IndyFringe: Oh Look, It’s Magic!

This is part of IndyFringe 2022, Aug. 18-Sept. 4 (individual performance times vary) in downtown Indianapolis. Details and tickets at

By John Lyle Belden

Jordan Allen has been an awesome presence at this year’s IndyFringe. The magician has been around the festival all three weekends, doing a little bit of busking, and a lot of attending and talking up other performers’ shows. So, it’s only fair we say a bit about his own performance, which ran the third weekend (Sept. 1-3) at the main-floor stage at the Athenaeum.

“Oh Look, It’s Magic: ADHD Advocacy Show” combines a lot of clever tricks with an honest first-person account of growing up – and living with – Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder, which is a real disability, and not something one grows out of (“I wish,” Allen adds). He notes that aside from Houdini’s maxim that magic not only amuses and amazes, but also awakens hope, he feels it can also educate and advocate.

In that vein, Allen maintains a show that is family friendly, and accommodating to all neural patterns. He patiently grins through impulsive outbursts, and gives the neurodivergent their own moments of wonder – as well as to audience members of any brain, even silly folk like me.

It’s cards, ropes, scarves, stories, balls, cups, hope, ripped paper, flashes of color, moments of comedy, and a kind reminder that none of us are alone, if we’re open to life’s magic. And it’s a work in progress, so watch for its next return by following “Jordan Allen – Magician” on Facebook or visiting

IndyFringe: Fret Knot

This is part of IndyFringe 2022, Aug. 18-Sept. 4 (individual performance times vary) in downtown Indianapolis. Details and tickets at

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: 90 Lies an Hour

This is part of IndyFringe 2022, Aug. 18-Sept. 4 (individual performance times vary) in downtown Indianapolis. Details and tickets at

By John Lyle Belden

Humorist, musician, and storyteller Paul Strickland brings us to the Big Fib Trailer Park Cul-de-sac, home of Aunt True and Uncle False, for four stories and a song.

We learn how the couple met, at the car that only ran on cuss-words. Also, when Strickland was asked to write a eulogy for a man whom he had never met, and the trailer-park residents didn’t really like.

Then there was when the living-room toilet wasn’t as unusual as what was going on outside.

So, feel free to open up the box of “one-abouts” and enjoy some tall tales that stretch the imagination as well as the funny bone, and put spring pigs in flight. We also hear the sweet tune in which Uncle False tells Aunt True “there’s so much ‘us’ left to do.”

Strickland was a hit at past IndyFringes, and will no doubt fill the Indy Eleven room of the IndyFringe Theatre as everyone learns he’s back with some wonderful wonder-full stories to tell, for all ages.  Performances are 5:15 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 28 (today as we post this), as well as 5:30 p.m. Friday and 3:30 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 2-3.

IndyFringe: The Session

This is part of IndyFringe 2022, Aug. 18-Sept. 4 (individual performance times vary) in downtown Indianapolis. Details and tickets at

By John Lyle Belden

Taylor Martin has been involved in every year of IndyFringe, and he keeps up this streak with “Taylor Martin’s Indy Magic presents: THE SESSION.”

The concept is, as he puts it, “four magicians walk into a bar…” Basically, at the District Theatre cabaret stage, it’s like we’re looking in on a corner table of some establishment where the magicians relax while Taylor brings in bags of random objects in CVS bags, which they start to play with, including the famous yard-long drug store receipt. As they can’t help themselves, they also ask anyone else in the room to help with some of the tricks.

Because one of the scheduled performers, “mind reader” Brendon Ware, took off for sunny Spain for a job opportunity (seriously!), there were just three magicians when I attended: Martin, Mastermind Jim Keplinger, and The Amazing Barry. At today’s performance (as we post this), he is joined by Fringe favorite Cody Clark to round out the foursome.

The more laid-back concept allows for a playful approach to magic, including how loose paper and cups can make a quick and easy routine that not only impresses your employer, but also your future wife. Barry gives a famous example of “don’t try this at home,” and Keplinger does a couple of mentalist tricks that Taylor told me later even has him astounded.

If this performance comes to your event, don’t be shy about joining on the fun when asked. (A 10-ish year-old boy from my audience nearly stole the show.) And no matter how many times you’ve seen Taylor manipulate soft foam balls right before your eyes, you’ll still find yourself losing track to everyone’s amusement, including your own.

A little storytelling, a little dazzle, and a few ruined playing cards mark “The Session” which wrapped its IndyFringe run today, but will no doubt convene again. Follow for information.

IndyFringe: Jon Bennett — Fire in the Meth Lab

This is part of IndyFringe 2022, Aug. 18-Sept. 4 (individual performance times vary) in downtown Indianapolis. Details and tickets at

By Wendy Carson

First, I must note, these are true stories, as well as the search for one brother’s connection to the older one he tried so hard to love.

In “Fire in the Meth Lab,” Jon Bennett has come up from his home in Australia to share his stories about his brother’s journey with addiction. We are presented with Tim’s six major addictions throughout his life, varying from pop stars to meth.

While all the above sound like some pretty serious topics to deal with, I can assure you that this is one of the funniest shows I’ve seen at this year’s IndyFringe.

Bennett discusses how he idolized his brother even though Tim took every possible chance he could to bully him. Their main touchstones were fighting, floor ice cream, and watching The Wonder Years. Being the sons of a minister didn’t help their predicament.

What makes this show truly work is Bennett’s storytelling and mining these tales for all of the humor inside them. He genuinely loves his brother, but just can’t get this across to him.

Honestly, this show is so much funnier than it probably should be, given the subject matter. Yet we all have those stories of someone getting somehow intoxicated and craziness ensuing. If nothing else, go see it for the amazing Jason Donovan trivia questions.

Performances are 5:30 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 27 (today, as we post this) as well as 9 p.m. Friday, Sept. 2 and noon Sunday, Sept. 4, on the Indy Eleven stage at the IndyFringe Theatre.

IndyFringe: Leland Loves Bigfoot

This is part of IndyFringe 2022, Aug. 18-Sept. 4 (individual performance times vary) in downtown Indianapolis. Details and tickets at

By John Lyle Belden

Last year, standup comic and Kentucky hippie Stewart Huff asked: Do jokes still work? Well, his do.

In this year’s one-man show, “Leland Loves Bigfoot,” he revisits some of that material, but has a new central anecdote, his night with a stranger waiting for a cryptid to show up.

As he looks for that sweet spot “between chaos and capitalism,” he recommends going to a snake-handling church for entertainment rather than a major theme park. He disagrees with fellow liberals saying we can’t fix what’s wrong with America, “but WILL we fix things?” he shrugs. And he decries insults taking the place of debate, “I dream of the day we have an (actual) argument.”

And he relates his visit to the little town of Mays Lick, Ky. While drinking at the local redneck bar, he is approached by a man who asks if Huff would like to go with him to his farm and look for Bigfoot.

Against his better judgement, he goes.

While they sat outdoors in lawn chairs drinking moonshine, Huff realized, “I love Leland. But I’m afraid of Leland, because he votes.” As they discuss vaccines, Scooby-doo, condemned statues, and nude driving, he maintains a brotherly affection for the man despite not agreeing with anything he says.

And that’s the main point, if there must be a moral to an incredibly funny show, that we can disagree with someone without hating them.

His energetically delivered observations elicited constant laughter and some devious thoughts, such as, “if you see someone in old-time aviator goggles, follow him” because something crazy is about to happen.

“You don’t goggle-up in the planning stages.”

Plan to see Huff at the Athenaeum, 8:45 p.m. Saturday and 3:30 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 27-28.

IndyFringe: Sadec 1965, A Love Story

This is part of IndyFringe 2022, Aug. 18-Sept. 4 (individual performance times vary) in downtown Indianapolis. Details and tickets at

By Wendy Carson 

A brilliant storyteller, Flora Le spins the tale of “Sadec 1965: A Love Story,” her quest to discover her father’s hidden past in Vietnam prior to his arrival in Canada, where he attended college and married her mother.

Le’s relationship with her father was never great. He left the family when she was five. During her bi-weekly forced visitations she was neglected and abused. He refused to tell her anything about him, his family or Vietnam, no matter how much she asked.

This lack of a male touchstone in her life led her to make some poor and questionable choices along the way. However, her friend convinces her that the only way she will truly learn about the man is to visit Vietnam for herself. So, she leaves her soul-sucking job and goes upon a motorcycle tour of the country.

She proudly buys herself a beautiful motorcycle, disregarding the fact that she has never ridden on, let alone driven one. She is excited to see the foreign land, disregarding that she only knows approximately three phrases in Vietnamese. Still, she valiantly forges ahead.

Her discoveries throughout the countryside are interspersed with memories of her father. When he is struck down by a brain tumor, she visits him in the hospital but his treatment of her has not changed since she was a child. In fact, she only learns of her father’s past from interviews of the Vietnamese man her brother hired to sit by her father’s bedside.

Through him she finds out about her father’s first love, whom he left behind. She pledged herself to be faithful and wrote him over six hundred letters during a span of about six years. This devotion makes Le desperate to meet the mysterious woman, but will that connection actually be made?

Le’s story is raw and lovely as she pulls no punches regarding anyone’s faults (especially her own). However, the tapestry she weaves is engaging and beautiful and hopefully there will be another opportunity if you missed viewing it during the opening weekend of IndyFringe.

Flora Le’s story continues on her website, containing photos of those involved as well as some of the letters written. Check it out at

IndyFringe: The Real Black Swan

This is part of IndyFringe 2022, Aug. 18-Sept. 4 (individual performance times vary) in downtown Indianapolis. Details and tickets at

By John Lyle Belden

Popular Fringe storyteller Les Kurkendaal-Barrett returns to bring us “The Real Black Swan: Confessions of America’s First Black Drag Queen.” In the process, he gets in a few confessions of his own.

For most of his life, Les had a Pink Bubble. It’s like the one Glinda the Good Witch rides in on in “The Wizard of Oz.” Only he can see it, but it protects him.

More recently, Les had a lump in his thigh. It turned out to be a tumor, but neither it, nor the growing Black Lives Matter movement outside his doors concerned him, as the Pink Bubble remained intact.

As he prepared for surgery to remove and examine the lump, Les learned of an article about William Dorsey Swann, who was born a slave in the 1800s and went on to become a Black drag queen (reportedly the first) as well as the first LGBTQ activist on record. This being good material for his next show, Les let it into the bubble. Then he checked in to the hospital.

Under anesthesia, Les drifted in a haze, surrounded by the bubble’s pink glow. Then he saw someone walking towards him – this person was tall, Black, and in a 19th-century dress. In a gruff voice, Swann declared, “You need to start feeling things!”


We’re not in Oz anymore; this dream takes a more “Ebenezer Scrooge” turn, as Les – and we – examine Swann’s life, and the moments where Les could have used The Queen’s strength. His talent for entertaining us with his introspective stories is blended with a fascinating biography. We get an insight into the history of “gay life” (in both senses of the word) in old Washington, D.C. As one would expect, Swann saw his share of trouble, but being taught how to write while in jail led to his petitioning President Grover Cleveland for a pardon – securing his place in history, regardless of the outcome.

This exercise in self-reflection – we learn why “Kurkendaal” is spelled that way – coupled with seeing worlds outside the bubble, make for yet another great performance in Les’s exceptional repertoire.

Pop on over to the District Theatre to see him 9 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 25, and 5:15 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 28.

IndyFringe: How Do You Read Me?

This is part of IndyFringe 2022, Aug. 18-Sept. 4 (individual performance times vary) in downtown Indianapolis. Details and tickets at

By John Lyle Belden

Howard Lieberman and Loren Niemi are master storytellers, in part because they speak candidly about their fairly long and interesting lives. In “How Do You Read Me?” they use deeply personal stories to confront our perceptions of what we think when we see a person with a particular look or in a specific situation.

Lieberman recalls returning from closing a big-money deal to see a homeless person on the street and giving the man a dollar. But Howard has had personal experience with homelessness, and he returns to the man, spending a day that realigns his life. Niemi recalls from his young adulthood, his own day spent with “Tommy the Wino,” the taste of Mad Dog 20/20, and the effect that lingered long past the alcohol.

There’s no guarantee you’ll get the same stories, but you might also hear about when the road took Lieberman to Boston, where a big man called La Diabla became his guardian angel. Then, there was the time Niemi badly mistook a first impression, gaining an enlightening lesson on how a person deals with an unusual and emotionally taxing life.

While, in the past, their stories typically elicit laughter, this time the humor is subtle, allowing room for the full range of appropriate emotions. “It’s worth the moment of seriousness,” they say, and I wholeheartedly agree.

Don’t judge this show by its “cover,” delve within and experience the richness of their stories. Remaining performances are 5:30 p.m. Thursday and 8:45 Saturday, Aug. 25 and 27, at the IndyFringe Theatre, 719 E. St. Clair.

IndyFringe: My Grandmother’s Eyepatch

This is part of IndyFringe 2022, Aug. 18-Sept. 4 (individual performance times vary) in downtown Indianapolis. Details and tickets at

By Wendy Carson

Welcome to the memorial service for Mamie Lee Ratliff Finger, beloved wife, mother and grandmother.

Julia Finger VanderVeen, Mamie’s granddaughter, has brought us all to pay tribute to the life of this remarkable woman. Through stories told by several attendees and Julia herself, we discover much about Mamie’s life and times.

For some strange reason, we learn almost as much about Julia throughout the course of our event. Perhaps this portion of the show was meant to be for the several Agents who RSVP’d but did not actually show up.

At one point, Julia becomes so bereft that when a message with instructions for resurrection of a loved one finds its way to us, she makes an attempt. Whether it is successful, I must leave for you to discover.

I could go on to try to describe exactly how great this show is, but words cannot fully express the sheer level of hilarity Julia reaches with her dry wit and physical humor. Suffice to say, you will regret not seeing this show.

Yet, while her grandmother’s time is through, there is still time for you. The show returns for the last weekend of Fringe, 9 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 1, and 5:15 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 3, at the Indy Eleven stage of the IndyFringe Theatre, 719 E. St. Clair.