IndyFringe: The Ballad of Blade Stallion

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

Matt Kramer and the troupe at Defiance Comedy have brought us another kooky laugh-fest for our enjoyment. From the opening scene of “The Ballad of Blade Stallion” – in which yoga balls are bounced upon to simulate spaceships – you know to expect a silly great time.

Having been hired to retrieve the only copy of some very important secret plans (Who doesn’t make a copy?) as well as a kidnapped girl, Astria (Emily Bohannon), Blade Stallion (*sting* “Blade Stallion!”) sets off to get his paycheck.

Stallion (Zack Joyce) was not aware of the choreography included in his theme song, but manages to make it through that obstacle, only to find that he must also babysit two young children once he gets to his ship.

Cobalt (John Kern) and Skye (Rachelle Martin) are not only familiar with his legend, they feel he might even be “Space Jesus.” As much as Stallion hates telling stories, he manages to control the kids somewhat by telling them his backstory.

We learn he was raised by witches, as well as the origins of his Space Nemesis, The Dandelorian (Clay Mabbitt). This chapter also introduces us to his fellow Space Pirate Academy graduates: cyborg Ann Droid (Meg McLane), with whom he shares a sordid love; and Bando (Kelsey VanVoorst), an anthropomorphic feline who may or may not have his best interests at heart.

Add to this a lot of crazy songs, improbable plot twists, the entire cast milking every bit of humor out of the entire script, and some bizarre characters thrown in, and you have another typically hilarious Defiance show.

Witness the marvel that is “The Ballad of Blade Stallion (Blade Stallion!)” at the District Theatre, 5:30 p.m. Thursday and 8:45 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 1 and 3.

IndyFringe: Jewel Box Revue 2022

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

Tom Alvarez and Dustin Klein’s Magic Thread Cabaret celebrates the past and showcases today’s talent with Jewel Box Revue 2022 at the District Theatre.

The original Revue toured nationally and internationally from 1936 to 1999, featuring live-singing “female impersonators” and a “male impersonator” – what we now call drag queens and kings. With their widespread appeal and fame, as Alvarez notes, “these pioneers were among the first to crack open the closet door.”

Today’s jewels are Miss Pearl (Keith Potts), Miss Sapphire (Isaiah Moore), Miss Opal (Ervin Gainer) and Miss Ruby (Jim Melton); with emcee Danny Diamond (Kelsey VanVoorst); dancers and co-choreographers Topaz (Xavier Medina) and Jade (Jade Perry); and sparkling on-stage musicians Galen Morris on bass, Matthew Dupree on drums, and music director Klein on piano.

Alvarez wrote and directed the show, featuring songs from Broadway and past greats.

Among the various numbers: Potts is exquisite in delivering the Judy Garland hit “The Man That Got Away” as well as “The Ladies Who Lunch” from the musical “Company.” Moore has us feeling Etta James’ “At Last.” Opal gives proper sass to Pearl Bailey’s “You Can Be Displaced.” Melton is arousing with “Don’t Tell Mama” from “Cabaret” and inviting with Rosemary Clooney’s “C’mon-a My House.” Even VanVoorst gets into the act, challenging Potts with “Anything You Can Do.”

Wendy and I were fortunate to get into a sold-out audience. It’s recommended you act fast to get in to see this marvelous show, 7:15 p.m. Thursday or 9 p.m. Friday, Sept. 1-2.

What a ‘Dream’!

By John Lyle Belden

There is a land of centuries-old mysteries, equal parts pagan celebration and reverent tradition working in unique harmony, where in shadowy woods the very air is sodden with magick – Louisiana.

It is in the bayou town of Athens that we find the familiar yet always fresh William Shakespeare rom-com “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” presented by Bard Fest with Arts for Lawrence in the park amphitheater behind Theater at the Fort, a production called “Shakespeare at the Fort.”

As appropriate to a free public “in the park” Shakespeare play, this “Dream,” directed by Matthew Socey, is highly entertaining regardless of if you’ve practically memorized it, or you slept through high school Lit and have only heard the title in conversation. Wendy said to me afterward that this is not only one of the best “Midsummers” she has seen, but easiest version to follow.

For those who need it, here’s the silly and overall simple plot (Cajun version): The most respected man in the Parish, Duke Theseus (Jo Bennett) and his lovely amazon, Hippolyta (Afton Shepard) are to be married, but they are first asked to settle the engagement of Demetrius (Matthew Walls) to Hermia (Maggie Lengerich) at the insistence of her mama Egeus (Sarah Froehlke) because Hermia wants to marry Lysandra (Kristie Shuh). Fair Helena (Evangeline Bouw) wishes to wed Demetrius, who is repulsed by her playing so easy-to-get. The Duke puts it all off to the wedding celebration day, and everyone agrees to disagree.

Most of the action occurs out in the spooky forest outside town.

Is that a Tulane track star at home for summer break that we see? Naw, it’s Robin Goodfellow (Diane Tsao)! One of the bayou faerie folk, that trickster Puck only answers to the local voodoo king, Oberon (Bennett), who is having some words with his queen Titania (Shepard) over the custody of a little Indian girl becoming their half-fae Changeling (Beatrice Hartz). To aid in childcare are Titania’s faeries Cobweb (Jamie Devine), Moth (Samantha Kelly), and Mustardseed (Monica Hartz).

Then, trompin’ around these woods are common folk of the Mechanical trades who wish to put on a play for the Duke’s wedding, rehearsing in secret. Exceedingly patient director Petra Quill (Chynna Fry) is staging the old favorite “Pyramus and Thisbee” starring Flute (Justina Savage) as Thisbee, Starveling (Emily Hauer) as Moonshine, Snout (Beverly Roche) as Wall, Snug (Froehlke) as a Gator, and the colorful Bottom (Kelsey VanVoorst) as Pyramus. But then, stuff happens.

A lot of stuff happens – go see the play!

The vicinity of New Orleans is a perfect setting, and not just to try out some passable Southern accents. The environment is embraced in the music used, costuming, and just the otherworldly air of the whole show. More people have watched “True Blood” and other bayou-set stories than have visited Greece, so engaging the audience is easy. The change in what kind of beast chases Thisbee works perfectly and adds to the comedy. (Fear the Chomp!) It all contributes to a flavorful comic gumbo that goes down easy.

And finally, we have a place where the Elizabethan habit of English people always saying “adieu” makes sense.

The stage would be a bit small for most serious productions, but the intimate nature of it and the surrounding lawn allows for an immersive and interactive experience. Entrances and exits are literally from and to anywhere, fairies dance with kids in the audience, and in an ingenious move, the nobles viewing the Mechanicals’ play are seated in the exact center of the audience. Rather than divide our attention at one end of the stage, they are out of the corners of our eyes, allowing us to enjoy the unintentional hilarity of the play-within-the-play on the stage, while they comment and quip like posh robots from Mystery Science Theater 3000.

The cross-gender casting, which has become more common across all stages in recent years, feels more natural here, and non-hetero feelings add to the stress of our four mortal lovers. In a great mockery of Shakespeare-era plays having boys play women, Savage shines as (pardon if I’m wrong on personal gender) a female actor playing a man who resents having to play a woman. Fry’s Petra aside, the other Mechanicals portray rough men in a gentle art (adding to comic potential).

The double-casting of Oberon/Theseus and Titania/Hippolyta is good as it always is in bringing a unity to the overall play, but largely stopping there avoids audience confusion. (Since we never see them in the same room, perhaps they are secretly the same entities? Voodoo works in mysterious ways.)

The whole cast, top to Bottom, are exceptional – which is praise I often heap on every one of these actors individually in practically everything they do. And to that I’ll add Guy Grubbs as Theseus’ servant Philostrate, whose every entry is a punchline.

The above aside, I’ll toss my text roses at the wonderful surprise that is 7-year-old Beatrice Hartz. Anyone who saw the advance photos of Shepard holding the Changeling as just promotional can be forgiven (if I can be) for thinking her just a dancing prop in the play. With the assurance of her mother in the cast (and her father and a best friend in the front row opening night), she flits her way into and out of her every scene and cue like a pro. Her confidence radiates, and feeds into her character as the fellow fae play along. In this world, she will be become a power to rival her sitters, so it adds meaning as she literally calls their dances at one point, and when she places her hand before a character in a “halt” gesture (which is obeyed) we almost feel the invisible door close. She even gets to speak a line.

Classic with a twist? A drug-induced fever-dream by Tennessee Williams? However you think of it, the price is right – free, but please “buy” $0 tickets online for headcount. While the content is family friendly and the site is easy to reach, do note a few things. The weather is Louisiana-like with high heat and humidity, so shading, sunscreen, and hydration are advised as the play starts before sundown. A couple of food trucks are nearby, and picnics are OK. Bring your own lawn chairs, or sit on a blanket. And in these intimate confines the company goes old-school with no microphones on actors. Fortunately, most lines seem to be uttered in an excited state, but a little audience noise discipline, extending to the nearby swings, would be appreciated.

Performances are just this one weekend: 7:30 p.m. Friday, July 22; Saturday, July 23; and Sunday, July 24; at the small park behind Theater at the Fort, 8920 Otis Ave., Lawrence (far north end of Indy’s Post Road). Tickets and info at indybardfest.com and artsforlawrence.org.

Let’s go to ‘Bed’

By John Lyle Belden

“Bed Play,” by Shar Steiman, presented by Stagequest Indy, and directed by Ty Stover at the District Theatre, is a unique theatrical experience. But it also resonates with something universal in all of us.

To sum it up, I think of it as a Queer Epic Love Poem. I must give one caveat: mature language and content. There are an amazing number of ways to rhyme “uck” and other provocative words. So, consider it a hard “R” in movie terms. But, as one actor recently posted in social media, to simply say “it’s not for everyone” sells it short and gives an unduly negative impression. There is no nudity, aside from some glimpses of bum, and no sim-sex, as this show is not meant to shock, but to stimulate dialogue.

For 99 percent of romantic media, even in today’s accepting atmosphere, it is all cis-het boy meets cis-het girl. But if you truly feel that “love is love,” then celebrate in this performance when gay meets gay or trans meets trans.

We have four characters, played by Steiman, Lukas Schooler, Meghan Dinah, and Case Jacobus. Their personal relationship journeys go from hook-ups to partnerships. Four paths become two, but the lines cross, and each person has to reassess. At the center of it all is the one constant – the bed. Occupying center stage, it steadfastly supports our lovers as they flirt or fight, or just snuggle in each other’s warmth.

Steiman’s script is crazy amazing, the lyrics blazing, the same as I’m simulating in this stimulating paragraph, getting a laugh from the poets who know it takes real skill to fulfil this mission, done in the tradition of hip-hop and slam, constant rhymes in command, flow like Lin-Manuel Miranda, with uncensored, unfiltered expression, the impressions of confessions of love and sincereness and (actual quote) “the power of Queerness.”

Seriously, the versatile verses are a marvel unto themselves, as intriguing and probing as the relationships, and kept up throughout. At moments it is comparable to Eminem or Miranda, or even Shakespeare’s sonnets, but better to just say it’s Steiman’s brave genius at work. The co-stars give of themselves freely, taking on the words as though they composed them, and portraying honest affection, whether lusty, friendly, or feeling betrayed. The easy, natural manner in which they interact is also a credit to Intimacy Director Claire Wilcher (a local acting legend, recently trained and educated to aid in this manner).

Note the online program lists Ash Addams and Kelsey Van Voorst as alternate cast members.

Unless you really can’t deal with adults getting touchy-feely, accept the challenge of experiencing this unique “Bed Play,” through Sunday (July 8-10) at the District Theatre, 627 Massachusetts Ave., Indianapolis. Get tickets at Indydistricttheatre.org.

Wild ‘Rumors’ in Westfield

By John Lyle Belden

There’s a reason why Neil Simon’s classic farce, “Rumors,” is a community theatre staple. It’s an intricate yet easy to follow comedy that allows local actors used to one others’ rhythm to pull out all the stops and set an appreciative audience practically rolling in the aisles with laughter.

Main Street Productions in Westfield stepped up to the challenge, and under the direction of Jen Otterman, succeeded wildly. Otterman notes that the theme undergirding the wacky plot is friendship – especially the kind that freaks out at the thought of a BFF getting a soiled reputation. We get this sense immediately when dear friends Ken and Chris Gorman (Robert Webster Jr. and Laura Givens) arrive at the home of their best friend Charlie (who happens to be Deputy Mayor of New York) for his anniversary party to find him upstairs, injured, and his wife Myra missing. And did they hear a gunshot?

Before getting any answers, more friends arrive: Accountant Lenny Ganz and his wife Claire (Josh Elicker and Monya Wolf); then Ernie the analyst and Cookie the TV cooking-show host (Jason Vernier and Kelsey VanVoorst); and finally, Glenn and Cassie Cooper (Jan Hauer and Sara Castillo Dandurand), he’s running for State Senate and she’s running him ragged with her crystal obsession and constant suspicions of his infidelity.

Before it’s all done, there will be numerous well-meaning falsehoods, a literally deafening second gunshot, DIY meal and cocktails, and further damage to Lenny’s BMW. So, when Officers Welch and Pudney (Nathaniel Taff and Nicole Amsler) come around asking questions, what do these paranoid partygoers say?

Again, this is all very, very funny. Comic goddess VanVoorst is in her element, as well as Webster, a versatile talent who has become a familiar face on the Westfield stage. The rest of the cast stay right on the pace, delivering one zinger or sight-gag after another. Givens and Wolf have Lucy-and-Ethyl chemistry and timing. Elicker puts the “suffer” in longsuffering but keeps it all light. Vernier is a hoot as the expert on human behavior who barely has a clue. Hauer displays the desperation to come out of this with his dignity and campaign intact. Dandurand brings flaky fun without going over the top. Even Taff gets to shine, as the cop with little tolerance for foolishness finding himself in Fool Central.

Rumor has it you will have a great time at performances Thursday through Sunday, June 9-12, at the Basile Westfield Playhouse, 220 N. Union St. Get info and tickets at WestfieldPlayhouse.org.

Holiday favorite ‘Elf’ returns to Civic

By John Lyle Belden

Just two years ago (what seems a lifetime now), the Booth Tarkington Civic Theatre had one of their biggest-ever hits with the musical “Elf,” based on the 2003 Wil Farrell film that is already a beloved Christmas classic.

And as live theatre has returned around central Indiana, so, too, has Buddy and his friends. And – a holiday miracle? – this production is just as wonderful as it was before.

This presents the reviewer with a problem. How do I say practically the same thing I wrote in 2019?

Like this — To save you the click and page-load of a link to the previous review, the following is the same text that still applies, with updated cast and info as needed:

The book by Thomas Meehan and Bob Martin, with songs by Matthew Sklar and Chad Beguelin, allows Buddy the Elf to escape the shadow of Ferrell’s unique talent to make him his own wonderful character — portrayed happily here by Matt Bays. 

As in the original story, Buddy is a human who, as a baby, crawled into Santa’s sack, unseen until the end of the journey. Finding that the boy’s single mother had died, Santa Claus (Parrish Williams) lets him be raised by the elves, allowing Buddy to think he was one of them. 

The truth is inevitably revealed, and Buddy travels to find his biological father — who doesn’t know he exists — in New York City. The dad, Walter (Jack Tanselle), is a workaholic executive at a publishing house of children’s books who is rough on coworkers like good-natured Deb (Nina Stilabower) and neglectful of wife Emily (Carrie Neal) as well as son Michael (Dylan Aquaviva). Naturally, Walter doesn’t believe this strange man in elvish tights is his son, so has him sent away. Since Buddy claims to be from the North Pole, he is dropped off at the next-best thing — Macy’s. There he ends up among the store’s Santa’s helpers, where he falls in love with fellow “elf” Jovie (Emily Bohannon). 

From there, the story is Buddy’s struggle for acceptance and belonging, along with a chance to save Christmas for his father’s family, and the whole world — when Santa is stranded in Central Park, his sleigh too low on the Christmas Spirit that fuels it (PETA nixed his reindeer a while ago). Other notable roles include Jonathan Studdard as the stressed-out Macy’s Manager, Dick Davis and Kelsey VanVoorst as hapless children’s book writers, and Jeff Angel as Mr. Greenway, the curmudgeonly owner of the publishing company, who wants a new hit Christmas story from Walter — or else!

The feel of the show throughout is best described by one of its song titles: “Sparklejollytwinklejingley.” The mood is perpetually sweet, even when characters aren’t “Happy All The Time.” And even when they feel that “Nobody Cares,” there’s a fun dance break. 

Directed by Michael J. Lasley and Anne Beck with choreography by Beck and musical direction by Brent Marty, this is a magical ensemble effort. Seeing it on a matinee with an audience of mostly children, I noticed they were all entranced and swept up in the spirit of it all. 

Just as sweet and special as spaghetti with syrup, “Elf” is yet another holiday must-see in central Indiana, playing through Dec. 24 at the Tarkington theater in the Center for the Performing Arts in downtown Carmel, right next to the Christkindlmarkt. (Arrive early for hope of parking.) See www.civictheatre.org or thecenterpresents.org for info and tickets.

IndyFringe: Shopping Network!

This is part of IndyFringe 2021, Aug. 19-Sept. 5 (individual performance times vary) in downtown Indianapolis. Details and tickets at IndyFringe.org.

By John Lyle Belden

Whether it’s the middle of the afternoon and the middle of the night, we can turn on our TV friends with big smiles, big hair, and eager voices, recommending us the most wonderful things to buy for only three low payments of $29.99 (plus shipping and handling).

It’s “Shopping Network!” presented by Betty Rage Productions at the District Theater. Celebrating the network’s 20th Anniversary, in memory of founder Q.V. Coolidge and his wife, their adult children, Ross and MarySueBeth (Kait Burch and Brandon Russell) host a special sale — which must generate a million dollars or the net goes under — with the help of producer Ellen (director Callie Burk-Hartz) and stagehand L. N. (Audrey Stonerock). 

Wouldn’t you love the Gregorian Calendar Birthstone Necklace, or a selection of American Hero Plates with faces with notables including Dale Earnhardt Jr. (just don’t eat off them, OK)? The lady calling in from Bismarck, North Dakota, will take twenty. 

Burch and Russell have excellent chemistry, even when sparks fly between the siblings. And the overall atmosphere is over-the-top fun. Even technical glitches (which hopefully won’t happen again, and Callie might not forgive me bringing them up) worked into the frantic seat-of-pants nature of this production.  

The audience for this show is also the Studio Audience for the Show, responding to cue cards to applaud, or say “WOW!” 

And you’ll want to cheer for their special guest, the hosts’ aunt, Jennifer Coolidge (Kelsey Van Voorst doing a spot-on impression of the comic actress as one of the New-Agey Hollywood celebrities often spotted on shopping shows). The highlight is the Jennifer Coolidge Candle, with which our star says “I can smell colors,” that lucky audience members get to take home.

This could be the last time you see Ross and MarySueBeth on screen (the big one projected at the back of the theater), so have your credit card ready (for Fringe tickets, I mean).

This review knows it’s a review

By John Lyle Belden

Meta (noun): Of a creative work, referring to itself, or to the conventions of the genre; self referential.

Why am I even doing this? I mean, the play, “Anton in Show Business,” even includes its own review. Just pay attention late in the second act; it’s right there. Nothing I need to add.

If you are in the Indianapolis theatre community, you’ve likely already heard about it, produced by the resurrected Betty Rage Productions and directed by its founder, Callie Burk-Hartz. We all know and love Callie, and she is on her game here. She even put it at the same address as her last Betty show, 627 Massachusetts Ave. – TOTS back then, now the District Theatre – “Outback” on the nice alley stage.

The 2000 play by Jane Martin takes its inspiration from Anton Chekhov’s “The Three Sisters,” written 100 years earlier. With more than a dozen roles played by seven women, the plot involves an effort to stage a version of the Russian’s downer drama that is, as one character puts it, “funny, funny, funny, funny, FUNNY, tragic.”

And if you are in the theatre community, you will love this. The cynical backstage dealings, egos, virtue-signaling, politics, etc., make this one of the best send-ups of regional and community theatre culture since “Waiting for Guffman.” If you aren’t on the “inside,” well, you liked “Guffman,” right? And did I mention this is FUNNY?

Devan Mathias plays TV star Holly Seabe (cast as Masha, I’ll note for Chekhov fans) as that actress you hate-watch but with slightly more talent and maybe a hint of humanity. Meg Ellioy McLane is struggling stage veteran Casey Mulgraw (Olga) trying to stay positive despite her lack of a big break, and that lump she just detected… Sarah Zimmerman is impossibly-sweet and eager Lisabette Cartwright (Irina), an elementary teacher in her first professional role, bringing her back to her native Texas, “Pardon me, Jesus.”

Comic chameleon Kelsey Van Voorst gets a workout here in roles including Actors Express of San Antonio Producing Director (and idealistic Chekhov fan) Kate, and country star-turned-actor Ben Shipwright (Lt. Col. Vershinin). She shows her drama chops by handling the comic beats without getting silly. Tracy Herring gives us her wild take on not one, but two different eccentric directors. Jamillah Gonzalez has her run of the stage as the obligatory Stage Manager/Narrator, as well as a prospective play director and the morally bankrupt Corporate Sponsor. And then there is Audrey Stonerock as Joby, who is literally the audience proxy – but she means well, and we like Audrey, who is nice both in and out of character.

All this, in a play about putting on a play, and how we observe that play, so that it knows it’s a play about players in a play putting on a play, and how the players get played. Play on!

Yes, this show is just as sharp, insightful and funny as it says it is. They even slipped in a couple of updated cultural references. Performances run through August 8; get tickets at indydistricttheatre.org.

Bard Fest presents a ‘First’

By John Lyle Belden

As local theatre struggles to get on stage, the organization Indy Bard Fest (with the help of companies that have presented the annual Shakespeare festival under its banner) is adapting to the times. Its first production is a free outdoor staging of the Bard-inspired “Shakespeare’s Long Lost First Play (Abridged)” by Reed Martin and Austin Tichenor (of the infamous Reduced Shakespeare Company).

Bard Fest director Glenn Dobbs has persuaded the trio of Matt Hartzburg, J.B. Scoble, and Kelsey Van Voorst — no strangers to Shakespeare, parody, on-the-spot improv, or even the abridging of Wlm. Shkspr. — to put on silly clothes and risk their lives and dignity at a “Pestilent Pocket Park” in front of a bunch of masked strangers at strategically scattered tables.

It seems that some trivial historical bones were not all that were recently found in a Leicester, England, parking lot; there was also an entirely too long and overwrought script by an aspiring young playwright from Stratford-Upon-Avon. It turned out to be much ado over nothing, a winter’s tale for another era, a massive comedy of errors, but measure for measure a potentially great first draft if broken up into thirty-odd comedies, tragedies and histories.

However, Van Voorst (whom I did “mark down as an Ass” in a past review) claims she has gotten the whole monstrosity edited down to a watchable two acts, and Hartzburg and Scoble, having nothing better to do in quarantine, are playing along.

Imagine if the Complete Works of William Shakespeare were tossed into a blender (metaphorically, paper ruins the blades, trust me) and an improv company was ordered to perform it as soon as possible, with whatever was laying around the prop room (or purchased from the local dollar store, judging by at least one price tag we saw hanging). Yes, it’s Just. That. Fun. Perhaps it’s the incredible talent involved; maybe it’s the incredible flexibility of the material of a serious playwright who loved bawdy jokes; and maybe it’s also the fact that under the law, parody is fair game even if you are poking at Disney. Yes, we all know “Lion King” = “Hamlet”, but did Uncle Walt’s company steal other ideas, and characters like Ariel and Iago, from the Immortal Bard?

There’s even an overarching plot to this mess, involving two famed magical beings (from different Shakespeare plays) who don’t get along, and carry out their feud by scrambling characters and plots from various plays into, eventually, a single setting — kinda like “Into the Woods” (does Sondheim know about this?). 

Alas, poor playgoer, I’m committing this to the ether after the opening weekend performances of July 31-Aug. 2 at the IndyFringe Pocket Park are done. But hark! There are more stagings planned for Aug. 7-8 at The Cat performance space in downtown Carmel; Aug. 21 and 23 in Indy’s Garfield Park; Aug. 28-30 in Noblesville; and more locations in September. See indybardfest.com for details. Oh, and mark that admission to all performances is free! (Sack and other accommodations may cost; donations are always welcome.) 

Civic: ‘Nothing’ actually a big deal

By John Lyle Belden

For the first time in its long history, the Booth Tarkington Civic Theatre takes on Shakespeare with the comedy, “Much Ado About Nothing.”

Directed and adapted to one movie-length act by Emily Rogge Tzucker, the story — traditionally set in medieval Italy — takes place in 1945 as our soldiers come home from the War to an Italian villa in the Hollywood hills. As is usually the case, the character names and Shakespearean dialogue are largely untouched. 

At the fabulous estate of Leonato (Tom Beeler), Don Pedro (Joshua Ramsey) returns with his troops, including Claudio (Nicholas Gibbs), who has fallen for Leonato’s daughter, Hero (Carly Masterson); Benedick (John Kern), who enjoys verbally sparring with Leonato’s shrewish niece, Beatrice (Sara Castillo Dandurand); and Pedro’s surly brother, Don John (Darby Kear), who would rather stir up trouble than celebrate. Events include characters conniving to get Benedick and Beatrice to hook up, as well as the “fatal” wedding ceremony of Claudio and Hero. John’s wicked plot is uncovered by the goofy yet zealous constable Dogberry (Kelsey VanVoorst) and true to the Bard, we’ll get a very happy ending.

The cast also includes Jim Mellowitz as Antonio, Leonato’s brother; Sabrina Duprey and Leah Hodson as Hero’s best friends Margaret and Ursula; Max McCreary and Elisabeth Speckman as Borachio and Conrade, Don John’s devious but careless accomplices; Bill Buchanan and Matt Hartzburg as the Friar and the Sexton; Joe Steiner as Verges, Dogberry’s right-hand man; and Jonathan Doram as Balthazar, the soldier who performs Shakespeare’s song “Sigh No More” (music by Brent Marty), as well as one of Dogberry’s Watchmen, with Buchanan. To complete this list, Hartzburg, Julie Ammons and Stephanie Johnson play house servants.

The convoluted story is easy to follow and the actors do an excellent job of bringing it to life, complete with perfectly overdone comic moments. Master comic VanVoorst is in her element. Kern crisply delivers Benedick’s constant — and eventually contradictory — musings. The look provided by set and lighting designer Ryan Koharchik — with mood-setting skies and interesting circular motifs — and costume designer Adrienne Conces provides the perfect atmosphere for the mischief and merriment, while reflecting the height of the era’s style.

Don’t “let it be marked down that you are an ass” (as Dogberry would say) for missing the opportunity to enjoy Civic’s midwinter romp, through Feb. 22 at the Tarkington stage in the Center for the Performing Arts in downtown Carmel. Call 317-843-3800, or visit civictheatre.org or thecenterpresents.org.