At the District: Travel from Waukegan to Mars on a bicycle

By John Lyle Belden

When one has access to an age-altering carousel, why let a little thing like death stop you? After all, Mr. Electrico told him he would “Live forever!”

To understand what I mean by this, see the Midwest premiere of “Ray Bradbury Live (Forever)” at The District Theater, presented by IndyFringe – in just two more performances, today and tomorrow (May 4-5), before continuing its national tour.

Bradbury wheels onto the stage, played by lifelong fan and Emmy-winning actor Bill Oberst Jr. He then removes a tarp from a lecture stand, places it on his bicycle, and proceeds to talk to us about his life, career and feelings on topics such as writing and the importance of libraries. We get a glimpse of his growing up in Waukegan, Ill. (“it’s not ugly to a child”), and Los Angeles (near Hollywood, which he often visited). We even meet his charming wife, Maggie (played locally by Jenni White).

The “science fiction writer who never drove a car” also engages us with mesmerizing dramatic excerpts from “A Sound of Thunder” (from whence we get the term “butterfly effect”), “Something Wicked This Way Comes,” and “The Martian Chronicles.” Oberst’s skill makes Bradbury’s words come alive, helping us feel the greatness imbedded in these stories, and what they say about being human and the human desire to mess with forces they barely understand.

In fact, Oberst crafted the entire show from the words of Ray Bradbury — from his texts, to letters and interviews. The script was vetted by the Ray Bradbury Estate, as well as Dr. Jonathan Eller, Director of IUPUI’s Center For Ray Bradbury Studies, who attended the opening performance. We hear such nuggets as, “I don’t predict the future, I try to prevent it;” “I write fantasy because I believe in fantasy;” and from a poem: “Give book, Give smile.”

Oberst said after the show that he tried for years to get friends who more resembled Bradbury to portray him on stage before finally deciding to take on the role himself. Wearing a comfortable suit, appropriate hairstyle, trademark black-frame glasses, and a friendly and enthusiastic demeanor, he does just fine. Behind the sparse stage is a large screen that shows facts and trivia about Bradbury prior to the show (come early, none of the slides repeat), and supporting scenes and illustrations during the performance. Note there are some strobe-effects during the telling of “Sound of Thunder.”

This excellent premiere – first performances since opening in Los Angeles – came about in part with the help of IndyFringe CEO Pauline Moffatt, who said she saw Oberst in a previous Fringe and encouraged him to return, aided by the perfect synergy with the Bradbury Center here in Indianapolis.

For devoted fans, casual fans, or anyone interested in discovering this American literary master, you have two more chances in Indy: 8 p.m. today and 4 p.m. Sunday at The District (former location of Theatre on the Square), 627 Massachusetts Ave. downtown. Call 317-308-9800 or visit IndyDistrictTheatre.org or IndyFringe.org.

For those who can’t make it, or are reading this on or after May 6, find info and future performances at raybradburyliveforever.com.

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Review: Online life taken to disturbing depths

By John Lyle Belden

In the near-future, the Internet evolves into the Nether, where people log on immersively to work, go to school and be entertained. Some never leave. This world is explored in a disturbing new drama, “The Nether,” playing through Nov. 22 at the Phoenix Theatre, 749 N. Park Ave. in downtown Indianapolis.

A detective (Sarah McGee) investigates “Papa” (Bill Simmons), who has developed, within the Nether, the Hideaway, where residents can indulge the most depraved of urges – but if it’s virtual and all participants are adults, what’s the harm? When desires that are dangerous in the real world are fulfilled to your five senses, even if no one is physically hurt, does it still chip away at something within you?

Deep, uneasy questions are explored, confronting the dark possibilities of our online culture. Sure, in the bright and happy musical “Avenue Q” we sing that “The Internet is for Porn,” but when Papa says it in a firm voice of affirmation, it no longer seems so amusing.

The impressive set splits the stage between the cold sterile interrogation room and a beautiful Victorian parlor within the Hideaway. The lush virtual world is in contrast to the ruined outside world hinted at in conversation — with references to an environment with few trees and little natural beauty remaining — a world it would make sense one would want to escape, maybe even permanently.

Rich Rand plays a Hideaway user, and Paeton Chavis and Scot Greenwell portray Nether avatars; they, Simmons and McGee all give compelling performances. Unless easily offended or triggered, mature audiences should welcome the challenge of this play. Info and tickets at 317-635-7529 or phoenixtheatre.org.

Pop goes the weekend

Edward James Olmos as Admiral Adama on the 2004-09 version of
Edward James Olmos as Admiral Adama on the 2004-09 version of “Battlestar Galactica.” Meme from some joker on the internet, photo from NBC/Universal

All the geeky aspects of pop culture go on display at Indy PopCon, Friday through Sunday at the Indiana Convention Center in downtown Indianapolis. This critical mass of gaming, internet culture, comics, costumes, TV, movies, anime, fantasy and sci-fi features celebrity guests including Edward James Olmos (“Battlestar Galactica”), Sam Jones (“Flash Gordon”), John DeLancie (“Star Trek”), Malcolm Goodwin (“iZombie”), Sophie Henderson (“Doctor Who”), “Face Off” winner Rashaad Santiago and former WWE star Chris Masters.

This is neither the only big thing downtown nor the only convention in town. A few blocks away, at Military Park, just north of the Eiteljorg Museum, is the Eiteljorg’s annual Indian Market and Festival, celebrating Native American art and culture 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. There is also a more expensive pre-party on Friday, see website for details.

As for the other con, out at the Wyndham Indianapolis West, horror extravaganza Days of the Dead returns with appearances by Tobin Bell of the “Saw” movie series, wrestling legend Rick Flair, “Phantasm” star Angus Scrimm, “Tales From the Crypt”s John Kassir, the now-grown-up twins from “The Shining,” and legendary hosts Joe Bob Briggs and Indy’s own Sammy Terry – as well as numerous other slasher and suspense stars, makeup effects artists and more.

As for fresh theatre, there is a lot of buzz around the premiere of Gregory Hancock Dance Theatre‘s “La Caza Azul,” based on the life of artist Frida Kahlo. It will be on stage just this weekend, Friday through Sunday at the Tarkington theater in The Center for the Performing Arts in downtown Carmel.

Looking ahead, we must note that, in addition to next week featuring the Fourth of July (and the arrival of the Rolling Stones at IMS – are the Brits upstaging our holiday?) there will also be another home-grown sci-fi convention, the 35th InConJunction July 3-5 at the Indianapolis Marriott East – where John&Wendy are among the convention volunteers.

– Go have some fun!