AISLE SAY Florida in Indiana

American Theatre Critics Assn.
Mid-Year Meeting
Indianapolis,  March 21-24, 2013

Reviewed by Marie J. Kilker

THE LYONS
by Nicky Silver
Directed by William Fisher
Phoenix Theatre
749 N. Park Ave., Indianapolis, 317-635-7529
 

A lot of talent was packed into a  little theater for sterling performances of a play that’s unpleasant in almost every way. For instance, Charles Goad is able stoically to win a tad of sympathy for foul-mouthed, hateful Ben Lyons, dying. Beside his hospital bed, wife Rita (Diane Kondrat, the evil star) waits eagerly to be free of all but her bitching regarding their life together as well as about and to their offspring. Curtis, the first chip off these old  blocks, visits to forgive Ben for making sure he was an unwanted child, throwing him and cherished possessions out of the house, and decrying his sexuality and choice of a partner. (Scot Greenwell is pathos personified early and  then proceeds quite differently.) The Lyons‘ second child, Lisa (Angela Plank, rightly playing ill-at-ease), a (?) reformed alcoholic, has separated from a husband both abusive and still attractive to her. She blames Ben for a disaster of a childhood, though she’s constantly at odds with her denigrating mother. Like their parents, the siblings seem happy only being hateful toward each other.

Silver’s black humor is clever enough to elicit both laughs and attention but not enough to dispel audience feelings of being, like the characters, trapped. A long sequence of predatory Curtis toying with Brian, an actor selling real estate as a day job, establishes well how strong is the Lyons legacy of psychological cannibalism. (Lincoln Slentz is young, handsome, and affecting as Brian.)  Despite occupying  the play’s central position, however, Rita (even well-interpreted by Kondrat) never becomes a person whose future concerns us, so who cares how she ends up? (A big portion of the play concerns this.) As for the others, there is no one we hold good wishes or even hope for. (My only hope is that Mercedes Martinez, as an astute Nurse, will not turn her back on the audience when she speaks, since her English is not easy to understand in any case.)

First among backstage talents to be appreciated is director William Fisher, who almost makes an unnatural family of interest. Bryan Fonseca and Nolan Brokamp’s set design used The Phoenix’s small stage effectively, as did Laura Glover’s lighting. Praise also to Ashley Kiefer for appropriate costume design and props, to Tim Brickley for sound, and to Chelsey Wood as Stage Manager.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, WANDA JUNE
by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.
Interpreted by Heartland Actors Repertory Theatre
Directed by Michael Shelton
Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library, Indianapolis
March 22, 2013 (special performance)

With text straight out of the playbook, nine players created beyond mere reading the crazy-mixed up world of the Ryan Family, with celebrated actress (for good reason) Constance Macy as Penelope Ryan. Her husband has been gone long enough to be three months short of being declared dead (and of her being free to marry again). Others would like to be romantically hers but the honor is due to belong to pacifist, scientist, morally upstanding but physically and vocally unimposing Dr. Norbert Woodly (Ben Tebbe). He has to face the return of super-macho, blood thirsty militant and hunter Paul Ryan (formidable Frank Shelton), who is adored by young son Harold (sweet Robert Neal) but now disliked as much as feared by his wife. Action is split between the Ryans’ home and a strange, clearly Vonnegut-conceived heaven, to which Wanda June (nicely precocious Ryleigh Mill) has been sent by a freak accident. She’s linked to the Ryans by her birthday cake, from which her iced name is erased to be used for a party by them. She watches proceedings below along with ex-Nazi war criminal Siegfried Von Konigswald (Rich Komenich), killed by Paul Ryan. A new view of the nature of heaven is part of the satire, as are characters Looseleaf Harper (Jeff Keel), Herb Shuttle (Sam Fain), and Mildred (Cindy Phillips).  Vonnegut would have been proud of the adherence to his writing and characteristic intentions by the Heartland Actors.  Of course, he could be watching their efforts too. 

THE WHIPPING MAN
by Matthew Lopez
Directed by Tim Ocel
Indiana Repertory Theatre (co-produced with Geva Theatre, Rochester, NY)
140 W. Washington St., Indianapolis, 317-635-5252
March 5 to 24, 2013

With many layers of meaning, “The Whipping Man” concentrates almost equally on all three of its characters. Caleb, a Jewish Reb comes wounded to his war torn mansion after Lee’s surrender, where he finds former head house slave Simon and the young man John. They’ve been raised as Jews, but Simon is the seemingly unshakeable practicing one.  Caleb lost faith during the long war and has to lose his gangrened leg on return.  He’s restrained on his makeshift bed during Simon’s preparation for a Seder to celebrate the first night of Passover. Throughout this time, the men think about and react to their feelings about the past. It involves Caleb’s father--a man who ordered whipped disobedient and uppity slaves, including John, and sold two female members of Simon’s family without his knowledge until the feast night.  In actions and conversations, parallels are made between the Jews fleeing domination in Egypt and the Southern slaves (in this case, also of Jews) being freed. Irony!  John plans to leave but the other men are waiting for....?  A mystery! David Alan Anderson gives an outstanding performance as Simon. When he sings “Go Down Moses” he can bring tears to listeners. Andrew C. Ahrens as Caleb and Tyler Jacob Rollinson make worthy companions and adversaries, haunted by their pasts.

Tim Ocel’s taut direction covers the excessive talk early on and builds emotionally later. The all important ruined mansion owes its contributory importance to Erhard Rom and its blend of real fire and programmed light to Kendall Smith.  Costumes: Dorothy Marshall Englis. Composer: Gregg Coffin. Sound: Todd Mack Reischman. Stage Manager: Amy Denkmann.

 

PIAF PLUS
Choreographed by David Hochoy
Performed by Dance Kaleidoscope
4603 Clarendon Rd., Indianapolis, 317-940-6555
March 14-24, 2013
 

Indiana Repertory Theatre’s Upperstage occasionally hosts Dance Kaleidoscope and did so for a special hour sampling of its work for ATCA members. Although the Modern Dance company of 11 most often performs on a thrust stage, for which “Piaf Plus” was choreographed, it adapted to a simple rectangular platform raised not far above the audience. Accompanying the first part, a standard recording of music sung by Jacques Brel had the dancers, sophisticated in movement and evening dress of black, pair in accord with the lyrics. Choreographer Hochoy was trained in the Martha Graham technique, but the feet of the dancers moved flatter than her typical style dictated.  I thought of the dance more like ballroom converted to ballet.  Following with even more sophisticated black evening wear and Edith Piaf singing in the sampling’s highlight, the dancing and emotions were heightened.  I could happily have seen the whole  “Piaf Plus”! It reminded me, as did an ATCA visit earlier to the Cole Porter Library, why “I Love Paris”—the song and the place.

 

9 to 5 THE MUSICAL
Music and Lyrics by Dolly Parton
Book by Patricia Resnick
Directed by Eddie Curry
Beef & Boards Dinner Theatre
9301 N. Michigan Rd., Indianapolis, 317-8872-9664
Feb. 7 through  March 24, 2013
 

Introduced and concluded by Dolly Parton  on projected film, “9 to 5 The Musical” pretty much duplicates the movie’s story but incorporates as a song and dance number its hit titles-accompanying song. The musical begins by tracing office workers waking up (one walking across stage with an erection under his shorts, setting the sexy tone), dressing from various states of dishabile, making up, finally beating it out of their homes and into their never quite defined business office. There the egotistical guys (all but Doug King’s sweet Dick) hold most of the best jobs. But the women, especially Violet (engaging Annie Edgerton) who’d be the best manager and has trained the guys, work for lower pay, prestige, or chance for advancement. Worse are their daily working conditions under Andrew Lebon’s despicable sexist boss Franklin Hart Jr. (Lebon hardly seems acting when he cheats on company, wife, and workers.) He actually tries to rape the Partonesque Doralee Rhodes (lively Crystal Mosser with a very appropriate voice and figure), who’s happily married but avoided by others in the office who think she owes her job to trysts with Hart. 

All changes after attractive (except for a horrible obvious black wig) Judy, whose husband left her to wed a younger woman, comes hopeful but hesitant to her first job. (Sarah Hund handles Judy’s transition with grace.)  Despite spying by Joanna Krupnick’s  edgy Roz, Hart’s aide who’s in love with him and will do anything  for his attention, the three leading female co-workers spirit the boss away. Taking control of the company, they institute successful business changes in addition to making the  most of their usual jobs and allowing others to do the same, encouraged and uninhibited. Real team work gets fine results not only in the story but via Eddie Curry’s  direction encompassing multiple swift changes  of Jilly Kelly’s  many costumes and of Michael Layton’s unfussy but apt scenery.  No easy tasks, since there seems to be a new song every few  minutes—most of them fun but nothing memorable. Also true of Ron Morgan’s choreography .  It’s said that dinner theater has had its big day, but a capacity audience of all ages and detectable backgrounds gave “9 to 5 The Musical” smiles, huzzahs, and resounding applause—and that was at a matinee in the last days of an almost two month run.

 

GREAT AMERICAN SONGBOOK SERIES
Barbara Cook & Michael Feinstein
Center for the Performing Arts/Paladium
Carmel, Indiana, 317-843-3800
March 23, 2013
 

Next to the Library and Archives of The Great American Songbook collection in the Gallery of an imposing, fairly new CPA, its major musical venue The Paladium (across and distinct from Booth Tarkington Theatre) welcomes performers in eight Series. These include the Songbook, Classics, Jazz & Blues, Country & Bluegrass, Dance, Pop, and Spotlight, also a Film Series. But everything  seemed up close and personal in the performances in the huge theatre of legendary vocalist Barbara Cook with the Songbook Initiative’s director and proponent Michael Feinstein. Some of the aura was due to their chat between Songbook numbers but their song choices, tone, and connection with the audience brought well deserved ovation and a shouted out “We love you, Barbara” with “Thanks” to Michael.
Perhaps the solo standouts in the program of favorites were Barbara Cook’s “Makin’ Whoopee”—every verse, the last not usually sung, and Feinstein’s powerful “Tonight” from “West Side Story”.  As might be expected from their working connections with composers, Barbara shone with a Sondheim and Michael with a Gershwin.  Their singing could only be called beautiful; their demeanor, professional but from-the-heart personal.

The stars were preceded by a set by Nick Ziabra, 16 year old winner of the 2012 Great American Songbook Vocal Academy & Competition and current Youth Ambassador of the Songbook. His style, comparable to a combo of Sinatra (phrasing and enunciation) and Bobby Darin (looks and demeanor), has been a hit in year-long performances not only with Feinstein but such performers as Marilyn Maye, Barry Manilow, and Hilary Kole, to name a few. He wisely chose a Hoagy Carmichael number to begin this Indiana appearance.

 

Additional Theatrical Treats Especially for ATCA

An excerpt from “Musical of Musicals” constituted a suppertime entertainment in suburban Carmel’s PAC by Actors Theatre of Indiana as critics enjoyed a box supper in a lobby before the Cook-Feinstein show.  In the roast of American musicals, where each number is performed in a typical composer’s style, the Actors Theatre quartet (in evening dress) performed a la Sonheim.  The performers were Cynthia Collins and Don Farrell as a mature couple, Judy Fitzgerald’s and Dave Ruark as a younger  one. Director Richard J. Roberts also did a good job, also of editing, as did Michael Worcel on adapting choreography.  Christopher Strange provided the sound design and, thank goodness, provided clear and emphatic but not over-amped music for the small venue.

                  In an earlier visit to the Cole Porter Room of Indiana Historical Society, a panel (including a relative who lives in Peru in his childhood home and as a lawyer is involved in rights to Porter’s work) was followed by a male and a female actor-singers interpreting Porter songs. “Kiss Me Kate” selections were favored.

                  An after-show reception featured Cabaret at the Columbia Club in downtown Indianapolis. Critics enjoyed drinks and snacks matched in taste by songs delivered in emotional style and played on Indianan Hoagy Carmichael’s own piano. As might be expected, the choice of songs was determined by the character (for example, intimate or witty) of the lyrics. Instead of the upstairs venue, the Cabaret used the large club lounge area downstairs, which also provided  space for a brief business meeting and the awarding of the Primus Prize to Tammy Ryan, playwright.

                  I missed a Mini-Fringe on Sunday a.m., March 24, owing to the prediction of a severe storm due soon.  I had to get to the airport early for an all-day return to Sarasota, happily with no flight cancellations of.  Those few attending the Mini-Fringe saw No Exit perform “I Am Peter Pan” and some short Two First Names Productions’ hits at the Indy Fringe Building at edge of town.  Critics had also been invited  to attend such Sunday “extras” as Tamar Ettun’s “One Thing Leads to Another,” performance art at the Indianapolis Museum of Art. as well as Acting Up Productions’ Prohibition-era “Twelfth Night” at the Wheeler Arts Center, Fountain Square.  And there were new productions following on some of the exiting ones reviewed here.  An overflow of riches.
 
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