By Wendy Carson
Is it possible to redeem a bully and show him the devastating impact he had on others? This question is at the heart of Bennett Ayres’ new play, “Lanista,” brought to you by Catalyst Repertory, directed by Zachariah Stonerock.
First of all, I would like to say that I adore this show. I have not instantly fallen in love with a script like this since I first saw the Phoenix’s production of “The Pillowman.” I honestly can’t help but tell you that you MUST see this show. It is touching, infuriating, yet also cathartic to behold.
The title of the piece comes from the ancient Roman term meaning a trainer of gladiators. This is how Coach Bill Harrison (Mark Goetzinger) sees himself. He is a molder of high school wrestling champions, a legend throughout the state for his impressive record. However, one of his past students, Joel Beemer (Jamaal McCray) has become his elder-care provider, and is taking the opportunity to show this man just how much he damaged the psyches of his athletes.
Beemer begins by subtly making Harrison’s family think he is becoming more and more senile. He then begins to subject Coach to the rigors of training, as well as verbal abuse, that he inflicted upon his students. When Harrison tells his daughter Kim (Michelle Wafford) about these occurrences, she sees his stories as further proof of dementia, and besides, this is the first caregiver Coach hasn’t run off. At one point, Beemer feels he may have gone too far, but as the teenager Anna (Olivia Mayer) he regularly visits in Juvenile Detention tells him: When you go for a bully, you have to give them all you’ve got.
Goetzinger is sheer perfection as the stoic Coach who sees nothing wrong with the way he treated his players – he was just doing his job. McCray shows us every bit of his range as the “caregiver” who appears to be carrying out vengeance on the man partially responsible for the mess his life is today, but don’t forget, Beemer also worked as a teacher. Wafford ably portrays the daughter who has more than enough on her plate, glad to let another handle her dad’s situation. Adam Crowe has a charming cameo as a police officer honored to meet the legendary Coach whose students he once wrestled against. Recent Ball State grad Mayer does an excellent job as the enigmatic bad girl who is in juvie for taking part in a car theft, and has no desire to change her ways.
Will the former wrestler show the Coach that he was not who he thought he was all these years? Will he realize his methods produced champions but destroyed lives? How does Anna fit into all this? See the show to find out; performances of this World Premiere run Thursday through Sunday (July 7-10) at the IndyFringe Theatre, 719 E. St. Clair, Indianapolis. Get tickets at indyfringe.org.