Returning to the stage

By John Lyle Belden

Things are starting to look more “normal,” and that includes the central Indiana stage scene. Of course, the pandemic is still around, especially with Covid-19 variants still infecting and killing many. But with improving numbers of the vaccinated and taking common-sense measures by all of us, we can still celebrate our arts.

Alas, even though I’m vaccinated against diseases, I’m still not immune to Gremlins. One such critter has affected the Stage Schedule page on this site. So, until we get it fixed, check out the list below for ongoing and announced shows. In addition, check IndyFringe.org for more events leading up to the festival in mid-august.

See you in the audience; Curtain Up!

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Last updated: July 25, 2021

Schedules subject to change, especially with changes in public health conditions.

See websites or call for Covid-19 safety policies.

2021

June 24 -Aug. 15

“The Sound of Music,” Beef & Boards Dinner Theatre, 9301 N. Michigan Road; http://www.beefandboards.com

July 23-Aug. 2

“The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas,” Ricks-Weil Theatre Company at H.J. Ricks Centre for the Arts, 122 W. Main St. (US 40), Greenfield; fb.com/RicksWeilTheatreCompany

July 28

“Sleepaway,” Summit Performance Indianapolis at The Park at the Phoenix (Phoenix Theatre Cultural Center), 712 North Illinois St., Indianapolis; (Free tickets) summitperformanceindy.com

July 30-Aug. 7

“Anton in Show Business” (all-female) Betty Rage production at Outback Stage at The District Theatre, 627 Mass. Ave., Indianapolis; IndyDistrictTheatre.org

Aug. 5-7

“Godspell,” Eclipse Summer Stock Stage at The Park at the Phoenix (Phoenix Theatre Cultural Center), 712 North Illinois St., Indianapolis; phoenixtheatre.org

Aug. 6-7

“Tuesdays With Morrie,” Live staged reading by Carmel Community Players at PrimeLife Enrichment, 1078 Third Ave. SW, Carmel; carmelplayers.org/whats-on-stage/tuesdays-with-morrie/

Aug. 6-13

“Crazy For You,” Footlite Musicals, 1847 N. Alabama, Indianapolis; footlite.org

Aug. 6-14

“Alice In Wonderland,” Mud Creek Players (outdoors), 9740 E. 86th St., Indianapolis; mudcreekplayers.org

Aug. 8

Sam C. Jones w/ Hank Ruff, in concert at The Park at the Phoenix (Phoenix Theatre Cultural Center), 712 North Illinois St., Indianapolis; phoenixtheatre.org

Aug. 13-14

“The Silent War,” Live staged reading by Carmel Community Players at PrimeLife Enrichment, 1078 Third Ave. SW, Carmel; carmelplayers.org/whats-on-stage/the-silent-war/

Aug. 13-22

“Hedwig and the Angry Inch,” Zach & Zack productions at The Park at the Phoenix (Phoenix Theatre Cultural Center), 712 North Illinois St., Indianapolis; tickets.zachandzack.com, phoenixtheatre.org

Aug. 19-Oct. 3

“Newsies,” Beef & Boards Dinner Theatre, 9301 N. Michigan Road; http://www.beefandboards.com

Aug. 19-Sept. 5

INDYFRINGE (Indianapolis Theatre Fringe Festival) Mass. Ave. area, Indianapolis; http://www.indyfringe.org

Aug. 20-Sept. 5

“The Two Kids That Blow Sh*t Up,” Fonseca Theatre, 2508 W. Michigan St., Indianapolis; fonsecatheatre.org

Aug. 20-21

“Ripcord,” Live staged reading by Carmel Community Players at PrimeLife Enrichment, 1078 Third Ave. SW, Carmel; carmelplayers.org/whats-on-stage/ripcord-2/

Aug. 26-28

“Under the Big Top,” Gregory Hancock Dance Theatre at The Tarkington, Center for the Performing Arts, downtown Carmel; gregoryhancockdancetheatre.org, thecenterpresents.org

Sept. 10-Oct. 3

“Always, Patsy Cline,” Actors Theatre of Indiana at The Studio Theater, Center for the Performing Arts, downtown Carmel; atistage.org, thecenterpresents.org

Sept. 10-19

“Boeing Boeing,” Carmel Community Players at The Cat, 254 Veterans Way, downtown Carmel;; carmelplayers.org

Sept. 16-26

“Arsenic and Old Lace,” Epilogue Players, 1849 N. Alabama St., Indianapolis (corner of 19th and Alabama); epilogueplayers.com

Sept. 17-Oct. 3

“A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder,” Footlite Musicals, 1847 N. Alabama, Indianapolis; footlite.org

Sept. 18-Oct. 3

“1980 (Or, Why I’m Voting for John Anderson),” Storefront Theatre of Indianapolis, 717 Broad Ripple Ave., Indianapolis; storefrontindy.com

TBA

“King Liz,” Fonseca Theatre, 2508 W. Michigan St., Indianapolis; fonsecatheatre.org

Oct. 6-31

“The Book Club Play,” Indiana Repertory Theatre, 140 W. Washington St., Indianapolis; irtlive.com

Oct. 7-17

“Dracula,” Main Street Players at Westfield Playhouse, 220 N. Union St., Westfield; westfieldplayhouse.org

Oct. 7-31

“Alabaster,” Phoenix Theatre, 712 North Illinois St., Indianapolis; phoenixtheatre.org

Oct. 7-Nov. 21

“Phantom,” Beef & Boards Dinner Theatre, 9301 N. Michigan Road; http://www.beefandboards.com

Oct. 8-23

“The Color Purple: The Musical,” Booth Tarkington Civic Theatre, Center for the Performing Arts, downtown Carmel; http://www.civictheatre.org, thecenterpresents.org.

Oct. 8-17

“Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf,” Bard Fest production at The Cat, 254 Veterans Way, downtown Carmel; http://www.indybardfest.com

Oct. 9-10

“Legend of Sleepy Hollow,” Buck Creek Players (outdoors), 11150 Southeastern Ave., Indianapolis (Acton Road exit off I-74); buckcreekplayers.com

Oct. 22-31

INDY BARD FEST (Shakespeare Festival): “Measure for Measure” at IndyFringe (downtown Indy), “Antony and Cleopatra” and “Love’s Labors Lost” at the Cat (Carmel), “Macbeth” at Theater at the Fort (Lawrence); http://www.indybardfest.com

Oct. 28-30

“There’s No Place Like Home,” Gregory Hancock Dance Theatre at The Tarkington, Center for the Performing Arts, downtown Carmel; gregoryhancockdancetheatre.org, thecenterpresents.org

Oct. 29-Nov. 21

“Lombardi,” Actors Theatre of Indiana at The Studio Theater, Center for the Performing Arts, downtown Carmel; atistage.org, thecenterpresents.org

Nov. 5-14

“Rosie the Riveter,” Buck Creek Players, 11150 Southeastern Ave., Indianapolis (Acton Road exit off I-74); buckcreekplayers.com

“Elizabeth Rex,” Indy Bard Fest at Theater at the Fort, 8920 Otis Ave. (Lawrence); http://www.indybardfest.com.

Nov. 19-Dec. 12

“Holiday Inn,” Footlite Musicals, 1847 N. Alabama, Indianapolis; footlite.org

Nov. 26- Dec. 18

“A Charlie Brown Christmas,” Booth Tarkington Civic Theatre, Center for the Performing Arts, downtown Carmel; http://www.civictheatre.org, thecenterpresents.org

Nov. 26-Dec. 26

“A Christmas Carol,” Indiana Repertory Theatre, 140 W. Washington St., Indianapolis; irtlive.com

Nov. 27-Dec. 19

“Bakersfield Mist,” Phoenix Theatre, 712 North Illinois St., Indianapolis; phoenixtheatre.org

Dec. 2-12

“The Christmas Express,” Epilogue Players, 1849 N. Alabama St., Indianapolis (corner of 19th and Alabama); epilogueplayers.com

Dec. 3-4

“The Nutcracker,” Gregory Hancock Dance Theatre at Pike Performing Arts Center, Indianapolis; gregoryhancockdancetheatre.org, thecenterpresents.org

Dec. 3-5

“Holiday Shorts,” Carmel Community Players at The Cat, 254 Veterans Way, downtown Carmel;; carmelplayers.org

Dec. 3-24

“Elf: The Musical,” Booth Tarkington Civic Theatre, Center for the Performing Arts, downtown Carmel; http://www.civictheatre.org, thecenterpresents.org

Dec. 9-19

Irving Berlin’s “White Christmas,” Main Street Players at Westfield Playhouse, 220 N. Union St., Westfield; westfieldplayhouse.org

Dec. 10-19

“It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play,” Buck Creek Players, 11150 Southeastern Ave., Indianapolis (Acton Road exit off I-74); buckcreekplayers.com

2022

Jan. 26-Feb. 20

“Fahrenheit 451,” Indiana Repertory Theatre, 140 W. Washington St., Indianapolis; irtlive.com

Jan. 28-Feb. 20

“The Big Bang: The Musical,” Actors Theatre of Indiana at The Studio Theater, Center for the Performing Arts, downtown Carmel; atistage.org, thecenterpresents.org

“Love Bird,” Phoenix Theatre, 712 North Illinois St., Indianapolis; phoenixtheatre.org

Feb. 4-13

“Good People,” Buck Creek Players, 11150 Southeastern Ave., Indianapolis (Acton Road exit off I-74); buckcreekplayers.com

Feb. 4-19

“The Diary of Anne Frank,” Booth Tarkington Civic Theatre, Center for the Performing Arts, downtown Carmel; http://www.civictheatre.org, thecenterpresents.org

Feb. 7-27

“Calendar Girls,” Epilogue Players, 1849 N. Alabama St., Indianapolis (corner of 19th and Alabama); epilogueplayers.com

Feb. 10-20

“Of Mice and Men,” Main Street Players at Westfield Playhouse, 220 N. Union St., Westfield; westfieldplayhouse.org

Feb. 12-27

“The Black Dahlia,” Gregory Hancock Dance Theatre at The Academy of GHDT, Carmel; gregoryhancockdancetheatre.org

Feb. 25-March 6

“The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime,” Carmel Community Players at The Cat, 254 Veterans Way, downtown Carmel;; carmelplayers.org

March 11-26

“Wait Until Dark,” Booth Tarkington Civic Theatre, Center for the Performing Arts, downtown Carmel; http://www.civictheatre.org, thecenterpresents.org.

March 17- April 10

“The Magnolia Ballet,” Phoenix Theatre, 712 North Illinois St., Indianapolis; phoenixtheatre.org

March 23-April 10

(TBA), Indiana Repertory Theatre, 140 W. Washington St., Indianapolis; irtlive.com

March 31-April 10

“Flaming Idiots,” Main Street Players at Westfield Playhouse, 220 N. Union St., Westfield; westfieldplayhouse.org

April 1-10

“Fly Babies,” Buck Creek Players, 11150 Southeastern Ave., Indianapolis (Acton Road exit off I-74); buckcreekplayers.com

April 7-9

“Exodus,” Gregory Hancock Dance Theatre at The Tarkington, Center for the Performing Arts, downtown Carmel; gregoryhancockdancetheatre.org, thecenterpresents.org

April 20-May 15

“The Paper Dreams of Harry Chin,” Indiana Repertory Theatre, 140 W. Washington St., Indianapolis; irtlive.com

April 21-May 1

“Becky’s New Car,” Epilogue Players, 1849 N. Alabama St., Indianapolis (corner of 19th and Alabama); epilogueplayers.com

April 22-May 8

“The Fantasticks,” Carmel Community Players at The Cat, 254 Veterans Way, downtown Carmel; carmelplayers.org

April 27-May 22

“Working: The Musical,” Actors Theatre of Indiana at The Studio Theater, Center for the Performing Arts, downtown Carmel; atistage.org, thecenterpresents.org

April 28-May 22

“No AIDS, No Maids, or, Stories I Can’t F*ckin’ Hear No More,” Phoenix Theatre, 712 North Illinois St., Indianapolis; phoenixtheatre.org

April 29-May 14

“Matilda: The Musical,” Booth Tarkington Civic Theatre, Center for the Performing Arts, downtown Carmel; http://www.civictheatre.org, thecenterpresents.org

May 10-June 5

“Steel Magnolias,” Indiana Repertory Theatre, 140 W. Washington St., Indianapolis; irtlive.com

June 2-12

“Rumors,” Main Street Players at Westfield Playhouse, 220 N. Union St., Westfield;; westfieldplayhouse.org

June 3-19

“Little Women: The Broadway Musical,” Buck Creek Players (outdoors), 11150 Southeastern Ave., Indianapolis (Acton Road exit off I-74); buckcreekplayers.com0

June 9-11

“Antony and Cleopatra,” Gregory Hancock Dance Theatre at The Tarkington, Center for the Performing Arts, downtown Carmel; gregoryhancockdancetheatre.org, thecenterpresents.org

June 10-19

“A Medley of Murders,” Carmel Community Players at The Cat, 254 Veterans Way, downtown Carmel; carmelplayers.org

June 16-26

“Now and Then,” Epilogue Players, 1849 N. Alabama St., Indianapolis (corner of 19th and Alabama); epilogueplayers.com

Aug. 12-21

“Shipwrecked! An Entertainment,” Carmel Community Players at The Cat, 254 Veterans Way, downtown Carmel; carmelplayers.org

Mother and daughter go the distance in ’26 Miles’

By John Lyle Belden

Olivia is a precocious teenager living in the 1980s, when every car has a cassette player and, since the Internet is not a big thing yet, she expresses herself in a hand-made paper ‘zine. She is also a child of divorce, and of two worlds – her father a white carpenter, her mother a Cuban immigrant.

On a day she feels especially troubled – can’t reach her father, gets indifference from stepmother, and is constantly throwing up – Olivia calls the Mom she hasn’t talked to in years. Within an hour, Beatriz is there to pick her daughter up, but rather than drive to her home in nearby Philadelphia, she impulsively drives west. And keeps going.

This sets up the adventure of “26 Miles,” the coming-of-age drama now on stage at Fonseca Theatre Company. It was written by Quiara Alegria Hudes, co-writer of “In the Heights” (with Lin-Manuel Miranda) and Pulitzer winner for “Water by the Spoonful.” Hudes also adapted this play into the musical, “Miss You Like Hell,” which was presented by Fonseca just a couple of summers ago.

Whereas “Miss You…” tackles the issues of immigration and personal identity, in “26 Miles,” the focus is more on Olivia, a high school sophomore played endearingly by college sophomore Lily Weidenbach. She perfectly channels teen angst, without coming off whiny, and the naive optimism of youth. While barely realizing it, this one who embodies the “melting pot” puts herself on a very American visionquest, headed to the historic frontier in search of the embodiment of wild native spirit. But how and where will she belong when she returns to Pennsylvania?

Beatriz, played with maternal gusto by Lara Romero, is not as imperiled as her character in the musical, and, while impatient with others, a calm mentor to Olivia, awakening her to her full heritage.

Doug Powers has many roles, especially Olivia’s father, Aaron, a former free spirit who now obsesses over wood finishes and the perfect material for shingles. He’s a devoted, loving father, but struggles with being a Dad. Also in various characters is Ian Cruz, mainly as Beatriz’s beau in Philly, and a tamale seller the women meet on the highway (he played a similar role in the Fonseca production of “Miss You…” as well).

Directed by Fonseca Producing Director Jordan Flores Schwartz, the play makes use of the in-the-round set-up of the stage in the lot behind the Basile building at 2508 W. Michigan (west of downtown Indianapolis). Live performances, with distancing and other measures, run through June 27. Get tickets and info at fonsecatheatre.org.

IRT returns to ‘House that Jack Built’

By John Lyle Belden

The Indiana Repertory Theatre has done the most “IRT” thing it could have done, reviving (virtually) the play “The House That Jack Built,” by playwright-in-residence James Still, directed by the incomparable Janet Allen.

The performance, captured with the help of local public television station WFYI, is available to stream at your leisure through June 20 at irtlivevirtual.com.

“The House That Jack Built” is the start of a trilogy of three plays that can each stand alone, each with a distinctly different style. The character Jack almost literally haunts all three stories, a man of immense promise, beloved by friends and family, who disappeared in the destruction of the World Trade Center towers on 9/11. This tragedy affects his sister, driving her to her dangerous career in the second drama, “Miranda.” The quest to move on ironically brings Jack’s daughter and his mother to one of his favorite places, Italy, in the quirky third play, “Appoggiatura.” But now, we have again the first story, establishing this close and troubled family as they gather for Thanksgiving at Jack’s widow’s Vermont home in 2012.

English-born Jules (Jennifer Johansen) is striving to be a perfect hostess, and has a lot of support from boyfriend Eli (Aaron Kirby), close friend – and Jack’s sister – Lulu (Constance Macy) and her husband Ridge (David Shih), and Jack’s mother, Helen (Jan Lucas), who also lives in the area. Others were planning on attending, but foul weather and work issues prevent them (these appear in the other plays).

Indianapolis theatre audiences are familiar with these actors, especially Johansen, Macy and Lucas, and all bring their best effort to an excellent deep examination of these characters. We feel their love and experience their easy humor, with a treasure trove of memories into which they dare not dig too deep. But no matter what facet of the past they look into, Jack is there. This spiritual and psychological weight they have carried for over a decade raises the question: Does his spirit haunt them, or are they clinging to it, “haunting” him?

For any fans of Still’s work, (or if, like me, you missed this play the first time around) this is a must-see. And a wonderful way to conclude this unusual IRT season. Allen, the Margot Lacy Eccles Artistic Director, says a new – more traditionally staged – season for 2021-22 will soon be announced.

Even when history is changed, have we?

By John Lyle Belden

From time to time, we all consider what the world would be like if certain historical events didn’t happen – or if others did. These kinds of thought experiments take on a particular point of view in “Apologies to Lorraine Hansberry (You too, August Wilson),” by Rachel Lynett, presented live in the space behind Fonseca Theatre, directed by Jamaal McCray.

“This exists in the mind of every person of color,” says Lynett through a cast member. Welcome to Bronx Bay, an all-Black state created after the just-completed Second Civil War. We who are White, Latinx, etc., are granted a brief stay to see how the story before us plays out.

Alice (Chandra Lynch) is a struggling restauranteur – the problem being that since she is a quarter Asian, she’s attempting a “Korean fusion” eatery. Her husband Lorenzo (Chinyelu Mwaafrika) is supportive, though privately believes tofu has no place in gumbo. Their close friend Jules (Latrice Young) has a new partner, Yael (Aniqua Sha’Cole), recently approved to live in Bronx Bay. We also meet their freind Izaak (Josiah McCruiston).

Everyone on the stage looks like they belong there, but a stunning revelation threatens friendships, relationships and the tranquility of this new utopia. “People died to make these rules,” Alice reminds the others. But does that make what is happening right?

In the second act, we find ourselves in another imagining of Bronx Bay, a place for families like couples Alice and Jules, and Lorenzo and Izaak. So, how does Yael fit in?

The thesis statement of this absurd drama is literally written on the set pieces: “Blackness Iz Not A Monolith.” The “apologies” of the title allude to the tendency to see a playwright’s telling of a Black experience as “the” Black experience. The five persons we see before us are actually speaking Lynett’s words; so, being Black is the perspective of a young queer African-Latinx woman from California who lives in Arkansas?

To the credit of the writer, as well as McCray and the cast, rather than being confusing – even when going totally meta – this darkly comic journey is entertaining and thought-provoking. There’s even an alternative-history game show.

Scenic Designer Bernie Killian provides an interesting stage for an immersive “in the round” experience. Seating is properly spaced around the stage, however, there is no tent or awning so sunscreen and/or hats are recommended, especially during afternoon performances.

One weekend remains of this World Premiere production, May 28-30, at Fonseca Theatre, 2508 W. Michigan, west of downtown Indianapolis. Tickets and information at fonsecatheatre.org.

Past pain reflects present in IRT drama

By John Lyle Belden

The drama “No. 6,” presented by Indiana Repertory Theatre, is set in an early-21st-century American city where a white police officer has killed a black man, and violent responses to apparent injustice ensue.

Doesn’t narrow it down much, does it?

That’s the problem, and that’s why the IRT chose this play by T.J. Young, inspired by this repeating narrative, centered on the April 2001 riots in Cincinnati. A fully-produced stage performance, directed by Dwandra Nickole Lampkin, was captured by public television station WFYI and is available to stream at irtlive.com through April 4.

The steady progress of unrest has finally reached the storefront of the Anderson family’s laundry/cleaners, while proprietor Ella (Milicent Wright), with teen twins Felix (Jamaal McCray) and Felicia (LaKesha Lorene), shelter in the upstairs apartment. Felicia, who is on the autistic spectrum, dwells on her dinosaur obsession while Felix is out on the streets, scavenging for food from what past looters left behind. But he comes back with more than Spam – dragging in an unconscious white man.

Our mysterious houseguest (Michael Stewart Allen) has booze on his breath and a gun in his backpack, but as the others discover who he is, they find themselves in the very heart of the city’s issues.

Wright is a rock, as always, the mother-hen and conscience of this play. She has reasons behind her righteousness and shows real pain with her perspective that makes her feel genuine, not just a means to the drama’s message. McCray plays an emotional, impulsive idealist – like a teenager – but also reflecting the open spirit of his martyred father. Lorene gives a sensitive, endearing portrayal of an unconventional genius who has an uncanny grasp of the big picture at work here – big, as in global.

Allen hits all the emotional buttons as a man finding himself in a sort of Purgatory, never completely likable nor hateable. He is forced to deal with the perspective of those not like himself, while we must also acknowledge his. Still, what can one do when he is literally part of the problem?

“People across the globe take to streets and cry, ‘Never again!’” Young says in his program note. “And then it happens again. And again. And again.”

This play is important because it continues the much-needed conversation – but also see it because it is gripping drama with solid human performances, punctuated by sound (credit Matthew Tibbs) and light (Xavier Pierce) that makes the danger feel real and immediate, even in an otherwise comforting home (scene: Rob Koharchik). Support local professional theatre, and boot it up on the big screen.

Simon comedy gets ‘radio’ treatment

By John Lyle Belden

It’s been a wild year, with social unrest, a wild presidential election, war in Vietnam — yes, it’s 1968. To bring back the flavor of the good ol’ days, “station WCAT” in Carmel is hosting a live radio play of the Neil Simon hit, “Plaza Suite.”

This is the situation presented by Indy Bardfest, which is taking a break from Shakespeare fare to explore more recent celebrated playwrights. The necessity of personal distance for those on the stage, as well as in the audience, in the wacky year of 2020 make the radio drama an excellent format for presenting a character- and dialogue-driven play such as this.

Director Matthew Socey has given the cast of Tony Armstrong, Nan Macy, Afton Shepard, and Matthew Walls, assisted by Tony Johnson as host and sound-effects guy, plenty of opportunities for visual antics to accompany the “theatre of the mind” atmosphere. On-stage social distancing is achieved as each stands apart at their own microphone, even during moments like the creatively unorthodox kissing scenes.

Simon’s ‘68 Broadway smash is three acts, each its own story, all taking place at 3 p.m. on different days in Room 719 of the Plaza Hotel in New York City. In the first, an exercise in emotionally-charged dark humor, Karen (Macy) has booked the suite as a surprise anniversary gift in hopes of recharging her lackluster marriage to Sam (Armstrong). But she finds she may be too late, and maybe even in the wrong room. Walls appears as members of hotel staff, and Shepard as Sam’s beautiful secretary.

In the second act, successful young Hollywood producer Jesse Kiplinger (Walls) arranges to meet with his high-school sweetheart, Muriel (Shepard), a working-class New Jersey housewife. He longs for the simplicity of the past, while she is fascinated by his life among the stars. Much humor is derived from the cumulative effect of vodka stingers vs. the delicate dance of seduction. Their exchange is a fun examination of the people we pretend to be, even to ourselves, as Jesse works out how to keep their metaphorical masks in place long enough to get Muriel’s actual dress off.

The third act, arguably the best and most popular, has stressed out parents Roy (Armstrong) and Norma (Macy) struggling to coax daughter Mimsey (Shepard) to unlock the bathroom door so she can make her way downstairs to her wedding. Roy is already fuming at how expensive the ceremony and reception have become, while Norma is a nervous wreck. Slapstick abounds, even with the limited movement in this format. 

This production is wonderfully cast, as all have great range and the ability to convincingly go from serious to silly as the situation demands. Johnson gets surprisingly involved in the action, such as being a sympathetic fourth wall to a character’s asides, adding to the charm of this unusual show. 

Bardfest has one weekend left in the “Plaza Suite,” Friday through Sunday, Oct. 9-11, at The Cat theatre in downtown Carmel. Visit indybardfest.com for info (or see them on Facebook) and thecattheatre.com for tickets.

Summit tells us a story

By John Lyle Belden

“Tell me a story.” 

Helen of Troy sits in a room at a mythical Egyptian hotel where all of time and technology is possible, but there’s still nothing but crap on TV. 

This is the setting of “Helen,” by Ellen McLaughlin, performed as a staged reading (limited movement and props, but scripts in hand) at the outdoor amphitheater on the campus of Marian University, presented by Summit Performance Indy. 

The touchstone of this comic drama is Euripides’ play of Helen, in which it is her doppelganger that goes to Troy with Paris (abduction? elopement? little of both? legends vary), launching the later-cited “thousand ships” and an epic war as King Meneleaus of Sparta seeks to fetch her back, while the “real” woman is exiled to Egypt to await her husband figuring things out and coming for her.

But as McLaughlin’s play makes clear, the real Helen is lost among various brave, frightened, virtuous, evil, wise, vapid, humble, and ambitious personae — every one so beautiful that you hate her, and also love her, with all your heart. She has launched a thousand stories, from antiquity, to Medieval fairy tales, to the perfect faces on your TV screen. While adding to the lore, the script is a deft synthesis of the legends that have gone before. 

Helen dares not leave her room, as the gods have ordered her to wait there, so she berates, cajoles and converses with “the Help,” a longsuffering maid, and is visited by a talking cow — the legendary Io — and later the haughty goddess Athena, before, at long last, her husband shows up. But he’s confused, and not that happy to see her.

All this is done beautifully by an excellent local cast (I don’t have names available to me, so won’t make errant guesses), who are familiar enough with the material to be “semi-book” and to move and emote naturally. The Allen Whitehill Clowes Amphitheater is a beautiful setting, with lawn seating (bring your own blanket or chair) that is close, but perfectly spaced by Summit staff (you get a “box” area to sit in, with boxes set about six feet apart). 

There is one performance left as this is posted, today (Aug. 29, bumped to Sunday, Aug. 30 if it rains). Tickets are $10 each, available online at SummitPerformanceIndy.com. Marian is located at 3200 Cold Spring Road on Indy’s west side.

Indiana Ten Minute Play Festival

By John Lyle Belden

In our restricted world, there are not a lot of opportunities for live entertainment. Fortunately, IndyFringe has managed a nice setup in its “pocket park” next to the theatre building, where an audience can sit at tables spaced about six feet apart. The actors use the garage-style opening of the Indy Eleven stage to set up their play space. (See indyfringe.org for upcoming shows at this unique venue.)

Last weekend, that little space held a big variety of entertainment as Fringe presented the Indiana Ten Minute Play Festival. The seven brief comic dramas had a surprising degree of depth and content, even at their silliest, thanks to sharp writing and excellent acting from a fun group of players.

We started with “Hurry Up, It’s Almost Bedtime” by Janice Neal, directed by Anthony Nathan with Emerging Artists Theatre. David Malloy is Frank, who is likely dead, which spells trouble for fellow senior-home residents Rose (Linda Grant), Lucille (Wendy Brown) and Betty (Joy Shurn). Nurse Brittany (Stephanie Anderson) hasn’t caught on, yet. The fast-approaching bedtime of the title gives them an idea to ensure that Frank’s body is found in his bed. While the idea of this play sounds macabre, the Golden-Girls-style repartee among the ladies makes this a nice dark comedy.

“Aloha Apocalypse,” by Marcia Eppich-Harris – directed by Megan Ann Jacobs with Rapture Theatre – is based on an actual event not that long ago when an “incoming missile” alert was sounded in Hawaii. Sophie (Laura Baltz) and Ed (David Malloy) are a mainlander couple on vacation who discover they may only have minutes to live. What to do? After a comically-arranged farewell video to their children, there’s the agonizing wait for The End. Feeling his conscience bother him, Ed makes a confession of infidelity. That doesn’t help them, but it makes things even funnier for us. Fate has the last laugh, of course, when it’s announced that the crisis is a false alarm. Baltz and Malloy have great chemistry, even when the reactions are unstable. A newscaster voice is provided by Thomas Sebald.

“Don’t Toy With Me” by Andrew Black, directed by Casey Ross of Catalyst Repertory Theatre, brings the focus not only down to 10 minutes long but also to 10 inches high, as Thomas Sebald plays a GI Joe action figure that has arrived at the Malibu Beach House occupied by Beach Glam Ken (Grant Nagel). At the moment, they don’t hear the godlike voices of their child masters, so they can be themselves. They remark on how so much of their world is “out of order,” like the canteen or juice bottle they feel compelled to “drink” even if no liquid comes out. Eventually the mistress of the dreamhouse, Malibu Barbie (Kyrsten Lyster), arrives. And even if she can be temporarily distracted by a fashion faux pas, her power over Ken is too strong for the men’s relationship to last. The sharp script and this talented trio make this the most hilarious bit of the evening. And it helps that the actors have their “articulated” movements down, especially Sebald.

“Are You Busy Tonight” – by Russell Ridgeway, directed by Anthony Nathan – is what Mother (Wendy Brown) asks son Kevin (Nathan) in this funny roller coaster of a phone conversation. At first Kevin is annoyed at his mom wanting to invite her to an evening at the theatre, but after suggesting that she ask if someone else is free, he becomes even more exasperated to find out he – her son – was the 28th person she thought to ask! And that included a couple of friends who had died. Nathan is at his best acting flustered, and Brown is a force of nature, so they mint comedy gold here.

Heritage Christian High School Theatre Department presents a teen rite of passage with “Promposal!” by Josie Gingrich, directed by Spencer Elliott. Sam (Bradley Bundrant) likes Anna (Cate Searcy) but over time she has become distant. So, what better way to win her over than by asking her to the Senior Prom, in an extravagant gesture reminiscent of the ’80s movies she likes to watch. Our scene begins as Anna exits the Cafeteria thoroughly embarrassed, and Sam follows, desperate to find out how his perfect plan went so wrong. This sweet and authentic look at high school life, loaded with unforced humor, feels pitch-perfect. Bundrant and Searcy nimbly portray how two such different personalities – he impulsive and loud, she quiet and wanting to be invisible – can eventually feel meant for each other.

Mark Harvey Levine is great at making these short-form plays – Phoenix Theatre patrons may remember some years back he presented a series of them there in “Cabfare for the Common Man.” In this festival, Levine brings us “Ordained,” directed by Megan Ann Jacobs. Sharon (Kyrsten Lister) is manic, unabashed, double-espresso perky, and just recently ordained as a minister by the SacredChurchOfAngelicMinistry.com. Now, at this airport waiting lounge, she has found Abby (Case Jacobus), who is single, and Gary (Grant Nagel), who is also single. Let’s get them married! The resulting scene is wildly hilarious, even as what seems to be an encounter with a well-meaning lunatic starts to have the odd feel of destiny. Jacobus and Nagel play it well, taking the oddness in stride, and Lister is in her element.

What better way to finish an evening of unusual stories than with “Sock Puppet Fetish Noir,” by Kelly McBurnette-Andronicos, directed by Casey Ross, who also stars (stepping in for Missy Rump, who couldn’t make it for health reasons). Jane (Ross) pays a visit to an unusual detective, Inspector Darryl, a puppet sock who will only talk to her sock placed on her hand. It seems some “friends” have gone missing, last seen going into the laundry with their partners. But it turns out that Melvin (David Malloy), the man at the other end of Darryl’s arm, has been keeping secrets in that jar on the desk. So, yes, it’s very weird – quite funny – and with up-for-anything actors like Ross and Malloy, it somehow works.

This was a one-weekend event, so hopefully one or more of these scenes will pop up again somewhere. The festival was an excellent exhibition of local talent and creativity, part of the great and varied Indy theatre scene that we look forward to seeing more of as current events allow.

Fonseca returns with reflection of our ongoing racial struggle

By John Lyle Belden

Current and recent events compelled Fonseca Theatre Company to stage “Hype Man: A Break Beat Play” as its first production while live theatre starts to return to central Indiana. But more telling of the persistent seriousness of its issues is that this drama by Idris Goodwin was written over two years ago.

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From left, Aaron “Gritty” Grinter, Grant Byrne, and Paige Neely in the Fonseca Theatre Company production of “Hype Man: A Break Beat Play”

In a large, racially diverse, American city, in a time not long before 2020, up-and-coming white rapper Pinnacle and his Black hype man Verb wait on the creator of their beats, Peep One, to arrive at the studio so they can rehearse for their appearance on the Tonight Show. She enters, telling them she was delayed by traffic around a police chase. Minutes later, social media alerts give the full story: An unarmed black teen was killed, shot 18 times by cops while attempting to surrender.

The show must go on, as Pinnacle is focused on his national TV debut and upcoming tour, but as his hip-hop hit, “The Boy Shine,” gets its ovation, Verb makes a gesture for racial justice that throws their lives into chaos.

Local recording artist Grant Byrne plays Pinnacle, “born between a rock and a Glock,” blind to the fact that despite the disrespect he gets from uptown whites, his fair skin gives him a veil of privilege – and as a member of the hip-hop community, responsibility. Byrne manages to keep him likable, but driven and too focused on his “brand,” needing to learn to get out of his own ego and his fear of getting bogged down by serious issues like injustice. Still, his stage style is tight, as, with a wry smile, he spins Goodwin’s rhymes like they’re his own.

Local entertainer and the show’s music director Aaron “Gritty” Grinter is Verb, Pinnacle’s childhood best friend and long-time collaborator. The most complex character, his TV moment was to be a personal comeback, after past (unspecified) incidents had him in court-ordered therapy. The young man’s shooting affects him deeply, “I was that kid so many times!” Grinter is well-suited to the role, a natural motivator channeling the fire awakened within the Hype Man.

Indy native Paige Neely is Peep One, who tries to walk the middle path between the others’ bold personalities. Having been adopted by an apparently middle-class family (likely white), she doesn’t deny her blackness but identifies mostly as a woman in hip-hop, which is struggle enough. She understands Pinnacle’s fixation on the business of showbiz, but knows what Verb wants to accomplish is even more vital. Neely makes her more three-dimensional than the script seems to suggest, ably going from referee to friend, to a girl with her own mind and dreams, as the story demands.

This play is the directing debut of Daniel A. Martin, who is experienced with more comic fare, but as (among other things) an improv artist, does well with a trio in a very collaborative, sharing environment. The drama feels as real as the latest TV and online news, and though the death described is fictional, it has occurred in one form or another numerous times (including here in Indianapolis). The play doesn’t exploit, make light of, or preach on the issues, but helps to continue our local and national conversation.

In consideration of the ever-present health issues, FTC producing directors Bryan Fonseca and Jordan Flores Schwartz, and company staff, are taking the Covid-19 threat seriously. The stage (excellently designed by Daniel Uhde) is outdoors, behind the Basile Building, 2508 W. Michigan St., with plenty of parking at the adjacent park. There is appropriately-spaced seating, hand sanitizer handy, and all (except for actors while acting) are required to wear face masks (this was policy before the Mayor made it mandatory countywide). Local artist Kathryn Rodenbach made and donated some nice cloth masks, which can be picked up for a donation of whatever you want to give.

“Hype Man” runs through July 26. Get details and tickets at fonsecatheatre.org. To delve deeper into the issues of the play, Fonseca added this page as well.

FTC: ‘Cake’ a complex confection

By John Lyle Belden

Though every aspect of a thoroughly-planned wedding seems critical, the most important thing is still the people involved.

That is the approach playwright Bekah Brunstetter brought to “The Cake,” now presented by Fonseca Theatre Company, directed by founding staff member Jordan Flores Schwartz. In this “issue play” tackling recent conflicts of homophobia, religious freedom, and free commerce, while a bakery avoiding making a wedding cake for a same-sex marriage is at the center of the story, it is the people and their very human feelings that we explore.

Della (Jean Arnold) appears to have her life in order. Her shop, Della’s Sweets of Winston, N.C., is doing well and she has been selected for the “Big American Bake Off” television show. She is a stickler for following the directions, whether it be with a generations-old recipe or the centuries-old wisdom of the Bible. We meet her speaking on this to a young freelance writer, Macy (Chandra Lynch), who, while working on her next story, has an ulterior motive. This is revealed when Jen (Kyrsten Lyster) arrives. 

Jen grew up in this neighborhood and is friends with Della. She is also Macy’s fiance. After first insisting on making the wedding cake, before finding out it is for “two brides,” Della suddenly remembers how busy she will be around the wedding date and changes her mind. 

At this point you might expect characters to dig in their heels as they take sides, each individually convinced they’re right, and maybe even go to court. But the consequences are more nuanced. 

Della, who has known and loved Jen since babysitting her years ago, almost immediately feels regret over her decision. While her husband, hard-working plumber Tim (Adam O. Crowe), supports her on it, she finds herself haunted by the voice of the Big American Bake Off host George (Dwuan Watson) questioning her motives and methods. Also, she can’t help but notice the true love between Jen and Macy, a feeling she struggles to find between her and her dutiful but distant spouse.

Meanwhile, a rift forms between our engaged couple. Macy, a New Yorker, sees all she feared from the South coming true, and wants to strike back, or at least give up the fancy nuptials for a simple civil ceremony — elsewhere. Jen, on the other hand, is determined to have her dream wedding. It turns out you can take the lesbian out of North Carolina, but you can’t take North Carolina out of the lesbian.

As with all genuine stories, no matter how serious things get, some of it you just have to laugh at. There are plenty of comic moments in this play, especially when Della tries to rekindle her own jaded romance.

Arnold makes Della surprisingly sympathetic, given the spot events have put her in. Though playing a staunch conservative, Crowe gives Tim enough heart that we can see what she saw in him.

Lynch and Lyster make a good couple, as in their roles their yin and yang of protector and nurturer balance each other out. Still, neither woman is all hard or all soft. Is it enough to save the wedding? (And will there be cake?) You’ll just have to see to find out. 

Performances run through March 22 at FTC’s home, the Basile building at 2508 W. Michigan St., west of downtown Indy. Call 317-653-1519 or visit FonsecaTheatre.org.