IndyFringe: Women’s Work

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

One may think it odd that the first person on stage at this female-centric show, “Women’s Work,” is a man (Dave Pelsue), but his musical presence helps to mark the flow of the story as well as punctuate the ever-present position of men always existing even in the shadows of a woman’s life.

We are then introduced to a young girl (Pearl Parker) giving a report on what she wants to be when she grows up. Using data from “The Employments of Women: A Cyclopaedia of Women’s Work” by Virginia Penny, as well as interviews from woman she knows, her tale is acted out by an octet of women playing two sides of each of the four career paths we are shown.

The younger counterparts begin each story reflecting the sparse number of opportunities available to women in previous generations. Other actors present the characters’ more mature perspectives.

We begin with Betty, who has chosen to become a teacher. Kallen Ruston portrays her bemoaning how everyone she knows is constantly trying to marry her off, regardless of her own preferences – she has dozens of children each day, so is not lacking for the pangs of motherhood. While standing up for her principles and refusing sexual advances from coworkers cause her to change schools, Beverly Roche keeps her optimistic, continuing Betty’s efforts to show each of her students their true potential.

Anne (Katie Carter) relates the challenges of becoming a nurse. She is excited about the importance of her job, as well as the overwhelming information she must remember. As time progresses, her knowledge grows to the level that she inherently knows a patient’s needs; however, gossip and backbiting by other nurses and condescending doctors keep her from doing her best. Miki Mathioudakis shows how Anne’s aggravation has grown as even the young residents disregard her advice, with deadly consequences.

Turning to Carol, we find the rare woman who dares enter the traditionally male field of business and make herself a success. Anna Zimmerman shows the balance required as we catch her doing affirmations to help relieve her high stress levels. She must also deal with a husband who feels his job is more important than hers, so she should naturally be able to blow off her opportunities to pick up the kids because he doesn’t have the time. Her sexist boss is just another hurdle she must overcome. Karin Stratton keeps Carol on an even keel, especially when dealing with inept temps who refuse to stick with a job long enough to actually learn it. She muses about the two years she took away from her job to devote to her children and clawing her way back up to where she was before – and beyond.

We end on Diane (Michelle Wafford), who feels that just being a mother is all of the fulfillment that she needs. While she wonders if she really loves her husband (he’s certainly no Prince Charming) because the moment she held her baby was the first time she ever truly felt it. She is expecting her second child, whether her husband is on board with the idea or not. Then, Gigi Jennewein injects the solemn bitterness Diane feels when her husband leaves her for a much younger girl, forcing to go to work at a local screw factory just to make ends meet. She misses spending time with her kids and realizes none of the other mothers she sees have any idea how hard her life is.

Liv Keslin gives an insight to the future of our narrator, and is glad that she has so many more opportunities afforded her, but still wonders what all of this means.

To find out the answer, have your heart warmed and your inspiration lit, see “Women’s Work,” presented by Betty Rage Productions, in its remaining performances 9 p.m. Friday and 1:45 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 2 & 4, at the IndyFringe Theatre.

Shakespeare fun and foolishness set to music

By John Lyle Belden

It’s hardly a new idea to base a musical on a Shakespeare play (a recent Oscar-winning remake of an Oscar-winning film comes to mind). New York based songwriter Shaina Taub, with Kwame Kwei-Armah, adapted the Bard’s comedy “Twelfth Night” for its musical debut in Central Park in 2018.

Southbank Theatre Company brings that version to the IndyFringe Theatre (outdoors preferably, but on the Basile stage in bad weather) through May 8. 

If the story doesn’t easily spring to mind, note it is where we get the quote, “If music be the food of love, play on.” The play checks many of the boxes for a Shakespeare comedy: disguises, mistaken identities, siblings separated, wild wooing, nobles who will not marry, and ending up with a wedding anyway.

What makes this musical version exciting and interesting is that Taub’s songs do more than just put a tune behind Shakespeare’s words. They illuminate the themes of this old story, making it fresh and relatable. This makes the show the perfect companion to a traditional production of the play.

For instance, our central character Viola (Michelle Wofford), a woman recently arrived in mythical Illyria (vicinity of today’s Albania) finds it safer to disguise herself as a man, opening up surprising opportunities. In the song “Viola’s Soliloquy,” she sings of “the Devil’s blessing” that simply wearing trousers gives her.  

Viola, taking the name Cesario, finds her/himself between Duke Orsinio (Dave Pelsue), his employer, and the Countess Olivia (Natalie Fischer), who keeps spurning Orsinio’s advances, but has found herself smitten with Cesario. However, the Viola within the disguise pines for Orsinio, who only sees in her a dutiful young man.

Still, this wouldn’t be a Shakespeare comedy without the silly subplots. There is much opportunity for merriment in the Countess’s court, with sack-sotted Sir Toby Belch (Mark Cashwell), worst-at-wooing Sir Andrew (Kim Egan), mischievous Maria (Brittney Michelle Davis) and Fabian (Jordan Paul Wolf), who all seek to take pompous Molvolio (Hannah Boswell) down a peg or two.

Then there is the arrival of Viola’s lost-at-sea twin brother Sebastian (Matthew Blandford), accompanied by his rescuer Antonio (Z Cosby), who braves arrest to be by the man he secretly loves. Other roles are played by Brant Hughes, Ron Perkins and Yolanda Valdivia, who is also on hand as Officiant for the inevitable marriages. 

All this is accompanied by a live band, and the wit and wisdom of accordion-wielding jester Feste (Paige Scott).

With all the action of the classic comedy, but condensed down to a manageable hour and a half, this romp is an excellent showcase for the talented cast. Scott is simply amazing, whether giving chiding counsel, a beautiful ballad, or some handy narration to the audience. Speaking of fools, Boswell is a riot in an arc that goes from bombastic to pathetic, but always fun. Cashwell employs his improv skills and comic chops to great effect. Pelsue has long cornered the market on cool-guy-who-can-sing, so is totally in his element. Fischer has the sweet/feisty mix down perfectly. And Wafford is endearing with an inner strength befitting the character. Everyone else? Awesome, awesome, awesome – directed by Max McCreary with musical direction by Ginger Stoltz.

Performances are Thursday through Saturday evenings, and Sunday afternoon, at IndyFringe, 719 E. St. Clair, Indianapolis. Get information at southbanktheatre.org and tickets at indyfringe.org.