Play based on Hank Williams’ final ‘tour’

By John Lyle Belden

Playwright and retired journalist Garret Matthews incorporates aspects of people he has known and interviewed into his plays. In his latest, “Opening Hank,” he includes the story of someone more familiar to most of us.

On New Years Day 1953, country music legend Hank Williams Sr. rode his Cadillac into eternity. In a body weakened by a hard life that included alcohol and painkillers (mainly to deal with chronic back pain), his heart gave out on the way to a Jan. 1 concert in Ohio, discovered dead in the backseat in Oak Hill, West Virginia. This necessitated another ride, in a hearse from there back home to Montgomery, Alabama.

On that route, in Mathews’ play, is the town of Bluefield, where you can get gas, car repairs, and “a free Coky-Cola with a fill-up” at the West Main Esso. Willie T. McClanahan (Taylor Cox), a savant with car engines but largely seen as a kind but simple soul otherwise, barely notices the news on WHIS radio as he challenges himself at checkers, but his second-shift manager Steve Tatum (Zachariah Stonerock) has heard and is not taking it well. Williams’ music and songs inspired him to take up writing for the first time since his horrific experiences in World War II a decade earlier.

A nicely dressed gentleman, Hiram Ledbetter (David Mosedale, who also directs) enters what he declares to be the “gasoline emporium” not seeking fuel but rest, and offering a proposition. He pilots Williams’ transport, and while he finds a meal and a nap elsewhere in town, he says, he would leave the coffin at the service station for safekeeping and in exchange for a fee, Steve could then charge the townspeople to get their last look at the hillbilly music superstar.

Having a dread fear of the trappings of death, Willie is sent away, leaving Steve, who takes up the undertaker’s offer, but for his own reasons.

While fictional, this story contains characters, events and anecdotes based on actual stories Mathews reported, and we get an excellent refresher on Hank Williams’ life, struggles and music, with several songs featured before and during the play. There is much heart and humor, with moments of dire drama. We get a feel for the brotherly relationship between Willie and Steve long before we learn their connection, as well as how they are essential to each other’s wellbeing. Cox and Stonerock have a natural chemistry, borne of talent as well as working together before. Mosedale cuts an interesting character himself, with hints of the Devil-in-a-suit archetype but with Southern charm and a grudging bit of good conscience. Ol’ Hank is a bit stiff in that box, but does sound good on the old radio.

In a post-show talk, Mathews and the cast give hearty thanks to stage manager Aaron Henze for his contributions, so we will as well.

Remaining performances are today and tomorrow (Nov. 19-20) as I post this, at the Cat, 254 Veterans Way in downtown Carmel. Get info and tickets at thecat.biz.

Cat ‘CAT’ show is so very ‘Addams’

By John Lyle Belden

The Cat, a nice little stage in downtown Carmel, includes in its programs the Carmel Apprentice Theatre, in which local stage veterans work with new and less-experienced performers to bring forth a wonderful experience for actors and audiences alike. Appropriately opening on Halloween weekend, CAT presents “The Addams Family: A New Musical,” by Andrew Lippa with Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice.

Based on the famous Charles Addams characters, which went from New Yorker cartoons in the 1940s and ‘50s to television and movies (and even a Hanna-Barbera “Scooby-Doo”-style cartoon in the 1970s, as we see during the pre-show entertainment), the 2010 Broadway musical showcases the family’s unconventional and gently macabre lifestyle while engaging with a wacky comedy premise: Now-adult daughter Wednesday wants to marry a young man from a “normal” Ohio family.  

First-time director Elaine Miller managed to get the best out of this cast of varied experience, including former apprentice turned stage regular JB Scoble as Gomez Addams, writer and dancer (who gets to show off her tango) Audrey Larkin as Morticia, Carmel High senior Jayda Glynn as a picture-perfect Wednesday, Ball State grad Elaine Endris as mischievous masochist brother Pugsley, crew-turned-cast member Jake Williams as charming Uncle Fester, Jeff Hamilton as feisty Grandmama, and classically-trained Evan Wang as the butler, Lurch. (Thing was played by “R.C.”, and Cousin Itt was absent, likely at a hair appointment.) The more conventional Beinecke family are played by Tim West as lovestruck Lucas, Chelsie Christian as his mom and compulsive poet Alice, and Greg Gibbs as buttoned-down dad Mal.

When one is an Addams, you’re in the family forever, so the ghostly Ancestors are on hand as well. They are portrayed by Erin Coffman, Ashley Mash, Diana Pratt, Vivian Schnelker, Mark Gasper, and the stage debut of Sarah Gasper, a natural charmer who after attending dozens of performances of “Addams Family” finally gets to live her dream.

What this show might lack in professional polish is more than made up for in the fun everyone has in bringing this story to life. Given the gusto with which the titular family treat any endeavor, any rough edges actually add to the overall experience. Scoble’s performance stands toe-to-toe (sword-to-sword?) with the likes of John Astin or Raul Julia, and Larkin is dead(ly) sexy. Everyone has standout moments, especially Christian in her “full disclosure” outburst.

While oddness is the rule in this world, one aspect of the musical that, to me, seemed distracting was Fester’s wooing of the Moon (yes, that big rock in the sky). Williams manages to pull off the illogical longing, further aided by Mash portraying the heavenly body, dancing in shimmering gray with matching mask. Miller’s choice in this, rather than using a light or glowing ball, sweetens the scene and makes it more relatable – we see the lover that Fester sees.

Performances of this spooky, “ooky,” fun and funny show run Thursdays through Sundays through Nov. 13 at The Cat, 254 Veterans Way, next to Carmel’s Main Street arts and cultural district. For information and tickets, go to thecat.biz.

Bard Fest: Women give men a (very) hard time in ‘Lysistrata’

This is part of Indy Bard Fest 2022, the annual Indianapolis area Shakespeare Festival. For information and tickets, visit indybardfest.com.

By Wendy Carson

With the Indy Bard Fest production of “Lysistrata,” Holly Hathaway-Thompson has done an amazing job of updating Aristophanes’ story of women’s empowerment. She not only made the storyline more accessible to a modern audience, but also shows the true meaning behind its purpose: Women have the power to change everything if they just stand together in their resolve.

The story begins in the not-too-distant future with a young girl (Missy Waaland) approaching her grandmother (Miki Mathioudakis) for more information about the election of 2022. Grandmother is horrified to learn that only a sentence or two about this time exists online and one of those is on bleach vaccines. She then begins the story, “There was this woman …”

We are transported to an alternate reality of Greece in which Lysistrata (Carrie Reiberg) has called together all of the women of the various tribes to set about her plans for P-E-A-C-E (the spelling of this word is vital throughout). Though many of the representatives have disputes among themselves, they all agree that they are sick and tired of their men being away at war all the time. Lysistrata puts forth her simple plan: They will all withhold any romantic or sexual favors until the men agree to give them a Peace.

Surprisingly for some, this is almost as difficult for the women to uphold as it is for the men to endure. Therefore, the women take over the capital for themselves alone until their demands have been met. The men do not take kindly to this tactic and try everything to persuade the women from their resolve. However, even the most bull-headed of them men finally give in to their basest needs and agree that they will meet the demands of peace, healthcare, education, living wages, etc. This brings about the blissfully benevolent future of our Grandmother and Grandchild – a future where men do not control women’s bodies or destinies.

With the source material being a comedy, Hathaway-Thompson has given the cast some truly hilarious lines throughout. Her amazing cast manage to squeeze every possible drop of laughter from each one.

Reiburg brings a slyness to Lysistrata you don’t always see in this role. This was a woman who literally brought a nation to peace with a very simple plan. Mathioudakis is brilliant in her dual roles as Grandmother and Colonice (Lysistrata’s closest ally), bringing the wisdom and experience of both characters. Waaland’s turn as the Grandchild and Ismenia allows us to see the counterpoint naivete of her youth.

Tracy Nakigozi portrays Andromeda as a wary but proud woman who puts aside personal conflicts for the good of the whole. Lucy Fields as Lampito is a comic delight as she bemoans the travails of this lack of intimacy upon herself as well as the men. Scott Fleshood (Xander), shows another side of this longing as the lone representative of those who also love men even though being born with a Y chromosome. Samantha Kelly (Medora) and Nikki Lynch (Cassandra) both do a great job of helping to keep the men in their place.

Jessica Crum Hawkins (Myrrhine) plays one half of a married couple that, despite their love and desire for each other, are still at odds on the matter. Matthew Socey (her  husband, Cinesias) brings comic timing to a new level as he is continually and painfully denied the fulfillment of his desires.

Also at loggerheads are the Leader of the Women (MaryAnne Mathews), Leader of the Men (Robert Webster), and the Magistrate (Eric Bryant) each of them chewing up the scenery as if it were their final meal.

Speaking of the men, being that the story surrounds the baseness of themselves, they are mainly comic relief. However, each brilliantly shows their ability to handle these barbs – especially Jurrell Spencer as the Herald who has apparently “cut a hole in the box.”

I was saddened to discover that most of the audience had never head of the story, but proud of their reception to it afterwards. I do adore this play. It has an important message and it needs to be heard throughout our country and the world.

You have your chance this Friday through Sunday, Oct. 14-16, at The Cat theatre, 254 Veterans Way in downtown Carmel.

CCP brings unbelievable adventure to Cat stage

By John Lyle Belden

“Truth is stranger than fiction
But De Rougemont is stranger than both”

 – The Wide World Magazine, June 1899 (quoted in Wikipedia)

*

Louis De Rougemont was an actual 19th-century personality; Pulitzer-winning playwright Donald Margulies did not make him up. Whether Mr. De Rougemont invented his “amazing adventures,” though, is another question.

See and judge for yourself at “Shipwrecked: An Entertainment! The Amazing Adventures of Louis De Rougemont (as Told by Himself),” presented by Carmel Community Players at The Cat, directed by Lori Raffel.

Embodied by local actor Earl Campbell, De Rougemont relates his fantastic story with an ensemble of Vickie Cornelius Phipps, Joe Aiello, Margot Everitt, Jayda Glynn, Hannah Janowicz, and Tom Smith. He tells of being a sickly boy, raised on stories of adventure read to him by his mother (Phipps). As a teen, he meets a sea captain (Phipps again) and leaves home to find adventure aboard the good ship Wonderworld, searching for pearls off the coast of Australia. As the title hints, he finds himself wrecked and marooned with the ship’s dog, faithful Bruno (Aiello). His journey back to London will take decades, during which he befriends local Aborigines, marrying one (Phipps yet again). He becomes the toast of Britain when he publishes his adventures, but not everyone believes him.

The basic stage set takes us back to a bare-bones turn-of-the-20th-century hall, appropriately giving free rein to our imaginations as the tale is presented with simple, improvised props. Campbell takes on our hero’s charm and charisma with unwavering boldness. Phipps is sweet and versatile, her talent allowing us not to dwell on the Freudian overtones of her casting. Bruno, a literal scene-chewing role, is taken to with endearing gusto by Aiello, who also gets non-barking characters such as the editor of Wide World Magazine, and Queen Victoria.

Other ensemble members get their moments to shine – Smith as the Aboriginal elder and a Royal Geographic Society skeptic, Janowicz showing mime skills reminiscent of her turn in “The Fantasticks,” Glynn as a Paperboy and the card-turner, and Everitt as an able utility player, as well as the gentle nudge needed when the story goes awry.

When all is said and done, we have the highs and lows of our hero’s journey, as well as a counter-narrative. But wherein is the “truth,” and does it matter? To an audience accustomed to watching “Ancient Aliens” and “inspired by true events” on a screen, the bigger questions feel familiar – even current – despite over a century passing since Wide World published the original story.

So, saddle up your sea turtle and indulge in this entertaining “Entertainment,” opening tonight (Aug. 12) and running through Aug. 21 at The Cat, 254 Veterans Way in downtown Carmel. Get information and tickets at carmelplayers.org.

Death stalks doctors in ‘Ambush’

By John Lyle Belden

Both a parent’s and a physician’s worst nightmare: A young person is dying, and it seems no one can stop it. This is at the heart of the medical mystery thriller “The Ambush,” on stage at The Cat in Carmel. The play is by Dr. L. Jan Eira, a local cardiologist whose work as a playwright has been seen from IndyFringe to Off-Off-Broadway, and directed by Aaron Henze.

It seemed odd, but not too suspicious at first. The Zionsville (Ind.) High School soccer team is invited to a pre-season exhibition at Danville, Ill. Zionsville Police Detective Ben Sinclair (T.J. O’Neil) and his wife, research scientist Dr. Amy Sinclair (Stephanie Riley), accompany their son, a member of the team. At the game, the boy suddenly collapses, and at the hospital his parents learn the awful truth – it was deliberate poisoning with a neurotoxin, and if an antidote isn’t found or created, he will soon die.

The couple discover other coincidences: There is a research facility at the hospital, much like the one where Amy works, headed by Dr. Miranda Phillips (Tanya Rave), daughter of Amy’s past colleague and friend, Dr. Terri Phillips (Wendy Brown), who recently retired. Miranda is assisted by wheelchair-bound Dr. Jack Stevenson (Adam K Allen). In addition, Danville Police Lieutenant Lela Rose (Jessica Hawkins) and Detective Rubin (Josh Rooks) inform them there have been a series of brutal murders, all involving the use of neurotoxin. As ICU Dr. Jenner (Miranda Lila Jean Nickerson) informs them that the boy’s condition is worsening fast, all understand they are in a race against time to find both a cure and a killer!

Eira combines his medical knowledge with love of a mystery to create a plot similar to the many action-mystery dramas we see on television. My impression was that this was like a blend of “House M.D.” and CBS’s “FBI” series, with a hefty dose of melodrama as the tension ramps up.

O’Neill gives us a furious combination of angry father and impatient cop that would be right at home in a “Lethal Weapon” film, but his maverick ways get results – and a lot of (to be honest, appropriate) pushback from Hawkins’ Lt. Rose, who plays it cool and professional throughout. Riley has a lot to work with in her role, feeling desperate at possibly losing her son and guilty at the possibility this is someone’s way of getting back at her for a perceived past slight. When the killer is revealed, we get some scenes of “boo-hiss”-worthy evil before our heroes prevail.

There is also a theme of faith and its power to salve or solve, as well as personal sacrifice.

Remaining performances are Friday through Sunday, July 8-10, at The Cat, 254 Veterans Way, Carmel. Get info and tickets at themdwriter.com.

CCP with ‘Fantastick’ musical

By John Lyle Belden

It might be late April, wild weather and all, but at The Cat in downtown Carmel, it’s a special kind of September, as Carmel Community Players bids you to follow “The Fantasticks.”

Written by Tom Jones (the American songwriter, not the Welsh singer) and Harvey Schmidt, the musical is noteworthy for its world-record Off-Broadway run (1960-2002, plus later revivals, tours, etc.) as well as its charming contrast of simple staging and story with deep universal themes. It also has a hit song, “Try to Remember,” which gets under way right near the beginning.

This light-hearted fable presents The Boy, Matt (Theodore Curtis) and The Girl, Luisa (Brook-Glen Gober), who grow up neighbors, but with a wall between them. It seems Hucklebee, The Boy’s Father (Kevin Shadle), and Bellomy, The Girl’s Father (Kevin Caraher), are feuding – probably something about gardening – and forbid the youths to meet. So, naturally, they rendezvous in secret and fall in love.

All this is presented and explained by The Narrator (JB Scoble), who also appears as the suave bandit El Gallo. Making the scene complete is The Mute (Hannah Janowicz), who provides and spirits away props and curtains, and embodies the Wall when needed.

But it’s revealed to us that the fathers only pretend to feud! To complete the scenario and ensure the Happy Ending, they arrange for The Girl to be in peril so that The Boy can rescue her, and the two families can rejoice and unite. To achieve the faux abduction, the men hire El Gallo, who gets help from Henry, The Old Actor (Duane Leatherman), and his apprentice, Mortimer, The Man Who Dies (Thom Johnson). Their plan seems to execute perfectly, so everyone is happy now – right?

This was a dream job for director Rich Phipps, who saw “The Fantasticks” during its original New York run. He opts for the less-problematic “abduction” script that avoids the original’s use of the term “rape” in its literary sense to lessen discomfort and confusion. Still the style, with its commedia dell’arte influences, manages to communicate the story’s dark and serious aspects even while peppered with elements of absurdity.

Scoble is in his element as El Gallo. You can tell Kevins Shadle and Caraher are having fun with this show, as are Leatherman as the master who has forgotten more Shakespeare than you’ll ever know, and Johnson, as clever a fool as one could ask for. Curtis is a young artist showing a lot of potential, and Gober is ever charming. Janowicz displays natural mime skills, enhancing the scenes without stealing them.

A fun and entertaining musical with a moral for all ages, performances run through May 8 at The Cat, 254 Veterans Way, Carmel. Get information and tickets at CarmelPlayers.org.

CCP: Explore ‘Curious Incident’ with unique mind

By Wendy Carson and John Lyle Belden

Christopher John Francis Boone is 15, a mathematical genius who finds all social and physical interactions terrifying. This is because Christopher is autistic. He lives alone with his father in Swindon, UK, having lost his mother two years earlier.

His love of animals brings him out one night to visit the neighbor’s poodle, Wellington, only to find it killed. Since he’s found kneeling with the dog, he is initially accused of its death. When the responding policeman tries to calm him down, his touch causes Christopher to lash out and be arrested. The misunderstanding is cleared up, but Christopher is left with a warning on his permanent record.

Discovering the murder of a dog is too irrelevant to be investigated, he decides, against his father’s strong wishes, to do it himself. This results in him having to talk to his neighbors, who to him are strangers, but he is determined to overcome his fears and solve this mystery, “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime.” This 2015 Tony-winning play by Simon Stephens, based on the acclaimed novel by Mark Haddon, is on stage at the Cat Theater through March 6, presented by Carmel Community Players. 

While he does eventually find the killer’s identity, the path to that information has Christopher discover a huge family secret and embark on a journey that tests his resolve and the very limits of his abilities.

The staging, like the novel, is from Christopher’s point of view. Director Larry Adams and his crew (assistant Karissa Monson, lighting and video design by Eric Matters, set by David Muse, and sound design by Lori Raffel) excellently deliver the technical aspects of his world with all its abrupt stimuli, cacophonous sounds, and tangled language. 

Being on stage the whole time, the role of Christopher is demanding to start with – add to this a British accent, various physical tics and almost constant movement and it turns into a Herculean challenge. In his first leading role, Noah Ebeyer is spectacular in embodying the part. He never seems to act; we only see the troubled genius trying to make sense of his world, get the answers he feels he deserves, and get to school in time to take his Maths A-Levels exams. Adams agrees with the talk of the performance being award-worthy, marveling at how Ebeyer took naturally to the role. And while the boy he plays may be put off by us strangers, he makes us feel something special for him.

Christopher’s teacher Siobahn (Lori Colcord) provides support and reads to us much of his inner dialogue from a notebook he had kept. Earl Campbell is sharp as his father Ed, struggling to do what’s best for Christopher and learning the hard way the consequences of keeping facts from one whose mind relies on them for his whole life’s structure. Nikki Lynch plays Christopher’s loving but overstressed mother Judy.

The rest of the cast – Tanya Haas, Kelly Keller, Cathie Morgan, Gus Pearcy, Ryan Shelton, Barb Weaver – morphs from one character to another (people as well as inanimate objects) while also voicing Christopher’s self-doubts and thoughts. No actual dogs were killed in the making of this show – including Bob Adams in a touching canine cameo.

Also, you will cheer for a mathematical solution! (Stay through the curtain call.)

The Cat is at 254 Veterans Way in downtown Carmel. Find information and tickets at CarmelPlayers.org.

Bard Fest: Tragic Egyptian queen still fascinating

By John Lyle Belden

Indy Bard Fest presents the Improbable Fiction Theatre Company production of “Antony and Cleopatra” – which, though I know that’s the way Shakespeare titled it, should give the doomed last Queen of Egypt first billing.

Already an incredible talent, Afton Shepard throws herself fully into her title role, portraying Cleopatra’s “infinite variety” of moods and mental states. But under her demeanor, ranging from stormy to sultry, burns a fierce intelligence. All this and more Mark Antony, well-portrayed by Darin Richart, sees, and dedicates himself to as they rule the Eastern third of the Roman Empire. But confict with fellow triumvir Caesar (the eventual Augustus, played by Thomas Sebald) is inevetable.

This production, directed by Ryan T. Shelton, pares down the cast and puts the focus more squarely on Cleopatra. Having ruled since she was a teen – and still showing fits of immaturity – she is also well traveled and educated. She knows a woman’s typical place in this world (much like ours, in a way) and is not afraid to use seductive charms to camoflauge her true wisdom.

Many characters are placed on the weary shoulders of Craig Kemp, who enters as the Soothsayer and appears as various messengers and soldiers as the story demands. The excellent cast includes Bobbi Bye as Caesar’s advisor Agrippa, Dana Lesh and Barb Weaver as Cleopatra’s servants Charmian and Iras, Duane Leatherman as third triumvir Lepidus, Jamie Devine as Caesar’s sister Octavia, Becca Bartley as Cleopatra’s guard Alexas, and Jet Terry as Antony’s faithful soldier Scarus. Kevin Caraher gets a meaty role in Enorbarbus, steadfast for Antony up to the point that he sees history turning and fearing himself on the wrong side, “when valor preys on reason.”

Gender-blind casting is nothing new in today’s theatre, but I liked that Caesar’s soldier Dolabella, played by Evangeline Bouw, seems to lend an element of feminine empathy in being the last Roman to guard Cleopatra at the end.

Scholars debate the fine points of even the original historical sources, but this powerful play gives a good sense of the era and the essence of the larger than life persons in it. We feel we have met Cleopatra and Antony, and it’s an honor.

Performances are Thursday, Saturday and Sunday (Oct. 28, 30, 31) at The Cat Theater, 254 Veterans Way in downtown Carmel. Get info and tickets at indybardfest.com.

Bard Fest cast brave Albee classic

By Wendy Carson

Let me begin by saying the old adage is true: Nothing good happens after 2 a.m.

This is the precise hour in which our tale begins. George (Tony Armstrong) and Martha (Nan Macy) have arrived home from one of her father’s numerous parties just in time to continue the “festivities” by initiating the new professor into the way of life at their provincial college. Since Martha’s father is the President (and ersatz owner) of this establishment, Nick (Matthew Walls) and his wife Honey (Afton Shepard) feel compelled to attend.

What begins as two couples sharing cocktails quickly escalates into a verbal brawl in which no one is safe. At first, Nick and Honey gape in shock as the barbs fly back and forth. but as time passes and alcohol is consumed, their own skeletons explode out of the closet for all to see.

Edward Albee’s classic play, “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” shows the author’s mastery of language and its power. Martha’s tongue is a lethal weapon, which no man, save perhaps George, can survive. However, George can hold his own in this melee.

Watching Martha and George go at each other is akin to seeing different beasts battle for dominance, the saddest thing is that they honestly do love each other, in their own way. Macy is a black belt at this sort of verbal karate, complete with Martha’s sharp tools of wit and psychological warfare. Armstrong presents George as the weathered stone taking on wave after wave of abuse, but with the eerie calm of one who has little left to lose, and one more devastating ace to play.

Walls brings his own cockiness, in which Nick manages for two of the drama’s three acts to feel that he will come out of this skirmish unscathed, and perhaps ready to exploit what he’s heard. But too late he finds he’s way too Kansas for these Ivy League-level head games. Shepard manages a lot with her character, an easy foil for Albee’s humor who, with the help of lots of brandy, devolves from a waif lost in the playground to a girl lost in the woods.

For those unfamiliar with the play, or the Oscar-winning Elizabeth Taylor film, note this production, directed by Matthew Socey, is a wild ride, an emotional roller coaster with no brakes, so engaging you may not notice it runs three hours. No story told or alluded to is without importance (except one bit in the first scene, more on that later) and only at the end do we get a full view of the field of play. However, while the show is very intense, it can be amusing to notice how often various couples in the audience knowingly look at each other after some of the exchanges.

Oh, and to save you a minute or two of Googling during the first intermission, the answer to Martha’s question is, “Beyond the Forest.”

Presented by Indy Bard Fest as part of its Prestige Project of great stage plays not written by Mr. Shakespeare, performances continue Thursday through Sunday, Oct. 14-17, at The Cat theatre 254 Veterans Way in downtown Carmel (note there are some construction street closures, but it’s possible to reach the building). Get info and tickets at indybardfest.com.

Simon comedy gets ‘radio’ treatment

By John Lyle Belden

It’s been a wild year, with social unrest, a wild presidential election, war in Vietnam — yes, it’s 1968. To bring back the flavor of the good ol’ days, “station WCAT” in Carmel is hosting a live radio play of the Neil Simon hit, “Plaza Suite.”

This is the situation presented by Indy Bardfest, which is taking a break from Shakespeare fare to explore more recent celebrated playwrights. The necessity of personal distance for those on the stage, as well as in the audience, in the wacky year of 2020 make the radio drama an excellent format for presenting a character- and dialogue-driven play such as this.

Director Matthew Socey has given the cast of Tony Armstrong, Nan Macy, Afton Shepard, and Matthew Walls, assisted by Tony Johnson as host and sound-effects guy, plenty of opportunities for visual antics to accompany the “theatre of the mind” atmosphere. On-stage social distancing is achieved as each stands apart at their own microphone, even during moments like the creatively unorthodox kissing scenes.

Simon’s ‘68 Broadway smash is three acts, each its own story, all taking place at 3 p.m. on different days in Room 719 of the Plaza Hotel in New York City. In the first, an exercise in emotionally-charged dark humor, Karen (Macy) has booked the suite as a surprise anniversary gift in hopes of recharging her lackluster marriage to Sam (Armstrong). But she finds she may be too late, and maybe even in the wrong room. Walls appears as members of hotel staff, and Shepard as Sam’s beautiful secretary.

In the second act, successful young Hollywood producer Jesse Kiplinger (Walls) arranges to meet with his high-school sweetheart, Muriel (Shepard), a working-class New Jersey housewife. He longs for the simplicity of the past, while she is fascinated by his life among the stars. Much humor is derived from the cumulative effect of vodka stingers vs. the delicate dance of seduction. Their exchange is a fun examination of the people we pretend to be, even to ourselves, as Jesse works out how to keep their metaphorical masks in place long enough to get Muriel’s actual dress off.

The third act, arguably the best and most popular, has stressed out parents Roy (Armstrong) and Norma (Macy) struggling to coax daughter Mimsey (Shepard) to unlock the bathroom door so she can make her way downstairs to her wedding. Roy is already fuming at how expensive the ceremony and reception have become, while Norma is a nervous wreck. Slapstick abounds, even with the limited movement in this format. 

This production is wonderfully cast, as all have great range and the ability to convincingly go from serious to silly as the situation demands. Johnson gets surprisingly involved in the action, such as being a sympathetic fourth wall to a character’s asides, adding to the charm of this unusual show. 

Bardfest has one weekend left in the “Plaza Suite,” Friday through Sunday, Oct. 9-11, at The Cat theatre in downtown Carmel. Visit indybardfest.com for info (or see them on Facebook) and thecattheatre.com for tickets.