FTC: ‘Cake’ a complex confection

By John Lyle Belden

Though every aspect of a thoroughly-planned wedding seems critical, the most important thing is still the people involved.

That is the approach playwright Bekah Brunstetter brought to “The Cake,” now presented by Fonseca Theatre Company, directed by founding staff member Jordan Flores Schwartz. In this “issue play” tackling recent conflicts of homophobia, religious freedom, and free commerce, while a bakery avoiding making a wedding cake for a same-sex marriage is at the center of the story, it is the people and their very human feelings that we explore.

Della (Jean Arnold) appears to have her life in order. Her shop, Della’s Sweets of Winston, N.C., is doing well and she has been selected for the “Big American Bake Off” television show. She is a stickler for following the directions, whether it be with a generations-old recipe or the centuries-old wisdom of the Bible. We meet her speaking on this to a young freelance writer, Macy (Chandra Lynch), who, while working on her next story, has an ulterior motive. This is revealed when Jen (Kyrsten Lyster) arrives. 

Jen grew up in this neighborhood and is friends with Della. She is also Macy’s fiance. After first insisting on making the wedding cake, before finding out it is for “two brides,” Della suddenly remembers how busy she will be around the wedding date and changes her mind. 

At this point you might expect characters to dig in their heels as they take sides, each individually convinced they’re right, and maybe even go to court. But the consequences are more nuanced. 

Della, who has known and loved Jen since babysitting her years ago, almost immediately feels regret over her decision. While her husband, hard-working plumber Tim (Adam O. Crowe), supports her on it, she finds herself haunted by the voice of the Big American Bake Off host George (Dwuan Watson) questioning her motives and methods. Also, she can’t help but notice the true love between Jen and Macy, a feeling she struggles to find between her and her dutiful but distant spouse.

Meanwhile, a rift forms between our engaged couple. Macy, a New Yorker, sees all she feared from the South coming true, and wants to strike back, or at least give up the fancy nuptials for a simple civil ceremony — elsewhere. Jen, on the other hand, is determined to have her dream wedding. It turns out you can take the lesbian out of North Carolina, but you can’t take North Carolina out of the lesbian.

As with all genuine stories, no matter how serious things get, some of it you just have to laugh at. There are plenty of comic moments in this play, especially when Della tries to rekindle her own jaded romance.

Arnold makes Della surprisingly sympathetic, given the spot events have put her in. Though playing a staunch conservative, Crowe gives Tim enough heart that we can see what she saw in him.

Lynch and Lyster make a good couple, as in their roles their yin and yang of protector and nurturer balance each other out. Still, neither woman is all hard or all soft. Is it enough to save the wedding? (And will there be cake?) You’ll just have to see to find out. 

Performances run through March 22 at FTC’s home, the Basile building at 2508 W. Michigan St., west of downtown Indy. Call 317-653-1519 or visit FonsecaTheatre.org.

Full ‘Hamlet’ enriches familiar story

This Show is part of Bard Fest, central Indiana’s annual Shakespeare festival. Info and tickets at www.indybardfest.com.

By Wendy Carson

By now we all know the story of Hamlet. It’s one of Shakespeare’s most produced plays and you’ve likely seen more than one version of it. However, Doug Powers and the Carmel Theatre Company have chosen to give us a different take by giving us an almost entirely unabridged look at the play.

Before you balk at the 3-plus hour running length (with intermission), note that with these rarely acted scenes returned to the story, it just deepens the richness of the characters. It also brings the secondary plot forward (remember Norway?) bringing more closure and purpose to many of the characters.

Honestly, I had forgotten many of the scenes and speeches performed and was touched by the true beauty of not only their narrative but the language itself.

Also, the starkness of the stage and minimalist set pieces help remind you that this show is about listening to and understanding the characters. In order to fulfill this task, one must have great actors and Powers has outdone himself in procuring them.

Brian G. Hartz sizzles as Hamlet, pulling forth all of the rage and deviousness that the character embodies. Miranda Nehrig turns Ophelia into a young woman who’s confusion and frustrations over Hamlet’s behavior help lead her to her desperate end. Both have skill in communicating beyond saying the lines, especially Nehrig’s talent for adding volumes with a single facial expression.

Eric Bryant as Claudius and Jean Arnold as Gertrude present the quintessential parents who are bewildered as to why their son has so quickly changed his demeanor. Their recent nuptials so soon after the previous King’s untimely death never cross their mind as a possible reason.

While most of the Bard Fest offerings have cast women in several men’s roles, Powers uses his casting choices to their maximum effect. Jo Bennett plays Horatio as a dear friend but in later scenes there seems to be romantic tension, which they pull off with great aplomb.

However, the best example of this is with the character of Guildenstern, played by Gorgi Parks Fulper. Instructed to play upon her history with Hamlet to obtain information, she is asked to use her feminine wiles. Meanwhile, Benjamin Mathis plays Rosencrantz as the perfect second banana who seems to always be left out of the whole scheme.

Alan Cloe is perfect as wise but tragic Polonius. Noah Winston is a fiery force as his son, Laertes.

Casting is also clever in its players with two or more roles: Fulper and Mathis also play palace guards in the opening scene. Janice Hibbard is the messenger to Norway, and later is that country’s warrior princess Fortinbras. The ghost of murdered King Hamlet (the title character’s dad) is portrayed by Tony Armstrong, who also plays an identical character in the play-within-the-play that Hamlet (the younger) sets up to watch his stepfather’s reaction; later Armstrong is the gravedigger who unearths Yorick’s skull.

In addition, kudos to Rachel Snyder and Kyrsten Lyster as members of the traveling troupe of Players.

There is some intense swordplay in this production, so credit is due to Bryant as fight choreographer.

Remaining performances are 7:30 p.m. Friday, 7:30 Saturday (with talkback following) and 1 p.m. Sunday (Oct. 25-27) at the IndyFringe Theatre.

IndyFringe: Game of Crows — Winter’s Coming, Father Ned!

This show is part of the 15th Annual Indianapolis Theatre Fringe Festival, a/k/a IndyFringe, Aug. 15-25, 2019 on Mass Ave downtown. Info, etc., at www.IndyFringe.org.

By Wendy Carson

The wacky gang from Perpendicular island is back again with a new adventure and some new cast members as well. There is also a Bingo card on the back of your program that can win you a prize after the show.

We start with tales of the dreaded Bog Walker and a discovery of treasures possibly left by Leif Erikson. Soon visitors arrive with some exciting news, the field being the Priory has been chosen for filming the dramatic final battle of Winterbeard on the massively popular show, “Game of Crows.”

The zaniness escalates from there as everyone on the island gets into the spirit and the homages emerge faster than the puffin eggs from Father Flannagan (David Whicker) — he was apparently a prime nesting spot during the “Great Puffin Migration”. Pop culture references from all over fly fast and furiously throughout.

David Molloy steps up to the new role of Father Ned Tully wholeheartedly and plays it very well. Blake Mellencamp’s turn as the dim-witted Father Dermott McDermott brings all the silliness necessary to highlight the character. While Kyrsten Lyster and Jim Lucas do an excellent job of portraying the wily grifters, Bridget Robertson & Hugh O’Toole. As is tradition in their shows, local rap artist Nate Burner as Squashy Nate, acts as our guide through this farcical tale.

Kate Duffy Sim is delightful as the dotty housekeeper, Mrs. O’Boyle, who cheerfully serves up the puffin eggs in everything possible. However, it is her version of the smugly condescending version of Olenna Tyrell that is worth the ticket price alone.

So sit back and enjoy some laughs as well as a nice cup of puffin tea with Clerical Error Productions. Remaining performances are Friday and Saturday (Aug. 23-24) at The Oasis (Shriners’ entrance of the Murat, on the north side), 502 N. New Jersey St.

DivaFest: An odd Irish ‘three men and a baby’

This is part of the 2019 Diva Fest, presented by IndyFringe at 719 E. St. Clair St., Indianapolis, through April 21. All shows are by women playwrights, presented as one-hour one-acts at a Fringe price. For information and tickets, see www.indyfringe.org.

By John Lyle Belden

Kate Duffy Sim once again blesses us with a brilliant parody of the British sitcom, “Father Ted,” which relates the quirky lives of priests living on a remote island off the Irish coast.

This time, in “Who’s Minding the Snapper,” Father Ned and company are visited by a very pregnant American woman. The baby quickly arrives, but the mother disappears — can Ned, dimwitted Father Dermott and drunken Father Finn successfully care for the little “snapper”?

Presented by Clerical Error Productions and directed by David Malloy, the surreal atmosphere and comic potential are enhanced by “cross-gender casting,” as the program put it. Sim ably plays Ned, while Bridget Schlebecker is a hoot as Finn. Kyrsten Lyster is outstanding as Dermott, displaying deft skill at the hard task of playing a “stupid” character so cleverly. Manny Casillas charms as the housekeeper Mrs. O’Boyle, while Anthony Logan Nathan is something to behold as brash, devious Mrs. McShane, who tends the home of a rival priest.

Case Jacobus is the “girl in trouble,” while actual rapper Nate Burner plays her rap-star boyfriend. “N8” also performs the opening theme, and spun some rhymes at curtain call to introduce the cast.

Hilarious with the right amount of heart, you’ll need to do penance if you miss this one. Performances are 8:30 p.m. Saturday and 5:30 p.m. Sunday (April 20-21).

DivaFest: Truly inspiring

This is part of the 2019 Diva Fest, presented by IndyFringe at 719 E. St. Clair St., Indianapolis, through April 21. All shows are by women playwrights, presented as one-hour one-acts at a Fringe price. For information and tickets, see www.indyfringe.org.

By John Lyle Belden

In “aMUSEd,” by Megan Ann Jacobs, one of the lesser-known Greek Muses — Sebastian, the Muse of Comedy (Kyle Dorsch) — breaks his own rule against staying too long, remaining with his latest charge, author Anita (Becky Schlomann), until the moment she passes. He promises to finish their last work with a new human, but in his grief, chases off every person who moves in.

Enter Nikki (Kyrsten Lyster), a woman as determined to stay as Sebastian is for her to leave — New York apartments at this price don’t come along every day. The landlord, Tyler (Jerry Beasley), is just grateful someone is staying in his “haunted” flat.

Grant Nagel plays Nikki’s fiance, Ryan, a victim of Sebastian’s pranks, and Ilandia Johnson is Kasey, a local police officer tired of being called to arrest a “trespasser” she cannot see.

Jacob’s sweet story excellently showcases the comic talents of manic Beasley, wonderfully frustrated Lyster, and Dorsch’s acid wit like a young Jack Benny. Schlomann’s presence gives this all the right amount of heart.

Remaining performance is 4:45 p.m. Saturday, April 20.

Mud Creek: Where ‘Almost’ seems exactly right

By Wendy Carson

On the heels of their hilarious Christmas show, (“Inlaws, Outlaws, and Other People Who Should Be Shot”) Mud Creek Players give us another sweet laugh-fest with their latest production, “Almost Maine.”

The title comes from the “not-quite” town in extreme northern Maine, small in population, but overflowing with quirkiness.

There are two people who are either close together or vastly far apart; a woman whose defenses keep her from seeing what’s right in front of her; a misspelling possibly leading to love; the answer to a question asked a very long time ago. Plus, you have two people literally falling in love, the other shoe literally dropping, a couple literally returning their love for each other, a man who literally feels no pain, and an actual broken heart.

All this happens on a cold, wintry Friday night. Those of us of a certain age will feel like we are watching a romantic update of “Northern Exposure,” with all the whimsy on display under the Northern Lights.

This series of scenes is brought to life by Matt Harzburg, Kyrsten Lyster, Lexi Odle, Mason Odle, Jennifer Poynter and Jackson Stollings in multiple roles, directed by Andrea Odle with Amanda Armstrong. They all embrace the charm, wonder and weirdness of the stories, aptly acting as though these odd northwoods happenings occur every day. Thus they make the accompanying feelings seem natural – and somehow relatable to us, watching from a “barn” in the woods near Geist.

While this is a perfect show to bring a date, singles and families will find it just as enchanting. Also, each lady in attendance was given a long-stemmed rose. So brave the cold, and warm up to the sweet charm of “Almost, Maine.”

Performances run through March 2 at 9740 E. 86th St.; call 317290-5343 or visit www.mudcreekplayers.com.

What’s so funny about peace, love and misunderstanding?

By John Lyle Belden

Anton Chekhov called his 1895 play, “The Seagull,” a “comedy in four acts” – which makes one wonder about Russians’ sense of humor.

But the play, adapted and directed by Casey Ross and presented by her Catalyst Repertory company – shaved down to two acts (one-two / intermission / three-four) – does have some light moments. Good drama always has its share of humor, and its “comic” elements are further reflected in an almost Shakespearean level of unrequited love among the characters.

The setting is a peaceful rural Russian estate, with its nice house belonging to aging civil servant Pyotr Sorin (Dennis Forkel) and a lake, near which his nephew Konstantin Treplev (Taylor Cox) presents a play he has written, starring his girlfriend, local girl Nina (Ann Marie Elliott).

Treplev sees himself in the shadow of his famous actress mother, Irina Arkadina (Nan Macy), and her popular friends. “I have no discernible talent,” he laments. But to prove himself, he is determined to write a “new form” of theatre, simultaneously rebelling against and surpassing the great Arkadina. Before an audience of locals, family and his mother’s guest, famous writer Boris Trigorn (Thomas Cardwell), the premiere flounders thanks to Treplev’s abstract symbolism – inspiring heckling from Arkadina – and Nina’s amateurish acting.

Later Trigorn flatters Nina, encouraging her dream of becoming a professional actor, and winning her away from Treplev. Meanwhile, beautiful-in-black Masha (Emily Bohn) is in love with Treplev, while poor schoolmaster Medivenko (Bradford Reilly) is in love with Masha. Paulina (Kyrsten Lyster) is in an affair with Yevgeny Dorn (Craig Kemp), a kindly doctor with a song in his heart, but she is married to very unromantic estate caretaker Ilya Shamrayeff (Anthony Nathan).

While good acting is essential to any play, the presentation of these characters is all Chekhov has given us – no wild action or deep mystery. Fortunately, Ross knows some very talented actors.

Cox is great at playing the tortured soul, and he has plenty to work with here. A hundred-twenty years later, even in Russia, Treplev would have medication and perhaps a therapist to aid his issues. In this world, he must wade through on his own with little help from his mother – she brushes off his suicide attempt as a silly phase, afraid to leave the limelight world that is the only place she feels happy. Macy turns on the charm, while showing the depth of her character’s shallowness.

Elliott is brilliant as usual, mastering not only all the subtle facets of Nina, but managing to act “bad” in an entertaining way. Cardwell reveals a man wrestling with the life his genius has given him – “I have no rest from myself” – but still subject to base desires. In one of the play’s most famous scenes, he presents the idea of “destroying” the young woman, saying it directly to her. But blinded by her pursuit of fame, Nina allows it to happen, not realizing until it is too late what she has become.

And a shout out to Nathan for nearly stealing scenes with Shamreyeff’s socially clumsy moments, and for making the death of the title bird more funny than it should be.

So: When you get what you’ve been chasing after – or what you settled for – is it worth it? That would be the thematic question at work here, and while the answers aren’t definitive, they do feel honest to the harsh world we live in, wherever we are in time or on the globe. And when the circumstances permit, we can get in a laugh or two.

“The Seagull” has performances Sept. 15-17 and 22-24 at the Grove Haus, 1001 Hosbrook St., near Fountain Square. For info and tickets, visit Facebook.com/CatalystRepertory or the company’s website.

Make note of nutty ‘Nothing’

By John Lyle Belden

The title “Much Ado About Nothing,” William Shakespeare’s comedy now produced by Indy’s Khaos Company Theatre, makes it sound like an Olde English version of “Seinfeld.” While its plot is as easy to follow as a sitcom, the title is more of a pun – “noting” in Shakespeare’s time was to overhear gossip, which happens here with “much ado” indeed. (Thanks, Wikipedia!)

In a modernish Italy that can only exist on stage, Leonato (James Mannan), owner of the estate where the play is set, will give his daughter Hero (Kyrsten Lyster) to Claudio (Ben Rockey), a soldier in the company of Don Pedro (Donovan Whitney), who has arranged the match.

Meanwhile, Hero’s cousin, Beatrice (Kayla Lee), has nothing nice to say about men and marriage – I checked, this was written after “Taming of the Shrew,” so consider her a more-refined “Kate” – and the main target of her venom is boisterous braggart Benedick (Daniel Dale Clymer). Sensing that these two would be suited for a different kind of sparks between them, Leonato, Pedro and Claudio, along with Hero and her companions Margaret (Kathleen Cox) and Ursula (Kaylee Spivey-Good), conspire to get them thinking each is loved by the other.

Also meanwhile, Don Pedro’s brother, Don John (James Crawley), our villain, sets out to ruin everything with the help of drunken Borachio (Jake Peacock). The main thing standing in their way is Dogberry (Linda Grant) – the Barney Fife of Shakespearean Italy – her lieutenant Verges (Nikki Sayer) and faithful Watchmen (Aidan and Addison Lucas).

And “mark that I am an ass” if I don’t mention other cast members Bradley Good, Case Jacobus and Steven C. Rose, as well as that felt Comrade on Peacock’s left arm.

The jokes and barbs hold up, even with the original text. Hero, being a teenager, does blurt out “hashtag” at moments of stress, and you get latter-day clothes with sword scabbards, but it all works. Crawley should be commended for the best evil grin this side of the Grinch, and Rockey is great at playing goofy and clumsy, yet lovable. Clymer is as sharp as the blade at his side, and Lee is simultaneously beautiful and a force to contend with.

Also, Grant and Sayer totally make the corset-and-riding-crop look work.

Under the direction of KCT’s Anthony Nathan, this classic romp is truly something to make “much ado” about. Remaining performances are Friday (pay-what-you-want night) and Saturday, July 21-22, at 1775 N. Sherman Drive. Get info and tickets at kctindy.com.