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.

September 6, 2017

The Biz Academy of Musical Theatre

There are many wonderful theaters in Indianapolis, but I want to spotlight one that is responsible for reaching a unique group of performers. The Biz, located on the west side of Indianapolis, has a program called My Time to Shine. My step-brother is part of the program and I've seen firsthand the great work that they do.

Here's their mission in their own words:

"The Biz believes that theatre is for ALL. In 2014, we introduced the summer My Time to Shine Program, a class for performers with special needs. The experience pairs these performers with experienced Biz Kid mentors to help them through the process. It all culminates with a performance."  

The last two years have included performances of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory and Peter Pan. The program wouldn't be possible without the hard work of volunteers and of director Julie Kays. I hope this is a program they will continue and that the community will continue to support! 
You can make a donation or learn more about the organization here

September 1, 2017

Beef & Boards announces 2018 Season

Beef & Boards Dinner Theatre is thrilled to announce its 2017 season.

Greater Tuna (Dec. 28, 2017 – Jan. 28)

Greater Tuna is a sidesplitting comedy about the Lone Star State’s third-smallest town. All 20 of its wacky residents are played by just two actors: Beef & Boards’ own comic duo of Eddie Curry and Jeff Stockberger. This hilarious send-up of small town morals and mores is on stage through Jan. 28, 2018.

Mamma Mia! (Feb. 1 – April 8)
On stage for the first time at Beef & Boards and the headliner of the 2018 Season, Mamma Mia!, opens Feb. 1 for performances through April 8. Nominated for five Tony Awards and set on a Greek island paradise, ABBA’s greatest hits tell the hilarious story of a bride’s search for her birth father. This sunny and funny tale includes the songs “Honey, Honey,” “Dancing Queen,” “Take A Chance on Me” and the incredible title tune.

Singin’ In The Rain (April 12 – May 26) 
It may get a bit cloudy starting April 12, but that signals time for some splashy singing and dancing with the beloved classic, Singin’ in the Rain. An MGM movie classic-turned-musical, this show is a romantic romp through Hollywood’s golden age. Its downpour of unforgettable songs include: “Make ‘Em Laugh,” “Moses Supposes,” “Good Morning,” and the show’s fun title song. Singin’ In The Rain is on stage through May 26.

Annie (May 31 – July 15)
Then the sun comes out with the delightful and rambunctious redheaded orphan, Annie, opening May 31. Winner of seven Tony Awards, including Best Musical, this musical tells the story of little orphan Annie, who charms everyone’s hearts despite a next-to-nothing start in 1930s New York City. The featured Family Show of Beef & Boards’ 2018 Season, Annie features $10 discounts off tickets for all kids ages 3-15. Famous songs include “Tomorrow,” “Hard Knock Life,” and “Maybe.”

Million Dollar Quartet (July 19 – Aug. 26)
New to the Beef & Boards stage in 2018 and opening July 19 is a musical based on the true story of one incredible night where four stars aligned in Memphis, Tennessee. Million Dollar Quartet takes place on Dec. 4, 1956, when an extraordinary twist of fate brought Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, and Elvis Presley together at Sun Records, for what would be one of the greatest jam sessions ever. This Tony Award winning musical is on stage through Aug. 26.

Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (Aug. 30 – Oct. 7)
Aug. 30 is the start of the rollicking adventure that won the Tony Award for Best Musical: Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. Set in in 1850, it tells the story of Millie, a young bride living in the Oregon wilderness. Her plan to civilize and marry off her six rowdy brothers-in-law to ensure the success of her own marriage backfires when the brothers, in their enthusiasm, kidnap six women from a neighboring town to be their brides. Great songs include “Bless Your Beautiful Hide,” “Goin’ Courtin’,” “Sobbin’ Women,” and “Wonderful, Wonderful Day.” On stage through Oct. 7.

Man of La Mancha (Oct. 11 – Nov. 18)
The third new production of the season is inspired by Miguel de Cervantes’ 17th Century masterpiece Don Quixote. Winner of five Tony Awards, including Best Musical, Man Of La Mancha is one of the most successful musicals in Broadway history. Powerful, hilarious, and heartbreaking, Man of La Mancha celebrates the perseverance of a dying old man who refuses to relinquish his ideals or his passion. The celebrated score includes “I, Don Quixote,” “Dulcinea,” and “The Impossible Dream.” Man of La Mancha is on stage through Nov. 18.

Elf, The Musical (Nov. 23 – Dec. 31)
Beef & Boards’ 45th Anniversary Season wraps up with a new show for the holidays: Elf, The Musical, opening Nov. 23. Filled with Christmas cheer and based on the beloved film, this hilarious fish-out-of-water comedy follows Buddy the Elf in his quest to find his true identity. Also new to the Beef & Boards stage in 2018, Elf, The Musical has performances continuing through New Year’s Eve.
 


VIP Memberships for the 2018 Season is now on sale. Tickets for all 2018 Season shows are on sale to the general public starting Oct. 1, 2017 and may be purchased by calling the box office at 317.872.9664 between 10 a.m. and 7 p.m. daily (10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Mondays).

August 15, 2017

Three Sisters

 
Humans yearn for what we do not have. It is the trademark of our species. We seem to never be satisfied, always longing for more, better, bigger. Though this play is set a century ago in Russia, it could not be more relevant to our current culture.

Three Sisters tells the story of Olga, Masha, and Irina (and to a lesser extent, their brother Andrei). They are trapped in the monotony of country life. There's something so relatable about their constant struggle to get to Moscow. They live dreaming of the glory of the past and longing for the hopeful days of the future. They never embrace the present. Kelsey Brennan is the disenchanted Masha. Her flashes of passion, whether they are caused by love or anger, are beautifully played in contrast to her default attitude of boredom. She is all fire and ice, there is no middle ground.

The only person who sees himself as happy is a classic fool. His refrain of contentment is an empty claim, repeated to convince himself that everything is alright in his world. The rest of the characters are weary and no one seems satisfied with their lot in life. Olga wishes she was married, regardless of passion. Masha wishes she was free. They all long for what they don't have.
 



The set is one of the most beautiful I've seen at the American Players Theatre. It makes the most of the newly designed space, allowing an open view of the fields behind the stage and incorporating them into the show. William Brown's direction is successful in its simplicity. Three Sisters is a play filled with monologues philosophizing on the purpose of life. Brown keeps the audience focused on the speaker, stripping away distractions.


All of the main cast members' transformations over the course of the play are incredibly well done. Through subtle shifts in the way their hair is done and the colors they wear, they become the embodiment of their exhaustion. The sparks of life that we see in the first scene slowly fade into oblivion as they resign themselves to their fate. Praise goes to costume designer Rachel Anne Healy for her deft orchestration of the change.

BOTTOM LINE: Three Sisters is a melancholy play. It's full of reflection without much action, but in the hands of these talented performers it's impossible to look away.



The American Players Theatre is open until October 22 for its regular season. It just opened the second half of its 2017 season, which includes Three Sisters. Pericles, Prince of Tyre is an obscure Shakespeare show (details below). It’s a rare treat to find a production of that adventurous story. A View from the Bridge is one of Arthur Miller’s famous plays. The intense production at APT is not to be missed. The audience will be on the edge of its collective seat from start to finish as the drama unfolds.
APT will continue to show a rotating selection of eight different plays over the next two months. Currently in the Hill Theatre, William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream is playing along with an adaptation of Georges Feydeau’s French farce A Flea in Her Ear, and an adaptation of Edmond Rostand’s swashbuckling romance Cyrano de Bergerac. The 201-seat, indoor Touchstone Theatre is currently offering Yasmina Reza’s The Unexpected Man and Jean Genet’s The Maids.

Further information can be found at APT’s website, americanplayers.org. Tickets for performances and events can be ordered online, in person at APT or by calling the Box Office at 608-588-2361.

Pericles, Prince of Tyre
By William Shakespeare, directed by Eric Tucker
The most epic of Shakespeare’s late romances, Pericles, Prince of Tyre sails from island to island in search of love and a place to call home. This particular production is like none APT has ever staged. Directed by BEDLAM theater company’s award-winning artistic director Eric Tucker, the ensemble consists of just 10 actors playing in excess of 25 roles. Stripped to its elements, the result is funny, poignant and instantly relatable – even in its more fantastic moments – creating a story that spans oceans, decades and the expanse of the human heart.

A View from the Bridge
By Arthur Miller, directed by Tim Ocel
In Eddie and Beatrice’s humble and hardworking Brooklyn neighborhood, family ties are a fierce point of pride. Case in point, Bea’s orphaned niece, Catherine has lived with them since she was a child and is now ready to make her way in the world, though Eddie seems reluctant to let her grow up. When the couple agrees to take in two of Bea’s cousins, Marco and Rodolpho, Catherine and Rodolpho start spending more time together, fanning Eddie’s hot temper and driving the family to an emotional boiling point. A Greek Tragedy set in 1950s Brooklyn.
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The theater's outdoor seats are comfortable, but definitely bring a jacket, rain parka, blanket, bug spray or sun block depending on the weather. The show will go on even if it's chilly or drizzling. There are easily accessible restrooms and concessions at both the newly renovated 1,089 seat Hill Theatre and the 201-seat Touchstone Theatre. There are also picnic tables for those who bring lunch or dinner for before a show.
There are plenty of camping/B&B/cabin/hotel options nearby, depending on your preference. You can find additional information about where to lodge, restaurants and other attractions on APT's website.

For more information about APT and Spring Green, WI visit its website. Spring Green, Wi is only 6.5 hours from Indianapolis and makes a perfect weekend getaway! There are attractions for the entire family in addition to the APT, including the Wisconsin Dells water parks, House on theRock, Taliesin and a golf resort.

Photos Courtesy of the American Players Theatre.

July 26, 2017

Indy Shakes Presents As You Like It

One of my favorite annual Indy traditions is back this weekend! The Indianapolis Shakespeare Company (formerly Heartland Actors' Repertory Theatre) is presenting As You Like It at White River State Park tomorrow, Friday, and Saturday. The show start at 8 pm, but the pre-show festivities begin at 6 pm. 

Every year the productions are incredible and so much fun. Professional actors take the stage for only three days during this FREE event. There will be food trucks and Sun King Brewery will be serving a special "As You Like It" beer. Don't miss it! Visit their website here for more info.

Photo courtesy of Indianapolis Shakespeare Company 

July 24, 2017

J. Eyre: A New Musical Adaptation

There's something unique happening in Fountain Square right now. In Grove Haus, an old church being used as a performance space, EclecticPond is presenting an original piece, written, composed, and directed by Indiana's own Paige Scott. Viewers of this new interpretation of the classic novel Jane Eyre will fall into two categories. The first will be avid fans of the novel who can't wait to see it come to life on the stage. The second will be people who don't know the story at all or vaguely remember the details from a high school literature class. The great news is that the production is accessible to both groups.

Personally, I fall into the first group, a huge fan of the book who was both nervous and excited to see Scott's creation. I left the show feeling completely enchanted. The beautiful production of Brontë's work brings emotional nuance to pivotal scenes. The cast of seven never leaves the stage, an except for the main two leads, each person plays a rotating selection of characters, filling in bits of narration when needed. The minimalistic approach to staging works well in this show. The simple wooden floors are surrounded on three sides by rows of audience members. Scattered across the floor are handwritten letters and notes between the characters. Even though the stage and costuming is simple, the attention to detail makes it completely effective.
The show is a musical, and the original compositions are beautiful, heightening the emotions in an already dramatic tale. At times it feels repetitive as we return to the same refrains throughout the show, but never enough to be distracting. The music is provided by a single pianist, Jacob Stensberg, on the stage behind the performers. The simplicity of this execution allows for a rawness that matches the overall tone. 

Each of the cast members has to have the musical chops to make the show work and there are no weak links. Special attention should be paid to the two leads. Devan Mathias as Jane Eyre is all innocence and earnestness. Her voice impresses and she wears her heart on her sleeve, her lack of experience in love an enticement to the world-weary Mr. Rochester. Tim Hunt tackles that role and provides a heavy-lidded, moody counter to Mathias' Jane. He's a tortured soul, her opposite in every way except for their need of each other. Their chemistry is electric and and the supporting cast just fans the flames as the two circle each other.

Don’t miss the show

Performances run until July 30th. Tickets are $15. Performances are held at the Grove Haus, 1001 Hosbrook St, Indianapolis, IN 46203. For more information, a complete schedule of the shows or to purchase tickets, visit ETC’s site here



Photos Courtesy of Derek Martin/ Zed Martinez