Join IRT on a difficult, but enlightening journey

By John Lyle Belden

Indianapolis, Indiana, translates to “Indian City, Land of Indians,” where, ironically, the natives were forcibly removed.

Now, actor DeLanna Studi — a “card-carrying Indian” — has returned to the Indiana Repertory Theatre, where she has played Native American roles in the past, to share with us part of her personal journey. Specifically, it was that part that she chose to take because her recent ancestors were given no choice.

“And So We Walked: An Artist’s Journey Along the Trail of Tears” is the culmination of a project exploring Studi’s Cherokee heritage. The tribe once occupied much of present-day Georgia, North Carolina and neighboring states, but at the order of President Andrew Jackson most were forced to travel by foot to lands in present-day Oklahoma, where Studi’s family settled. Her personal journey began in childhood, when her father, who brought Studi up to be proud of her heritage — a privilege he was denied growing up in a government-run boarding school — went to her elementary school to inform her teacher that American Indians are not “extinct,” as was being taught.

Recently, Studi had the opportunity to undertake her project, bringing her father and a videographer to Cherokee, N.C., to begin their “walk.” They visited numerous sites and conducted many interviews with the help of her father, who could speak the Cherokee language. 

It would be accurate, but misleading, to say that “And So We Walked…” is a one-person show. Studi stands by herself, but she is not alone. Through her careful acting, we can see her father with her, as well as many of the people she meets and travels with. In her dreams and quiet moments, she is accompanied by her grandmothers — and she is haunted by the Cherokee legend of Spearfinger, the wicked woman used to scare children into behaving, with whom Studi surprisingly feels a degree of kinship.

This story is rich with history you likely never heard in school — all true. You learn of the Dawes Rolls of tribal citizenship, and how some Indians don’t “count;” of the everyday ritual of “going to water,” and the sacred pool still kept from outsiders; of the Stomp Dance, and why Studi is always only a “guest” there; and of the proud nation that was, the forced removal that shattered it, and the betrayal by their own kin that sealed their fate.

“What you are looking at is a scar,” she is told at the beginning of the Trail of Tears. She shares with us the pain of that national wound, makes us feel it.

And this is a very personal story for Studi, as the spirits she has awakened force her to deal with unresolved mental trauma.

Directed by project collaborator Corey Madden, the performance is helped along with a simple but evocative stage design by John Coyne, lighting and projections by Norman Coates and beautiful soundscape by Bruno Louchouarn with Aimee Lynn Phillips, and music by John-John Grant and Sarah Elizabeth Burkey.

Performances are held through Nov. 10 on the IRT Upperstage at 140 W. Washington St. in downtown Indianapolis (near Circle Centre). Get info and tickets at irtlive.com.

IndyFringe: A Thousand Words

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

C. Neil Parsons, bass trombonist and member of the comic ensemble, The Fourth Wall, presents a much more serious performance: a tribute to his father, Christopher Parsons, who served in the First Infantry Division in Vietnam, and was tapped by the Army to take photographs of the war and those who fought it.

The elder Parsons was also involved in the arts. He was a theatre director when he was drafted in 1968. The discipline he had developed for the stage — the ability to be still, attention to detail — served him well as he would be on “point” (the vulnerable first soldier out) on patrols. While he miraculously avoided serious physical injury, he would come to understand that the war had wounded him in a far deeper fashion.

Neil presents a slide show of his father’s photographs, and reads from his letters. He also plays haunting music on his instrument and gives his own perspective by reciting essays on Pain Tolerance, Chronic Pain, Permanence, and Betrayal — autobiographical insights that allow us to see the father in the son.

“Someone must not forget,” he says. And as a reminder, Neil offers buttons with lines from his father’s favorite Shakespeare passage. But it’s unlikely anyone will forget the tragic beauty of this very personal story of one man that resonates with the loss of thousands.

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

IndyFringe: Jeannette Rankin: Champion of Persistence

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

You might not have heard of her, but after you see this one-woman show you won’t forget her. Jeannette Rankin campaigned nationwide for women’s suffrage, helping to bring it about in her native Montana. She was also elected twice to the U.S. House of Representatives, where she pushed for peace and various reforms.

At times she seemed on the wrong side of history — she could not bring herself to vote for America’s entry into World War II — but especially with her resistance to war in Vietnam, she mainly proved to be a woman ahead of her time.

Written and performed by J. Emily Peabody for Thorn Productions, she puts an irresistible energy into her portrayal of Rankin. What could have been a dry recitation of history comes across more like a rally.

To help spread knowledge of this persistent American hero, Peabody offers copies of her script, with details beyond what she presents in the Fringe-length show, for sale after each performance. She will be at the District Theater (former TOTS location), 627 Massachusetts Ave. on Thursday, Saturday and Sunday (Aug. 22, 24 & 25).

IndyFringe: Behind Every Great Mariska Hargitay is a Great Kurt Fitzpatrick

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

One often hopes to go from treading the boards at little festivals like this to eventually working in Hollywood and on television. Careful what you wish for?

Kurt Fitzpatrick was hoping to get his acting career off the ground, but auditions were exercises in frustration. Then after a failed attempt at a commercial gig, he heard from a friendly stripper (and fellow aspiring actor) that there was a lot of work in being a non-union extra on TV crime dramas.

As it turns out — having been a face in the background of numerous shows and movies, playing cops and bartenders, working invisibly for four Oscar-winning directors — that Fitzpatrick can’t help but see the parallels between what he’s been doing and sex work.

See this fascinating one-man show to find out what he means, and why possibly his face looks familiar (aside from his past IndyFringe appearances). An excellent storyteller, he reflects on his unusual path to quasi-stardom in entertaining fashion

However — he frames the show with a flight of fancy about the “Jungles of the Sahara” that I found hard to follow. It frustrates me that I miss what metaphorical or other purpose it served, and it made for an abrupt and confusing ending. Still, the rest of the content is strong and worth your while.

See the “Great Kurt Fitzpatrick” this Friday, Saturday and Sunday at the District Theater (former TOTS location), 627 Massachusetts Ave.,

IndyFringe: The Adventures of Crazy Jane & Red-Haired Annie

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

This show is subtitled “New Fairy Tales for the Playful, Witty, and Wise,” and that aptly represents what this evening will be about.

In “Crazy Jane and the Faerie Queen” we are presented with our titular characters and encounter with the Queen of the Faeries, who is not a force to be trifled with. This tale also lays out the relationship between Jane and Annie as well as showing insight into their daily lives. What starts as a question of whether Fairy wings are more akin to a butterfly or dragonfly, ends with a deadly fight for survival and escape.

The next adventure, “…and the King of the Butterflies” has Crazy Jane and Red-Haired Annie splitting up to retrieve two magical items in order to free the King of the Butterflies children from the grasp of the Evil Winter Witch. Annie searches in vain to find the heart of a Stone Giant, even though such creatures are extinct. Meanwhile Jane must locate a scale from the serpent that encircles the earth. This is also where we are first presented with the origin of her transformation into “Crazy Jane”.

Our final tale, “Crazy Jane Goes Sane” offers insight into the truth of what the most valuable thing in your life truly is. While Annie is off on her own (we all need to get away by ourselves sometimes), Jane plays a game of dice with a stranger and is then transported to a world in which she is a hardened businesswoman living a typical life. Annie shows up with a story of her own to tell, and the friends are again together.

Laura Packer weaves these tales with the skill of a spider. You are instantly transported to your childhood, when just sitting at the feet of a storyteller was the greatest feeling in the world. Packer’s amazing talents are well showcased her and the numerous awards she has won throughout her career are self-evident.

While the program recommends the show for ages 16 and up, I feel that it would be very suitable for any child with the attention span to listen to and enjoy a good story. After all, it is through these shared experiences that our imaginations are honed and our true selves are fed.

Remaining performances are 9 p.m. Friday and 6 p.m. Saturday at the District Theater, 627 Massachusetts Ave.

IndyFringe: Jan of All Trades

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

In what Jan Shirley Ann calls her “autobiocomedy,” our stand-up and seminarian presents a clean family-friendly show. In fact, when I saw it, a good number of family and friends were in the audience. But you don’t have to be related or have grown up with her in Gary, Ind., to understand and laugh along with her stories of life’s road that led her here.

Yes, she’s from the hometown of the Jacksons, and even was in a singing group that called itself The Jacksons’ Five (note the placing of the apostrophe to avoid confusion). She tells of dissecting frogs in Vacation Bible School, using a Jamaican accent for no reason, learning Japanese, teaching the Japanese to speak English (badly), and of the exceptionally handsome man the Lord used to persuade her to attend Butler University. 

Not often you see a comedian-storyteller who is also a minister in training, but that could explain why an hour with her feels like such a blessing.

She only has so many relatives and bff’s; y’all need to come out and enjoy this show, too. Performances are Friday through Saturday nights at ComedySportz, 721 Massachusetts Ave. 

IndyFringe: BRAIN-O-RAMA — Mentalism and Mischief

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

Kevin Burke is a brave soul, and I’m not referring to him calling himself “the world’s only psychic comedian” or how he plays Russian roulette with staple guns — meaning we either get a mentalist trick or a sideshow geek act — but because he has the audacity of leaving the sound-effects for his show totally in the hands of the venue tech.

At ComedySportz.

At the show I attended, the goofball up in the tech’s crow’s nest was Mark Cashwell, which meant that Burke’s hilarious antics just got that much funnier.

Goofy noises aside, Burke demonstrates his “telepathetic” powers in various ways, and even teaches us a trick. He also leaves some of the mentalism in the hands of the amateurs he brings up on stage so if it works, he’s a genius; if it doesn’t, it’s your fault. Bur regardless, you will laugh — a lot.

See and experience yourself this Friday, Saturday or Sunday (Aug. 23-25) at ComedySportz, 721 Massachusetts Ave.

IndyFringe: Tasty Bits – The Magic and Stories of Taylor Martin

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

Locally-based magician Taylor Martin — popular for his historical and drag characters — has accumulated a lot of interesting experiences. He has been posting them on Facebook, each under the title “There’s a Story to be Told.” One reader said the snippets of his life are like “Tasty Bits,” and thus Martin had a title for his latest Fringe Show.

That’s also a story he told.

I know Martin well enough to recognize that was his Jethro Tull album playing as we entered the venue. We are totally in his element. 

We meet Rodney the Younger, Rodney the Elder, and Madame Esmarelda, but what’s more unusual, we get to know Taylor Martin himself.  He has so many “Bits” — from touring, his past as a singing telegram, and all the interesting and famous people he has met — that he has placed many of them into envelopes. In true magician style, audience members are asked to pick the next one he will tell. These he will only tell once during the run of the show, so each performance is different. Others he will tell every time, like how he came to be friends with Penn & Teller. 

Martin has performed and produced in nearly every IndyFringe, but this show is unlike any other he’s done. There will be illusions, such as his 100-year-old magic box; but you also get the story of how he now has a 100-year-old magic box. 

If you know him at all, you know this is going to be good. If you don’t, well, he has some stories to tell you. Performances are today through Friday and Sunday by the Indy Firefighters’ Museum, 748 Massachusetts Ave.

IndyFringe: It Gets Bitter, The Ron Popp Story

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

Ron Popp is a Native Hoosier, and he says that you can tell by his accent, that he’s gay. Growing up in the small southern town of Fairland, Indiana, and attending the University of Indianapoli,s he has many fond memories of the state and its people. Still, it’s been 15 years since he’s spent time in our city and he has noticed the many changes in that period alone.

Popp deftly guides us through stories of his childhood, dating life, gay marriage (he still uses the term just because it still irks some people) and love of the theater. Between his homey insights, sharp tongue and witty cynicism, he manages to keep the audience laughing. Plus, his show has something for every walk of life.

I find it hard to give you a more detailed review without directly quoting his jokes and I know I could not do them the justice they deserve. What surprises me most is that this is his first Fringe Festival. So let me say this, let’s all give him a warm Hoosier welcome and pack the house each show for a night of laughs. Also, this guy’s going to be a major headliner soon, so you’re not likely to get this opportunity to see him in this sort of an intimate setting, at this price, again.

With performances Tuesday, Wednesday and Saturday (Aug. 20-21 & 24) at ComedySportz (721 Mass. Ave.), the show also makes a great palate-cleanser to help you even out your psyche after partaking of some of the more somber offerings at the Fringe.

IndyFringe: Adventures While Black in Great Britain

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

Les Kurkendaal-Barrett and husband John are at their Green Card “audition.” Les is asked: Is his marriage to this “obnoxious Brit” for real? Being a teller of autobiographical stories for Fringe shows, he gives the Immigration officer — and us — the whole scoop.

Those who have been to his past shows may remember his former relationship. Les comes clean about how toxic that situation was, and how despite efforts to the contrary he fell into yet another romance with a white man. But at least this family of in-laws will be normal — right?

A trip to England for John’s father’s funeral brings Les into contact with his new relatives. This includes Cousin Nigel of the multiple grandfather clocks and wild mood swings; and blunt-spoken Aunt Enid, who lives in Stratford. “You know about Shakespeare, right?” We also learn about “tea shaming,” what song helps you when driving in the U.K., and that Brighton is the nation’s Gay Capital.

Les just has that way about him that makes you want to be his friend, and a storytelling style that makes any little thing that happens sound wild and fascinating. There were plenty of seats at the first IndyFringe performance, but they will be a lot harder to come by at his last. Find him 6 p.m. Friday and Saturday at ComedySportz, 721 Mass. Ave.