Constellation: Demands of faith and fame come ‘Fast’

By Wendy Carson

Last week, as I was looking over my work calendar I noticed that Ramadan began. Not being Muslim, I was only vaguely aware of what this meant to the sports world as a whole or the NCAA basketball tournaments specifically. In “American Fast,” on stage in Bloomington, playwright Kareem Fahmy brings us the story of a brilliant young player who has to deal with the ins and outs of this juxtaposition.

This is the tale of Khady (Victoria Nassif), the star player on her college team and a key reason that they have made the NCAA Women’s Tournament. Her Coach (TayLar) feels that while she is an amazing talent, she doesn’t acknowledge the rest of the team’s contributions because she is entirely focused on herself. Boyfriend Gabe (Austin Michael Young), a star on the men’s team, tries to support her but she is so self-obsessed that his will is about to break. Then there is Khady’s mother, Suzan (Haneen Arafat Murphy), who became more devoted to her faith in the past year and insists that Ramadan fasting happen regardless of the tournament.

NOTE: for those not familiar with Ramadan, followers are not to have any food or drink (including water) during the daylight hours of the month-long celebration.

Nassif brings a passionate drive to Khady, showing the struggles of a young woman trying to find herself in life without alienating everyone around her. She gives the character actual flaws and edges just as any college-aged girl would have, yet manages to keep her identifiable if not sympathetic.

Murphy gives Suzan a fiercely protective mama-bear vibe while still keeping herself oblivious to exactly how far her daughter has strayed from her hardline faith. Murphy is able to keep Suzan loving and identifiable without the overbearing bent the character could have.

TayLar gives Coach all the qualities that the position demands. She is fair but just, inspiring but realistic, and just distant enough to allow Khady to stand or fall on her own terms yet compassionate enough to support her when she does.

Young shows Gabe as a true friend, yet becoming tired of being used both as Khady’s personal cheerleader and figurative punching bag. He brings great love and devotion to his role but also the strength to stand up for himself and find his own self-worth.

Director Reena Dutt gives us a new story to help us to gain more knowledge of other religious traditions. The fact that it centers around basketball can aid in Hoosiers’ ability to better identify with the story. Dutt keeps the narrative honest especially in a story that is all about the true costs of winning.

I must note that, going in, I had no idea what the show was about or why it had such an odd title. But “fast” has many meanings – speed, like the play of our young point guard; holding tightly to something; doing without, especially to show devotion. All these come into play during this unique drama. So don’t let the odd title dissuade you from experiencing this tale, a beautiful peek into a different side of people’s “hoop dreams.”

Presented by Constellation Stage & Screen, performances run through April 8 at the Ted Jones Playhouse (formerly home of Bloomington Playwrights Project, now part of Constellation), 107 W. 9th St. Get info and tickets at

Coach forced to grapple with past in new drama

By Wendy Carson

Is it possible to redeem a bully and show him the devastating impact he had on others? This question is at the heart of Bennett Ayres’ new play, “Lanista,” brought to you by Catalyst Repertory, directed by Zachariah Stonerock.

First of all, I would like to say that I adore this show. I have not instantly fallen in love with a script like this since I first saw the Phoenix’s production of “The Pillowman.” I honestly can’t help but tell you that you MUST see this show. It is touching, infuriating, yet also cathartic to behold. 

The title of the piece comes from the ancient Roman term meaning a trainer of gladiators. This is how Coach Bill Harrison (Mark Goetzinger) sees himself. He is a molder of high school wrestling champions, a legend throughout the state for his impressive record. However, one of his past students, Joel Beemer (Jamaal McCray) has become his elder-care provider, and is taking the opportunity to show this man just how much he damaged the psyches of his athletes. 

Beemer begins by subtly making Harrison’s family think he is becoming more and more senile. He then begins to subject Coach to the rigors of training, as well as verbal abuse, that he inflicted upon his students. When Harrison tells his daughter Kim (Michelle Wafford) about these occurrences, she sees his stories as further proof of dementia, and besides, this is the first caregiver Coach hasn’t run off. At one point, Beemer feels he may have gone too far, but as the teenager Anna (Olivia Mayer) he regularly visits in Juvenile Detention tells him: When you go for a bully, you have to give them all you’ve got. 

Goetzinger is sheer perfection as the stoic Coach who sees nothing wrong with the way he treated his players – he was just doing his job. McCray shows us every bit of his range as the “caregiver” who appears to be carrying out vengeance on the man partially responsible for the mess his life is today, but don’t forget, Beemer also worked as a teacher. Wafford ably portrays the daughter who has more than enough on her plate, glad to let another handle her dad’s situation. Adam Crowe has a charming cameo as a police officer honored to meet the legendary Coach whose students he once wrestled against. Recent Ball State grad Mayer does an excellent job as the enigmatic bad girl who is in juvie for taking part in a car theft, and has no desire to change her ways. 

Will the former wrestler show the Coach that he was not who he thought he was all these years? Will he realize his methods produced champions but destroyed lives? How does Anna fit into all this? See the show to find out; performances of this World Premiere run Thursday through Sunday (July 7-10) at the IndyFringe Theatre, 719 E. St. Clair, Indianapolis. Get tickets at

IndyFringe: VolleyBrawl

This show is part of the 15th Annual Indianapolis Theatre Fringe Festival, a/k/a IndyFringe, Aug. 15-25, 2019 on Mass Ave downtown. Info, etc., at

By Wendy Carson

Welcome to the 2019 Championships of the extremely underground sport of VolleyBrawl.

This year’s lineup is sure to be thrilling and we begin with a rousing match between “Sugar and Spike” (a pair of lunch ladies) and “Clark & Nancy” a couple who seem out of their league as well as out of their wits. While the game seems pretty routine at first, we find out soon that this is literally a duel to the death (all players wear collars that deliver a lethal shock upon losing).

We then meet some of our other teams: “Orphan Twin Force” (a goofy pair of orphans with strange supernatural powers fighting in honor of their Sensei); “Aceholes” (two stereotypically cartoonish Russians); “The Cowpokes” (a couple of yokels in Cowboy hats); “Team Tiffany” (think 80’s style pop-tarts); and “Top Gunz” (every 80’s macho movie cliché in one).

Add to this “Zeros 2 Heroes” which is made up of a very douchey guy trying to make time with his partner (who is definitely NOT an undercover cop who has spent the last three years infiltrating the sport in order to avenge her dead husband who was also undercover investigating the game but got to close and was killed).

The whole show overflows with silliness and 80’s references abound. Musical numbers are tight and enjoyable. Even the volleyball gets its own song during the Memorial Montage to athletes lost on the way to the finals.

In the hands of a less skillful cast, this show would be just okay. However, Matt Kramer and Defiance Comedy have recruited a stellar cast and together they make this one of the funniest offerings of the Festival.

Remaining performances are Friday and Sunday evenings at the IndyFringe Theater, 719 E. St. Clair.