No. 1: Ice Cream!

By Wendy Carson

First off, suicide, as well as the depressive hopelessness that can lead to it, are no laughing matter and these things should never be taken lightly. However, survivors dealing with the impact of the act, and trying to understand/heal afterwards all have different ways of doing so.

In “Every Brilliant Thing,” Ben Asaykwee brings us playwright Duncan Macmillan and comedian Jonny Donahoe’s story of a seven-year-old boy’s struggle to help his mom find some sort of joy in her life so she will continue living it.

While the show is not autobiographical, it is an amalgamation of numerous true stories of those who have lived through these situations, including Macmillan and Donahoe themselves.

Our Narrator (Asaykwee) tells the life story of the boy who, at seven, is taken to the hospital by his father because his mom “is sad” and “has done something stupid.” Determined to find a way to help, he begins to make a list of “Brilliant Things” that make one happy in order to show her there is a lot out there to live for. While he is aware that she has read at least the start of his list – she corrects his spelling – she doesn’t seem to understand its purpose, so his work on the list continues.

We are privy to his life story throughout: his teenage angst through her second “episode,” falling in love at college, marriage, separation, the inevitable funeral, and survival beyond it, all the while seeing the growth and development of the list.

Audience members are not just observers of the story, they are participants. Upon arriving, you will be given one or two numbered items on the list that you will shout out when they are added. A few audience members will also portray some characters required for the narrative, to the great delight of all. There is a surprising amount of laughter in this heartwarming production. There is also the added treat of ice cream after the show, per item #1 on the list.

A talk-back afterwards is available for anyone who feels the need to discuss or decompress as well (you still get ice cream).

Throughout the ups and downs of the boy’s journey, Asaykwee shows us the full emotional range of the character, as well as his impressive acting and improv skills. Recently open about his own mental struggles, he finds this a challenging and important role. Director Kevin Caraher is also familiar with stories of personal growth through trauma, having been in plays such as “Bill W.” and “Small Mouth Sounds.”

Of the three productions of this script I have seen, this is by far my favorite.

So, come out to not only watch the list grow throughout this story, but also feel free to take a Post-it afterwards and add your own Brilliant Thing to the list. Produced by Stage Door Productions, performances are through Sunday, June 26, at the District Theatre, 627 Massachusetts Ave., Indianapolis. Get tickets at indydistricttheatre.org.

‘Hedwig’ heralds Cardinal’s transformation

By Wendy Carson

The on- and Off-Broadway hit musical “Hedwig and The Angry Inch” is a unique experience, even more so now as the final production of Cardinal Stage in Bloomington.

As you enter the theater, you notice that it is in the middle of renovations. Your ushers and the crew are all wearing protective vests and hard hats. The entire place is a miasma of construction, complete with caution tape and even a port-a-potty on stage. However, this sets a perfect scene for the spectacle you are about to behold.

For those of you unfamiliar with the story, Hedwig is a visionary singer who escaped East Germany by way of marriage to a G.I. But her dark reality ruins the fairy tale, as she endured a botched sex-change operation, becoming essentially genderless. Rather than sink into despair, she recreates herself into a rock goddess while also creating a rock god, Tommy Gnosis. As with every other man in her life, he leaves her; still she rages on, continuing to tell her story no matter what.

The most surprising part of this production is that James Rose is one of the few trans, genderfluid, or non-binary performers to play the title role. While one may consider this a bit of stunt-casting, Rose quickly shows the talent and passion that makes Hedwig resonate with any audience.

While I have seen and enjoyed other stagings of this show, Rose is the first performer I’ve seen who shows the true duality of Hedwig and Tommy Gnosis. As developed by originator John Cameron Mitchell (with songs by Stephen Trask), the two are distinct persons but portrayed by the same actor. In the Cardinal production, directed by queer performer John Jarboe, the revelation of Gnosis is the best presented I’ve ever seen. Rose makes Hedwig’s “other half” their own person, with his own distinct reckoning.

Paige Scott as Yitzhak (Hedwig’s “husband” from the former Yugoslavia) brings the anger requisite to the character but subtly shows us the deep love felt for Hedwig. With the character being relegated to the background for much of the story, her transformation during the finale is so much more joyous to behold.

Hedwig’s backup band, The Angry Inch, are comprised of Dan Kazemi on keyboard, Ben Jackson on guitar, Galen Morris on bass, and Bryce Greene on drums. They are all an integral part of the show, not just as accompanists, but also bringing out the true rock-and-roll performances demanded of them. They all bring such a sense of joy to the musical, keeping the story from becoming unbearably morose. They also work the crowd prior to the show – let them know if you’ve spotted “Phyllis” in the audience.

I did particularly love Christopher Simanton & Johna Sewell’s costume and wig designs. They made brilliant use of ordinary objects found on or near a construction site and transformed them into stunning works of art. I do recommend taking a moment or two after the show ends to fully take in their amazing array of “wigs” throughout the space, created by props master Aubrey Krueger.*

Since this is Cardinal’s final production before merging with Bloomington Playwrights Project and Pigasus Institute to form Constellation Stage & Screen, the renovation and rebuilding theme of both the show and its design are quite appropriate. So, say goodbye to the old and welcome the new with this amazing update of what is quickly becoming a timeless classic.

Performances run through June 26 at Waldron Auditorium, 122 S. Walnut St., Bloomington, and tickets are pay-what-you-can. Details at cardinalstage.org.

*This last credit was added after initial posting, when it was pointed out Simanton and Sewell mainly made the wigs (and wig-like objects) for people’s heads. Krueger’s designs are static, displayed around the stage set.

Eclipse presents exceptional ‘Cabaret’

By Wendy Carson

When most people think of the musical, “Cabaret,” they consider Sally Bowles to be the main character. However, this is really the story of the writer, Clifford Bradshaw, and his quest to write a novel. It is, after all, based on semi-autobiographical stories by an actual writer living in 1930s Berlin.  

Yet, as crafted by Joe Masteroff (with songs by John Kander and Fred Ebb), it is actually the Emcee who is the storyteller and master manipulator of the entire plot. We see him pulling the strings, putting all of the pieces into play, joyously watching the outcomes, and savagely commenting on it all through song. This has never been so utterly clear as it is in Eclipse’s current production.

From the first second he takes the stage, Matthew Conwell’s presence as our host enthralls. We can’t help but obey his every command. Fortunately for the rest of the cast, he directs us all to pay attention to the other performers who are equally outstanding.

The Kit Kat Girls: Rosie (Reagan Cole Minnette), Lulu (Peyton Wright), Frenchie (Cora Lucas), Texas (Julia Murphy), Fritzie (Lizzie Mowry), and Helga (Emily Lynn Thomas), are all at the top of their game. Their dexterity, balance, and skill bringing life to Alexandria Van Paris’s choreography (which in some cases would make even Fosse impressed) shows that they are all destined for promising stage careers if they choose to pursue them. They also bring a hint of joy to the jaded seediness of their roles.

The Kit Kat Boys, Bobby (Isaiah Hastings) and Victor (Jet Terry) are both athletic and charismatic to the point of making you sad that the script doesn’t offer them more stage time.

Cynthia Kauffman gives Sally Bowles a happier outlook. She keeps her character intentionally ignorant to anything around her that is not currently making her happy and promoting her career.

Donathan Arnold’s turn as Clifford Bradshaw makes the character as All-American as apple pie, while reminding us that apples can be tart, rotten, sweet and that all recipes have secret ingredients within them. Being an African American makes casting sense, as in the era Black ex-pats often found Europe more welcoming than back home. And he does seem to enjoy Germany – until he doesn’t.

Judy Fitzgerald and Charles Goad truly break your heart as Fraulein Schneider and Herr Schultz, a couple so hopelessly in love but still wary of the dangers arising around them.

Mowry’s delightful turn as the dedicated “lover” of sailors, Fraulein Kost, helps bring some much-needed humor into much of the storyline outside of The Kit Kat Club. But her true loyalties are no laughing matter.

Scott Van Wye pours on the charm as the mysterious Ernst Ludwig. We almost don’t mind the true nature of his “work,” until it’s literally on his sleeve.

Eclipse is a program of Summer Stock Stage that gives the alumni of the youth program a chance to be part of a professional production. They not only learn from experienced director Carlos Medina Maldonado but also by working alongside Equity actors Fitzgerald (co-founder of Actors Theatre of Indiana) and Goad.

While I do admit that this musical is one of my all-time favorites, this production makes me feel like I have never actually seen it before. If I could, I would gladly watch every performance.

You can see it Thursday through Sunday, June 9-12, at the Phoenix Theatre, 705 N. Illinois, Indianapolis. Find info and tickets at phoenixtheatre.org.

ATI show truly Works

By Wendy Carson

In the early 1970s, Studs Terkel set out to interview various people about their jobs. The result was the book, “Working: People Talk About What They Do All Day and How They Feel About What They Do.” In 1977, it was turned into a musical by Stephen Schwartz and Nina Faso, with songs by artists including James Taylor.

Much has changed since then, so in 2012, a revised version was created to include a few newer occupations and songs, with the help of Lin-Manuel Miranda. This updated version of “Working: The Musical” is what Actors Theatre of Indiana presents for us.

The performance consists of six actors playing a number of varied personas. With a supremely talented cast and an ever-changing roster of characters, picking out highlights can be challenging, but here are the moments that echoed with me.

Don Farrell flexes his range by giving us an unapologetic yuppie investor and later, Joe, who is searching for purpose and his memory now that he is retired.

Cynthia Collins is at the top of her game as the sassy waitress who considers her work to be the epitome of quality.

Adam Tran’s turn as Joe’s caretaker in “A Very Good Day” is so sweet and moving it may drive you to tears.

The determination to be more than their job and give their children a better future is shiningly evident in Aviva Pressman’s take on “Millwork,” as well as Lillie Eliza Thomas on being “Just a Housewife” (with Pressman and Collins) and her ode to family history in “Cleaning Women.”

Adam Sledge embodies the blue collar worker throughout most of his songs, including Taylor’s “Brother Trucker,” showing the pride one takes in work we usually never even think about.

Direction is by ATI newcomer Lysa Fox.

The show is perfectly summed up in the closing number, “Something to Point To,” where we are reminded that all any of us really wants is something we can show others that we had a hand in making.

Adjust your personal work schedule to fit in this delightful tribute to the working men and women who built our great land, and you just might catch your own personal story being played out onstage.

“Working” is on the job through May 22 at the Studio Theater in the Center for the Performing Arts in downtown Carmel. Get info and tickets at atistage.org or thecenterpresents.org.

NOTE: There was an edit to the original post to correct a singing credit.

District drama explores daunting ‘Place’

By Wendy Carson

By Wendy Carson

The District Theatre presents “What Is This Place? A Journey of Self in the Aftermath,” in which five souls ask the title question, while knowing on some level exactly where they are.

Welcome to their nightmare – where you, too, will likely go one day.

I first saw a version of this show in August of 2016, at IndyFringe. In the six years since, playwright Jan White has reshaped it into an even greater work of beauty and hope. If you go back to that first review, I didn’t say much about the show because I didn’t want to spoil the mystery for anyone. However, the current version allows more room to meditate on the performance.

The story begins with Darlene (Holly Hathaway) being flung in through a door which she cannot unlock to make her escape. She claims to know the place, because in her past she saw her mother inside it. She protests that she wants to leave, but is afraid of what lies beyond the door.

The other denizens of this place are: Maggie (Miki Mathioudakis), a wealthy widow, distantly connected to Darlene, who has transformed into a sloppy, hot mess; Sophia (Brittany Magee), a perky, meditating, goof who searches for peace she cannot find; Cindy (Bianca Black), who just wants to sleep, but no combination of drugs and alcohol are able to work; and finally, Jake (Chad Pirowski), the apparent caretaker, whose silence makes him appear creepy.

Periodically, each person will go to a space at the side of the stage to view pieces of their memories, which we are privy to by way of a video screen. It does not take us long to realize what this place actually is, but the point here is the characters’ journey to that same discovery. Once they fully acknowledge it, they must then decide whether to leave or stay (each option has its benefits).

As each woman comes to terms with that which landed them there, they must also deal with the fact that some questions never have answers, that perhaps “everything happens for a reason” is nonsense, whether you accept it or not. Eventually, they find the darkness they have in common, and how to wield it as a key to that door that perhaps was never really locked after all.

While this is a story about grief and loss, it also embodies the accomplishment and hope that lies at the end of that road.

Performances are truly remarkable, considering the gut-wrenching dramatic exercise this play puts the cast through, under the direction of Rosana Schutte. We get small bits of relief, in humorous moments with Cindy’s substances, Maggie’s endless Doritos bags, or Sophia’s attempts at serenity with bells and “tapping.” Still, the pain is never far from them, lurking just outside the windows. Our heart goes out to all five, even Jake, who has the darkest truth.

Remaining performances of “What Is This Place?” are Friday and Saturday, April 29-30, with ASL interpretation, at the District, 627 Mass. Ave., Indianapolis. For info and tickets, go to IndyDistrictTheatre.org.

Phoenix: Coming of age in home haunted by history

NOTE: “The Magnolia Ballet” is not a “ballet” in the conventional sense. The Google/Oxford definition of ballet is “an artistic dance form performed to music using precise and highly formalized set steps and gestures.” This drama, the world premiere of a new play by Terry Guest at the Phoenix Theatre through April 10, is neither a musical nor danced-through, but displays its own rhythm as it deals with codified steps in a society long steeped in restrictive tradition. — JLB

By Wendy Carson

Ghosts exist, whether you believe in them or not. They are especially prevalent in the South where so much pain and struggle caused by slavery, racism, and general prejudices have caused countless souls unrest.

Young Ezekial (Isaiah Moore), “Z,” the sixth of his name, knows these ghosts all too well. Descended from slaves who bought freedom, only to be pressed into servitude again, they haunt his days and nights. His best friend Danny (Andrew Martin), has different issues — a mix of pride and shame in his family heritage of slave-owners, lynchers, and KKK members. 

The two families have long lived next to each other in rural Georgia in a tentative peace, but the current generation are close enough to be brothers. In fact, Z and Danny have apparently shared a lot.

Ezekial’s widower father (Daniel Martin), doesn’t think his son should be spending so much time away from the homestead and the endless chores needed for upkeep. While he’s not an outwardly affectionate man, he tries to do his best for his son. 

As the boys are working on a school project about the Civil War, Z is urged by his father to look through the shed for some of his grandfather’s old papers to help out. There he finds a trove of love letters that will forever change his life, showing him he has much more in common with Grandfather Ezekial than he imagined.

Floating throughout the story is an Apparition (Eddie Dean), ever-present and mostly observing rather than interfering. 

Moore is superb in his portrayal of a gay youth who just wants to enjoy his life and childhood. He brings out the joys and frustrations of the character, especially his quest to discover the truth of the letters and their author.

Daniel Martin gives a delicate performance as a father trying to do the best for his son by instilling in him a fierce work ethic while hardening him to the truth of the world. He also makes a delightful cameo as Danny Mitchell’s (white) father. 

Andrew Martin shows Danny as a simple country boy who, while not ashamed of his racist background, seems to not even notice that his best friend is black. While insisting he is not gay in the slightest, he does have a deep love for his friend that challenges his admonitions.

Dean ably takes on the role of the glue that holds this narrative together, the spirit of past and present that, in their own way, calls the tune of this “dance.”

In the first step of a National New Play Network Rolling Premiere (it will later be staged afresh in New York and Michigan), director Mikael Burke makes both subtle and bold choices, from the way Z shifts his demeanor between having to “man up” and being himself, to the thematic use of “outrunning the fire.” Kudos also to fight/intimacy choreographer Laraldo Anzaldua, and set design by Inseung Park. 

Designated “Part 1” of a planned trilogy, this “Magnolia Ballet” is a complete story with much to say, think upon, and discuss. Find the Phoenix at 705 N. Illinois, Indianapolis; find information and tickets at phoenixtheatre.org.

Important ‘Mountaintop’ in the hills of Bloomington

By Wendy Carson

On April 3, 1968, the night before the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s death by assassination, he gave one of his most famous speeches. Known as, “I have been to the Mountaintop”, it encourages people to wonder what would happen to them if they didn’t act in service to others, rather than what would happen to them if they did. 

He speaks of traveling through history and witnessing numerous times of oppressed peoples overcoming their struggles. He reminds us of what we have already been through and how we can continue to overcome poverty and injustice by working together to support one another. 

However, he also speaks about his near-death experience from a knife attack years earlier and how a mere sneeze could have killed him. He references the constant barrage of death threats that he endures each and every day. He acknowledges that he will not always be there to continue the fight for justice and equality. Yet, he assures us that he knows that what he has begun will continue on after he is gone.

This speech, its message, and King’s life are the inspirations for Katori Hall’s play, “The Mountaintop,” presented by Cardinal Stage in Bloomington. 

King (Michael Aaron Pogue) retires to his room at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis to try and get some rest while working on his next speech. He sends a friend to get him some cigarettes to help with this mission. After calling down to the front desk for room service, his coffee is delivered by Camae (AshLee “PsyWrn Simone” Baskin), a beautiful maid on her first night of her new job. She also brings with her the next day’s paper. With the storm raging outside and his reluctance to be alone, the two engage in a spirited discussion of King’s life, the Civil Rights struggle, and the future. 

Hall pulls no punches in portraying King as an honorable but flawed man. Pogue proudly shows us King’s many great achievements while also regretfully acknowledging his indiscretions and moral failings. He also shows us flashes of future inevitability in his panicked reactions to the claps of thunder which, sounding to him like gunshots, rattle King so.

Baskin shows Camae as a mater-of-fact woman who has no time or desire to mince words and always clearly speaks her mind. She manages to keep the character’s expletive-laden rants light yet never denies the meaning and power behind them. She also skillfully keeps Camae sympathetic once we learn the truth of who it is she is actually working for. 

Director Ansley Valentine brings us a story that reminds us not just of the loss of a great leader for change but also that the struggle is not a sprint, but a relay race, and we are all responsible for our part in it. So, take up the baton, and see this show. 

Performances run through March 20 at the Waldron Arts Center, 122 S. Walnut St., Bloomington. Get information and tickets (“pay what you will” pricing) at cardinalstage.org.

‘Birds’-inspired ‘Fowl’ far more funny than frightening

By Wendy Carson

Ben Asaykwee, the force behind Q Artistry and creator of the perennial favorite “Cabaret Poe,” has tapped his deep comical well to bring us the hilarious musical delight that is “The Fowl.” In this sharp parody of Alfred Hitchcock’s classic, “The Birds,” we are transported to 1960s Bodega Bay, California, where several mysterious bird attacks occur. 

We are reminded that the secondary romantic plot is better suited to a film on the Hallmark channel, though necessary to facilitate the events in which the attacks take place. While the show’s costumes and “wigs” give everything the look of a cartoon, they are quite ingenious and perfectly reflect the quirkiness of the show. The special effects are crude but reinforce the irreverence of the production. 

Though the look is reminiscent of what one would expect from an elementary school show, the cast and crew are genuine in their love of what they are doing and passion to make you laugh. It is also an excellent mentoring opportunity, as local stage veterans work side by side with young actors. 

This show is presented in two acts. The first retells the movie, pulling no punches at some of its more ludicrous portions.

The second act revolves around the stories of the birds themselves (from their point of view) and supposition as to why these attacks were necessary. While I personally take umbrage at the constant disparaging comments regarding the tardiness of the penguins, the birds do make some very valid points.

Asaykwee, as director/choreographer, had cast members each learn more than one set of roles, not only to help gain experience, but also in case a Covid-positive test sidelined any performers. You’ll see at least a different order in the lineup from one show to the next. Therefore this is a true ensemble effort. That flock includes: Matt Anderson, Shelbi Berry, Quincy Carman, Jaddy Ciucci, Ellie Cooper, Finley Eyers, Fiona Eyers, Janice Hibbard, Tiffanie Holifield, Noah Lee, Maria Meschi, Pat Mullen, Himiko Ogawa, Inori Ogawa, Wren Thomas, Diane Tsao, and Noah Winston. 

At our performance, we saw Berry doing her best Tippi Hendren, a scene-stealing turn by Finley Eyers as an over-eager Seagull, and a beautiful interpretive Ostrich dance by Holifield.

With all the current stress in the world and each of our lives, it is good to be able to go out and have a really good laugh. This show will afford you a whole flock of opportunities to do just that. So go out and catch “The Fowl” – Thursday through Sunday (March 3-6) at The District Theatre, 627 Massachusetts Ave., Indianapolis – before the opportunity flies past.

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.

Storefront: Listen to the ‘Voices’

By Wendy Carson and John Lyle Belden

Down in the basement venue of the Storefront Theatre of Indianapolis, we are visited by a Griot. In ages past, this storyteller class told the stories and shared the heritage of West African peoples. Neither the cruel Middle Passage nor the slavers’ whips could destroy their spirit, which lives on in people of color today, and channeled by playwright Angela Jackson-Brown into “Voices of Yesteryear: A Showcase of School #26.” This hour of important narratives is directed by Dena Toler, whose experience included bringing to life multicultural stories at the old Phoenix Theatre under Bryan Fonseca.

While you entered the theater at Broad Ripple, in this space you are on 16th Street, formerly Tinker Street. The area Griot (Saundra “Mijiza” Holiday) invites you to hear stories, told first-hand by those who lived them, about John Hope School No. 26 and its mostly African American neighborhood.

For those who don’t know or remember, this K-8 public school was open from 1920 to 2007 at 1301 E. 16th St., now the site of Oaks Academy Middle School. Named after John Hope, an educator, political activist, and the first African-American president of Morehouse College and Atlanta University, it is held in proud memory by its alumni, who went on to high school at Arsenal Tech and Crispus Attucks.

In “Voices,” we are transported to a different era, not much different from our own but in which we are reminded of the traditions and wisdom it feels we sorely lack in our current world.

We are at the heart of the Civil Rights struggle and a Teacher (Katherine Adamou) shows how the children of the time were taught not that they could succeed but that they WOULD succeed. Discipline, manners, scholarship, and moral integrity were the cornerstones of the classrooms. “Do not shame us,” she commanded, “Or yourselves.”  Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. preached these principles and every child was expected to know and live them. 

Speaking of Dr. King, we hear from a Young Girl (Ari Casey) excited to hear him speak when he comes to Indianapolis in 1958. She not only loves his message, but also has quite a crush on the handsome minister. However, speaking of her feelings could make her mother take the switch to her for being fresh with a man of God.

We also meet one of the many Elders (Ennis Adams) who were leaders in the Neighborhood. They made sure that the children behaved, were respectful to others, went to church, learned their lessons, and parented them as needed. “I’m reminding you that you are a community,” he emphasizes. Everyone looked out for everyone else and while nobody’s lives were by any means easy, they were a bit more stable in a way that would be nice to see return to the world.

Rounding out the cast is Jamaal McCray, remembering as an Alumni and present as a Teenage Boy in the 50s, whose stories echo the change in direction that many youth took in stepping away from this upbringing and finding their own way in this burgeoning new world. 

Having grown up in a rural environment where folks likewise looked out for one another, we found these stories brought on a nostalgia for a simpler, more secure time. One where you could safely play throughout your neighborhood knowing that everything would be alright as long as you were home before the streetlights came on. Of course, we didn’t have the additional burden of race. Teacher and Elder understood this extra stress, and made sure John Hope students knew where they came from, that their history didn’t begin on the shores of America.

The children understand. “A lot of bad things have happened to our people,” the Girl muses. “Ain’t no place perfect,” the Boy says, reminding us that mid-century Indy was not all an idyllic location for Black residents.

Toler and the cast do an excellent job of bringing us people who are a little different, yet very much the same as us. “You know me!” Griot declares; the story of a people is told, she says, in every man, woman, boy and girl you see on the street.

Listen to their “Voices” through March 6 at 717 Broad Ripple Ave. Get information and tickets at www.storefrontindy.com.