IndyFringe: Not Dead Yet

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

Dana Dunn is a retired actress. She gave up Hollywood while her star was on the rise and relocated back to middle-America to live a more normal life. She is quite happy not acting again for the rest of her days, living with her sister, Lana, who was her hair and makeup stylist. The two are lovingly close.

Dana’s devoted nephew, Shawn, is trying to bring her into the modern world by giving her an iPad fully loaded with all of the websites she would need, as well as links to accounts devoted to her and her career. He also has a tip that Ron Howard (a huge fan of Dana’s work) is casting a new movie and would be thrilled if she would consider joining the cast. Needless to say, Auntie Dana is having none of it.

After returning from a dear friend’s funeral, they are joined by Tom and his sister Sandy, who grew up next door. While Tom is sincere and level-headed, Sandy is a whiny, self-centered bitch on wheels. It is obvious that while they have both gotten older, neither of them has ever grown up.

At Dana’s birthday party — given by Grayson, her biggest fan and dear friend — we meet Sam Snyder, an aspiring actor who can only get a job spinning a “Cash 4 Gold” sign. Afterward, Dana and Lana pick up the iPad and start playing around on it. After many drinks, Lana takes a picture of Dana laid out on the couch and posts it to Twitter noting #DanaDunnIsDone. The next morning, everyone is convinced she is dead and, of course, hilarity ensues.

Miki Mathioudakis brings Dana to life with a perfect combination of spunkiness and willfulness. Forba Shepherd crafts Lana as a devoted sister but also highlights the character’s sly, manipulative side.

John Joyner does an understated job portraying Tom as the dependable rock that is always there for everyone. Tina Nehrling plays every neurotic affectation that combines to create the psycho powerhouse that is Sandy. Sean Q does a great job of playing the loving yet driven Nephew, Sean.

Lance Gray as Sam and John B Hays as Grayson spend so much time chewing scenery and just being overall fabulous, you can tell they are loving every second that they are embodying their characters.

Still, it’s very nice to see a show in which “ladies of a certain age” are written with dignity and respect, and are more than just caricatures themselves.

This comedy by Jan White has performances Friday and Saturday (Aug. 23-24) at the IndyFringe Theatre, 719 E. St. Clair.

Civic goes Wilde

By John Lyle Belden

If you think Victorian English manners and society were stuffy and insufferable, imagine how it was for someone living through it. Fortunately, Oscar Wilde had his rapier wit to help him skewer those pretensions in his masterpiece farce, “The Importance of Being Earnest,” which the Booth Tarkington Civic Theatre presents in the cozy confines of the Studio Theater through April 6.

In 1890s London, among polite folks for whom ignorance is a virtue and honesty a vice, John (Ethan Mathias) and Algernon (Bradford Reilly) have been undertaking some “Bunburying” – that’s not code for something obscene; it’s just the simple practice of being one person in town, and another in the country. John is in love with Gwendolen (Carrie Schlatter), while Algernon has fallen in love with John’s ward, Cecily (Sabrina Duprey). But both ladies insist on marrying a man named Earnest. So both our heroes oblige, and hilarious confusion follows.

Gwendolen’s aunt, Lady Bracknell (Vickie Cornelius Phipps), is very particular about who the girl marries. Meanwhile, Cecily’s governess Miss Prism (Miki Mathioudakis) is trying to get the attention of the Reverend Chasuble (Craig Kemp), but she is also hiding an important secret.

The incomparable Matt Anderson completes the ensemble as the butler at each house. Performances are top-notch, and even the scene changes are entertaining — executed by the actors under Anderson’s watchful eye.

When the world is full of absurdity, nonsense starts to make its own sort of sense. That was Wilde’s world then, and some could argue that reflects our world now. So, enjoy this Earnest effort at classic comedy.

The Studio Theater is at the Center for the Performing Arts in downtown Carmel. For tickets and information, call 317-843-3800 or visit civictheatre.org.

CCP drama presents public family’s private truths

By Wendy Carson

In “Other Desert Cities,” presented by Carmel Community Players, the Wyeths aren’t an ordinary family.

The father, Lyman, is a retired Hollywood actor and staunchly Republican former politician and foreign ambassador. The mother, Polly, also a past actor, is a devoted political wife. Her sister, Silda Grauman, was writer and costar of their forgettable series of movies – their Tinseltown legacy. Silda is also a resentful recovering alcoholic whose circumstances force her to endure living with her sister’s family.

It’s Christmas time, and Lyman and Polly’s grown children have come home to Palm Springs, Calif., for the holidays. The son, Trip, lives nearby and works in the entertainment industry, producing a trashy, exploitative reality show. The daughter, Brooke, is a troubled novelist residing in New York. After a broken marriage, mental breakdown and institutionalization, a combination of effective therapy and completing another book has brought her out of her darkness and back to the desert.

The family has lived in the public eye, yet hides dark secrets. It turns out that Brooke’s book is a memoir focused on her older brother Henry, who committed suicide years ago after being implicated in a deadly bombing. Considering Henry a free-spirited hero and best friend, Brooke blames their conservative parents for his fate.

The resulting conflict drives the plot of this acclaimed drama by Jon Robin Baitz. Brooke (Shannon Samson in top form) wants her parents’ blessing before the book publishes, but their pushback, especially from Polly (Vickie Cornelius Phipps, a sharp performance with cutting edges) pushes everyone to the brink. Lyman (Ronn Johnstone, giving the impression this role was written for him) struggles to avoid the growing conflict, but secrets have their own inevitable weight. Trip (Jeremy Tuterow, delivering a lighter counterpoint) also wants to avoid drama, and doesn’t recognize the apparent monsters in Brooke’s book as their parents. Meanwhile, Silda (Miki Mathioudakis, excellent as usual) gives full reign to her bitterness in entertaining fashion.

To discover these fascinating secrets and lies, take the Clay Terrace exit to visit “Other Desert Cities,” through Feb. 11. Call 317-815-9687 or visit carmelplayers.org.