IndyFringe: Fret Knot

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

First, I must note that comparisons to the comedy duo Garfunkel and Oates are inevitable. Madeline Wilson and Lizzie Kaneicki do seem to have the same schtick, sharing the stage – Wilson with ukulele, Kaneicki with guitar – and perform hilarious songs about life and relationships, but does that other pair of funny women present their shared love of crochet, and literally get tied to and tangled up in their hobby as the show progresses? Afraid not, so “Fret Knot.”

No copycats here – Wilson (originally from Phoenix, according to Facebook) and Kaneicki (from West Virginia) joined forces in Chicago, and with friends perform comedy with music biweekly as “Hahaha Lalala”,* so they are quite capable of bringing the funny as their own entertaining act.

Taking them on their own terms – funny bits, singly or together, about odd taco runs, upset housecats, and all – includes some poetry and storytelling, engaging a range of both emotion and talent. We get the downside of summer birthdays, the peril of intrusive thoughts, and the comforting power of mathematics.

The yarn metaphor is literally all over the place – don’t get too caught up in it. But it does help give the show a “something different” Fringe-y vibe, and at one point the audience does help increase their entanglement.

Having blown in from the Windy City for one weekend, you can see and enjoy “Fret Knot” 8:45 p.m. today (as we post this) and 1:45 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 3-4, at the cabaret stage of the District Theatre.

For Chicago performances, they are presently at the Bughouse Theater.

(*Find them on Instagram, Google search has a cacophony of unrelated “ha” and “la”s if you hunt there.)

IndyFringe: Type Cast

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

The show, “Type Cast” by Steve Freeto, tells us it is improvised poetry, poetic improv, stand-up comedy, and maybe music. What it consisted of for me was some fantastic comedy from the special guests.

We started out with a nice performance from James Avery (Your Handsome Neighborhood SpiderJames), who aptly describes himself as looking like Harry Potter got slapped with puberty. His set was a delight and I greatly look forward to hearing more from him in the future.

Our second performer of the evening was Shannon. I didn’t get her last name, but I hope she won’t hate me for that (I do know she masquerades as Marie Antoinette occasionally, but you’ll have to ask her why). She was also a fresh comedic voice whom I also hope to see again soon.

Afterwards, we get to the main three performers of the group doing what they call “Sad White Boy Improv”. This portion of the show had a rotating guest poet from one of the other IndyFringe shows included.

Their goal is to take a suggested word from the audience and have one of them tell a story involving it. The other two members then enact scenes from the story, and the poet creates a poem involving the word. While this sounds typical, they were not prepared for our audience. We were told that traditional silly words were not to be used so we ended up hitting them with words they had to look up online to be able to use (example: petulant). Still, they did their best and the show overall was pretty funny.

Freeto, who studied at Second City in Chicago, is the founder of GoProv of Goshen, Ind. For more information, visit his site, goprov.org.

IndyFringe: Fly Blackbird Fly/Voices We Can’t Unhear

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

“Fly Blackbird Fly/Voices We Can’t Unhear” begins by honoring those who are no longer with us. We then see the four actresses entering as children at play.

The group then comes together, giving us monologues about the physical changes of puberty as well as the rude and threatening attitudes of the boys around them to this change. Physical, mental, sexual, and social abuses are discussed, but also acknowledged as sad a part of growing up.

The ladies of the cast – Dedee Austin, Maya Mays, Rav’n Partee, and Latrice P Young – slide in and out of characters ranging in age from 7 to over 45 throughout the course of the show. They enchant us, persuade us, and challenge us not just to hear them but also to fully see them as the complex creatures they truly are.

The show, which Ms. Latrice defines as a “choreopoem,” is a mixture of poetry, scenes, music, and movement portraying the lives of these four females as they grow up into powerful and proud women. Just know that as you are never too old to see a rainbow, you should not leave this spectacle unseen.

Presented by Ms. Latrice, aka Distinctly Unique, with OnyxFest, performances are 9 p.m. Friday and 1:45 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 26-27; and 5:15 p.m. Saturday and 7 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 3-4, at the IndyFringe Theatre, 719 E. St. Clair.

Let’s go to ‘Bed’

By John Lyle Belden

“Bed Play,” by Shar Steiman, presented by Stagequest Indy, and directed by Ty Stover at the District Theatre, is a unique theatrical experience. But it also resonates with something universal in all of us.

To sum it up, I think of it as a Queer Epic Love Poem. I must give one caveat: mature language and content. There are an amazing number of ways to rhyme “uck” and other provocative words. So, consider it a hard “R” in movie terms. But, as one actor recently posted in social media, to simply say “it’s not for everyone” sells it short and gives an unduly negative impression. There is no nudity, aside from some glimpses of bum, and no sim-sex, as this show is not meant to shock, but to stimulate dialogue.

For 99 percent of romantic media, even in today’s accepting atmosphere, it is all cis-het boy meets cis-het girl. But if you truly feel that “love is love,” then celebrate in this performance when gay meets gay or trans meets trans.

We have four characters, played by Steiman, Lukas Schooler, Meghan Dinah, and Case Jacobus. Their personal relationship journeys go from hook-ups to partnerships. Four paths become two, but the lines cross, and each person has to reassess. At the center of it all is the one constant – the bed. Occupying center stage, it steadfastly supports our lovers as they flirt or fight, or just snuggle in each other’s warmth.

Steiman’s script is crazy amazing, the lyrics blazing, the same as I’m simulating in this stimulating paragraph, getting a laugh from the poets who know it takes real skill to fulfil this mission, done in the tradition of hip-hop and slam, constant rhymes in command, flow like Lin-Manuel Miranda, with uncensored, unfiltered expression, the impressions of confessions of love and sincereness and (actual quote) “the power of Queerness.”

Seriously, the versatile verses are a marvel unto themselves, as intriguing and probing as the relationships, and kept up throughout. At moments it is comparable to Eminem or Miranda, or even Shakespeare’s sonnets, but better to just say it’s Steiman’s brave genius at work. The co-stars give of themselves freely, taking on the words as though they composed them, and portraying honest affection, whether lusty, friendly, or feeling betrayed. The easy, natural manner in which they interact is also a credit to Intimacy Director Claire Wilcher (a local acting legend, recently trained and educated to aid in this manner).

Note the online program lists Ash Addams and Kelsey Van Voorst as alternate cast members.

Unless you really can’t deal with adults getting touchy-feely, accept the challenge of experiencing this unique “Bed Play,” through Sunday (July 8-10) at the District Theatre, 627 Massachusetts Ave., Indianapolis. Get tickets at Indydistricttheatre.org.

Monument presents classic commentary on racial tension

By John Lyle Belden

“Dutchman,” presented by Monument Theatre Company, is a play, but it feels like a poem. It is a verse that surrounds you, confronts you in the intimate staging at Indy Convergence. 

On a subway train, in which the audience find ourselves to be passengers, traveling in New York City towards New Jersey, a handsome young black man, Clay (Jamaal McCray), sits reading. A beautiful young white woman, Lula (Dani Gibbs) enters, eating an apple. Is she Eve, the Serpent, or both? 

The monologues and conversation between them roll out like verse, dense with meaning. She teases, both in the sexual and bullying sense of the word. They move together and against one another — a dance rich with subtext. But, what is more shocking: the moments of violence, or the fact that she keeps saying n****r with impunity?

The play by Amiri Baraka is set in the year it was first presented, 1964, but could happen today, with passengers capturing it all on phones. Her short, slinky dress is a hot retro style; his buttoned suit still the best armor to reassure the whites around him that he is “civilized,” that his black life matters. And the tense banter would still apply — even with 56 years of “progress.”

Under the direction of Shawn Whitsell, Gibbs and McCray deliver Baraka’s words with cutting precision. We feel this play as we observe it, as the fascinating drama plays out in one intense hour. Dont’a Stark completes the cast in a quick but essential role.

Remaining performances are Friday through Sunday, Feb. 21-23, at 2611 W. Michigan. Get info and tickets at monumenttheatrecompany.com.

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. 

Fonseca presents a new song of old pain

By John Lyle Belden

Director Bryan Fonseca plays “The Ballad of Klook and Vinette” — a musical by Che Walker, Anoushka Lucas and Omar Lyefook — with Dwuan Watson and Lekesha Lorene as his very talented instruments, accompanied by music director Tim Brickley on bass and the chiming electric piano of Jon Strombaugh.

Even when they’re not singing, the words flow like poetry, like Langston Hughes or Gil Scott-Heron as soul diva. This verse is proclaimed by Klook (Watson), who has in a life long-lived by street standards played beyond the third strike and fears “I am unlikely to live another day,” and much younger old-soul Vinette (Lorene) who sees “a man dragging disaster around by the tail” and loves him anyway.

She has a past herself — “Taking a mask off can burn if you do it too fast,” she warns — and a desire to write stories. But “we don’t tell stories; stories, they tell us,” Klook sings. Past mistakes and injustices confound the desire to change for the better, then collide with the taint of white privilege and male entitlement, making this a tragic ballad. But there are notes of hope here.

There is mature language, and mature sentiments. Just as they make love by blending the senses, this is a song to see, a dance to hear. Experience it with Fonseca Theatre Company at Indy Convergence, 2611 W. Michigan Ave., through Feb. 17. Get info and tickets at fonsecatheatre.org.

 

‘Cabaret Poe’ returns with new site, fresh look and familiar chills

By John L. Belden and Wendy Carson

Quoth Wendy:

You always know that Halloween is approaching when Q Artistry launches its annual production of “Cabaret Poe.” This is not to disparage the show in any way – even after almost 10 years of shows, the audiences are still enthralled by it. In fact, a patron behind me was proudly seeing the show for the sixth time and still loved it just as much as the first.

This year’s show does mark another change of venue, this time in a small alcove on the fourth floor of Circle Centre Mall (in the heart of downtown Indy). Upon first entering the space, it seems very cramped and awkward. However, the company has turned this on its ear with inventive staging.

No longer do cast members leave the stage when not actively performing; instead they seat themselves throughout the crowd and become part of the audience, observing the spectacle themselves. By utilizing the whole space as their stage, and with the addition of projection screens, they assure that there is not a bad seat in the house.

I was also quite impressed by the unique lighting effects utilized by designer Brent Wunderlich. From innovatively turning their black and grey hues to purples, to bathing the audience in a rainbow of colors during “Masque of the Red Death.”

Quoth John:

Oops, sorry Ben!  — Show creator Ben Asaykwee likes keeping it a surprise which of Edgar Allan Poe’s stories and poems he has adapted for the evening’s Cabaret, and in which order. But it won’t give too much away to say that some pieces can be expected to appear, like the one about a heart that tells tales, or the quest for a rare cask of Spanish wine, or a certain obnoxious black bird…

Asaykwee presents it all with his catchy inventive songs, infused with dark humor, such as “Buried Alive,” “Dark (The Pit and the Pendulum),” and the recurring title theme. He also stars as one of three performer/narrators, the smugly sour Zoilus. His accomplices are two women, Morella and Berenice. On opening night, they were played by Julie Lyn Barber, a Cabaret Poe player since its first year, and Georgeanna Smith Wade, a first-timer in this revue, but no stranger to the strange as a major player in the NoExit troupe. Some performances feature Q Artistry veterans Renae Stone and Jaddy Ciucci in the ladies’ roles. In addition, a ghostly dancing shadow is perfectly silently executed by Rebekah Taylor – she even gets a solo scene.

The lighting effects, projections, and shadow puppetry are new for this year, fitting seamlessly into the narratives and reducing the need for physical props. But then, the players do have us, the audience, to play with.

Quoth Wendy:

With the changes made, this was my favorite version of the show. “Cabaret” implies an intimacy different from other kinds of productions, and this presented it more effectively that in past shows.

Concludeth John:

So, it’s both old and new, familiar and surprising – like a 21st-century musical based on a nineteenth century writer. Performances run through Oct. 29. Get info and tickets at qartistry.org.

OnyxFest: New voices bring truth, drama and song

OnyxFest takes the stages of the IndyFringe Theatre this weekend and May 19-20. The festival is devoted to the stories of African-American playwrights.

According to the festival press release: A recent survey reveals the number of productions written by African Americans in a single year is as low as five percent. IndyFringe recognizes this lack of diversity and seeks to change the landscape of local theatre by bringing together storytellers, actors and audiences in its two theatres. OnyxFest is determined to be the vehicle to expose theatre-goers to the voices and talent of new and emerging black playwrights.

The four plays selected for this year’s OnyxFest are:

“The Quilting” by Mijiza Holiday of Indianapolis, an autobiographical play that depicts the abuse the playwright’s mother endured and how her strength had the ability to heal.

“Black Lives Matter (Too)” by Angela Jackson-Brown and Ashya Thomas of Muncie, one part play and one part story poem that explores the struggles and triumphs of black people from slavery to the present.

“Truth – The One Man Show” by Ryan Bennett of Indianapolis, the culmination of 152 years of truth coming from the souls of four individuals: Silas Christian, a runaway slave; Harley Wallace, a Ku Klux Klan member; Malik Muhammad, a civil rights activist and Jackson Thomas, a misguided young man, all of whom are fighting for their families.

“The Wedding Bells: A Musical about Tying the Knot” with book and lyrics by Nicole Kearney of Indianapolis, music by Warren Lankford. Bride-to-be Etta receives an unexpected visit from her ex-husband as she prepares for her wedding. As she and her bridesmaids try to deal with him without telling the groom, chaos ensues. Will her past ruin her future?

IndyFringe is located 719 E. St. Clair St. (just east of St. Clair/College/Mass Ave. intersection) and online at www.indyfringe.org.

The Farce is strong with this one

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

Today’s political climate has much that is ripe for ridicule, especially Indiana’s present chief executive, who could become America’s Number Two. And if the thought of Gov. Pence as “number two” has you giggling, have I got a theatrical experience for you.

Khaos Company Theatre presents its second play in the “Pence Wars” series, “Mike Pence Strikes Back,” a Star Wars-themed parody in which Indiana Emperor Pence finds himself losing the election for governor of the Hoosier Planet – every ultraconservative ploy to gain favor with the masses seems to backfire. But an unexpected shot at being Vice President of the Galaxy changes everything.

You don’t have to have seen the first play, August’s “Attack of the Homos,” to get into the flow of this one. The story is presented as a play by director Kaylee Spivey Good, with additional scenes by Robert Broemel and Ed Ramthun, and interludes of poetry by Cher Guevara (a/k/a Eagle contributor Walter Beck).

David Malloy is entertaining as Pence, giving the state’s Dark Lord a dastardly cartoon villain voice and posture. Guevara is impressive as Donald Trump – especially as the actor looks nothing like him – but with big hair, big suit and big, boorish attitude, he pulls it off. The supporting cast of Michael Maloney, Lauren McDaniel, Bridget Isakson (who plays Tolkein’s elf Arwen, because, why not?), Heather Bartram, Chloe Farhar, and even Good for a scene, all make multiple contributions to this farce.

The trick to enjoying the show is to keep your expectations as low as your opinion of Trump and Pence, and just go with whatever is happening. Pence Wars has the style and humor of SNL or MadTV with the special effects of a kid’s birthday party. Yet while situations get a tad immature, the content is not for children.

While the scenes are played for laughs, the recited verse is serious and thought-provoking, reminding us that this is the future of our state and country we’re joking about here.

There are just two more dates for this chapter, 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday – note that Friday is pay-what-you-can admission – and the trilogy’s conclusion, “Election 2016, A New Hope,” is scheduled for Oct. 7,8, 14 and 15. For information and tickets, see www.kctindy.com.

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