A little ‘Chrystmas’ magic

By John Lyle Belden

Bryan Fonseca returns to his tradition of the holiday show he had nurtured for a dozen years, with Fonseca Theatre Company’s “A Very Bryan Chrystmas: How the Grinch Culturally Appropriated Christmas.”

(That original series is also continued at the Phoenix Theatre, but think of them not so much as competitors as companion pieces — each with its own nice yet mildly naughty take on the winter holidays.)

Bryan’s cast of Jean Arnold, Paul Collier Hansen, Jonathan Stombaugh, Phebe Taylor, and Dorian Wilson, with the help of Tim Brickley (music director) and Mariel Greenlee (choreographer), bring us 12 scenes of music, comedy and dance. The works of five local playwrights are featured: Eric Pfeffinger and Mark Harvey-Levine’s modern takes on the Nativity; John P. Gallo’s hilariously macabre holiday tradition; Kenyon Brown’s tale of new Grinch mischief; and Cassandra Rose’s bittersweet scene of family dysfunction. Music includes songs by Tish Hinojosa, Pete Townshend, and Tim Minchin, as well as a mix by DJ QueVee.

For those who remember, Fonseca brings back the ultimate Jewish Mother with Harvey Levine’s “Oye Vey Maria,” but most of the bits are new, such as Brown’s “Mistletopriation,” which acts out the show’s title statement, with Hansen as the Christmas-hating terrorist. And Taylor shows her knack for playing practically any age, especially in her sweet performance of Hinojosa’s “Arbolito.” 

Throughout, this show is a little irreverent and a lot of fun. Performances run through Dec. 22 at the new Basile Theatre, 2508 W. Michigan. Get info and tickets at fonsecatheatre.org.

Phoenix goes bananas for ‘Xmas’

By John Lyle Belden

You know, it’s just not Christmas season without a visit from Anna Banana!

..Said no one ever. (But don’t tell Anna!) Now that she’s the fourth-most-popular female holiday icon (since most people can’t think of more than three) she gets to host “A Very Phoenix Xmas 13: Merry Superstitious” at the Phoenix Theatre.

As you can already tell, the oddball tone of the previous 12 incarnations of this holiday tradition is still very much alive. However, this edition — directed by quirky Q Artistry founder Ben Asaykwee — features an all-female cast. Past Phoenix stars Jolene Mentink Moffatt, Phebe Taylor, Jaddy Ciucci and Jenni White are joined by Shawnte P. Gaston, the powerhouse presence of Tiffanie Burnett, the instrumental prowess of Beef & Boards regular Sarah Hund and the manic energy of ComedySportz star Frankie Bolda.

While they all play multiple roles, it’s Bolda in the banana outfit, and Ciucci makes a feisty Virgin Mary. But while the comedy is a bit irreverent, the content doesn’t get sacrilegious or too mature. Something amiss does happen to Santa, though, that reverberates through the show.

The series of sketches has numerous authors, including Asaykwee, Jean Childers-Arnold, Lou Harry, Steven Korbar,  Zack Neiditch, and Steffi Rubin. Mariel Greenlee choreographed a touching dance scene, performed by the ensemble, inspired by a historic holiday event.

There are also witches, a history lesson, a look back at a (sorta) famous kick-line, breaking news, surprising mashups, and (in Harry’s contribution) what could be described as “Law & Order: Scriptural Victims Unit.” Plus, the cast tell us what’s on their wish list this season.

For an unusual — What other Christmas show has a talking banana? — funny and fully entertaining holiday treat, check out this “Very Phoenix Xmas,” with performances through Dec. 23 on the mainstage at 705 N. Illinois St. in downtown Indianapolis. Call 317-635-7529 or visit phoenixtheatre.org.

How an orphan became a legend

NOTE: As the Word/Eagle is in flux with the renaming and corresponding change in official website, John is putting his reviews here — for now.

By John Lyle Belden

The Phoenix Theatre in downtown Indy starts its season with the local premiere of Tony-winning play “Peter and the Starcatcher” – based on the book by humorist Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson – a prequel to the popular adventures of Peter Pan. The production is not a musical, though a few strains of song figure into the plot, and while maintaining panto-esque silliness, is not a roll-in-the-aisles comedy. Consider it a fantasy that refuses to “grow up.”

Fortunately, the Phoenix has a couple of regulars seemingly blessed with eternal youth: Nathan Robbins as the Boy without a name – at first – and Phebe Taylor as Molly, the girl who turns out to be the other half of the play’s title. They are easily the most complex characters, with the Boy’s justifiable distrust of adults and whimsical wish to always remain a child, and Molly’s intellect, desire for adventure and devotion to her noble eccentric father, Lord Aster, played by Paul Nicely. They also stand out as all other characters are mostly caricatures.

Being broadly drawn is just fine for our villain Black Stache (known by a more familiar name eventually), played with grinning gusto by Eric J. Olson. Other notable performances include Dan Scharbrough’s faithful and scene-stealing Smee; John Vessels Jr. as the “beautiful” Mrs. Bumbrake; Michael Hosp as simple and smitten Alf; Tyler Ostrander as Prentiss, the young “leader” no one follows; and Ian Cruz in multiple roles, including an unusual island native chieftan.

It felt to me at times the show tried too hard to be funny, especially with modern references sprinkled in which felt dissonant with the 19th-century setting, but overall the show is sure-fire entertainment, sure to make your heart and imagination soar.

The play runs through Oct. 23 at 749 N. Park Ave. For info and tickets, call 317-635-7529 or see phoenixtheatre.org.

John L. Belden is Associate Editor at The Eagle (formerly The Word), the central-Indiana based Midwest LGBTQ news source.