakers of the famous statue, revered in the neighborhood but ignored by the Vatican. Ruth has both good and potentially bad news: rather than pen her in-progress novel, she will write a play about the shrine, for which a producer has already approached her; however, the story of the statue will be quite different from the one Clara has had them tell their entire lives.

Family mayhem ensues. But as revelations crash like waves upon the family – “like if the Hardy Boys were Catholic!” Jimmy declares – a bigger story comes into focus, bringing fresh meaning to the “Blessed Mother.”

The characters occupy two ends of a spectrum, with Clara embodying a traditional mother type that Clemons imbues with a loving spirit, and simple-pleasures Beverly an upper-Midwest archetype. Meanwhile Ruth has Big Apple ambitions and one foot in the closet, while Jimmy is courting danger by seeing a woman outside the faith. Bowen balances a man/boy character who doesn’t want to make waves yet feels the need to make his own way. Clancy ably handles the burden of being the fulcrum on which the plot balances, a sister and daughter resigned to being the truth-teller, though she feels it could cost her the trust and love of her family.

Directed by Ed Mobley, this very funny heart-filled family drama is a reminder that miracles do happen – often in ways we don’t expect.

Performances, through April 30, are at Epilogue’s corner stage at 1849 N. Alabama St., Indianapolis. Info and tickets at epilogueplayers.com.

‘Classic’ mysteries presented at President’s house

By John Lyle Belden

One of the more fascinating theatre experiences in Indy is the unique productions by Candlelight Theatre, taking place in the rooms of the Benjamin Harrison Presidential Site. The Indianapolis home of Benjamin and Caroline Harrison has been restored and preserved with furnishings, art and accessories of the Harrisons, or of the period (late 1800s), so with seating for approximately 20 persons at a time we get an intimate immersive experience of a bygone era.

Thus we gain a new perspective on old stories, such as the spooky scenes of Candlelight’s spring production, “Classic Murder.” Guided to three different rooms of the historic house, we see Edgar Allan Poe’s “Fall of the House of Usher,” adapted by Candlelight’s resident playwright James Trofatter; “In Memoriam,” inspired by a popular Agatha Christie story, adapted by Marlene Remington; and “The Summer People,” by Shirley Jackson, adapted by Brainerd Duffield. Direction by Jill Whelan and Mavis Washington.

In the Sitting Room, we meet Ethan (Drew Carlson), concerned friend of Roderick Usher (Ken Eder). The servant, Miss Gray (Jill Whelan), is taking the dreary atmosphere in stride, even though Roderick’s dear sister, Madeline (Erin Fralick) looks like a living wraith. Madness is closing in on Usher, and could take everything and everyone with it! Even those familiar with the Poe tale can get a chill from the up-close view of this tragedy.

In the Back Parlor, five guests – played by Donna Wing, Brendan O’Sullivan-Hale, Hazel Gillaspy, Ellis Hall, and Stephen Moore – arrive at a mysterious isolated house. A letter alerts them that there is a purpose behind their assembly: vengeance from beyond the grave! Complete with all the twists and humor one expects from a Christie mystery, “In Memoriam” could also surprise you with the who, the how, and the why. 

Many of us have read Jackson’s “The Lottery” (I did in high school), so note its tense atmosphere with the potential of ordinary people doing extraordinarily macabre things also permeates “The Summer People.” When “city” couple Janet and Robert (Ann Richards and Steve Viehweg) decide to stay in their New England summer rental past Labor Day, the townies who had served their every need all summer (Coleen Kubit and James Hayes) don’t take the news well. In some places, change of season means more than just the calendar.

One weekend remains of “Classic Murder,” Friday and Saturday, April 28-29, at 1230 N. Delaware St., downtown Indianapolis. For information and tickets (as well as info on tours and other programs of the Harrison home), visit bphsite.org (click on “Visit” to bring up the menu for Candlelight Theatre).