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. 

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‘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, observering of 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 Gerogeanna 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.

IndyFringe: A Darkly Humorous Evening with Stephen Vincent Giles

By Wendy Carson

I know we’ve all heard “The Raven,” and it’s hard to imagine anyone in Indiana not being familiar with “Little Orphant Annie” or the poems of Edward Gorey. However, most people have never really seen them fully enacted in the masterful was that Stephen Vincent Giles presents.

He skillfully interprets these works as well as many others, into a night of slightly spooky fun. Much like the ghost tales spun around a campfire, Giles keeps the lighting low and lulls you into a sense of wonderful whimsy just before shocking you with a scare. Utilizing minimal costumes and props he cleverly portrays the tellers of many of these tales in a wonderfully enigmatic light.

While none of the material presented is inappropriate for children, younger or more sensitive souls might be wary. Still, if aren’t afraid of the dark, have someone’s hand to hold when you get nervous, and like your humor on the darker side, this show is definitely for you.

Last performance is 3 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 27, at the Phoenix underground. Info and tickets at indyfringefestival.com.

IndyFringe: Silken Veils

By John Lyle Belden

Like others of my generation and older, I remember seeing the Iranian revolution of 1979 in news reports on television. The taking of hostages at the American Embassy by the revolutionaries overshadowed for us any other thoughts of how the events affected others.

Today we are presented with another point of view, in the multimedia play “Silken Veils.”

In modern America (the 1990s, judging by the ages of the characters) a bride flees the altar and hides in her changing room. Afraid she will become like her parents, she must confront her conflicted feelings towards them — a father who stood against the Shah only to help bring another oppressive regime to power, the mother who responded to rejection by loving her husband anyway — and the memory of her brother’s horrific death.

The telling of the intertwined stories incorporates live actors, flashbacks, Rumi poetry, shadow puppetry, marionettes and animation. The Pantea Productions players flow these elements perfectly into one another for a unified performance that will touch your heart, and remind you that while those captured Americans were able to end their ordeal, for some who called Persia home, the pain continues.

From my experience of more than a dozen IndyFringe shows this year, I’m declaring “Silken Veils” the best show of the Fringe — a high bar, considering other performances. Judge for yourself at the final performance 10:30 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 27, on the main stage of the Phoenix Theatre. Info and tickets at indyfringefestival.com.

Bard and Poe

This weekend, get some Shakespeare at Bard Fest in Carmel. The productions include “Timon of Athens” by Casey Ross Productions, comedy “As You Like It” by First Folio and the tragedy of “Othello” by Garfield Shakespeare Company. Get details on the Carmel Theater Company website.

Meanwhile in downtown Indy, Q Artistry‘s “Cabaret Poe” opens at Theatre on the Square on Mass Ave. Since this is the first time for the show away from the usual Irvington digs, there will be a few changes — besides, creator (aside from EAP) Ben Asaykwee likes to keep it fresh. This fall treat runs through Halloween (of course).

We will do our best to keep this site going, but it must be noted that John now has another job, as Associate Editor of The Word. He will also be contributing arts news and reviews to the monthly paper and its website.

Happy October, everyone!