Another go-round with the ‘Girls’ in LAFF parody

By John Lyle Belden

Here we go again! The gang at Loud and Fast Funny Shows present “The Golden Girls: The Lost Episodes, Vol. 2,” Friday and Saturday nights through March 21 at the District Theatre.

It’s been nearly a year since LAFF put on the dresses and thanked us for being their friends. Most of the “girls” return: Dave Ruark as Dorothy, Pat Mullen as Blanche, and Jim Banta as Rose, joined by Frankie Bolda as Sophie. 

As with last year’s show, this is a parody originally by David Cerda and David Lipschutz of Hell in a Handbag Productions of Chicago, complete with mature language and immature behavior. And, to get us in the mood, we’re again treated to old sitcom themes and commercials while we wait for the show to begin. 

For an hour, we are treated to two quick episodes with a Golden Girls trivia game show in between, hosted by Christian Condra, complete with audience participation and prizes.

Condra also returns as sexy Jazzercise Jeff — short-shorts and all — and takes a turn as Rose’s blind sister. Joining the cast in multiple roles are Mark Cashwell (including as Dorothy’s date to the Sadie Hawkins Dance), Kayla Lee (playing Sophie’s rival), Tyler Lyons (roles include Dorothy’s ex-husband) and David Mosedale, whose major part is Jessica Fletcher in a “Murder, She Wrote” crossover.

This heartfelt jab at the old TV hits is hilarious as usual, though there seems to be even more sexual innuendo this time around, so it’s best for those old enough to remember the source material. 

Each night has two performances, 7:30 and 9 p.m., at the District, 627 Massachusetts Ave. in downtown Indianapolis. Get info and tickets at http://www.indyfringe.org.

Wacky wizard world, from a different perspective

By John Lyle Belden

The goofballs of LAFF (Loud and Fast Funny Shows) are back, and they’ve brought some friends.

In “Puffs,” an Off-Broadway show by Matt Cox, this time the parody target is the “Harry Potter” novels. However, the seven-year epic (presented in 100 minutes) is told from the perspective of what trademarked materials would call House Hufflepuff. It should be noted that the more you know about the Potter books and films, the more you will get all the jokes and references. But for fans, no matter what your House, this fun and touching take on the stories is a must-see.

The LAFF regulars — Matt Mullen, Jim Banta, and Olivia Schaperjohn — are our central trio of students, finding themselves sorted into the Puffs (rather than the Braves, Smarts, or Snakes) only to find that it is apparently a House of losers. The one exception is handsome prefect Cedric (Christian Condra), who is a shining leader up until the climax of Book 4. Afterward, Condra portrays He-whose-name-we-shouldn’t-be-talking-about (never mind the irony), with taped-down nose and hilariously dramatic flair. 

Dave Ruark rejoins the company as our Narrator, keeping this complex plot moving along. 

Various roles are ably filled by Mark Cashwell, who plays a lot of the faculty; Gorgi Parks Fulper, parts include Professor Sprouty, and an evil Puff escaped from Wizard Prison; Chelsea Leis Mullen, notably as charming and cheerful Leanne, as well as the Puffs founder; Tyler Lyons; Maddie Deeke; Kayla Lee; Anthony Nathan; Justina Savage; and Frankie Bolda, whose roles include Harry. 

While this is a very funny parody, what might be surprising is the amount of emotional heft this underdog (under-badger?) story carries, as the group that would be happy to rank third out of the four Houses grows to prove they are just as important as any other aspect of the Wizarding world. Since a lot of Potter fans grow up nerdy outsiders, they feel an affinity for the Puffs; this show allows them to not only laugh at themselves and other odd aspects of the epic, but also to affirm their steadfast gold-and-black badger pride.

Performances of “Puffs” are Fridays through Sundays through Jan. 4 on the main stage at the District Theatre, 627 Massachusetts Ave., managed by IndyFringe. Get info and tickets at www.indyfringe.org.

IndyFringe: BRAIN-O-RAMA — Mentalism and Mischief

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 John Lyle Belden

Kevin Burke is a brave soul, and I’m not referring to him calling himself “the world’s only psychic comedian” or how he plays Russian roulette with staple guns — meaning we either get a mentalist trick or a sideshow geek act — but because he has the audacity of leaving the sound-effects for his show totally in the hands of the venue tech.

At ComedySportz.

At the show I attended, the goofball up in the tech’s crow’s nest was Mark Cashwell, which meant that Burke’s hilarious antics just got that much funnier.

Goofy noises aside, Burke demonstrates his “telepathetic” powers in various ways, and even teaches us a trick. He also leaves some of the mentalism in the hands of the amateurs he brings up on stage so if it works, he’s a genius; if it doesn’t, it’s your fault. Bur regardless, you will laugh — a lot.

See and experience yourself this Friday, Saturday or Sunday (Aug. 23-25) at ComedySportz, 721 Massachusetts Ave.

NoExit: Spend a holiday with some damaged people

By John Lyle Belden

If you never thought you’d see No Exit, the local company known for unusual and avant garde performances, and Tennessee Williams, notable for brilliant standard dramas, in the same sentence, have I got a surprise for you.

“The Mutilated,” originally written and staged as a one-act in 1965, is one of Williams’ later, more artistically adventurous plays. Though an initial failure, a New York revival with John Waters acolyte Mink Stole in a lead role five years ago earned praise. So yes, Tennessee, it is a No Exit play. And with the company’s Drosselmeyer taking the holidays off (he had a cabaret in July), this counts as their “Christmas” show.

Most of the cast also act as chorus — not just in the “Greek” sense, but more literally as holiday carolers. The focus is on our leads, Celeste Delacroix Griffin (Beverly Roche) and Trinket Dugan (Gigi Jennewein).

On Christmas Eve, 1938, Celeste has been released from the House of Detention where she had been held for shoplifting — one of her many, many vices. She makes her way back to the Silver Dollar Hotel in New Orleans’ French Quarter where Trinket lives fairly comfortably, but alone, off the proceeds of a single oil well. The two had been each other’s only friend, but a fight prior to Celeste’s arrest has left Trinket too wounded to forgive.

But Trinket also carries a deeper scar, “mutilated” by the loss of a breast both physically and mentally, in perpetual shame and paranoia of the stigma from anyone finding out. Sadly, Celeste exploits this in her selfish, immature efforts to keep Trinket in her life. Thus the night is mostly a battle of wills between the women. Celeste leaves clues to Trinket’s secrets and calls her by her former, less colorful name. Meanwhile, desperate for company, Trinket takes home a sailor (Matthew Walls) so drunk he wavers between dull confusion and violent agitation. All the while, hotel manager Bernie (Zachariah Stonerock) sits by, eyes on his comic book, exasperated like he’s seen these scenes play out between the women many times before.

Roche and Jennewein give award-worthy performances: Celeste prowls the two-level stage like a predator, while Trinket works her corner like a wounded deer. In fact, all the cast are superb, including Walls, Stonerock, Mark Cashwell, Dan Flahive, Abby Gilster, Elysia Rohn and Doug Powers.

While costumes and sets are standard for a Depression-era drama, there are a number of artsy, edgy touches, including the arresting manner in which the “carols” are sung (words by Williams, music adapted by Ben Asaykwee), and the way so much is left unsaid, including the full story of Trinket’s “mutilation.” Then there is the bewildering ending — a “miracle” is promised, and seems to be delivered, but it is up to you after the lights go up to work out what it all means.

As other commenters on the play have noted, the characters here are all “mutilated” in some way: physically, mentally, spiritually. We see the pains of addiction, whether it be to wine or a person. Yet like any holiday show, even in Tennessee Williams’ New Orleans, anything is possible on Christmas day.

No Exit has located “The Mutilated” in the Carriage House of the Indianapolis Propylaeum, 1410 N. Delaware downtown (a couple of blocks north of the President Benjamin Harrison home). Performances are through Sunday; see noexitperformance.org for information and tickets.

IndyFringe: ‘Let’s Play a Freakin’ Boardgame’

This show is part of the 14th Annual Indianapolis Theatre Fringe Festival, a/k/a IndyFringe, Aug. 16-26, 2018 on Mass Ave downtown. Info, etc., at www.IndyFringe.org.

By Wendy Carson

To begin, a couple of notes:
1. The titular Boardgame changes for each performance (mine was Clue, today’s is Monopoly)
2. This show has audience participation and interaction (however, you will not be pressured into doing anything you don’t wish to do if this bothers you).
3. Each performance will have a “winner” and they will receive several new games with a net worth between $50 & $100.
4. The show is presented by veteran improv comic Mark Cashwell (who previously presented his “Improv Talk Show” at the Fringe)
Now for my thoughts on the show:
As I mentioned above, the Boardgame for the Friday night premiere was Clue. Various members of the audience were conscripted to play the various characters and in a delightfully innovative stroke of comedy genius, he has them each draw their weapon of choice.
Dice are rolled, challenges are faced, clues are revealed, the murdered is ultimately discovered, and a good time was had by all. By the way: It was Mr. Green in the Lounge with the Sex Toy.
So, for a delightfully hilarious take on games and gaming come on by Comedysportz (which is also the only venue serving actual food) and test your luck.

IndyFringe: ‘Tonight, Tonight’

By John Lyle Belden

Comedy works best when the comic has someone good to play the jokes off of. In “Tonight, Tonight,” the improv talk show, that person is you!

Mark Cashwell is attempting the TV talk format as a one-person show, no sidekick or bandleader, and the tech in the back is mostly there to play music for the dance breaks — there are dance breaks, you will dance.

You could also be “Tonight”s guest.

To be honest, this show only works if you help make it work. But when you do, the result is hilarious fun.

The show also includes breaks for “commercials,” when familiar local radio ads get skewered.

So give Mark your time, some suggestions, your funky moves, or even silly answers to “What’s your movie about?” and he will give you a highly entertaining hour.

Remaining performances of “Tonight Tonight: An Improvized Late-Night Talk Show” are in a few minutes — 9 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 24 — and at 6 p.m. Saturday and Sunday in the downstairs stage at the Phoenix Theatre, 749 N. Park Ave.

Festival info at www.indyfringe.org.

Indy companies expertly flesh out Richard III’s twisted skeleton

By John Lyle Belden

In 2012 came the stunning news of a human skeleton discovered under a parking lot in Leicester, England. It was the twisted body of what history and legend regard as a twisted soul, King Richard III. This setting opens the Catalyst Repertory/First Folio production of William Shakespeare’s play about the infamous monarch at the IndyFringe Theatre.

In what would be the last years of England’s Wars of the Roses between contesting royal families, King Edward IV is sick and dying. Richard, the Duke of Gloucester, is reviled for his crippled body, which brings on his sour attitude. The clever Duke decides if he can’t look like a hero to gain the crown, he’ll be the villain. But between him and the throne are George, Duke of Clarence; nobles faithful to Edward’s wife, Queen Elizabeth; and the child heir, Edward, Prince of Wales.

Some people are going to have to die.

Matt Anderson completely transforms into Richard, with the help of costume artist Linda Schornhorst (whose excellent work adorns the whole cast). This, coupled with Anderson’s complete control of his body and expressions, keeps him the focus of every scene. He leers towards the audience, proudly revealing to us his schemes. He lurks like a menacing vulture as his plans unfold. He contorts himself into whatever ingratiating pose will fool those around him as he continues grasping to take, then desperately hold power.

Carey Shea anchors the play as doomed Clarence, heroic Richmond and the archaeologist who bridges the gap between history and today. Jay Hemphill is charming as the Duke of Buckingham, Richard’s cousin and co-conspirator until he becomes cursed with a conscience.

Also notable are the women of the play, Allison Clark Reddick as Elizabeth; Christina Howard as Lady Anne, Richard’s unwilling bride (and a few scenes as Lord Grey); Nan Macy as the Duchess of York, Richard’s disappointed mother; and Casey Ross as Queen Margaret, widow of a previous monarch and bitter prophet.

The children – Dalyn Stewart as Prince Edward and Lex Lumpkin as his cousin, the Duke of York – are both sharp.

And kudos to Doug Powers, Matthew Socey, Ryan Reddick, Kevin Caraher, Matthew Walls, Mark Cashwell and John Mortell in various roles. Thanks to Glenn L. Dobbs’ direction and the play being adapted to two hours, in two acts, by Dobbs, Ross and Ben Power, it’s not hard to follow the sprawling cast of characters. (Richard has many of them killed, anyway.)

Plays like this are always apropos in an era of political turmoil, and performances this good are worth seeing at any time.

“Richard III” runs through July 9 at the IndyFringe Basile stage, 719 E. St. Clair (by the intersection of St. Clair, College and Massachusetts Ave.). See indyfringe.org for info and tickets.

Footlite has gay time hamming up ‘Spamalot’

By John Lyle Belden

Note: This review also appeared in print in The Eagle (formerly The Word), which has its site issues about worked out. John is Associate Editor there.

As fans know, England in the time of King Arthur and Camelot was “a silly place,” as envisioned by Monty Python’s Flying Circus in the 1970s film “Monty Python and the Holy Grail.”

The silliness has come to the stage of Indy’s Footlite Musicals with its production of “Monty Python’s Spamalot,” the Broadway hit musical “lovingly ripped off from the motion picture” by one of its creators, Eric Idle, who provides a couple of vocal parts for the locals to use in the show.

The plot (such as it is) involves Arthur gathering knights to join him at the Round Table, then getting the call from God to search for the Holy Grail. The stage play uses this to recreate various silly scenes from the film, modified a little, and add more songs – such as the “not dead yet” peasant now gets to sing and dance about not being deceased – as well as a tune from a different Monty Python movie (which Idle wrote and apparently really likes, so there). As the film starred six men who sometimes wore dresses, a female lead was needed for the musical, so the Lady of the Lake (only mentioned in one scene of the movie) comes to life and, naturally, steals her scenes including one in which she complains about not being on stage for a while.

And good news for LGBTQ fans: While the Pythons frequently winked to the audience on gay topics as much as they could get away with in their era, one of the Knights here completely comes out of the castle closet in a rainbow-and-glitter dance number.

The cast all acquit themselves well. Drew Duvall makes a noble Arthur, properly deadpanning his way through the silliness as a British monarch should do. Vince Accetturo makes the perfect counterpoint as the King’s faithful Patsy. A tip of the helm to our knights: Christian Condra as Lancelot, Christopher Jones as Robin, Clint Buechler as Bedevere, Tony Schaab as Galahad and Jerry Davis as Sir Not Appearing (who nonetheless appears in at least two other scenes).

And Rebecca McConnell is wonderful as the Lady of the Lake. The style of this show and character fits her perfectly, and she plays it for all she’s worth.

Since, unlike the movie in which the Pythons just wore different costumes in different scenes, it works better to just cast more actors, we get great support from the ensemble, including Jonathan Young as Dennis’s mother and the Knight of Ni, Curtis Peters as Tim the Enchanter and Lancelot’s servant Concorde, and Mark Cashwell as the “No singing!” father of Prince Herbert – charmingly played by Cody Wence. Sam Surette is still not dead.

Needless to say – though actually I need to say, as this is a review – “Spamalot” is highly entertaining and a treat for fans of British humour, whether you’ve not seen these skits or have them memorized. As the source material was a shoestring film production, don’t expect too much in the way of special effects – though there is a fog machine. The content is roughly PG-13 (a few naughty words and innuendo).

No fish were harmed in the making of this musical. Ni!

Performances are weekends through Dec. 11 at the Hedback Theater, 1847 N. Alabama St., Indianapolis. Call 317-926-6630 or see www.footlite.org.