Memory of a ‘Wild’ time at Phoenix Theatre

By John Lyle Belden

I find it interesting that in “Wild Horses,” by Allison Gregory, on stage at the Phoenix Theatre, the main character of the one-woman play is 13 in the 1970s, around when I turned that age.

The story would feel familiar to anyone – recollections of a teenage year when it felt big things were happening and everything was changing – but there is a distinct feel in those days of kids among the first to identify as Generation X, more recent than the halcyon era of the 1950s or ‘60s, but before the decades when technology overtook our daily lives.

The girl we meet is unnamed (though one friend calls her “Frenchie,” likely a reference to the recently-released “Grease” movie) so we see things happen through her eyes. She lives in a countryside southern California suburb with a troubled mother, very strict father, and a 14-year-old sister she calls “the Favorite” whom she resents as much as she loves. Her best friends are accident-prone Skinny Linnie and budding delinquent Zabby, a tomboy with older brothers, Donno (whom our narrator is crushing on) and the eldest, who is aptly called “Mean Dean.”

When you hit your teens, a popular song on the radio is your anthem; for a typically horse-crazy girl, that’s doubly so with America’s “Horse With No Name.” The story opens with her trying to win an unusual radio contest in which entrants are asked to give the poor animal a name. We find out about the Favorite’s dangerous liaison, Mom’s condition – and her little secret – and the adventures our girl gets into with her besties. A badly-planned trip to rob a liquor store turns into an ill-advised venture through the fields of Morningstar Farms, a local horse ranch. A discovery made there in the dark is part of a summer she will never forget.

Directed by Lori Wolter Hudson, “Wild Horses” is performed by two different women: artistic director Constance Macy on some dates, and Jen Johansen on others. Macy, who we saw, notes in the program that the two have quite similar styles, which we agree makes for what we can assure will be an excellent theatre experience. However, the fact that this is a passion project for her does show through in her performance. We see both the woman remembering, and the girl living these events, in the way she presents this unique yet relatable coming-of-age story.

To help set the mood, theatre patrons are encouraged to add to a wall of notes reflecting on what ‘70s music we love and how we were in our youth.

Performances run through March 5 at the Phoenix Theatre Cultural Centre, 705 N. Illinois St., Indianapolis. Get tickets and info at phoenixtheatre.org.

The Elf may not enjoy this, but you will

By John Lyle Belden

For an Elf, labor at the Toy Workshop is like a factory job anywhere in the world, with lunch hour your one respite from the constant grind. Being in the desolate dark zone above the Arctic Circle, when one of your workers – who has issues, to say the least – requests to entertain the crew with a “celebration of truth and pure being” during the break, it’s a good idea to let him ramble his weird poetry or whatever.

But as we see reenacted at the Phoenix Theatre Cultural Center, when “ProZack the Sad Elf” gets an unused storage room to put on his show, things get weirder than usual. Apparently, this year we get “The ProZack Holiday Musical (No, it’s not!)” starring Ben Asaykwee, Ben Asaykwee, Ben Asaykwee, Ben Asaykwee, Ben Asaykwee, Ben Asaykwee, and a demented Tree.

ProZack provides profound spoken verse with titles like “Nothingness,” and “Untitled.” Tinsel plays and sings holiday songs, even after he’s killed. Videographer Snowflake is up to some visual trickery. Tinkle tries to bring “levity” but has problems with his puppet, Mr. Tree, whose anger is growing, and growing. Meanwhile Glister, the industrial death metal Elf, has caught a worrying case of sentimentality.

With so much going wrong, ProZack has to frequently go backstage, where Snowflake also set up cameras. We see the elves interact and try to find their way through this madness that includes odd holiday movie references and the secret of what’s stored away in that “empty” room.

Not to mention the literal “Star” of the show…

With the help of multimedia and other effects, Asaykwee delivers a fun and surprisingly action-packed one-person show, masterfully juggling the various personae throughout the two-act “lunch hour.” There was much laughter, some finger-snapping (how you applaud poetry), and a bit of innuendo – so this is for humans of double-digit age (or relative equivalent for elves or other mythical beings).

“ProZack The Sad Elf,” also created, written, and directed by Asaykwee, runs through Dec. 23 on the Basile Theatre stage at the Phoenix, 705 N. Illinois St. in downtown Indianapolis. Get information and tickets at phoenixtheatre.org.

Southbank’s ‘Shocks’: Trigger warning

“…To die – to sleep,
No more; and by a sleep to say we end
The heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks
That flesh is heir to: ’tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wish’d…”
 – William Shakespeare, “Hamlet,” Act 3, Scene 1

By John Lyle Belden

Angela takes shelter in the basement. We, the audience, find that the fourth wall is behind us; we are trapped with her. The approaching tornado roars. Threatening an “overwhelm,” a noun coined by her fellow insurance specialists, this event is not entirely fictional or even hypothetical: It is statistical. This will happen to Angela, it may – one day – even come to us.

This is “Natural Shocks” by Lauren Gunderson, presented by Southbank Theatre at the Fonseca Theatre. Directed by New York-trained local actor Eric Bryant, Carrie Ann Schlatter delivers a fascinating performance, drawing us into her world of risks that can be quantified, but are more than cold numbers when calamity happens to you. She feels a kinship with Hamlet (inspiring the play’s title, see above), noting the “To Be or Not to Be” soliloquy is not so much about suicide but just mulling over the options of the cost/benefit of staying alive, vs. not.

Angela tells us of the life that led her up to this moment, of choices made, love lost and found, and a stand she needed to take. Spoiler alert: She lies when she says her husband is a good man. Also, there is a gun. It will be used.

This intense nonstop hour-plus drama is engaging and important viewing, though possibly triggering for those who can relate to this woman’s plight. Her ordeal becomes, for a moment, ours to bear. Tornadoes are unpredictable and wildly destructive – the same with what happens here.

Remaining performances are Thursday through Sunday, Nov. 17-20, at 2508 W. Michigan Ave., Indianapolis. Get info and tickets at SouthBankTheatre.org.

IndyFringe: Oh Look, It’s Magic!

This is part of IndyFringe 2022, Aug. 18-Sept. 4 (individual performance times vary) in downtown Indianapolis. Details and tickets at IndyFringe.org.

By John Lyle Belden

Jordan Allen has been an awesome presence at this year’s IndyFringe. The magician has been around the festival all three weekends, doing a little bit of busking, and a lot of attending and talking up other performers’ shows. So, it’s only fair we say a bit about his own performance, which ran the third weekend (Sept. 1-3) at the main-floor stage at the Athenaeum.

“Oh Look, It’s Magic: ADHD Advocacy Show” combines a lot of clever tricks with an honest first-person account of growing up – and living with – Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder, which is a real disability, and not something one grows out of (“I wish,” Allen adds). He notes that aside from Houdini’s maxim that magic not only amuses and amazes, but also awakens hope, he feels it can also educate and advocate.

In that vein, Allen maintains a show that is family friendly, and accommodating to all neural patterns. He patiently grins through impulsive outbursts, and gives the neurodivergent their own moments of wonder – as well as to audience members of any brain, even silly folk like me.

It’s cards, ropes, scarves, stories, balls, cups, hope, ripped paper, flashes of color, moments of comedy, and a kind reminder that none of us are alone, if we’re open to life’s magic. And it’s a work in progress, so watch for its next return by following “Jordan Allen – Magician” on Facebook or visiting jallenexperience.com.

IndyFringe: Dadbod

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

Local standup comic Brad Hinshaw has once again managed to escape his wife and kids (and not just by hiding in the bathroom) to come out and spend time with actual adults again, bringing another hour of family-centric comedy (not to be confused with “family-friendly,” some words would be bleeped on TV).

Hinshaw returns to further refine his act, “Dadbod,” in anticipation of filming it. While most of his material is the same as last year’s show – if you haven’t heard about the joy of “lactation cookies,” you really should – the newer stories are hilarious. Who knew the dangers of toddlers and super soakers?

As I said last year, this is a delightfully relatable show for parents and non-parents alike. So, take the chance to escape your own family so you can laugh at yourself as well as Hinshaw’s situations.

Today’s performance (as we post this) is 1:45 p.m., and the last is 3:30 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 4, both at the cabaret stage of the District Theatre.

IndyFringe: Amaze & Amuse

This is part of IndyFringe 2022, Aug. 18-Sept. 4 (individual performance times vary) in downtown Indianapolis. Details and tickets at IndyFringe.org.

By John Lyle Belden

Trino, who appeared on television in “Masters of Illusion,” brings his “Modern Day Magic Show” to the District Theatre stage.

With “Amaze and Amuse,” we learn animals like to dress up as balloon dogs, how to do a trick (sorta) and that no matter how long you’re married, you still misplace a sock in the laundry.

Also, one lucky audience member gets a prize, and Trino finishes by escaping a straitjacket he wears “under water.”

This all-ages hour of silly jokes and interesting illusions starts its final IndyFringe performance just minutes after I post this, but we can hope Trino returns to “Amaze and Amuse” us at a future date.

IndyFringe: 90 Lies an Hour

This is part of IndyFringe 2022, Aug. 18-Sept. 4 (individual performance times vary) in downtown Indianapolis. Details and tickets at IndyFringe.org.

By John Lyle Belden

Humorist, musician, and storyteller Paul Strickland brings us to the Big Fib Trailer Park Cul-de-sac, home of Aunt True and Uncle False, for four stories and a song.

We learn how the couple met, at the car that only ran on cuss-words. Also, when Strickland was asked to write a eulogy for a man whom he had never met, and the trailer-park residents didn’t really like.

Then there was when the living-room toilet wasn’t as unusual as what was going on outside.

So, feel free to open up the box of “one-abouts” and enjoy some tall tales that stretch the imagination as well as the funny bone, and put spring pigs in flight. We also hear the sweet tune in which Uncle False tells Aunt True “there’s so much ‘us’ left to do.”

Strickland was a hit at past IndyFringes, and will no doubt fill the Indy Eleven room of the IndyFringe Theatre as everyone learns he’s back with some wonderful wonder-full stories to tell, for all ages.  Performances are 5:15 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 28 (today as we post this), as well as 5:30 p.m. Friday and 3:30 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 2-3.

IndyFringe: meSSeS

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

It has been a few years since we have had a clowning master class at IndyFringe, but this year, with “meSSeS,” Janoah Bailin brings us a spectacular one.

First, each audience member is given three scarves with which you will learn the rudimentary skills of juggling during the show and will only get better with practice (he also has a QR code link to his teaching online).

Janoah shows us his juggling prowess using balls, swords, pins, as well as popcorn kernels at one point. His is also a master of not one, but two unicycles of varying heights. He performs some very original gags and spectacular feats of balancing, but it is in the allowing for some of his stunts to go wrong that his humor shines.

I honestly can’t give you more details without spoiling some of the humor but suffice it to say that the show is a family friendly delight. Bring out the kids and see who ends up being the best juggler in the family. Performances are 3:30 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 27 (today as we post this), and next Saturday (7 p.m.) and Sunday (5:15 p.m.), Sept. 3-4, at the Indy Eleven stage in the IndyFringe Theatre.

IndyFringe: Jon Bennett — Fire in the Meth Lab

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

First, I must note, these are true stories, as well as the search for one brother’s connection to the older one he tried so hard to love.

In “Fire in the Meth Lab,” Jon Bennett has come up from his home in Australia to share his stories about his brother’s journey with addiction. We are presented with Tim’s six major addictions throughout his life, varying from pop stars to meth.

While all the above sound like some pretty serious topics to deal with, I can assure you that this is one of the funniest shows I’ve seen at this year’s IndyFringe.

Bennett discusses how he idolized his brother even though Tim took every possible chance he could to bully him. Their main touchstones were fighting, floor ice cream, and watching The Wonder Years. Being the sons of a minister didn’t help their predicament.

What makes this show truly work is Bennett’s storytelling and mining these tales for all of the humor inside them. He genuinely loves his brother, but just can’t get this across to him.

Honestly, this show is so much funnier than it probably should be, given the subject matter. Yet we all have those stories of someone getting somehow intoxicated and craziness ensuing. If nothing else, go see it for the amazing Jason Donovan trivia questions.

Performances are 5:30 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 27 (today, as we post this) as well as 9 p.m. Friday, Sept. 2 and noon Sunday, Sept. 4, on the Indy Eleven stage at the IndyFringe Theatre.

IndyFringe: The Barn Identity

This is part of IndyFringe 2022, Aug. 18-Sept. 4 (individual performance times vary) in downtown Indianapolis. Details and tickets at IndyFringe.org.

By John Lyle Belden

“The Barn Identity,” by Erika MacDonald, is about falling-down barns.

It might seem like it’s about children’s games, the leaf-circle dance, the Fourth of July feeling, bringing the outside in, her mystery illness, or that night she stood on the sidewalk with 5 percent of her brain – How many times has she told this story? – but she insists, it’s about falling-down barns.

MacDonald gently brings a kaleidoscope of storytelling fragments into focus as we dive into her world of seven-year-old Old Ladies in snowy beds and bent old structures that you wonder how they still stand. Her view out the window, and looking within, take us on a fascinating journey that is both deeply personal, and the essence of a great Fringe performance.

And why she doesn’t go to movies. And how she’s obsessed with falling-down barns.

Wonderful to the last “theatre sigh,” with recorded music by fellow Fringe performer Paul Strickland, “The Barn Identity” has performances 5:15 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 27, and Thursday and Sunday evenings, Sept. 1 and 4, in the Athenaeum.