IndyFringe: Phantom of Fountain Square

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 Wendy Carson

Fountain Square, a storied neighborhood by downtown Indianapolis, has always been seen as “up and coming” but not quite the trendy destination it could be. However, this was not always the case. It was once known as the Theater District, with as many as 11 theaters, and the center of fashion and shopping. Those days are behind it now, but there are still people who are doing all they can to bring about a renaissance to the neighborhood.

Enter Samantha, a mother whose dream is to open a restaurant in the Square. She brings along a young daughter and new husband who has embraced her dream as his own. However, they are beset with problems. A valve from her stove goes missing, the place is ransacked, a nearby diner blows up, and her daughter seems to be hallucinating visions of money people.

They are then guided by forces unknown to learn the history of the area and learn of the mysterious legend of the “Phantom of Fountain Square”.

Kerra D Wagener brings a bright spunkiness to her portrayal of Samantha and keeps the story going. Thom Johnson gives her husband Danny the subtle juxtaposition of a man overwhelmed by his thankless efforts yet still lovingly devoted to his wife and doing whatever will make her happy. Jacquiline Rae brings forth the sweet innocence yet sage wisdom that is part of being a child keeping the show light and hopeful. Jeff Maess is great as Frank Wertheimer, but his role is so much lesser than his talent should warrant. Then we have Owen Harp as the titular character, chewing up the scenery like this was a buffet.

I’m not going to say that the show is perfect. I haven’t even noted that it is sort of a musical. I will say that it does show promise. The Fringe is a place where many great artists have presented works that have gone on to greatness. I feel that with some workshopping, this could be fleshed out into a full-length show that could be a perennial tradition.

So take a chance on seeing the first iteration of a show that, like its setting, is loaded with potential. Penned by local speculative fiction writer Matthew Barron, and presented by Submatter Press, “Phantom of Fountain Square” has performances Saturday and Sunday at The Oasis, (Shriners’ entrance of the Murat, on the north side), 502 N. New Jersey St.

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Phoenix: Check out this quirky ‘Hotel’

By John Lyle Belden

What do a hat box, the song “Afternoon Delight,” the television show “Bewitched,” and a toy giraffe have in common? As you find out, you’ll discover that the taxi driver is not Carl, the dispatcher is not an astronaut, and wait until you meet the human pincushion in purple!

This is all part of your stay at “The Hotel Nepenthe,” a surreal comedy by John Kuntz (and not by Quentin Tarantino and David Lynch on mushrooms as I’d suspected) now playing at the Phoenix Theatre.

Kuntz embraces the term “schizophrenic noir” for his web of intersecting plots. Ben Asaykwee, Jolene Mintink Moffatt, Betsy Norton, and Scott Van Wye play multiple characters in and around the titular hotel — including Van Wye as the busy bellhop. There has been a murder, and others may die. Things are lost and found. And then there’s the mystery of who, when, where, what and why is Tabitha Davis? We get a provocative look at celebrity stardom, as well as lessons on possibility and parallel universes. All this, delivered with moments of both exquisite tension and gut-busting hilarity.

In the end, it will all seem to make a sort of sense. Or not. Either way, this foursome deliver outstanding performances, slipping in and out of various characters, sometimes right before our eyes. The atmosphere breathes with an impressive soundscape masterfully woven by Brian G. Hartz. Kudos also to scenic designer Daniel Uhde, and costume and props designer Danielle Buckel, for the walls of curiosities that add another layer of depth to the intimate confines of the Basile “black box” stage. Phoenix artistic director Bill Simmons directs.

For anyone open to the unusual, you will find something to enjoy at “The Hotel Nepenthe.” Make your reservation by calling 317-635-7529 or visiting phoenixtheatre.org. The Phoenix is located at 705 N. Illinois downtown.

Finding secrets among the clutter

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

The Phoenix Theatre in downtown Indy presents a new approach to the haunted house story with “Static” by Phoenix playwright-in-residence Tom Horan.

The setting is a cluttered home laden with a collection of collections, gathered over time and rendering the space forever a place belonging to the past. Time and space blend with past scenes of aging couple Walter and Millie (Rich Rand and Jolene Mentink Moffatt) and present scenes of young couple Emma and Owen (Chelsey Stauffer and Ben Schuetz) occurring in the same space and, occasionally, at the same time.

Walter was a compulsive collector, constantly bringing things home for Millie, who used to appreciate them, but she became haunted – frightened mute and locked in a pattern of searching by a loss no object can make up for. Walter also collected sounds, putting them on dozens of cassette tapes. He eventually also started collecting thoughts, including his worries for Millie and concerns that he might have recorded ghosts.

Emma compulsively bought this old house in her home town, planning to renovate and resell it. But she finds the old tape recorder and cassettes, and, listening to them, realizes this is the home from a tragic local legend. She is amused by Walter’s collection of noises around the house, until she hears his worried entries and realizes she must know the whole story – but one of the tapes is missing.

Rand tugs our heartstrings as a man whose creed is, “I can fix it,” but struggles with things he can’t seem to make right. Moffatt displays a different aspect of her immense talent. In contrast to recent brash and funny roles, she excellently delivers a sad, disturbed soul. She almost never speaks, yet communicates volumes. Stauffer believably portrays the transition from simple enjoyment of a project to unshakable obsession, while Schuetz wrestles with growing impatience with the woman he loves. Eliot Simmons completes the cast as a younger version of Emma, in a scene that hints at deeper connections.

The play is more suspense than horror, with supernatural elements – lights flickering and locks rattling, etc. – but the full nature of the haunting stays elusive. I don’t want to elaborate for fear of spoiling the plot’s surprises, but while it’s appropriate that some aspects of the mystery stay with you long after viewing the show, the resolution of this story felt incomplete. Still, Horan’s drama is an interesting examination of loss and to what degree we own our possessions or they own us.

“Static” plays through Nov. 20 at the Phoenix, 749 N. Park Ave. Call 317-635-7529 or visit phoenixtheatre.org.

John L. Belden is Associate Editor at The Eagle (formerly The Word), the central-Indiana based Midwest LGBTQ news source.

Books and plays

Start this weekend early by seeing comic Bill Scheft, a writer for Late Night With David Letterman, as he signs copies of his book “Shrink Thyself” Thursday starting at 6:30 p.m. at Bookmama’s book store at 9 S. Johnson Ave. in Indy’s Irvington neighborhood.

For theatre, we have three openings:

The Phoenix Theatre presents the British Broadway comedy “One Man, Two Guvnors,” starting Thursday and running through Oct. 18 at 749 N. Park Ave., downtown Indy. This is the show that got James Corden (now the host of The Late Late Show on CBS) his Tony. But since Corden is in L.A., our show is locally cast.

Buck Creek Players present the comedic thriller “Cliffhanger,” opening Friday and running for two weekends, in which murder has rarely been so funny. The playhouse is out on Southeastern Ave. off the Acton Road Exit.

Over at the Hedback, 1847 N. Alabama in Indy, Footlite Musicals presents “Nice Work if You Can Get It,” a feel-good musical loaded with Gershwin numbers. It opens Friday and runs through Oct. 11.

See you in the audience!