IndyFringe: Women’s Work

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

By Wendy Carson

One may think it odd that the first person on stage at this female-centric show, “Women’s Work,” is a man (Dave Pelsue), but his musical presence helps to mark the flow of the story as well as punctuate the ever-present position of men always existing even in the shadows of a woman’s life.

We are then introduced to a young girl (Pearl Parker) giving a report on what she wants to be when she grows up. Using data from “The Employments of Women: A Cyclopaedia of Women’s Work” by Virginia Penny, as well as interviews from woman she knows, her tale is acted out by an octet of women playing two sides of each of the four career paths we are shown.

The younger counterparts begin each story reflecting the sparse number of opportunities available to women in previous generations. Other actors present the characters’ more mature perspectives.

We begin with Betty, who has chosen to become a teacher. Kallen Ruston portrays her bemoaning how everyone she knows is constantly trying to marry her off, regardless of her own preferences – she has dozens of children each day, so is not lacking for the pangs of motherhood. While standing up for her principles and refusing sexual advances from coworkers cause her to change schools, Beverly Roche keeps her optimistic, continuing Betty’s efforts to show each of her students their true potential.

Anne (Katie Carter) relates the challenges of becoming a nurse. She is excited about the importance of her job, as well as the overwhelming information she must remember. As time progresses, her knowledge grows to the level that she inherently knows a patient’s needs; however, gossip and backbiting by other nurses and condescending doctors keep her from doing her best. Miki Mathioudakis shows how Anne’s aggravation has grown as even the young residents disregard her advice, with deadly consequences.

Turning to Carol, we find the rare woman who dares enter the traditionally male field of business and make herself a success. Anna Zimmerman shows the balance required as we catch her doing affirmations to help relieve her high stress levels. She must also deal with a husband who feels his job is more important than hers, so she should naturally be able to blow off her opportunities to pick up the kids because he doesn’t have the time. Her sexist boss is just another hurdle she must overcome. Karin Stratton keeps Carol on an even keel, especially when dealing with inept temps who refuse to stick with a job long enough to actually learn it. She muses about the two years she took away from her job to devote to her children and clawing her way back up to where she was before – and beyond.

We end on Diane (Michelle Wafford), who feels that just being a mother is all of the fulfillment that she needs. While she wonders if she really loves her husband (he’s certainly no Prince Charming) because the moment she held her baby was the first time she ever truly felt it. She is expecting her second child, whether her husband is on board with the idea or not. Then, Gigi Jennewein injects the solemn bitterness Diane feels when her husband leaves her for a much younger girl, forcing to go to work at a local screw factory just to make ends meet. She misses spending time with her kids and realizes none of the other mothers she sees have any idea how hard her life is.

Liv Keslin gives an insight to the future of our narrator, and is glad that she has so many more opportunities afforded her, but still wonders what all of this means.

To find out the answer, have your heart warmed and your inspiration lit, see “Women’s Work,” presented by Betty Rage Productions, in its remaining performances 9 p.m. Friday and 1:45 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 2 & 4, at the IndyFringe Theatre.

NoExit’s ‘Birds’ flock to Central State

By John Lyle Belden

We’re a long way from Bodega Bay. Members of NoExit Performance have speculated what happened in the years after the events of Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Birds,” and crafted a theatre experience that tells a story from the animals’ point of view.

The bird uprising came at a time of nuclear conflict, leaving avians and humans alike struggling to scratch out a living in the resulting wasteland. Rapid evolution has given the birds speech, and the ability to think tactically and plan, but this leaves them struggling to hold on to their instincts. 

The Midwest flock has gathered at the former grounds of Central State in Indianapolis, where we, the audience, are the few humans allowed to witness their proceedings. The birds don’t trust us, and herd us (as we would them) from scene to scene in this unusual drama.

All are worried about their prospects for survival. Food is in short supply, eggshells are dangerously thin, and though there have been gains in the war against the humans, they come at a cost. Hadrian (Ronn Johnston) reluctantly carries the role of leader, as fellow raptors Antinious is dead and Ikarus (Dave Pelsue) is missing, assumed to be a traitor. His advisor Grebe (Becky Lee Meacham) tries to bouy his confidence, while fellow Council member Krone (Callie Burk-Hartz) has drastic plans of her own. 

Meanwhile, young Ave (Gaby Padilla) is the only one to whom the spirit bird Horus (a large shadow-puppet, likely a gull as it refers to the first attackers from the film) will speak. Inquisitive and empathetic, she is told she is the key to the future of all birdkind. This worries her sister Poly (Stephanie Wilson).

Also notable are worrisome Moa (Tracy Herring), presumptuous Asha (Audrey Stonerock) and war-party leader Apollo (Tristan Montgomery). Other members of the flock are played by Nicole Kelter, Katie Carter, Owen Harp, Jenny Allan, Ashley Youmell, Kimmie Icenogle, Katherine Boyles Ogawa, and Lesli Butler. Horus is presented by Tracy Herring, Wilson, Stonerock and Pelsue.

The story, written and directed by Ryan Mullins, has the feel of great Greek and Shakespearean dramas. But its presentation is restrained from full anthropomorphization. Just as cast members of the musical “Cats” have to go to “cat school,” so have the NoExit players apparently gone to “Bird School” — their movements are constantly birdlike, squawks and other bird cries are mixed in their speech, when idle they peck and scratch at their surroundings, and each player stays true to a particular species in its actions. They never break character, even during intermission. 

Makeup and loose costuming, designed by Kat Robinson, Traci Snider and Asha Patel, which involve fabric strips rather than feathers, aid their motion and suggest their form, letting the characters within hold our attention rather than be distracted by artificial beaks or other obvious bird-features.

Even more effective than their look is their sound, as the actors effectively emulate the fluttering, flapping noise that was so unnerving in the movie.

The play is set mostly outdoors, with the occasional real bird observing from the rooftops. Audience members are advised to bring lawn chairs — much of the play takes place in one area — but a limited number are available on site.

“The Birds” have a lot to teach us, and some hard lessons to learn. Performances run through Oct. 13 at the Power House on the grounds of Central State Village off West Washington Street. For information and tickets, visit noexitperformance.org

Foreign affairs are hilarious with Mud Creek’s brilliant ‘Amorous Ambassador’

By Wendy Carson

Mud Creek Players are sending their 2017-18 season out on a very high note with their production of Michael Parker’s hilarious farce, “The Amorous Ambassador.” While the show is a continuation of the saga of “The Sensuous Senator” (which Mud Creek staged in 2016), you need not have seen the previous production to enjoy this play.

The story centers on “Hormone Harry” Douglas, who, after losing his bid for the Presidency, was appointed as Ambassador to England. He and his family have now set up household in a nice little cottage in the countryside, complete with a butler. As we join the family unit, they have each decided to take off in separate ways for the weekend. Prior to leaving, though, each of them confirms that Perkins, the butler, will be “the soul of discretion” should anything occur. So daughter Debbie is off to make memories with her girlfriends; Lois, his doting wife, is off to the spa; and Harry plans to play golf in Scotland.

Once the wife and daughter have left, Harry and sexy neighbor, Marian, begin their tryst, including costumes to fulfil their fantasies: Marian’s is a French maid. But as soon as they exit the stage, Debbie reappears with her boyfriend, Joe, for their own little weekend of togetherness. Add to this, a bomb threat at the embassy suddenly brings security chief Captain South and Harry’s ditzy secretary, Faye, on site to turn the cottage into a temporary Embassy – complete with a total lockdown of the perimeter. Now Marian has to pretend to be a real servant, while Debbie adds a wig and dress to her friend, “Josephine.” The result is a sidesplitting evening of confusion and overall silliness.

Ronan Marra does a great job at keeping Harry’s lustful advances going while appearing to be in charge. Colin Landberg is masterful through the trio of characters he is given to embody – Joe, Josephine and “Marc Anthony.” Sara Castillo Dandurand handily keeps Debbie believing in her father’s virtue even while seemingly compromising her own. Katie Carter’s portrayal of “Maid Marian” shows that she is certainly up for anything. Tom Riddle brings all of the pomp and ruggedness that Captain South’s character demands, with a delightful slapstick turn. While Sherry Compton’s character of Lois is not on the stage for very long, she shines brightly in those moments that she is performing.

While everyone does a wonderful job of playing their roles for all that they are worth, I would like to highlight two exceptional performances:

  • Ann Ellerbrook’s take on the hot, blonde, airhead secretary, Faye, shows the amazing range that a seemingly one-note character can become under the correct actor’s interpretation of a role. She truly brought her character to life in a way that really made me wish I could see more of that character’s story.
  • Craig Kemp is likewise amazing for keeping his character of Perkins, the properly stodgy English butler, from going too far into camp mode. While making sure that his character’s upper lip stayed as stiff as one would expect it to be and a slightly raised eyebrow could cause you to wither, he managed to keep Perkins a warmly accessible grandfatherly figure. That sort of depth in what, again, should have been a simple one-note character shows great range and depth of talent.

With everything happening right now, we can all use a spot of silliness and a good laugh, and this show presents it in spades.

Performances are 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2:30 p.m. Sundays, through May 5 at the Mud Creek Players “Barn,” 9740 E. 86th St. (near Geist). Get tickets and info at www.mudcreekplayers.org.