January 23, 2017

How to Use a Knife

I've always been fascinated by the world of restaurant kitchens. The Phoenix Theatre's latest show, How to Use a Knife, takes you behind the scenes and into that frantic world. During open hours things move fast for the chef and his crew. After the restaurant is closed we're able to learn a bit more about the broken man running his employees so hard.

Chef George, played by Ryan Artzberger, is an addict who has fallen from his former glory. The performance reminded me a bit of Artzberger's turn as the cynic Simon Stimson in Our Town at the Indiana Repertory Theatre. The character has the same tone of disillusion and disgust. Ansley Valentine plays Steve, a quiet dishwasher with a mysterious past. He is a tireless workers who isn't interested in small talk.

Bryan Fonseca's direction keeps the show moving at a clipped pace, keeping the audience fully engaged. The casual banter between coworkers feels natural and the set itself feels like an actual restaurant kitchen, complete with a grill, working sinks, and safety signs. The tone of the play shifts dramatically as teasing turns to talk of the Rwandan genocide.

At the show's conclusion it was impossible not to consider how little we know about the experiences of those around us. Without talking to them about their lives it's far too easy to dismiss them based on prejudice, assumption, or ignorance. Whether it's incorrectly guessing someone's ethnicity or underestimating the pain that they've experienced, there's so much to be gained from opening the doors of conversation.

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 Feb. 12 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) 635-7529 or visit phoenixtheatre.org. Prices range from $27 to $33.

Photos courtesy of the Phoenix Theatre.

January 16, 2017

Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner

The heartbreaking thing about the Indiana Repertory Theatre’s current show, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, is that it’s still incredibly relevant. I wish that wasn’t the case, but it feels timely in a way that is surprising since it’s set 50 years in the past.

The story revolves around a married couple whose adult daughter, Joanna (Annie Munch), comes home from a trip and announces she’s getting married. The joyous news is met with consternation when her parents discover her betrothed is a black man. Despite the fact that he’s a brilliant doctor and complete gentleman, they are concerned that their daughter doesn’t know how difficult her interracial marriage will be. In a world where Black Lives Matter and racially-driven shootings by police are daily items on the news, it’s a good time to see this play. It creates some awkward conversations; important ones that folks shouldn’t shy away from.

I think one of the most powerful aspects of the plot is that Joanna’s father is not a man you would expect to have reservations about a black man marrying his daughter. He’s long trumpeted the importance of equal rights in his newspaper, but it’s a harder pill to swallow when it arrives on his own doorstep. 

The set, created by the talented scenic designer Robert Koharchik, is just breath-taking. The two-story 1960s home includes a stone fireplace, artwork, open floor plan, and wood paneling. It feels like you’ve stumbled into a real California home, not at all like a set that’s on stage for less than a month. The attention to detail gives an added gravity to the play because the whole thing feels more realistic in that setting.

Mark Goetzinger’s excellent turn as the Monsignor was a highlight. His straight forward nature allows him to speak truth when it’s easier for others to disguise their prejudice in a million different ways. Chiké Johnson plays Dr. John Prentice, Joanna’s fiancé. His performance is beautifully executed. From quiet reserved moments to incredulity to dramatic bursts of anger. He reveals Prentice to the audience slowly and carefully. His 2015 role in the Island was a powerful one, but this role gave him the chance to exhibit and even wider range of emotions.

Although the main focus is racial tension, the play covers so much more ground than that. It’s about marriage, the relationship between a child and their parents, grief and loss, and so much more. It incorporates humor and poignant moments of sweet affection into the show, providing moments of levity. It’s a production that approaches tough topics in a way that opens doors and encourages discussion, instead of shutting them down. That’s something we could all use more of right now. 

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. "Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner " runs until Feb. 4 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