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.

Quiet play has a lot to say

By John Lyle Belden

The stage is so serene, as the actors silently enter one by one, you don’t want to make a noise in the audience, either.

To the delight of American Lives Theatre director Chris Saunders, the rule of silence in this retreat setting of “Small Mouth Sounds” by Bess Wohl, seems to permeate the room, as he presents, in his words, “What if you met a stranger and didn’t have the words to immediately assume everything about them?”

Jan (Kevin Caraher), a nicely dressed older man, calmly takes his seat. Ned (Zacharia Stonerock), wide eyes under his stocking cap, comes in looking unsure of himself. When Rodney (Lukas Felix Schooler), whose manner can’t help but project the fact he is a Yoga master, comes in and takes off his sandals, Ned immediately sheds his shoes and from then on, we have an assumed rule in this meeting space. The no-talking rule is also taken for granted, so it is jarring to hear married(?) couple Joan (Nathalie Cruz) and Judy (Jenni White) enter, bickering. But they get the hint, and soon the voice of the Teacher (Ben Rose) fills the space, exotically sounding like an English-speaking African man.

Teacher opens with a cryptic story of talking frogs; warns that the participants will not necessarily encounter him, or even Enlightenment, but “yourselves;” and gives the rules, which include that aside from a structured Q&A with him once a day, no one is to speak. During this, our last camper, Alicia (Morgan Morton) enters; the fact that she missed an important rule will come back on them later in the play.

Through our mind’s eye and the laying out of mats, the stage also becomes their cabin floor, as we get further impressions of these men and women, and the first lack-of-language barrier issue as Jan and Alicia were, it seems, assigned the same space.

Early on in this journey, the campers are instructed to each write their “intention” on a slip of paper, a source of friction when one accidentally reads another’s. As the drama builds, so does the humor, both drawing interesting and startling exchanges and moments from their self-enforced mime-hood.

Note that this play does include brief nudity, forbidden incense, and illicit use of Fritos. We also get Ned’s “life story,” as he accidentally asks the character’s most profound question. We also get a sense of deep loss – past, present, and future – each participant is working through. Even Rodney, acting blithely like a sort of yogic tourist, comes into some hard lessons.

At some point, practically every rule of the retreat is broken, which even brings Teacher – dealing with off-campus issues and finding Enlightenment via cold medicine – to his own self-reckoning.

Performances are sublime. Schooler uses his real-world yoga knowledge to good effect. Stonerock ably gives us a man struggling with his own identity, in more than the philosophical sense. Morton gives us someone about whom we learn so little yet feel for so much. We read volumes between the lines with White and Cruz – the former as a cancer survivor, and the latter recovering in her own way. And I don’t want to say too much about Caraher, but the revelation of his character sticks with you pleasantly.

Now that I’m outside that space, I feel free to speak up: See “Small Mouth Sounds,” in remaining performances Friday through Sunday, Dec. 10-12, at the District Theatre, 627 Massachusetts Ave., downtown Indianapolis. Info and tickets at americanlivestheatre.org.

Toymaker tinkers with oft-told tale

By John Lyle Belden

In the hands of No Exit Performance’s Ryan Mullins and Georgeanna Smith Wade, Mullins’ portrayal of the toymaker Drosselmeyer has expanded to something far beyond the necessary supporting character for the “Nutcracker” ballet, emerging as a signature personality for the No Exit troupe.

His painted, sharp-dressed hunchback looks odd, yet exudes a confident charisma that makes him funny while kind of dangerous (and sexy, he’d insist I add sexy). From the moment he takes the stage, he is in charge, completely. The dancing, giggling players around him obey; the audience, under his firm gaze, are taken by his unusual charm. He can be challenged (and occasionally is) but never defeated – or can he?

I attended a production of No Exit’s “Nutcracker” a couple of years ago. With Drosselmeyer as the emcee, we were treated to a strange but entertaining variation of the story (with dance breaks, but none of the traditional ballet). This year our toymaker has invented something new, yet familiar.

“Drosselmeyer Presents: Another Twisted Classic” is the title of this year’s show, staged in a large downstairs garage area of the Tube Factory, the Big Car artspace located at 1125 Cruft St., Indianapolis (just off south Shelby near Garfield Park).

Our host promises the audience he will stage another edition of the Nutcracker, but first a little nap… Clues like this, and when we see Callie Burke-Hartz as a kid on a crutch, tell us what often-told Christmas tale this band is going to twist. You feel like you know what’s going to happen next – it sorta does, but it totally doesn’t, at least not like you’d expect.

Other notable characters (at this point Drosselmeyer insists you stop reading because it’s not about him; just see his show!) include Lukas Schooler as the magnificent mulleted Mustache Man, the toymaker’s rival for our attention; Michael Burke as the beautiful Ginger; Aaron Beasley as grifter handyman Mr. Scratchit; and the return of Drosselmeyer’s – um, friend? partner? servant? – darling Sparkle (Wade), who in the silent clown tradition, speaks volumes with a gesture. She just wants everyone to be happy, but is there any joy left for her?

Funny, inventive – as much an experience as a play – I highly recommend this show to anyone up for something a little unusual. There are a few mature moments, so this is best for teens and up. The stage location is down a steep staircase, but accommodations can be made for those who have difficulty with this.

Performances resume today (Dec. 7) and run through Saturday, with two more on Dec. 16-17. Get info and tickets at www.noexitperformance.org.

John L. Belden is Associate Editor for The Eagle (formerly The Word), the Indianapolis-based LGBTQ news source, where he also places his reviews.