Like a 1980s ‘Hamlet,’ a play to catch a killer

By John Lyle Belden

On a quiet evening in an empty Broadway theater, a playwright sets up a very special reading of his new drama. It is exactly one year since, on opening night of his latest show, his fiancé died. It appeared to be suicide, but before this night is done, he will reveal who killed her.

This is “Rehearsal for Murder,” a clever early-80s TV movie (by Richard Levinson and William Link) adapted for the stage by D.D. Brooke and presented now by the Belfry Theatre of Hamilton County, directed by Diane Wilson.

Alex Dennison (Kelly Keller) has rented this house for the night, and explains to his young assistant, Sally (Anna E. Blower) what had happened the year before. It was an ill-fated opening night from the start. Monica Welles (Ameetha Widdershins), a B-movie actress seeking fame on the stage, had stirred controversy by missing a preview performance, and an article in that day’s Variety revealed she is secretly engaged to Alex. Still, director Lloyd Andrews (Alex Dantin) and producer Bella Lamb (Kim O’Mara) hope for the best, as Monica shares the stage with promising ingenue Karen Daniels (Olivia Carrier), popular comic Leo Gibbs (Eric Bowman) and handsome lead David Mathews (Gideon Roark).

Opening Night is a hit with the audience, but with the critics – not so much. This puts a damper on the after-party at Monica’s apartment, and as the guests leave, she also sends Alex home. But an hour or so later, she calls him at his apartment, insisting he return – then the phone goes dead. He arrives at her place to find she has apparently jumped from her upper-story window.

Concluding this convenient recap, Alex has Sally set things up, sends stagehand Ernie (Molly Kraus) home, and welcomes a mysterious man (Chris Taylor) who is to stay in the shadows to watch and ensure no one leaves. Then, the “suspects” make their way in for a play reading no one will forget.

Our cast also includes Diane Reed as a caterer; Mason Cordell Hardiman, Tanya Keller, and Richard Wilson as police; and Cindy Duncan as Ms. Santoro, who brings a truck loaded with a special stage set.

Can you guess how Alex knows it’s murder, and who the killer is?

This family-friendly whodunit is one of those shows that is both entertaining to watch and you can tell is fun for the actors to play. Portraying showbiz people, especially when suggesting they killed someone, allows for a lot of interesting scene-chewing but director Wilson and the cast don’t let it go to camp. Kelly Keller keeps a firm hold on proceedings as our host, with each of his cohorts believably portraying their Broadway archetypes. The pages from the reading play out like flashbacks, with Widdershins ghosting in to perform the script’s doomed leading lady.

Kudos to costumers Tanya Keller and Molly Kraus for finding the Barbara Mandrell-style wig for Monica, as well as Sally’s outfit, which helps solidify the ‘80s look. Best-dressed honors, however, go to Variety columnist Meg Jones, though she may be hard to spot.

I’m not good at mysteries, but if you haven’t seen this, it could have you guessing for a while, as well. Regardless, it’s fun to watch it all play out.  Remaining performances are 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, Sept. 30-Oct. 2, at Ivy Tech Auditorium in Noblesville. Get tickets and info at thebelfrytheatre.com.

Serving up something darkly unique in Lawrence

By John Lyle Belden

“It’s fun to cook with someone else.”

That quip by our host Terry becomes an incredibly loaded statement in “Taste,” a co-production of Monument Theatre Company and Theatre Unchained at Arts For Lawrence’s Theater at the Fort.

Based on a bizarre true story, this play by TV writer Benjamin Brand presents a “unique” two-person dinner party. Terry (Austin Hauptstueck) has arranged for Vic (Bradley Allan Lowe) to come to his apartment, where he will kill and eat his guest. This is no ambush; in fact, Vic is eager to be consumed, and even joins Terry in tasting the first piece that is chopped off and cooked.

Needless to say, this is for mature audiences only, and not for anyone squeamish about the subject matter. The stage is a working kitchen, with a bit of (simulated) flesh put on the plate. Discussions are frank, and there is even some audio from adult films.

As director Megan Ann Jacobs notes, this is an opportunity to not only look into the mind of someone who would consume another human, but also into that of one who would agree to be eaten. Once you get past the true-crime premise, seeing this as absurdist metaphor, we get at the relatable issues of loneliness and feelings of self that make a person this desperate for intimacy in any form. Thoughts of sex (in which “eat” is a common euphemism) lie just below the surface. The desire for a “real” experience overrides all other considerations. Issues of trust become vital: Did Vic really tie up loose ends to vanish from his past life? Will Terry keep his word and eat all of Vic, and not discard him like garbage? Who are the recorded videos for?

One mark of how absorbed we get in this weirdness is how much we find ourselves laughing at this dark comedy.

To engage us in the audience, no doubt the actors had to dig deep into perspectives we presume they wouldn’t normally hold, into the darkest aspects of humanity. Hauptstueck presents as an eccentric epicure, not entirely detached like a Hannibal Lecter sociopath. He relishes this experience in his own way, the foodie wanting to get not just the recipe but the whole culinary experience just right. Lowe portrays a lost soul seeking a sort of salvation, a bizarre “communion” in which he can be integrated completely – giving himself to nourish another. Fascinated by anyone’s life but his own, he sees this as his way out of an empty existence.

What less-desperate things have we all done to feel connection, belonging? There may be a place for more of us at this table than we’re willing to admit.

“Taste” is served Friday through Sunday, Sept. 29-30 and Oct. 1 at Theater at the Fort, 8920 Otis Ave., Indianapolis. For info and tickets, visit artsforlawrence.org, monumenttheatrecompany.org, or theatreunchained.org.

A ‘Sense’ of optimism at IRT

By John Lyle Belden

It’s intriguing to see how a classic work of literature is interpreted in adapting to the stage. If, upon hearing that Jane Austen’s “Sense and Sensibility” is now playing at Indiana Repertory Theatre, you think you only recently saw it, you’d be mistaken. The IRT version, adapted by Jessica Swale, is not the play that was performed at the Civic Theatre in 2018.

The differences go beyond the name on the program. While a major theme of “Sense and Sensibility” is, in all cases, the lack of power women had in English society and law, the Kate Hamill script used by Civic emphasizes the insidious nature of gossip as both social control and cheap entertainment. Though Swale’s take has a definite nod to the wagging tongues, there is an overall lighter touch to the story. Aside from its characters’ struggles, the novel’s situations are rife with bits of humor. And in that the earlier production could be considered a “rom-com,” IRT’s show is more of a sitcom.

After her husband’s death, Mrs. Dashwood (Elizabeth Laidlaw) and her daughters Elinor (Helen Joo Lee), Marianne (Cereyna Jade Bougouneau), and Margaret (Claire Kashman) find themselves kicked out of their home. The girls’ half-brother John Dashwood (Ron E. Rains) inherits the property, and his spiteful elitist wife Fanny (Devan Mathias) wants it all to herself. The displaced Dashwoods move to a cottage near the sea, under the eye of cousin Sir John Middleton (Rains) and his busybody mother-in-law Mrs. Jennings (Priscilla Lindsay).

While prospects for young English women around the year 1800 with hardly any dowry aren’t good, our heroines have the fortune to attract suitors including Fanny’s kind brother, Edward Ferrars (Casey Hoekstra); local gentleman Colonel Brandon (La Shawn Banks); and the dashing John Willoughby (Nate Santana). They are vying for the hand of Elinor or Marianne – young Margaret, a budding “naturalist,” is too occupied with her collection of invertebrates and sea creatures.

But then, Jennings’ cousin Lucy Steele (Caroline Chu) confides to Elinor her secret engagement to one of the men.

Some actors play more than one part, such as Hoekstra’s entertaining moments as Edward’s goofy brother. Also notable is that Mathias – ironically a nice person offstage – manages to play four distinct characters, none of which you want to spend more than a few seconds with, often to hilarious effect.

The play also features ethnically blind casting, which in these days of “Bridgerton” on TV and online debates over the color of a mermaid don’t seem too odd. Besides, no one on stage is an 18th-century English person in real life. These actors were picked for exceptional talent and stage presence, and none feel out of place. In fact, the most surreal of this company is how Santana looks like he just stepped out of the cover illustration of a Harlequin romance novel.

And we must note that it is wonderful to see Pricilla Lindsay again; a past IRT mainstay, she has been working at her alma mater, the University of Michigan. Her joyous presence as ever-optimistic Mrs. Jennings is like a reflection of Lindsay herself.

Directed by Peter Amster (who also directed “Pride and Prejudice” at IRT years ago), this classic story of romantic misadventure has its serious moments, but despite the threat of tragedy, love and laughter shine through – something we can hope for in our day as well.

Performances run through October 9 at the IRT, 140 W. Washington St. in downtown Indianapolis. For information and tickets, visit irtlive.com.

‘Sweeney Todd’ now serving customers at Footlite

By John Lyle Belden

The dirty streets of 19th century London have been a rich source of great stories, from the fact-inspired fiction of Charles Dickens to the fiction-inspiring facts of Jack the Ripper. Out of these shadows steps “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street.” Now, attend the tale at Footlite Musicals.

This murderous denizen of Dickens-era penny-dreadfuls is the subject of a popular 1979 musical by Stephen Sondheim, with book by Hugh Wheeler, based on a 1973 play by Christopher Bond. Perhaps you’ve seen the Tim Burton film, or the occasional stage show over the years. Under the direction of Josh Vander Missen, this Footlite production still manages to thrill.

Daniel Draves masterly uses his average-joe looks as the title character. Todd is just another man getting off a boat, a friendly barber – or with a small shift of expression he casts an air of menace, or even madness. He wields a sort of gravitas as well as those trademark silver blades.

Jennifer Simms is a spot-on pitch-perfect Mrs. Lovett on a par with stage and screen notables who have taken on the infamous pie shop. She needs better meat, though, and Todd needs a disposal method as he slashes his way towards long-overdue revenge – you see where this is going.

Troy Bridges is adorable in manner and voice as Anthony Hope, the sailor whose life Todd saves on their recent voyage (for Todd, who had been sent away under another name, it is his secret return from exile). Hope becomes just that as he seeks to rescue Todd’s daughter, Johanna (Christina Krawec) from the evil Judge Turpin (Ben Elliott).

While Elliott makes Turpin downright creepy, Donald Marter portrays the judge’s assistant, Beadle Bamford, as more of an amoral product of his time. You get the sense that if he were hired instead to bust heads for Mr. Todd, he’d do so with the same joy in a day’s “honest” work.

Parker Taylor excels in (pardon the expression) a meaty role as somehow-innocent youth Tobias Ragg. He’ll talk up a crowd for you, seeing it as more a game than a grift, and returns Lovett’s kindness with total devotion.

Other notable roles include Rick Barber as Todd’s rival, Adolfo Pirelli; a cameo by Dan Flahive as bedlam-keeper Jonas Fogg; and Melody Simms as the ever-present Beggar Woman.

One nice touch to this production is the opening overture is played on Footlite’s 1925 theater pipe organ (the full orchestra plays though the musical).

Set designer Stephen Matters delivers on one of the show’s true “stars,” the modified barber chair which Todd uses to dispatch and dispose of his victims, sitting upon a versatile two-story wooden frame.

Equal parts gothic thriller and dark comedy with a good serving of Sondheim, this “Sweeney Todd” is worth experiencing, or revisiting if you’ve met the man before. Performances run through Oct. 2 at the Hedback Theater, 1847 N. Alabama St., Indianapolis. Get info and tickets at Footlite.org.

ATI back in the habit

By John Lyle Belden

“Nunsense” is habit forming – the clever slogan, and title of one of the show’s songs, is quite apt. A sure-fire crowd-pleaser since opening Off-Broadway nearly thirty-seven years ago, this musical by Dan Goggin has had thousands of productions worldwide, and the show’s official website has at least eight sequels and spin-offs if you want to see the Little Sisters of Hoboken doing something different. The more than 25,000 actors who have donned the habit could petition the Pope to be named their own order.

This is all to say that the classic “Nunsense,” done afresh this month by Actors Theatre of Indiana, may be a bit familiar to y’all reading this. If you haven’t seen the show, or at least not in a while, by all means, go! Goggins’ humor, with just a touch of absurdity, doesn’t get too sacred and is never profane. You don’t have to be Catholic to appreciate this, but if you are, be warned that Reverend Mother has her clicker!

The Little Sisters are in a bind, needing to raise funds quickly to bury deceased nuns (inadvertently poisoned by the convent cook), put on a show displaying their own varied talents. That’s all you need to know going in, as well as the fact that there will be a pop quiz – with prizes – at one point.

Suzanne Stark is our Rev. Mother, Sister Mary Regina. A veteran of nun roles in “Sound of Music” and “Sister Act,” she is right at home as the boss of this little sisterhood. Asserting her authority without coming off as stiff or mean, she guides this show with a steady hand – except when she doesn’t, in a hilarious encounter with a mysterious little bottle.

Illeana Kirven is Sister Mary Hubert, the second-ranking nun. She tackles this project with unflagging joyous energy, suppressing as best she can her feelings about Rev. Mother using part of their last windfall to buy a giant TV.

Katelyn Lauria is street-tough Sister Robert Ann, who drives (and repairs) the convent vehicle. Her gregarious style and frequent funny bouts of scene-stealing are nicely countered by the moment she describes her spiritual path, revealing genuine devotion.

Rachel Weinfeld is Sister Mary Leo, the novice who feels there’s room in her vows for also becoming a celebrated ballerina. Her dancing is sweet, her manner charming.

Stephanie Wahl is the ever-popular Sister Mary Amnesia, who can’t remember who she is, and is otherwise a few beads short of a rosary. Wahl, who is also dance captain, handles this special character well, keeping us laughing with her more than at her. She also does an excellent job wielding the puppet Sister Mary Annette.

Directed by Karen Sheridan with choreography by Anne Beck, this production also features the all-priest onstage band of Greg Wolf, Greg Gegogeine, and music director Jay Schwandt, as well as production assistant Gillian Norris lending a helping hand as a student from Mount St. Helens School.

See the Sisters sing and dance their way to their miracle in ATI’s season opener, through Sept 25 at the Studio Theater in the Center for the Performing Arts in downtown Carmel. Get information and tickets at atistage.org or thecenterpresents.org.

Mud Creek has its hands on something special

By John Lyle Belden

“American Dream, Japanese car.”

That line from “Hands on a Hardbody” sums up the theme of this musical, which had a brief Broadway run, but is more suited to the Heartland. Local hands have crafted it for Mud Creek Players through Sept. 24.

Based on a 1990s documentary about an actual contest, in this musical by Doug Wright with songs by Amanda Green and Trey Anastasio, a Nissan dealer in the small east-Texas city of Longview selects 10 contestants to stand with at least one hand touching a Hardbody pickup, with the last one who loses contact with the vehicle winning it. Dealer Mike Ferris (Joe Aiello) has ordered extra inventory to sell to onlookers, which annoys his assistant Cindy Barnes (Kathy Borgmann), but she’s hoping for the best. The event is covered live by radio station KYKX, announced by deejay Frank Nugent (Jeremy Crouch).

Benny (Onis Dean) has won this contest before, but his wife left him in that prize truck. He is full of plans and strategies to win again. Aging and injured former oil-rig worker J.D. (Chris Otterman) sees this as the chance for something to go right, as wife Virginia (Beth Ray-Scott) resents his stubborn insistence at competing yet stands by with refreshments and cool towels. Ronald (Noah Nordman) is between jobs and sees opportunities with a new truck, providing there’s no rain and he keeps his blood sugar up. Norma (Anya Andrews) sees the Lord’s Will in winning the contest, buoyed by “prayer warriors” at her church and Gospel music on her Walkman. Jacinta (Natalie Coronado Hammerle) hopes to sell the truck after winning so she can finish her veterinary degree. Janis (Jennifer J. Kaufmann) has six kids and little else, aside from a devoted cheerleader of a husband, Don (Collin Moore). Chris (Nicholas Gibbs), out of the Marines long enough to have grown his hair, doesn’t say much. Greg (Matthew Blandford) is a young, out-of-work dreamer. Equally fresh-faced Kelli (Nicole Crabtree) has a job but could use a better vehicle. Heather (Carolyn Lynch) acts like just being a hot blonde is enough to make her win – and unbeknownst to others, she may be right.

Also on hand are judge and timekeeper Lilly (Kirsten Cutshall), event medic Dr. Stokes (Sophie Peirce), and Service Dept. mechanics Miki (Lauren Bogart), A.J. (Ahnn Christopher) and Jerry (Peyton Rader). The on-stage band are Ben Craighead, Craig Kemp, Katie Ryan, Jill Stewart, and leader Linda Parr.

The true star, of course, is “Ruby,” the body of a 1997 Nissan pickup. Director Michelle Moore said Mud Creek volunteers fixed up the impressive prop so that it looks brand new, complete with shining red paint job, working tailgate and doors, bed one can climb into, seats, and functional headlights and horn.*

This kind of situation lends itself to a lot of humor, like Kaufmann’s charming take on the straight-talking redneck mama, and a bit of intrigue (what exactly is Mike up to?). It also examines the extreme edge of American competitive spirit. For those familiar with it, this show is like a less-tragic version of the dance-marathon classic “They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?” complete with the mental and physical consequences of forced exhaustion. As Stokes notes, staying awake for what will be 90-plus hours is a tactic used in other countries to torture prisoners. Benny understands this, exploiting the fraying tempers and confidence of fellow competitors – giving Dean a lot to work with in his complex character. We also get an insight into past stresses, such as Chris’s experiences in the first Gulf War, and the frustration of ethnic assumptions, as Jacinta bristles at having to point out she was “Born in Laredo.”

Characters to root for include Norma, as Andrews has us feeling her pain when the Spirit is weak, as well as Greg and Kelli, with their growing feelings and a fateful decision that changes their lives.  

So, who ends up with the truck? That’s kinda beside the point (and a huge spoiler) but this tale does come with a satisfying ending, as well as the what-happens-next lines by each of the main cast during the last songs.  

With the friendly confines of the Mud Creek “Barn,” its excellent stage set (cleverly designed by Moore), and Dani Gibbs choreography that even has the truck “dancing” to the stage edge, there is an immersive element to “Hands on a Hardbody” that makes this as much an experience as a play, complete with a final song with chorus we are invited to join in on.  

Our shortcut to the Lone Star State is 9740 E. 86th St., Indianapolis. For tickets and information, visit MudCreekPlayers.org.

(*Moore said the pickup prop – which has no engine to weigh it down or leak on stage, a reinforced hood an actor can climb on, and sets of casters it rests on for easy movement – will be available after this run to a company that wants to mount a production of this musical. Contact her via the website for details.)   

ALT: What happened there

By John Lyle Belden

In the early 2000s, by annual average there was a suicide in Las Vegas roughly every 26 hours. However I feel about this, I can be confident it is true, as someone checked. The serious and fraught topic of self-harm is what gives the play “The Lifespan of a Fact” its riveting emotional heft, but at its core is the principle noted in the previous sentence.

This drama – with hilarious comic moments to get through the serious context – by Jeremy Kareken, David Murrell, and Gordon Farrell, is presented by American Lives Theatre, directed by Chris Saunders, at the Phoenix Theatre. It is based on a book by John D’Agata and Jim Fingal detailing their struggle with D’Agata’s 2010 essay in The Believer magazine.

Editor Emily Penrose (Eva Patton) calls upon intern Jim Fingal (Joe Wagner), a recent Harvard graduate, to fact-check the piece by D’Agata (Lukas Felix Schooler), which is ready to go to print in just a few days. Fingal is told to give it his best effort, as the writer is known to take liberties with details. “Give it the ‘full Jim’,” Penrose instructs, and boy, does she get it.

The essay, focusing on a teenager’s suicide – jumping from the city’s tallest casino tower – to comment on the greater culture of Las Vegas, is riddled with factual errors, starting with the lead paragraph. While the death itself is well-documented, various added details are wrong. Penrose tells Fingal to bring them up directly to D’Agata, which he does by flying out to visit his Vegas apartment.

At first the altered “facts” are trivial, inspiring much of the humor. When Penrose is alerted to one that could get the magazine in legal trouble, she, too, travels from to New York to Nevada, just hours before the presses in Illinois roll for national distribution.

I must note my own bias here. I am an experienced journalist, including a university Journalism degree and experience at four daily newspapers (most recently the Daily Reporter in Greenfield, Ind.). In my mind there was no question that D’Agata was in the wrong with the initial version of the essay. Deviations from the truth, even in details having nothing to do with the core event, and especially easy to confirm and debunk, hurt the credibility of not only the periodical and the writer, but also the valid point of the story itself.

However, D’Agata argues, this isn’t a news “article” but a non-fiction “essay,” and “the wrong facts get in the way of the story.” He justifies altering events for his writing’s symmetry, or because the wording doesn’t “sing” to him otherwise. What could appear as indulging in ego he sees as a higher calling to a deeper “truth.” Having gone to extensive research, interviews, and discussions with the deceased’s family, he feels too personally invested to submit to the smallest correction or alteration.

For his part, Fingal appears absurdly nit-picky – what color were the bricks, how many strip clubs were there? But what we would call “white lies” also contain more misleading falsities, and if any were detected by a reader, he notes, that same person could decry the whole essay as a “hoax” on social media.

Penrose understands the writer isn’t, strictly speaking, a journalist, and her magazine is more literary than hard-news, but she insists on having standards. Still – the writing was so good she senses this could be a major milestone for the publication, if she could just get everyone in agreement on the actual text.

Patton, Wagner and Schooler deliver riveting, top of their game, performances. No winks at the audience, this is serious business involving real people and real incidents (both the publication of the essay and the death that inspired it). The humor is purely situational, the absurd that comes with doing one’s job, this time with higher stakes.

“Trigger Warning” is very much applicable here, if you hadn’t guessed by the subject matter. The play contains the most heart-wrenching moment of silence, and an ending that lets no one off the hook.

The ALT play runs through Sept. 25 at the Phoenix, 712 N. Illinois St., Indianapolis; details and tickets at phoenixtheatre.org or americanlivestheatre.org.

The best-selling 2012 book, also called “The Lifespan of a Fact,” is still available in stores and online. The essay in question is still online in its checked, edited, and published form (Note: intensive discussion and description of suicide) here.

IndyFringe: Oh Look, It’s Magic!

This is part of IndyFringe 2022, Aug. 18-Sept. 4 (individual performance times vary) in downtown Indianapolis. Details and tickets at IndyFringe.org.

By John Lyle Belden

Jordan Allen has been an awesome presence at this year’s IndyFringe. The magician has been around the festival all three weekends, doing a little bit of busking, and a lot of attending and talking up other performers’ shows. So, it’s only fair we say a bit about his own performance, which ran the third weekend (Sept. 1-3) at the main-floor stage at the Athenaeum.

“Oh Look, It’s Magic: ADHD Advocacy Show” combines a lot of clever tricks with an honest first-person account of growing up – and living with – Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder, which is a real disability, and not something one grows out of (“I wish,” Allen adds). He notes that aside from Houdini’s maxim that magic not only amuses and amazes, but also awakens hope, he feels it can also educate and advocate.

In that vein, Allen maintains a show that is family friendly, and accommodating to all neural patterns. He patiently grins through impulsive outbursts, and gives the neurodivergent their own moments of wonder – as well as to audience members of any brain, even silly folk like me.

It’s cards, ropes, scarves, stories, balls, cups, hope, ripped paper, flashes of color, moments of comedy, and a kind reminder that none of us are alone, if we’re open to life’s magic. And it’s a work in progress, so watch for its next return by following “Jordan Allen – Magician” on Facebook or visiting jallenexperience.com.

IndyFringe: Gloria Mundi

This is part of IndyFringe 2022, Aug. 18-Sept. 4 (individual performance times vary) in downtown Indianapolis. Details and tickets at IndyFringe.org.

By John Lyle Belden and Wendy Carson

Gloria (Kayla Jo Pulliam) is not having a good day. She is an addict, out on parole and living in a halfway house. Last night an angel, Harold (Bryson Kramer), came to give her the news that she is to be the parent of the new child of God. When she tells her ex, Jody (Cameron Pride) this “happy” news, is it any wonder he,* and social worker Harold (Kramer), suspect she is using again?

This sets the plot of “Gloria Mundi,” Pamela Morgan’s tale of recovery, parenting, relationships, and faith presented by Nomad Theater Company under the direction of Ashleigh Rae-Lynn.

Morgan and company have created a story that is full of hilarious moments (“the doughnuts have suffered the consequences”) and heartbreaking emotion (the fate of Lanie, Gloria’s first child).

“Don’t f*** it up this time,” angelic Harold advises, and it’s possible that Gloria already has. Through twists both dramatic and funny, we’re taken on a wild ride that ends in a miracle of hope no one expects.

Witness this blessed event, 5:15 p.m. today (as we post this) and 7 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 3-4, at the District Theatre.

(*EDIT: Character’s pronouns are he/they, we were informed by Morgan after this initially posted, and pronoun and name spelling have been updated.)

IndyFringe: Fret Knot

This is part of IndyFringe 2022, Aug. 18-Sept. 4 (individual performance times vary) in downtown Indianapolis. Details and tickets at IndyFringe.org.

By John Lyle Belden

First, I must note that comparisons to the comedy duo Garfunkel and Oates are inevitable. Madeline Wilson and Lizzie Kaneicki do seem to have the same schtick, sharing the stage – Wilson with ukulele, Kaneicki with guitar – and perform hilarious songs about life and relationships, but does that other pair of funny women present their shared love of crochet, and literally get tied to and tangled up in their hobby as the show progresses? Afraid not, so “Fret Knot.”

No copycats here – Wilson (originally from Phoenix, according to Facebook) and Kaneicki (from West Virginia) joined forces in Chicago, and with friends perform comedy with music biweekly as “Hahaha Lalala”,* so they are quite capable of bringing the funny as their own entertaining act.

Taking them on their own terms – funny bits, singly or together, about odd taco runs, upset housecats, and all – includes some poetry and storytelling, engaging a range of both emotion and talent. We get the downside of summer birthdays, the peril of intrusive thoughts, and the comforting power of mathematics.

The yarn metaphor is literally all over the place – don’t get too caught up in it. But it does help give the show a “something different” Fringe-y vibe, and at one point the audience does help increase their entanglement.

Having blown in from the Windy City for one weekend, you can see and enjoy “Fret Knot” 8:45 p.m. today (as we post this) and 1:45 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 3-4, at the cabaret stage of the District Theatre.

For Chicago performances, they are presently at the Bughouse Theater.

(*Find them on Instagram, Google search has a cacophony of unrelated “ha” and “la”s if you hunt there.)