Last Friday night I drove north to Clay Terrace shopping center in Carmel, Indiana, to see the inaugural production of the 16-year-old, all-volunteer Carmel Community Players in their new space, the Carmel Community Playhouse.
It was a thrilling experience, not only because the new space is so nifty but also because the acting in this particular production is exceptional. And by “exceptional acting” I don’t just mean in terms of community theatre. The acting, especially the pacing, in this show is excellent by anyone’s standards.
The show is “Rabbit Hole,” David Lindsey-Abaire’s 2007 Pulitzer Prize winner. It is a moving, thought-provoking, even surprising and funny piece about the changing dynamics in a family that has lost a young boy to a traffic accident. Ken Klingenmeier directed it for the Carmel Community Players. Lori Raffel produced it and designed the programs and posters for it. Donna Klingenmeier is the stage manager.
I have seen and loved two professional productions of this piece – first at the Curious Theatre in Denver, Colorado and more recently at our own Indiana Repertory Theatre in downtown Indianapolis. Both of those theatres are relatively large. CCP’s new space is smallish and quite intimate. This means that the set (which was designed, built, and decorated by the director) feels more like an apartment than a huge suburban house, but both the humor and the pain in the interactions of the characters feel more personal. We feel even more powerfully how much they all love each other and yet how distanced they are from each other emotionally now, even when they are physically close to each other.
The pacing, as I said earlier, is impeccable. After the show, I interviewed the director in a little video via my iPhone (see above) and after that, Ken and I chatted for a few more minutes about the rehearsal process.
“I tell the actors that I’m Mr. Pace,” he told me. “Good pacing is what’s missing in a lot of community theatre. If you don’t talk to the actors about pace, they will just languish in what they’re feeling.” He said that a conversation in real life, like the one he and I were having just then, would probably not make for good theatre because (I think he meant) it was just between us. No one else was listening; we weren’t trying to keep anyone else engaged in our conversation or to present it as art.
“What else do you tell actors about pace?” I asked.
Ken said he tells them that if they can just start a scene with the right energy and then “ride the shape of the scene,” they’ll be okay.
(He actually explained it better and in more detail to me, but by then I had already put away my iPhone and my notebook and I was pretty much dead on my feet from a busy week at my day job so I don’t have more of a direct quote. ‘Sorry.)
Whatever he told the five actors in this show, it worked.
Each actor fully and beautifully explores the complexity of his or her character, too. Jennifer Nelson plays Becca, the mother of the little boy who died. At the beginning of the play, she seems quite cold and controlling. Doug Powers plays Howie, the little boy’s father. At the beginning of the play, he seems warm, sympathetic, and virtuous. Lacy Marie Meyer plays Izzy, Becca’s younger sister. At the beginning of the play, she seems like a ditz. Vickie Cornelius-Phipps plays Nat, Becca and Izzy’s mother. At the beginning of the play, she seems like an alcoholic mess.
Each of these characters changes subtly over time and in unexpected ways. The actors’ portrayals of them are nuanced and very believable!
The fifth character is Jason, the teenager that was driving the car that hit the little boy when he ran out into the street after his dog. Matthew Lindblom, too, makes us completely believe in, and feel sympathy for, his character, even though we also feel sympathy for the little boy’s family.
At intermission, I chatted a bit with a woman sitting near me who told me her name was Laura. Laura told me that she especially admired Matthew’s ability to be so convincing in his first scene, in which he is alone in a spotlight facing the audience, being the voice that Becca hears when she reads his letter to her and Howie.
“It’s really hard, I think, for an actor to be convincing when he’s all by himself like that,” my seat-neighbor said. “He doesn’t have any other actors to play off of. But he (Matthew) was really good!”
Speaking of the spot light, Adam Hysong designed the lighting for the show. Ken Klingenmeier designed the sound, which includes some good, natural-sounding recordings of the dog barking in the back yard, and some elegant, perfectly mood-matching pieces of woodwind music for in between the scenes. Mike Harold is the lighting & sound operator. For the performance I saw, he seemed to nail every cue perfectly, including the ones connected to lights and other appliances being turned off by the characters.
Joan Walker is in charge of the props, which include a large number of food items. Joan told me after the show Friday night that “Eileen the Cake Lady” (and if someone tells me Eileen’s full name again, I will insert it here – I don’t find it listed in the program) donates a new, delicious birthday cake for every performance. The characters eat slices during the show, and then everyone else eats the rest afterwards. Yum!
(Update: The “Cake Lady” is Ilene McHone, of Classic Cakes on 116th St. just east of Range Line Road. Thanks, Joan, for the info!)
CCP’s Marketing/PR Director, Brian Koning (www.btkmarketing.com) gave the curtain talk before the show began on Friday night. He told us that the new space was a result of more than 2000 volunteer hours over ten weeks, plus a long list of donations-in-kind from a wide variety of local business partners – everything from help with the programs from Regal Printing to help with the intermission cookies from Paradise Bakery to help with the set dressing from Luxe Home Interiors.
More than one person told me at intermission that the space used to be a scrapbooking store. The previous tenants had left it in good shape, but CCP had to do a lot of work to make it their own, including building the stage itself.
The energy of the new place – transformed by all this tender, loving care – is marvelous. You walk in and immediately feel glad to be there, and as if you lucked out, or something, on where you chose to spend your evening. The ceiling and its wide pipes are painted black. They provide a hip, arty contrast to the bright, clean, cozy performance space down below. Framed posters from past CCP productions line the hallway to the restrooms. On the back wall of the house is ample space for visual art exhibits. Currently on display are several works by Richard Williams, Karla Ries, and Michael Ries. Their collective is called Art Is Relative.
My favorite feature of the new space is the long row of coat hooks that runs along the back wall under the art exhibit. No more feeling crushed or overheated by your coat during a show!
I asked Laura, my row-mate, if she had ever been to previous CCP productions.
“No,” she said. “My husband and I used to go to Mud Creek Theatre years ago when we lived near there, but we haven’t been to any theatre since we moved up here.”
“How did you find out about this theatre?” I was curious.
“I saw it driving by one day and thought it looked like a neat idea. And then I read about it in the paper, and we just decided to give it a try. We’ll definitely be back.”
So will I. For one thing, in addition to the wonderful theatrical experience I had at the show on Friday night, I very much appreciate the fact that Brian Koning takes me seriously as a busy theatre writer. I.e. – he regularly emails me press releases about what is going on and what is coming up at the Carmel Community Playhouse so that I don’t have to go digging around for the information on other websites. Also, when I asked him for media passes to “Rabbit Hole,” he didn’t blink an eye. Tickets are only $15 ($12 for students and seniors.) I cherish the respect that a media pass represents to me much more than the monetary value.
For another thing, a few years ago I bought a house in Carmel. Mind you, I don’t think of Carmel as my theatre home in any way. If I have ever had a theatre home, it was the Phoenix Theatre in downtown Indianapolis years ago. At one point in the late 1980s, before the Phoenix became a professional theatre, I volunteered there as an actor, assistant director, stage manager, etc. But, as I say, that was years ago. Indy Theatre Habit is my theatre home now, and through this blog I try to sample theatre from all around the Indianapolis area and surrounding counties.
Still, I love knowing that there is an excellent little theatre group doing its vital, creative, community-building thing just minutes from my house.
“Rabbit Hole” only has one more weekend, or four more performances (Thursday-Sunday through October 25, 2009.) Visit www.carmelplayhouse.org to make a reservation online.
The rest of CCP’s first season in their new space, after their Holiday Show, will be four more Pulitzer Prize winners. Other arts groups will use the space, too. For example (Brian told us), the professional Actors Theatre of Indiana will present its production of “My Way” at the Carmel Community Playhouse beginning November 4, 2009. On November 21, 2009, the Indiana Filmmakers group will hold its “Wet Your Pants Comedy Film Fest” as a fundraiser for the Kidney Foundation.
A Word about How to Find the New Space
The Carmel Community Playhouse website tells you how to get to Clay Terrace, which is an outdoor shopping mall with three or four driving round-abouts. The main entrance to the Playhouse is on the main drag of the mall, but you want to find the roundabout by Old Navy clothing store and Bar Louie restaurant so that you can swirl around behind Bar Louie (heading away from Old Navy) and park in that parking lot. The lot is spacious and well lit. (Yay!) Get out of your car and walk to the front of Bar Louie, turn right and walk past Jimmy Johns restaurant and then you’re at the Playhouse. Easy!
‘See you at the theatres…