IndyFringe: The Last Man

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 www.IndyFringe.org.

By John Lyle Belden

This sci-fi drama starts out strong, taking us down a path of eerie possibilities. 

Colin (Craig Kemp) runs into The Party Shop at a local mall, where the cheerful clerk, Delta (Caity Withers) hardly notices that his clothes are torn and he is stained with blood and grime. He insists on having some of the water and snacks from the shop, but, “Sorry sir, that’s for customers, only,” she smiles. So he says he wants to plan a party, Christmas in August, and he tells her a story of advances in Artificial Intelligence and Nanotechnology. And how in the 22nd century, out of nostalgia people built shopping malls that echoed the 20th century. And how there were AI “people” that were so convincing, not even they could recognize they weren’t human.

“That’s silly,” Delta says with a perfectly happy and helpful face.

Back in the 21st century, Erica (Alfton Shepard), a Professor of Advanced Nanotechnology, has recruited a couple of promising students, Charlie (Claire Shutters) and Bill (Manny Casillas) to help her with her next breakthrough. First, she is in need of emergency heart-valve surgery, and Dr. Toowan (Steve Jerk) assures her that the odds of failure are extremely low — but a phone message from the future is insisting she not go through with it, and that the fate of the world is at stake!

Local doctor and author L. Jan Eira panned this little thriller, which features some tech that is only a couple of breakthroughs away, and even temporal tinkering that acknowledges “time travel” has its limits. Hardcore sci-fi fans may recognize the plot beats, but it is kinda fun to play “spot the replicant.”

The acting is great, but this script really needed two full acts to explore its potential. The dynamite opening scene is followed by some good ones; then a rushed climax to a chunk of closing exposition. But it’s an interesting story nonetheless. Don’t let its weakness stop you; Fringe tickets are inexpensive, and you can say you saw it first when this story gets a bigger, better treatment — later in the 21st century.

Performances are today and Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday (Aug. 21-22 & 24-25), by the Indiana Firefighters Museum at 748 Massachusetts Ave.

Soured friendship flavors ‘Suite’ farce

By John Lyle Belden

A Hollywood star-studded 1940s benefit for the war effort is the backdrop of the comedy “Suite Surrender,” on stage through Feb. 26 at Carmel Community Players.

Claudia McFadden (Georgeanna Teipen) headlines the big show at the Palm Beach Royale Hotel, but her former friend and hated rival, Athena Sinclair (Jill O’Malia) is on the bill as well. Fortunately, hotel manager Mr. Dunlap (Sydney Loomis) has them booked in suites on opposite sides of the building. Unfortunately, they both feel entitled to the Presidential Suite, and make themselves at home in its east and west bedrooms.

It is up to Dunlap, Claudia’s assistant Pippet (Thom Johnson) and Athena’s assistant Murphy (Addison D. Ahrendts) to keep the divas from even seeing one another, lest the sparks fly hotter than the fires started by rowdy shore-leave sailors in the downstairs lobby. Caught in the middle are hapless bellhops Otis (Colton Martin) and Francis (Steve Jerk), local socialite and event organizer Mrs. Osgood (Kate Hinman), and nosy journalist Dora Del Rio (Marjorie Worell).

Naturally, this all results in one hilarious farce, with goofy misunderstandings, frantic wild takes and lots of well-timed physical humor. Loomis is a master of manic mannerisms. Johnson’s minion-under-pressure shtick works perfectly. Teipen and O’Malia practically purr in their cattiness. Worell is literally whacked like a tennis ball to great effect. Hinmon hits the right comic notes, but don’t let her sing. Martin and Jerk recall the great pratfalling comics of the era. Ahrendts adds a touch of romance while getting in a few funny moments herself. And the biggest trooper of them all is little dog Sergio as Claudia’s Mr. Boodles.

As the hijinks work their way to the inevitable happy ending, watch for the twist, with its bit of wry commentary on show business.

Find CCP at 14299 Clay Terrace Boulevard, north of downtown Carmel. Call 317-815-9387 or visit carmelplayers.org.

John L. Belden is also Associate Editor and A&E editor of The Eagle (formerly The Word), the Indianapolis-based Midwest LGBTQ news source, which has a brief version of this and other theatre reviews.

Review: Buck Creek’s ‘Garland’ charms

By John Lyle Belden

NOTE: Review also appears online with The Word (www.theygayword.com).

“Hi, I’m Judy Garland, Liza Minnelli’s mother.”

BCP Garland
Georgeanna Teipen as Judy Garland in “The Property Known as Garland” at Buck Creek Players through Sunday (BCP photo)

This is how the star, occupying the body of Georgeanna Teipen at Indy’s Buck Creek Playhouse, introduces herself to Ed (Steve Jerk) in the dressing room of Copenhagen’s Falconer Centre as they await what would be her final public concert, March 25, 1969. She then sends Ed on a fool’s errand so that she can be alone for the next hour to talk to us – across space, time and the fourth wall – about her life.

“The Property Known as Garland” was crafted by Billy Van Zandt from Garland’s actual words in interviews and dictations for a never-published memoir. Director D. Scott Robinson said a minimum of dramatic license was employed in the script. While he can’t say Judy’s stories were all true, because “she was a story-teller,” he said. “What you hear is what she actually said.” Robinson added that most aspects of her narrative, including her scandalous first pregnancy, are independently verifiable.

Robinson also said that while he was thrilled to get the rights to this show, he wouldn’t do it without Teipen as Garland. Fortunately, she was quick to say yes, he said. And indeed, from the short dark wig to the sassy attitude that sways from playful and wistful to maudlin and angry, she does – for 90 minutes, no intermission – become Judy Garland.

I must note that for those who are either eager for or cringing at the thought of her belting out full renditions of “Zing! Went the Strings of My Heart” or “Over the Rainbow,” it won’t happen. Teipen is spared inevitable comparisons to the legendary voice, as Judy saves it for her Danish audience.

Still, to hear her story, from little Frances Gumm and her sisters in vaudeville, through her time with MGM and Oz (including backlot Munchkin tales), up through her more recent triumphs (Oscar-nominated for “A Star is Born”) and trials (getting booed off the stage in Australia), is fascinating enough without song breaks. And in Teipen’s performance, we feel those highs and lows with her.

She touches on her appeal to LGBT audiences, including encounters with drag impersonators.

There is also a touch of irony, as she remarks on how each of her peers and rivals are “drunks” while waving her ever-refilling glass of Blue Nun dismissively. She has no problem with it, she says, except for having to switch from wine after being told, after liver surgery, that she could no longer consume hard liquor. And she laments how Marilyn Monroe was careless enough to overdose on pills, just months before she would die from a day of constant consumption of barbiturates.

There is just one weekend of performances left before the Garland glamour leaves us again. Find Buck Creek Players at 11150 Southeastern Ave., Acton Road exit off I-74; call 317-862-2270 or see www.buckcreekplayers.com.