December 14, 2017

Top 2017 Shows

Every theatre is unique and the shows that they produce there reflect that diversity. I’m grateful Indy has so many great ones to choose from. There were some wonderful shows in 2017 and here’s a list of my personal favorites. Make sure you keep an eye on these theaters in 2015!

1)
J. Eyre: A New Musical Adaptation - EclecticPond Theatre Company

2) The Originalist - Indiana Repertory Theatre

3) A View from the Bridge - American Players Theatre

4) Kinky Boots - Broadway Across America

5) The Great Bike Race - Theatre on the Square

6) Richard III - First Folio Productions and Catalyst Repertory at the IndyFringe Theatre

7) Ring of Fire - Beef & Boards Dinner Theatre

8) Elemeno Pea - Indy Actors Playground

9)
Drankspeare: Hamlet -
EclecticPond Theatre Company

November 27, 2017

A Very Phoenix Xmas 12: Up to Snow Good

In May the Phoenix theater will hold its grand opening at its new location. That exciting fact makes this Xmas show particularly special. This year is the very last time audiences can see the holiday hit in the old church the Phoenix has called home for decades. There are years of new memories to be made on the new stage, but for those of us who have made A Very Phoenix Xmas part of our annual holiday tradition, there was something special about seeing this final show.

The Phoenix decided to bring back some crowd favorites from the previous 11 iterations of the show. They let people vote and the winners included "Tacobel Canon" and "Don't Eat the Baby". My personal favorite, "Les Miserabelves", was just as fantastic the second time around. The mash up of the Rudolph Christmas special and Les Miserables is beyond hilarious. Paul Hansen’s rendition of "Hallelujah" backed by a chorus of hymn singing cast members was incredibly moving. Moments like that remind you of the beautiful balance the Xmas show finds between silly skits and heartfelt ones.

Rob Johansen was an all-star in a variety of roles. From his aerial ribbon acrobatics to a harden noir detective in Christmastown, he didn't disappoint. Devan Mathias was another stand out. She took over the roles of Rudolph and a cashier during the Gumdrop Wars in "The Things They Merried". An Elf's Lament, penned by the Barenaked Ladies, was another fun addition this year.

The Xmas show is the bourbon in your spiced cider. Each year we're surrounded with cozy holiday options, from Hallmark Christmas movies to carols sung by strangers. For me, A Very Phoenix Xmas has become one of my favorite traditions. It's a night filled with humor that adds just the right amount of salt to cut the season's sweetness. I wouldn't miss it for the world!



Don't Miss the Show 
For more information about the Phoenix Theatre, visit www.phoenixtheatre.org. The theater is located at 749 N. Park Ave., Indianapolis, just off Massachusetts Ave. 
Performances: The show runs until December 23rd and offers five performances a week. Wednesdays and Thursdays begin at 7 p.m., Friday and Saturdays begin at 8 p.m. and Sunday matinees at 2 p.m. 
Tickets: To purchase tickets, call (317) 635-7529 or visit phoenixtheatre.org. Prices range from $25 to $35.

Photos courtesy of Zach Rosing.

October 23, 2017

The Originalist

"The middle takes guts. The middle is where you go to sit down with monsters."
The Indiana Repertory Theatre's current Upperstage production, The Originalist, explores that middle, introducing us to a fictional relationship between Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia and a liberal law clerk. The play is about the absolutely essential nature of debate. Having the freedom to openly discuss political issues is something we often take for granted in our country as we get lost in the fight. We forget that the person you disagree with doesn't have to be the enemy. 


The play features two incredibly charismatic leads. Henry Woronicz is Scalia, the conservative judge famous for his love of opera and passionate dissents. Woronicz revels in the role. He is combative and playful, even when the discussion is heated he doesn't lose his wry sense of humor. Ayanna Bria Bakari is his counterpart Cat, whose desire to better understand the other end of the political spectrum opens up a fascinating conversation. 

James Still's direction highlights the dialogue beautifully. The actors are front and center, elaborate sets and special effects are striped away and their words are all that matters. Using only a rectangle of light and a few respirator noises the show creates a believable hospital room. Moments like that keep the show grounded, pulling the audience in even farther. 

A play about a politically polarizing figure could have been so heavy-handed. Instead, it's delightful. The scenes are full of heart and humor and at the end your mind will be buzzing. Reaching across the aisle has never been more important. Our country has demonized the opposing sides and they each feel the gap is too wide to bridge. The play reminds us that "faith takes courage" and so does opening the door to a civil discussion with someone whom you disagree. 
Don't Miss the Show   

The Indiana Repertory Theatre is located at 140 W. Washington St., Indianapolis, one-half block west of the Circle Center Mall between northbound Illinois St. and southbound Capitol Ave. "The Originalist" runs until Nov. 12 on IRT's Upperstage. It includes strong language, adult themes, and gunshot sounds. It is 1 hour 50 minutes, with no intermission. To purchase tickets or find performance times, call (317) 635-5252 or order online at www.irtlive.com.

Photos Courtesy of the Indiana Repertory Theatre 

October 16, 2017

Cabaret Poe

 When the Theatre on the Square closed its doors earlier this year, the perennial fall favorite Cabaret Poe needed to find a new home. The show settled into the fourth floor of Circle Centre Mall. It's an unexpected choice, but they make it work. All the best elements are still there, macabre humor, a trio of cynical performers who share the lead, and a delightful selection of Edgar Allan Poe's work. The result is a production that will apparently work in any performance space. 
The staging is simple. There are multi-media screens that fill with sinister silhouettes or scribbles of writing in different scenes. A raised stage in the center works to enhance numbers as the actors strut up and down the stairs in heels and bustles. 

Ben Asaykwee, the show's creator, stars in each performance, while the other two roles rotate between four cast members. Julie Lyn Barber and Georgeanna Smith Wade were featured in the show I attended. Asaykwee, as always, is charismatic and creepy in equal parts. His scenes are enthralling, you can't look away for fear of missing a perfectly-timed raised eyebrow. 
Smith Wade brings a wonderful tone of humor to her role. In her hands even The Raven feels fresh. Barber balances the show with an intense cold stare and eerie movements. She's particularly good in The Tell-Tale Heart. A live orchestra, located just off stage, performs the original music and provides a depth that piped in songs just can't capture. A dance sequence in the second act unnecessarily slows things down, but that's the only moment when the show lags. 

Highlighting both the light and dark in Poe's work, the show embraces humor, which is essential in making it work. Truly, the show is a delight and an absolute essential tradition for theatre-goers in the fall.  
Don't Miss the ShowPerformances: The Q Artistry play runs until Oct. 29 on the fourth floor of the Circle Center Mall. 
Tickets: Tickets are $15-20 and may be purchased here brownpapertickets.com/event/3089069. 

Photos Courtesy of Q Artistry

October 3, 2017

Review and Q&A: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

The Indiana Repertory Theatre opened its season with The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. It's a murder mystery, but not in the traditional sense. The murdered party is a dog and the "detective" is a teenage boy named Christopher, whose developmental disabilities allow him to see the world through a unique lens. The show is at once emotionally exhausting and energetic. There's humor strategically placed in almost every scene to help break the tension.

Mickey Rowe is acrobatic as Christopher. He is the first autistic actor to tackle the role in an American production. Though that's an accomplishment in its own right, he's also spot on in his portrayal. His ticks, his conversations, his immediate strong reactions when anything in his world deviates from its comfortable patterns, all of these things give the audience an accurate look at the world of one person with a developmental disability. 

As much as this is clearly Christopher's story, the roles of his mother and father, deftly played by Constance Macy and Robert Neal, provide much of the play's heart. They know their son can only connect to them in specific ways, but that doesn't make it any easier when you just want a tiny sign of affection. Their restraint in moments of passion are heartbreaking. It's easy to see the strain they've been under and the deep love they have for their son. 

In adapting the novel into a play, one strange decision was to break the fourth wall in the second act. It was an unnecessary choice that takes the audience out of Christopher's carefully-constructed world. The modern set includes a multi-media screen which flashes with numbers and lights to helps the audience see Christopher's train of thought. It's cleverly turned into a train in one scene, seamlessly giving the illusion of movement with only a few adjustments to the set. There are moments that are intentionally sensory overload, a crucial part of understanding what Christopher is going through. 

In the end, the show does what the best productions aim to do. It allows the audience to see the world through another person's eyes. It opens a door into a completely different point of view, shedding light on individuals that are often overlooked. The play provides the opportunity to pause and think about the challenges others face and the ways we might be able to show more compassion in our everyday lives.

Don't Miss the Show 

The Indiana Repertory Theatre is located at 140 W. Washington St., Indianapolis, one-half block west of the Circle Center Mall between northbound Illinois St. and southbound Capitol Ave. The show runs until Oct. 14 on IRT's OneAmerica Mainstage. Times for performances can be found at www.irtlive.com or by calling the IRT box office at (317) 635-5252. To purchase tickets call (317) 635-5252 or order online at www.irtlive.com
Photos courtesy of the IRT
Below is a short Q&A with the production's director and lead actor.
Director: Risa Brainin

Q: As the director of the first American production to feature an autistic in the lead role, what impact do you think this production can have for an audience member with a development disorder?
A: Mickey Rowe’s portrayal of Christopher is so organic and genuine that I think audience members on the autism spectrum will relate to Christopher and perhaps see themselves reflected in some of his behavior. Since the term “autism” is a very large umbrella encompassing a wide range of behaviours, some people may relate to certain aspects of the character, while others connect with a different part of Christopher. The saying goes, “if you’ve met one person with autism, you’ve met one person with autism.” That said, for the autism community to see an actor on the spectrum play a character on the spectrum has already made a large impact. Inclusion is the first step to erasing stereotypes and stigmas attached to autism.

Q: What did Mickey bring to the role as an autistic actor that another actor might have missed?A: Mickey brought his very personal life experience to the role. Of course an actor can play an autistic character, but nothing substitutes for real life experience. I relied on Mickey to make the characteristics of autism genuine. We talked about what stims Christopher might have and together, we made choices that ring true for both the character and Mickey.

Q: You mentioned that the character of Christopher has reactions that are “unencumbered by politics, prejudices, or preconceptions.” I our society, where we are often so careful to say the right thing, was it refreshing to work on a piece that allowed you to ignore those restraints?A: I love the character of Christopher and how he tells the truth. One of the directions I offered to the other actors was to really be surprised when Christopher answers truthfully. It can be quite disarming to hear the plain truth!


Mickey Rowe:

Q: You’ve spoken about feeling vulnerable in everyday life, so transferring that to your performance on stage comes easily. What do you struggle with as an actor that others might take for granted?A: The biggest struggles for me are the hand shakes, small talk, eye contact necessary during an interview and audition with a director that are necessary for getting a role. I can make eye contact no problem on stage! It's harder off stage. Also if the scenes provided for you to read at an audition aren't 18 pt font then I really can't read them and the audition becomes more of a vision test then an audition or experiment to see how me and that director can collaborate together. During this show the hardest part is the grocery shopping, remembering to pay bills, signing contracts, "executive function" type stuff that happen off stage. But I really don't feel effected that much on stage.

Q: You are the first American autistic actor to play the role of Christopher. Did you feel an added pressure because of that?
A: Absolutely! I feel a pressure to make sure that I use this opportunity for everything that it is worth, for both myself and the disability community at large to show, "Look! We can do amazing work! We can be professional! You can hire us! People with disabilities get the job done!"

Q: Is this the first time you’ve played a character with a developmental disability?
A: This is the first time I've gotten to play a character with a developmental disability.

Q: What was it like to bring some of your own experiences to the stage?A: get to feel so myself on stage. In so many ways for me this is the easiest role I've ever gotten to play even though it is the largest. I feel so myself in so many moments on stage.