October 29, 2013

At Home at the Zoo

Awkward social situations, touchy marital talks, and discussions about uncomfortable issues, you’d expect nothing less from the playwright who wrote, “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”

Acting Up Productions’ current show “At Home at the Zoo” is a unique play to say the least. Originally presented as a one act production called “The Zoo Story,” the playwright added another act to the beginning of the show decades later. The result is a strange blend, but a fascinating one. The first act (the newer of the two) introduces us to Peter and Ann, a content married couple who somehow end up discussing some delicate issues.

The couple, played by Allison Reddick and Joshua C. Ramsey, are convincing as a pair who have grown accustomed to their monotonous lives. They’ve established a comfortable life, but like most couples, they long for a bit of excitement. Ann begins to wonder if they wouldn’t benefit from a little disorder in their world.

The second and more well-known act follows Peter (Ramsey) as he goes to Central Park to spend the rest of the afternoon reading. While there he meets an odd man, Jerry, who strikes up a conversation. The added first act gives more depth to Peter’s character, but it’s Jerry who steals the show. Scott Russell’s whirlwind performance as Jerry is impossible to look away from. He is a volatile individual and as the situation escalates we find ourselves, like Peter, captivated by Jerry’s odd behavior and bizarre stories.

The show’s simple staging and deft direction by Scot Greenwell encourages the audience to focus on the dialogue. It makes you think about both the absurdity of the situation and its realistic nature. The first act is all about control and normalcy; Ann and Peter are infinitely relatable in their ordinariness. The second is about chaos and how it unavoidably creeps into peoples’ lives.

It’s also a study of loneliness, both of people who are alone in the world and of those in relationships that leave them feeling isolated. The play explores what that loneliness can make us do. Humans strive for connection and sometimes those connections aren’t positive ones.

*The play deals with some very adult themes and includes adult language.

*Acting Up offered a talk back after the show I attended to discuss the play with the cast and crew. I would highly recommend sticking around for that if it is offered.

Don't Miss the Show
Performances: The play runs until Nov. 10. on the Theatre on the Square mainstage, 627 Massachusetts Avenue, Indianapolis. Shows begin at 8 pm on Fridays and Saturdays and at 2:30 pm on Sundays.

Tickets: Tickets are $12 Reserved or $10 for Seniors/Students with ID and $15/$12 at the door.  Tickets may be purchased by calling the box office at 317-207-0171 or online at www.ActingUp-Productions.com 

Photos Courtesy of Acting Up Productions 

October 21, 2013

An Iliad

A one-man show of The Iliad doesn’t sound too promising to most people. The epic story of the Trojan War simplified into a show with a single cast member sounds almost impossible. And yet the Indiana Repertory Theatre’s current Upperstage production blows audiences away.

An Iliad features Henry Woronicz in a tour-de-force performance. He is poet and player, warrior and widow all at the same time. He begins with the Greek language, naming cities and battles, but he quickly connects with the audience bringing the reality of war home to them. In modern day clothes he walks the littered alleyway in a big city reminiscing about the Greeks and Trojans. If the show was performed by a less talented actor it could easily have stalled-out, losing peoples’ attention in a sea of unfamiliar Greek words. Instead it’s mesmerizing in its complexity, maintaining a comedic edge despite the serious material.

The play is based on the Iliad, but it rises above being a retelling of the well-known story. Using Robert Fagles’ translation of Homer’s original work playwrights Lisa Peterson and Denis O’Hare create a completely new play. Their creation, beautifully directed by Fontaine Syer becomes more of a meditation of war. It has an accessible conversational tone. It’s Greek tragedy that would appeal to a Rick Riordan generation, making the words of the Greeks come alive for high school students.

The play never comes across as an anti-war piece; instead it focuses on the grief and destruction caused by war. War has not changed over the past few centuries; even though it’s a necessary evil it’s no less tragic. The story of war is a simple one; it’s universally applicable to any time or place. This play recognizes that, reminding us that though the Trojan War was centuries ago, so many wars dot the timeline between now and then, connecting each war and soldier throughout the ages.

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 Iliad" runs until Saturday, Nov. 16 on IRT's Upperstage. 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 Zach Rosing

October 8, 2013

Les Misérables

When it comes to musicals they don't get much bigger or more complex than Les Misérables. The sheer size of the cast, the number of costumes and complicated sets make this production a huge endeavor for any theater to undertake. Beef & Boards decided to tackle that challenge head on for the first time in their 40 years of business. The powerful show is on stage now until November 24th.
The epic story covers decades of time and a huge cast of characters. At its heart is Jean Valjean (played by Broadway vet Gregg Goodbrod) a convict who breaks parole and starts a new life. He learns the hard way that a person can only depend on the mercy and generosity of others if they hope to survive. Goodbrod really hits his stride in the second act, nailing songs like “Bring Him Home.”
Hot on his trail throughout the musical is Inspector Javert, a police officer who sees the world in black and white. Joe Tokarz plays Javert with such conviction it’s hard to look away. He’s a complex villain, a hero in the eyes of the law, but his world view leaves no room for mercy. Tokarz performs Javert’s famous number, Stars, so exquisitely that he has gone down in my book as one of my favorite performers to take on the role.   
The other absolute stand out for me was Stephanie Torns’ turn as the tragic Eponine. Torrns has performed as Elphaba in Wicked on Broadway, so it’s no surprise that she can belt out a ballad, but she blew me away with her heartbreaking performance. Another highlight of the show is the live music provided by the theatre’s orchestra. Each actor’s performance is enhanced by the incredible musicians backing them up.

It’s impossible not to lose some of the majesty of the show by performing it on a smaller stage, but the production packs each minute with a huge amount of talent. The theatre found Broadway performers to take on the main roles and elevate the whole show. The costumes are beautifully done, from the convicts rags to wedding guests’ ball gowns to prostitutes’ revealing corsets. The most is made of the stage, using scaled down but versatile sets to switch from the revolutionaries’ barricade to the sewers of Paris in a matter of seconds.

It's a powerful story no matter what medium it's told through but the stage performance is particularly poignant. For anyone who has only seen the movie version I hope you’ll make it to Beef and Boards to see a live performance.

Don't Miss the Show
Performances: The show runs until Nov. 24. Doors open for evening performances at 6 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday. The buffet is served from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. and the show begins at 8 p.m. For Wednesday matinees doors open at 11:30 a.m. and the buffet is served from 11:45 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. The show begins at 1 p.m. For Sunday matinees doors open at 12 p.m. and the buffet is served from 12:15 to 1 p.m. The show begins at 1:30 p.m.
Tickets: To purchase tickets call (317) 872-9664 between 10 a.m. and 7 p.m. Prices range from $37.50 to $62.50 and include the show, tax, coffee, tea and the buffet.
Photos Courtesy of Beef & Boards Dinner Theatre 

October 1, 2013

Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike

Last week if someone had asked me what Snow White, the Tony awards and Chekhov had in common I would have assumed it was the beginning of a bad joke. Instead, the answer is obviously the Phoenix Theatre’s season opener, Vanya and Sonya and Masha and Spike. The title is a mouthful, but the play itself is a delight. The show won the 2013 Tony Award for Best Play and audiences will have no trouble figuring out why. Witty dialogue, neurotic characters and a bit of absurdity thrown in for good measure make the show odd, but endearing.

Playwright Christopher Durang introduces us to a group of middle-aged siblings, two of whom still live in their childhood home after spending years caring for their now deceased parents. The third sibling, Masha, became a self-absorbed movie star. The play takes place over one weekend when Masha decides to visit her sedate siblings, Vanya and Sonia (their professor parents named them all after Chekhov characters). The whirlwind weekend includes a costume party, the presence of Masha’s dim-witted boy toy Spike and the sweet presence of their naïve neighbor.

Sonia and Vanya take center stage in the production. Sonia has grown accustom to the monotony of their life, but swings between depression and momentary elation depending on the moment. She regrets “doing nothing” with her life, but is convinced it’s too late to change that. Vanya seems more contented with their lot, but as the layers begin to peel away we see the angst bubbling beneath the polite sheen of the surface.

The cast of this show is particularly notable, reuniting Charles Goad (Vanya) and Diane Kondrat (Sonia) from last year’s production of The Lyons. Both performers have proven their talent for years on Indy stages and always provide wonderful performances. I don’t think I’ve ever had such an emotional reaction while listening to a one-sided phone call as I did during Kondrat’s performance in the second act. Also, it should be noted that the set is beautifully created by Bernie Killian.

Coincidently I happened to read Three Sisters shortly before seeing the show and loved watching the parallel themes unfold in a modern setting. It shares the Russian author’s focus on the lives of siblings living together under one roof and struggling with regret as their lives pass them by. Much like the Anton Chekhov plays it mimics, the show is about happiness. It touches on the question of reality vs. expectations and optimism vs. pessimism. It leaves us wondering if you can appreciate the small things in life more if you expect less. Are the joys of sleepy time tea or the appearance of a blue heron any greater or less than a successful career or finding love if you don’t expect those things in your life? Is it ever too late to pursue the life you truly want?

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 October 20 and offers four performances a week. 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-PLAY (7529). Prices range from $18 to $28. The play has one intermission.

Photos courtesy of the Phoenix Theatre