IndyFringe: Hope – A Theatrical Dance

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

By Wendy Carson and John Lyle Belden

Gerry Shannon and Melissa Hawkes have come down from Maine to bring us a spectacular piece of theater, “Hope: A Theatrical Dance.” The story is told through the dances of the two performers onstage, as well as in a video projected behind them highlighting memories of Asher (Shannon) with his wife, Hope, and his child (both played by Mackenzie Krueger).

Asher enters the scene clearly depressed and drinking heavily. A pair of hands appear out of the curtain behind him causing him to be manipulated like a puppet. While this may sound like whimsy, the sheer heartbreak he manages to convey keeps the audience rapt with attention. Soon the strings are cut and Asher is once again left to his own devices.

Hope, as a concept, enters as an Angel (Hawkes) and dances around him, forcing him to remember and relive the happier days of his marriage. Just as he is beginning to smile, we are transported to the birth of his daughter and the loss surrounding this event.

Grief once again threatens to overtake him, but he is shown that “hope” lives on.

The entire show is presented without words, the narrative woven through dance, mime and music by various artists including The Chainsmokers, Better Than Ezra, Jason Mraz, and Ed Sheeran.

A note to anyone who saw this show at a previous Fringe: Shannon has restructured it and cut some of the songs, making it a lot less funny than you’d remember.

Wendy’s thoughts: When I first watched the show, the portrayal of Asher’s grief hit me hard. Not only was it perfectly enacted, Shannon is literally an “everyman”. He looks like the kind of guy who’d be more at home at a sports game than dancing on stage. Still, the skill of both he and Hawkes make the show tender and unforgettable.

From the program and with talking to others who have seen it at previous Fringes, this is just a portion of the full show. Knowing that, I really hope that Shannon will return to us in the future and present the entire show. The taste I was provided has me hungry for more.

John’s thoughts: I was really struck by the lack-of-control feeling illustrated at first by Shannon, a true reflection of grief. Krueger (a St. Paul, Minn., based dancer and actor) was a wonderful addition, her sparkling talent making us see and feel the love between Asher and Hope. The innovation of having the distant and departed partner on the screen communicated their separation in an impactful way. At points, he was there with her in the video, but she is never with us here.

Hawkes ties it all together nicely, portraying “hope” in a more tangible way. Her dance reflects the support of true friends, as well as that small voice that tells you to look up from your sadness and see what more the world has to show.

We “Hope” you experience this performance as well, at the IndyFringe Theatre, 9 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 25 (today, as we post this); 1:45 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 28; 7:15 p.m. Friday, Sept. 2; and 3:30 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 4. 

Cardinal show anything but ‘Ordinary’

By John Lyle Belden

For these unusual times, Cardinal Stage of Bloomington presents an unusual theatre experience.

Shown online on-demand through Feb. 21, Cardinal’s production of the musical “Ordinary Days” by Adam Gwon relies on technological wizardry to allow four actors to interact while performing their parts in Covid-safe separate locations. Set in New York, circa 2008, we meet four “ordinary” individuals who will have an extraordinary influence on one others’ lives.

Our introduction to them, and this play, initially struck us with an uneasy “what’s this?” feeling. The obviously green-screen NYC backdrop, with our struggling artist-slash-artist’s-assistant-slash-pamphleteer? singing about – what’s this about, again? – but he sure is eager. And wordy. This song could have been written better. And there’s just a single piano in the background. Why does this feel like an audition tape?

If it all seems puzzling to you as well, stick with it. It gets much better.

After Warren (Henry Miller) ends his song with a winning smile, we jump to frustrated grad student Deb (Nina Donville) singing the foundation of her character arc, then to Jason (Julian Diaz-Granados) and Claire (Kayla Marie Eilers) who we discover are moving in together. So that connects two of the characters, but how about the others? A lost-and-found, followed by an odd but artsy rendezvous, kicks off an unlikely relationship between two souls seeking their purpose in art and words. And by the time this hour and a half (no intermission) is over, one pair will affect the other in a subtle but profound way.

Donville delivers as a woman struggling with the expectations of others, and herself, brought to a personal crossroads by impish Warren, in whom Miller channels the “if I can make it there” spirit of the Big Apple, even when his perpetual optimism is challenged. Diaz-Granados’ Jason is a hopeful romantic, wishing to communicate the depth of his feelings for Claire, but instead, at the worst moment, blurts out a proposal. Eilers effectively presents Claire as someone yearning to move forward, but held by a nagging uncertainty. Under the direction of Cardinal Artistic Director Kate Galvin, Gwon’s plot gently weaves together these “ordinary” yet interesting lives with a gust of the wind through the high-rises.

Also tying the scenes and thematic threads together are music director Ray Fellman on piano, and video editor Alyssa V. Gomez of CO-OP Productions, who brilliantly creates character interaction in this strange (for live stage fans) medium. For the vocal harmonies, I’m guessing credit goes in part to sound editor Robert Hornbostel. Rounding out the crew is stage manager Corey Hollinger.

To experience “Ordinary Days,” go to CardinalStage.org, and gather around the screen for a $25 “household” ticket, but only through Sunday.

IndyFringe: The Circus of Joy

By John Lyle Belden

Here’s how the show opens (note adult language)

From there things get even sillier and more bizarre.

Jason Adams (of “…is a Goddamn Mind Reader” and “Face Your Fears” fame) is Bongo the Blockhead, and with bearded lady Erin Grievances they perform comic feats that include so-fake-they’re-funny bits along with omigod-I-can’t-watch actual stunts. Yes, the concrete block and bed of nails are real.

Having a rowdy bunch of friends in the audience helped with the atmosphere and did lead to the tongue-in-cheek hashtag of #jasonadamsisdead. But actually, everyone is more likely to die laughing, provided your sense of humor embraces the silly and a tad crude.

And you saw correctly, Erin does distribute a few cocktails to lucky audience members. A few may also be brought onto the stage — but don’t worry, all volunteers survived (at least the show I saw).

Remaining performances of The Circus of Joy are Saturday afternoon and Sunday evening, Aug. 27-28. Info and tickets at indyfringefestival.com.