Storytelling Arts opens season with sentimental journey

By John Lyle Belden

At the root of all the theatre we love to see is the ancient art of telling a good story, celebrated often by Storytelling Arts of Indiana, which opened its 2019-20 season on Sept. 21 with “Come Dance With Me in Ireland: A Pilgrimage to Yeats Country,” performed by Patrick Ball.

Ball was born in California, but since exploring his Irish heritage while in college decades ago, he became a master of playing the Celtic harp and telling tales of the Emerald Isle. Since 2016, he has been in intensive study of the celebrated Irish poet William Butler Yeats, and now calls Ireland home. 

Yeats (1865-1939) is not only a national treasure in his native Ireland but his works have given us such widely known idioms as “the center cannot hold,” “this is no country for old men,” and the sentence used as this show’s title. Ball tells of working with a tour company that gives immersive visits to “Yeats country,” starting his story with going to the airport to pick up a couple, well into their senior years, returning from the U.S. to visit the homeland of their youth.

Based on some of the tourists Ball has met, these are very interesting characters — Ellie, surprisingly full of joyous energy; and Jim, who only speaks in Yeats verse — and whose mental cobwebs clear while back in familiar surroundings.

Ball describes in beautiful detail the various landmarks — from the stunning Irish countryside and coast to the cozy village pubs — and the people the tour interacts with, as well as the guide’s faithful wolfhound, Houligan, which takes a shine to Jim. All this is interwoven with lines from Yeats poems, and pieces of music played on a traditional harp.

The audience gets swept up in this journey, as Ball shares the spirit of Ireland, and Yeats, with the power of great storytelling.

It’s unknown when Ball will be back to share another evening with us in Indy, but this was just the start of a full season of stories to be told at the Eugene and Marilyn Glick Indiana History Center, 450 W. Ohio St. The next date, however, is a mile or two up the road, the popular “Ghost Stories at Crown Hill Cemetery” on Oct. 12. 

The next storyteller at the Indiana History Center will be Kim McCann with “Gin Girl,” on Nov. 3. The season has stories with interesting titles such as “Growing Up Black and White in America” (by Charlotte Blake Alston and Bill Mettler, on Jan. 11) and “Where There’s Smoke, There’s Dinner” (by Regi Carpenter, on Feb. 8). Familiar names include storyteller Lou Ann Homan, who has done a number of IndyFringe shows, with “If These Walls Could Tell” on Feb. 16 at the Indiana Landmarks Center; and local arts icon Deborah Asante telling “A Story About Madam C.J. Walker” on March 8 at the Indiana History Center.

For more information and tickets, visit storytellingarts.org or call 317-232-1882. 

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The King turns Queen in Phoenix’s ‘Georgia McBride’

By John Lyle Belden

Phoenix Theatre opens its 2019-20 season with the fabulous Off-Broadway comedy, “The Legend of Georgia McBride” by Matthew Lopez.

Set in the Florida Panhandle, just as Casey (Sam C. Jones), a budding Elvis impersonator with a bit of high school musical experience, is finally getting his act to work, Cleo’s Bar on Panama City Beach decides to change its entertainment. Desperate for a bigger (or any) audience, bar manager Eddie (Ty Stover) takes a chance on his cousin, drag queen Miss Tracy Mills (John Vessels).

Casey is in a bind, as his wife Jo (Bridgette Ludlow) is pregnant, so he stays on as bartender. Then, when Miss Tracy’s fellow entertainer, Anna-Rexia Nervosa (Jonathan Studdard), can’t go on, Casey is pressed into service in dress, wig and makeup, and Georgia McBride is born!

Once our hopelessly hetero hero accepts his new persona, “her” popularity rises on the beach-bar scene, but Casey can’t bring himself to tell Jo what he’s been doing. It’s easy to see that a reckoning is coming for Florida’s newest Queen.

This play is loaded with both humor – in side-splitting comic moments – and heart. In Jones and Ludlow’s performance, you can tell Casey and Jo truly love each other, though he tests her patience with his immaturity, and she his with her bouts of pessimism.

Vessels is amazing, whether playing the confident woman backstage or the hilarious performer in the spotlight. Studdard is excellent in double-duty as Rexy, who informs Casey that the drag life is more than just a lip-synching gig; and as Casey and Jo’s landlord and friend, Jason – his double-take when he find’s out about Casey doing drag is priceless. Stover as Eddie is in his element, as he plays a thin-tempered but lovable Falstaff with bills to pay.

The drag scenes are played to the Phoenix audience as the bar’s audience, so cast members informed us after opening night that people sitting up front could tip them like in a regular drag show. Those scenes include clever musical mash-ups, and wonderful costumes by Stephen Hollenbeck. Suzanne Fleenor directs.

The “Legend” continues through Oct. 6 at the Phoenix, 705 N. Illinois in downtown Indianapolis. Information and tickets at phoenixtheatre.org.

IndyFringe: The Madwomen’s Late-Nite Cabaret

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

From the moment that Lizzie Borden (Cody Ricks) dashes across stage to take her seat at the piano, you know that this show is anything but serious.

We then welcome our beloved hostess Ethel Merman (Dave Ruark hamming it up at his best) straight from her triumphant turn as “Annie”.

Throughout the night we are privy to songs revealing aspects of these historical icons who are more misunderstood than evil.

Shawnte Gaston has a quick turn as Medusa but spends most of the show co-hosting as Eve, the embodiment of maternal energy and possibly the most misrepresented of them all. She belts out her sentiments in both “What’s the Matter With Kids Today” and “Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child.”

Julie Lyn Barber embodies women as diverse as Typhoid Mary, Amelia Earhart, and Mary Stuart but she really stands out as Sybil singing “I Am My Own Best Friend”.

Georgeanna Smith Wade gives us a hilarious look into the mindset of Procne (most people know her as Medea) but it is her sultry version of Mata Hari performing “Bang, Bang” that really shines.

Add to this Jaddy Ciucci (although on the performance I saw this role was played by Devan Mathius), portraying not only Joan of Arc, Philomela, and Ann Boleyn, but a “Physical Embodiment of a Controlled Substance” (Mary Jane) and pleadingly insisting “I’d Be Good For You”

Needless to say, these women (and characters) deserve to be seen and heard and who knows when you will get another chance to do so. Presented by Main Street Artists, remaining performances are 9 p.m. Saturday and 1:30 Sunday at the IndyFringe Theatre, 719 E. St. Clair.

IndyFringe: Journey to Hell

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

Every Fringe, when I am putting together our schedules, I try to put in a single show that is for my pure enjoyment. “Journey to Hell” is this year’s pick.

The Indianapolis Men’s Chorus gives us a rousing night of hard rocking anthems that will get your fists pumping and have you singing along (it’s okay to, they’re not going to throw you out for it). If you’ve seen the musical, “Rock of Ages,” then you know what to expect from this.

The show starts off with a variety of “Hair Band” songs and the Chorus is decked out in all of the most tragic of ’80s styles.

We then move into the “Journey Megamix” where things move more to mainstream rock than metal.

We are then privy to a series of songs showcasing the “Hell” aspect of the title. This is where the overwhelming standout number, “Spooky Mormon Hell Dream” is presented. Having not personally seen “The Book of Mormon” I cannot say for sure exactly how it compares to the stage version but I would will say that this interpretation is worth the ticket price alone.

But before we are overwhelmed by the darkness, a suite of more “Heavenly” titles are offered.

I must say that while the singing is spectacular, the choreography on display is quite impressive as well. Plus, the omnipresent joy they exude in their performances shows that they are obviously having as good a time as the audience is.

Remaining performances are Friday through Sunday (Aug. 23-25) at The District Theater (former TOTS location), 627 Massachusetts Ave.

IndyFringe: Les Chanteuses

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

Magic Thread Cabaret brings us an hour of stellar voices raised in tribute to some of the most legendary Divas of our day. Plus, they give us three local ladies whose talents are a brilliant match to the beloved songs they are presenting.

Rayanna Bibbs leads off the night by taking the helm of Aretha’s “Respect”. She channels Jennifer Hudson in her performance of “I am Changing” and her turn at “Baby Love” will have you dancing in your seat. However, her standout number is “A Natural Woman” where she comes out in the most luxurious fur coat and shows you that she is worth every cent of the cost.

Our next Chanteuse is Bridgette Ludlow who roars in with “Midnight Train to Georgia”. Her amazing treatment of “Baby Love”, starting as a sultry torch song and then shifting gears into the bubbly dance song it is. But in my opinion, I think her most amazing work with her interpretation of “God Bless the Child” that I feel showcases her full range of talent in making me (who absolutely hates that song) thoroughly enjoy the song.

Our final singer is Enjoli’ Desiree. She is the one who is given the largest range of material to work with and she gives us her all. The soft yearning of “La Vie En Rose” is a surprising counterpoint to her roaring dominance of “Proud Mary”. She proves that there is not a sentiment she can perfectly express through song.

My one criticism of the show is that the Pianist spends a good portion of the show trying to upstage the singers. I know he is the artistic director, so that should mean that he understands that this is their time in the spotlight and he should allow them to shine.

While each singer assuredly deserves the title of Chanteuse, it is when their voices are brought together that make for some of the most magical performances of the night. So make it a point to pay tribute not only to the Divas being honored, but also the Divas honoring them.

Remaining performances are Friday through Sunday at the District Theater (former TOTS location) 627 Massachusetts Ave.

IndyFringe: Fallen from the Toy Box

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

It’s been four years since The Fourth Wall have been at IndyFringe and once you see their latest show, you will want to convince them to not wait so long to come back and entertain us.

This show is full of entirely new content and spectacularly shows off their virtuosity as performers. Hillary Abigana is a master flautist; C. Neil Parsons brings loads of personality and spunk to the Bass Trombone; and Greg Jukes’ percussion abilities prove that there is not a thing that he cannot bring a pleasing tune from. Plus, they are all accomplished dancers and can utilize their bodies’ movements in ways that will astonish you.

We begin with a touching number with a toy soldier trying to woo a wind-up ballerina but other forces are working to keep them apart.

We are then encouraged to embrace the wonder of childhood as various games with balloons occur. They each balance a balloon of their head, try to keep one from falling by passing it among themselves and even move around holding balloons in place with various part so their body. Oh yeah, did I mention that they are all playing instruments during these feats?

They then present us with three different pieces of artwork that they have choreographed a piece for, each picture created by a child under the age of seven.

There is even a game of Hide and Go Seek played throughout the space with flashlights.

I don’t want to spoil the rest of the surprises they have in store for you. At one point in the show a young child spontaneously shouted out “Yay!” I can’t think of a better compliment to bestow on this group.

Remaining performances are Friday and Saturday nights (Aug. 23-24) at The District Theater (former TOTS location), 627 Massachusetts Ave.

IndyFringe: The Cookie Dough Show

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

Fringe shows are often full of half-baked ideas. Emerging Artists Theatre Indy presents several, in various flavors, so you are sure to find at least one you like. 

There’s a Christmas comedy with a misunderstanding around “Santa Clara.” There is a series of quick funny scenes that take jabs at customer service, mansplaining and The Container Store. I even saw a couple of pieces of moving drama. All this is locally written, presented by local talent.

And then, there’s Paige.

No matter what you think of any one scene or sketch, it is more than worth your ticket to see the finale, Paige Scott at a tiny piano singing the praises of an underrated Hollywood superstar. It is so much more funny than you think, even if you know the comic heights Scott is capable of.

In exploiting the function of Fringe to incubate theatre ideas, EAT is on to something with this show. Hopefully they will scoop up more “dough” in future festivals.

Sorry to be vague, but lineups change with each performance. Remaining dates are Thursday and Sunday (Aug. 22&25) at ComedySportz, 721 Massachusetts Ave.