Satisfy your ‘Curious’ity at IRT

By Wendy Carson

Christopher John Francis Boone is 15, a mathematical genius but he finds all social and physical interactions to be terrifying. This is because Christopher is autistic. He lives alone with his father, who told Christopher that his mother died of a heart attack two years ago.

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

Discovering that others think the murder of a dog is too irrelevant to be investigated, Christopher decides, against his father’s strong wishes, to do so 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.

While he does eventually find out the murderer’s identity, the journey to that information has him discover a huge family secret and embark on a journey that tests his resolve and the very limits of his abilities, challenging his autistic limitations.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time,” opening the 2017-18 season at Indiana Repertory Theatre, is based on Mark Haddon’s critically-acclaimed 2003 novel of the same name. It won the 2015 Tony for Best Play. However, due to the novel being written in first-person and the production of it needing to have the various characters fleshed out and enacted, many technical alterations were made to bring the tale to the stage.

Shiobhan (played by Elizabeth Ledo), one of Christopher’s teachers, reads much of his inner dialogue from a notebook. He has written the story there in hopes of turning it into a book once it has concluded.

Much of the cast morphs from one character to another while also voicing the self-doubts and thoughts of Christopher. The medium of stage allows for non-linear and abstract elements required to tell the story, and even briefly goes “meta” with the cast discussing the play as themselves with Christopher.

This production includes IRT’s landmark casting of Mickey Rowe as Christopher, making him the first American actor with autism in the role. Familiar faces Robert Neal and Constance Macy portray his father and mother.

The entire cast, which also includes David Alan Anderson, Margaret Daly, Mehry Eslaminia, Eric Parks, Gail Rastorfer and Landon G. Woodson, do an impeccable job, true to the standards of an IRT performance.

Thought-provoking and surprisingly relatable, this drama brings you on an unusual journey through a unique mind, as well as through the English countryside and heart of London. And when you go, be sure to stay after the curtain call for a unique, and highly entertaining, mathematical encore.

No dogs were actually harmed in the making of this play, which runs through Oct. 14. Find the IRT at 140 W. Washington St. downtown or online at irtlive.com.

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IndyFringe: ‘Free the TaTas’

By Wendy Carson and John L. Belden

Even though it sometimes seems the whole world is pink, we still must understand that awareness of breast cancer — and all cancers — includes knowing that it affects real people, including those you know (or even yourself).

Set in an atypical breast survivors support group, this show touches on how various people deal with cancer in their lives. These women are trying to overcome their grief and be upbeat, but it is no easy task.

Miss Bettye (Sandy Lomax), the octogenarian leader of the group, is outright hateful, dismissive and rude to everyone, yet you sense she feels for them. While she insists on honesty in dealing with disease, she hides the fact they could soon lose their meeting place.

The members of the group range from a starry-eyed dreamer (T. Studdard), an overworked cleaner (Tamara E’lan G.), and a desperate woman just trying anything to get by (Georgeanna Anthony). The women are trying to support each other, but Bettye keeps them at each other’s throats more often than not.

Enter into this group the indomitable presence that it Bass (China Doll), so named because her fishing-obsessed husband thinks she’s his best catch of all time. Bass tries to get everyone back on track but is met with resentment and venom at every turn. Meanwhile, she masks her own pain with humor.

Can these women turn their personal drama into a loving and supportive environment?

As they open up their journals to share with each other (and us), the true beauty of this piece is revealed. Much of the play’s content is in fact based on actual people and events. Taken as a whole, this is a hot mess that transforms into a heart blessing.

At the end, there is a short talkback session for the audience and actors to discuss their own personal journeys.

Remaining performances are Saturday night and Sunday afternoon, Aug. 26-27, at the Firefighter’s Hall, corner of Mass. Ave. and St. Clair.

Festival info: www.indyfringe.org.

IndyFringe: ‘An Elegy for Peter Through’

By Wendy Carson

This show has been the most surprising of anything I’ve seen at this year’s festival. The title lends itself to a dour subject matter, which is further reinforced by the setting, the interior of a funeral home. However, once the show begins, all of that is thrown out the window.

The funeral directors are expecting a quick, simple service when a gaggle of children and teens show up carrying a large wooden frame and demand to offer their own eulogies for the departed.

The frame becomes a sort of time portal in which the actors are transported to the day that they first met the deceased. With the seven actors quickly slipping into and out of 13 different roles, it may seem like it would be confusing, but the cast pulls off this feat seamlessly.

The stories told are funny yet uplifting and make for a warm, pleasant feeling of satisfaction afterwards. This show is definitely a good counterpoint to some of the more intense shows at the Fringe; it will greatly help you to readjust your psyche, so you really should not miss it.

John’s note: This is one of the best shows of the Fringe, in my opinion. Director Ann Marie Elliott told us that she and the Savage At Last actors worked out the story themselves without an initial script, and they all do an excellent job of channeling their inner teens and tweens facing a life-changing experience.

One performance remains, 9 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 26, at the Theatre on the Square second stage.

Festival info: www.indyfringe.org.

IndyFringe: ‘Showerhead’

By Wendy Carson

As anyone who has read the Fringe guide blurb knows, this show is certainly not for everyone. Therefore, feel yourself warned and stay away if you are unable to handle the subject matter covered there. For more adventurous theatergoers, feel free to witness this spectacle.

The show is broken down into two distinct parts. The initial portion consists of cast members doing everything they can to try to offend the audience. Both sacrilegious and amusing, it seems to be an extended time-wasting experiment. However, once the actual storyline of the show commences, things start taking off.

We begin with the perfect 50’s TV couple, a fervently religious, subservient housewife and a pleasant but demanding husband. When she discovers the seedy life he is living on the side, she is thrown into a world of crime, drugs and mayhem.

There are many hilarious tropes throughout her metamorphosis as well as a lot of stilted dialogue. Yet, I found the actual story of her journey to be quite engaging and uplifting.

I hope that after the festival, Formerly Fuckboy productions (yes, that’s the name) will take some time to polish up the script because at its core, it is a fine idea that could be crafted into something really worthwhile.

Showerhead” plays 1:30 p.m. Saturday and 4:30 p.m. Sunday (Aug. 26-27) at the IndyFringe Theatre

Festival info at www.indyfringe.org.

IndyFringe: ‘White Collar Sideshow’

By Wendy Carson

The band, White Collar Sideshow, brands itself as “Shock-n-Roll,” and while that is accurate, it falls all too short of describing what this show is about.

Probably the most apt way is a quote from two fellow audience members: “It was far less scary and a lot more inspiring than I expected.”

The show is part heavy metal concert, part performance art, part delirium, and entirely enjoyable. The three-member band — TD Benton on vocals and drums, Faceless Woman on bass, and the indomitable Herr Schwein, also on drums — may look intimidating, but they are all talented musicians and the show is quite enjoyable.

The set list sets itself up as a soundtrack to the grindhouse-style film (produced by the band and featuring Schwein) in the background. There are also a few audience interactions, but nothing dangerous or too creepy. It comes off similar to a classic Alice Cooper concert.

In all honesty, words fail to describe the experience, so I strongly urge you to see it for yourselves. It’s a truly fresh offering to our traditional Fringe lineup and an experience you won’t soon forget.

John’s note: Free earplugs are provided due to the accoustic assault in close quarters. I appreciated the protection, but it did blur the song lyrics (or maybe I’m just getting old). There is a spiritual-lesson aspect to the show (like Rob Zombie hosting a tent revival), and you can get a lot of context from the visuals, so you don’t have to hear every word. The background film is quite impressive on its own as well.

Remaining performances are matinees, 3 p.m. Saturday and 1:30 p.m. Sunday (Aug. 26-27) on the main stage of the Phoenix Theatre, 749 N. Park Ave.

Festival info at www.indyfringe.org.

IndyFringe: ‘Meatball Seance’

By Wendy Carson

John Michael has a new boyfriend!

Now, he just wants to take him home, introduce him to his beloved mom, and have him try her amazing meatballs which are overflowing with her love. There’s just one problem with this, she’s dead. His only hope is to have his new boyfriend help him make a batch in order to bring back her spirit.

We, the audience, are invited to add our collective energy to the process as well as fill in for some of the characters (apparently, John Michael can be a bit difficult to work with, hence the lack of other cast members).

The journey is brilliantly hilarious and touchingly delightful. Although some of this material edges on melancholy and sad, in John Michael’s deft touch, the hope and and joy of his memories of him mom’s love and advice make it side-splittingly funny.

So, make sure you catch one of his two remaining performances at the INDY ELEVEN Theatre in the IndyFringe building – tonight (Monday) at 7:30 p.m. and Tuesday (Aug. 22) at 9 p.m. – before you regret missing out. The show is not only a perfect palate-cleanser to your Fringe experience, but a whirlwind of happiness that must be seen.

Remember, that bread must first be torn apart in order to create the breadcrumbs that bind everything together.

Info: www.indyfringe.org

Hero-ing ain’t easy

By Wendy Carson

We have all heard of Hercules and that he performed numerous “labors” as penance for his past misdeeds. He is always thought of as a noble hero – but what if he was actually a douche?

In “Mad Mad Hercules,” presented by NoExit and Zach Rosing Productions, we see him as a horny, drunk asshole who disrespects everyone and only aspires to become a constellation. To do so, he must complete these labors, which he has no desire to work for. True, he has been tortured and almost killed his entire existence by his reluctant stepmother, Hera. Still, that is no excuse for him being this big a tool.

This being Greek theatre, we have a Chorus to keep things going, fill in exposition, pose as occasional characters in the story and so on. Matthew Altman, Carrie Bennett Fedor, and Devan Mathais do an wonderfully energetic and whimsical job in this case.

Ryan Ruckman portrays Hercules so well, you will fight to keep yourself from punching him out. Nathan Thomas brings great passion to his character, Iolas, who must force Hercules to accomplish those tasks. He had always thought of Hercules as his hero, until he met him.

Beverly Roche is hilarious as Hippolyta, the leader of the Amazons. She also does a great job puppeting Galinthias, who was transformed by Hera into a polecat for helping to birth Hercules.

Speaking of puppetry, Matt Roher is a master at transforming himself into many of the creatures that are essential in the labors. His turn as the Ceryneian Hind is a marvel to behold.

Dena Toler gives a solid turn as the Trisha-Yearwood-idolizing Hera. However, it is her touching portrayal of Echidna, the monstrous mother of the Nemean Lion, that truly shows her amazing depth as an actress.

Josiah McCruiston is delightful as Eurystheus, Ruler of Hercules’s homeland and biggest pain in his ass.

Seemingly underused in the cast is Tony Armstrong as Zeus, the loving father who just can’t keep it in his pants.

The show, written by Bennett Ayres and Directed by Zack Neiditch, is an irreverent and thoroughly enjoyable interpretation of this epic tale. Be sure to catch it before it, too, is but a legend.

Find “Mad Mad Hercules” at the IndyFringe building, 719 E. St. Clair (just east of the Mass Ave./College/St. Clair intersection) in downtown Indianapolis, through May 7. Get info and tickets at www.indyfringe.org.