Reviews of 16 Shows from the 2012 Indy Fringe Festival

I set aside some money and took ten days off from my day job to enjoy one of my favorite “staycations”: the Indianapolis Theatre Fringe Festival, also known as Indy Fringe.   So far, I have seen sixteen shows since the 2012 Fringe began last Friday.

I can’t tell you if they are the “best” (whatever that means) because there are forty other shows in this year’s festival that I haven’t seen.

I can tell you that I am glad to have seen every single one of these sixteen.

Here are some thoughts about them, in alphabetical order by title:

“465 Sex Drive…a musical”

This new, original musical about a sex therapist and the five very attractive but sexually-obsessed clients that carpool together from Indianapolis for group sessions with him in his office up north is sexy and funny and fun but it also manages to respect sex addicts’ loneliness and losses.

Matthew Goodrich plays Rex, the compassionate therapist – a recovering sex addict himself. 

Erin Cohenour is Ali, the driver of the car pool.  She can walk into a bar on her five-inch heels and drop a man in seven minutes.  I have loved Erin’s work as a comic femme fatale or serious character in so many shows that I always expect her to be a good actor, but I am still surprised and delighted every time I get to hear her sing, as in this show.

Ali picks up two other women: 

  • Veronica (Amanda Lawson) – a defiant yet vulnerable Carmel housewife that had sex with her gardener but who is a little bit more than the stereotype because she also looks for sexual partners in community theatre productions.  Guess what her nickname is for the Buck Creek Players?
  • And JoAnne (Laura Lockwood) – a polished lesbian businesswoman.  She is a power broker in more ways than one, and always on top, because that’s where she likes it.

Ali, Veronica, and JoAnne swing by and reluctantly pick up Dr. Jordan – an obnoxious podiatrist with a foot fetish – played by Clay Mabbit, who is a cuddly, trustworthy marketing professional in real life.  In this show he made my skin crawl even as he made me howl with laughter!

At the group meeting that night is a new member: Lance (Danny Kingston.)  He is a gay man that is a sweetie but who is also – the group discovers as they share their stories with him and he shares back – like the other group members in many ways: he is a liar, a manipulator, and so on.  And he, too, has a damaged life because of his addiction.

This isn’t a “kum bai yah” group – there is a lot of tension in the room, a lot of sexual snarling and joking – and we only get to see the one session.  However, I believe Rex when he observes toward the end that they are gradually becoming, if not close friends yet, exactly, then human beings connecting with each other in ways other than sexually.  I like that hopefulness and potential for healing.

The recorded musical accompaniment sometimes overpowered the live vocalists, and one of the singers seemed to have a cold or something the night I saw this show, so I couldn’t always understand the words in the songs.  However, what I could understand was cleverly written, beautifully composed, and well sung, and the acting was strong and good across the board, so I was still able to very much enjoy the show.

The Indianapolis references are a hoot. 

The pacing is deft and the dancing (choreographed by Kenny Shepard) is fresh and fun to watch.  The graceful movement of the women’s beautiful legs atop their designer “come f*ck me” shoes is mesmerizing.  How in the world do they do that?

The set is bare except for five cubes with traffic signs attached to them.  The characters move the cubes around for different scenes.  Each person also has a rhythm instrument (tambourine, maracas, etc.) for indicating that they want to make a comment, but these also enhance the show’s humor.  The costumes are…oh, my, steamy and revealing, especially during a “dream sequence” when the therapist leaves the room for a moment and the clients sing about what they’ve got on “Underneath It All.”

The Red Boat Productions website says that you can buy a cast recording at the performances but I did not know to look and I missed the opportunity.  Maybe I’ll be able to buy one later.  I would like to listen to the songs again!

“465 Sex Drive…a musical” is playing on the Theatre on the Square’s main stage during the Indy Fringe.  The music is by Lynn Lupold, with lyrics by Lynn Lupold and Ron Spencer.  The show was staged by Kenny Shepard.  The script is by Kenny Shepard, Ty Stover, and Sharla Steiman.  Music arrangements and tracks by Eric Van Cleave.  Original concept by Judy Lee.   Gary DeMumbrum provided technical assistance.

 “And I Am Not Making This Up”

Bloomington-based improviser Nell Weatherwax wow’ed me and many others at the 2007 and 2008 Indy Fringe festivals.  I have also seen her perform in Bloomington.  It was a treat to experience her unique work again at this year’s Indy Fringe.

On a stage that is empty except for three stackable black boxes, Nell uses her voice (singing and speaking), her body, her memories, and her connection to the audience to create a piece of performance art that is unique to each show.

Her work is about trust, ultimately.  She trusts that what is “coming up” for her is what is right for today’s particular audience.  She asks the audience to trust her enough to go with her on the journey believing that it will end as an experience that made sense and that they will not have to rescue her anywhere along the way. 

And, at least in my experience, although the content of each show is unique, that is always what happens.

A man named Rich called her “a treasure” when he left a comment on my “A Planner’s Guide to the 2012 Indy Fringe” post.  I so agree with him!

Nell’s Indy Fringe shows this year are on the Livia and Steve Russell upstairs stage at the Phoenix Theatre.

“BOT”

Hardly a word of this robot opera is in English and there are no subtitles, but don’t worry, you won’t need them.  The paper program implies that “BOT” is loosely based on the story of Orpheus and Eurydice, but you don’t need to know that, either.  The seven robot characters first charm you through the introduction of their clever costumes, fun dancing, distinct personalities, and skillful singing. 

Then they teach you a word or two of their Automatan language (“Bip boop!” “Bing!”)

And then they take you with them on an epic journey of heartbreak and longing and love.  I left the theatre smiling through tears.

I also left thinking about something that doesn’t have anything to do with the “BOT” show itself but rather with one of its creators, Ben Asaykwee.

Last year, the reviewer from Nuvo magazine gave Ben’s fabulous “Satan” lounge act show only two stars out of five.  His friends apparently rallied round, ready to burn down the Nuvo building or whatever, but Ben told them (I saw in my Facebook feed) to calm down.  He said that while he appreciated their support, he never lets reviews affect him one way or the other and they shouldn’t, either.

Mind you, he did not say he never reads reviews – his reaction was not arrogant – only that he doesn’t take them to heart.

This year, not only did the Nuvo reviewer (who may or may not have been the same person as last year) give “BOT” a lot of stars but the Nuvo editors also put Ben and another of the “BOT” robots on the cover of their Fringe guide edition.  I’m pretty sure Ben is pleased about this, but I also bet he’s not going to let it go to his head. 

This is a good reminder to me, too, that reviews of any kind are just reviews, just opinions.  Use what you can, ignore the rest, and keep doing what you do, Hopie.

Anyway, “BOT” is a treat and it is on the Theatre on the Square’s main stage during Indy Fringe.  It was conceptualized by Ben Asaykwee, Carrie Morgan and Ryan Powell.  The music is by Ben Asaykwee; the book is by Ben Asaykwee and cast.  The cast includes BOT (Carrie Morgan), B1T (Abbie Wright), FU2E (Matt Campbell), M1G (Paige Scott), 8RRT (Maria Meschi), R0M (Ryan Powell), and CO6 (Ben Asaykwee.)   Rebekah Ann Foster is the stage manager. Violin (recording) by Maureen O’Leary.  Costume design by Annie Proctor and Ben Asaykwee.  Costume construction by Annie Proctor, Abbie Wright, Erica Wright, Paige Scott, Maria Meschi, Ryan Powell, Matt Campbell, Marilyn McCarty, and Will McCarty.  Set construction by Will McCarty, Ben Asaykwee, Annie Proctor, Ben Lamey, Robyn Lamey, Garrett Winkler, Paige Scott, and Maria Meschi.

“CabarGAY”  

This show by the Indianapolis Men’s Chorus was not what I expected but I enjoyed it very much.

I expected that the whole chorus would sing several songs. I had heard them sing at the annual Spotlight gala for the Indiana AIDS Fund and I liked their kind, beautiful, masculine sound.

However, when I took my seat at the ComedySportz venue I thought, “Wait a minute.  How are they going to fit all those men on that tiny stage?”

They did it by having only one or two men sing at a time, except for the opening and closing numbers.

The show does feel like a cabaret, then, instead of a concert.  Or it feels like what I imagine a night at a gay piano bar in New York City must feel like: men with beautiful singing voices sharing some of their favorite songs, one man at a time, while another man plays the piano. (A portable one, in this case.)

The songs they sang were some of my favorites, too, such as “Paper Moon.” They also sang songs I had never heard before, such as a poignant one about waiting for your significant other and knowing that he is waiting for you, too.  The director said that the man who sang that song is also starring in Footlite’s Indy Fringe show, “Souvenir,” over at the Cook Theater.  I hope I have time to get to that, too.

There were some funny songs, too, including one about not liking Sondheim songs. (This was after several Sondheim songs “because hey, we’re homos.”)

I admired the choreography and staging of their two group numbers.  They made good use of the tiny stage.

Yes, this is a sweet, charming show.

“Creatures of the Night”

I made this new play by Bennett Ayres my first 2012 Fringe show because I had so enjoyed his “Eel Catchers” last July.  That show’s director, Jim Tillett, also directed this one.  I leapt to my feet to applaud at the end of “Creatures,” it was so satisfying.  Its brilliance set the bar high for the rest of my 2012 Fringe experience.

It is about two somewhat fussy men of science, Conk (Scot Greenwell) and Fleckwell (Robert Neal), who have been friends for a long time.  They are in an observation shed in the middle of the night, hoping to sight a werewolf.  While they wait, they putter around with their equipment and talk about their theories, their rivals, and other things.

The script makes for a fresh, rich exploration of friendship and eternity, of institutions and relationships – oh, so much! – but the two actors are also exquisitely hilarious and rich in their delivery of the lines.

This treat is playing on Theatre on the Square’s (TOTS’) second stage during the Indy Fringe.

“Day Care Ditties”

Talented solo performer Leah Isaacson hates her day job as a daycare worker, hates her co-workers, and resents not being able to use her theatre degree to earn her living.  So…she based a theatre piece on her horrible post-graduate life as a way of coping with the stress and staying in touch with her authentic, creative self. 

That’s my hypothesis, anyway, and if I’m right, I don’t blame her for it one bit.  In fact, I admire her for it.

However, as an audience member, I came away from her 35-minute “Day Care Ditties” show wishing that she had delved a little more deeply and possibly more compassionately into the material that is her day job.  Everyone in every field, even working at jobs they love, has self-involved, possibly jealous co-workers that make wrong assumptions about them.  I definitely laughed at Leah’s portrayals of hers, but I also felt sorry for them, having her for a co-worker.  They can’t ALL be jerks.  Maybe that is the way Leah wanted me to feel, but it was not an enjoyable feeling.

Mind you, I don’t usually enjoy put-down humor in general, so maybe this was just not my kind of comedy show.

It’s also possible that the show is a complete fabrication, with “Leah” the character unrelated to Leah the actor-writer.  Hmm.

I also came away wishing it had been a show that was more insightful about larger daycare-related issues, such as the need for better pay, benefits, and training for daycare workers, and the long-term effects of poor daycare on future generations.  Taking care of other people’s children is hard, hard work.  I lasted six days when I tried to be a nanny years ago.  It is made even harder when everyone seems to think that anyone can care for children and that it doesn’t matter if it is done well or not.

Okay, as I write this I realize that I went into “Day Care Ditties” with a lot of baggage and expectations, which is not fair to the show.  ‘Sorry.

What I did love unequivocally was Leah Isaacson’s ability to believably portray several different characters in conversation, sometimes changing from one to another on a knife’s edge of time, holding or wearing all of their identifying props at once but still delineating the characters clearly by the way she spoke and the way she held her body or arranged her face.

I am laughing again, remembering the hilarious, almost schizophrenic quality of her portrayal of the characters fighting with each other over a missing Reese’s Peanut Butter cup.  As the fight escalates, so does their mania, yet the performer maintains pinpoint control over all of it.

I wish I had time to see this show again, this time with a more open mind going in.

“Day Care Ditties” in on the ComedySportz stage during Indy Fringe.

“Don’t Cross the Streams: the Cease & Desist Musical”

This was an hour of enjoyable silliness. 

A community theatre group starts to make a theatre piece based on the movie “Ghostbusters.”  The people that made “Ghostbusters” find out about the project and have their lawyers send a “cease and desist” notice to the theatre.

I hate corporate greed as much as the next person, but if this is based on a true story, I don’t blame the “Ghostbusters” people one bit for wanting to retain their right to translate their film idea to the stage themselves if they want to.  Just because you like something doesn’t mean you can do whatever with you want with it!  I also think there’s a difference between taking a story from film to stage vs. making a parody of it or using it as a starting place for creating something new.

This community theatre group doesn’t want to explore new territory.  They just want to take one of their favorite movies, act it out on stage, and charge admission.

The cease and desist order forces them to dip a little deeper into their own artistic wells.

It doesn’t happen overnight, however.  Instead of asking themselves, “What is it about ‘Ghostbusters’ that is so appealing and how can we develop a new story based on those ingredients?” they first do stupid little stuff like change more and more words in the “Ghostbusters” script to make it different enough to escape litigation.  The stage manager tells everyone in the cast to cross out every “ghost” in their script, for example, and replace it with “spirit.”

That laziness is sort of funny but the larger “Don’t Cross the Streams” show really begins to jell when other catastrophes happen to the show within a show.  One of the leads breaks his ankle, for example, and the famous TV star they get to fill in is hilariously bad at singing and dancing.

When the larger show becomes more about the challenges of putting on a community theatre show, period, than about the challenges of stealing intellectual property without getting caught, it becomes much more interesting and entertaining.

Allison L. Carter, in her review of this Indy Fringe show on her Overly Theatrical blog, said it reminded her of the movie, “Waiting for Guffman.”  I agree: if you enjoyed that movie, and/or if you have ever done community theatre yourself, I bet you will enjoy “Don’t Cross the Streams.”  It is on the Theatre on the Square’s main stage during Indy Fringe.

Book, music, & lyrics by Mike Hall & Joshua Steele.  Directed by Mike Sherman and music directed by Steve Milloy.  Excellent cast includes Lauren Carr, Cameron Jamarr Davis, Emma Greer, Tom Highley, Sean Mette, Steve Milloy, Rodger Pille, Chris Stewart, and Phillip Webster.

“The Fabulous Problemas” 

I didn’t want this show to end, it was so funny and surprising and good. My friend Mary Hamilton (star of “Feed Your Nightmares”), who sat next to me during this show, kept saying, “It’s so wacky!  It’s just so wacky!” as we both laughed and laughed.

Two men and a woman tell the story of three…well, at first it seems to be the story of a lovers’ triangle, and it is that, but it is also the story of three thieves.  Except for a ukulele song towards the end, the whole story of their adventures is told without words, with lively recorded music as background to the trio’s physical antics. 

After the show, the woman said that although the three performers were based in different places around the world, they had worked on the “Fabulous Problemas” piece together at the Celebration Barn Theater.  She suggested that the Celebration Barn was a great place for anyone to come and develop a Fringe piece.  Mary Hamilton told me later that she knew of other professional storytellers that have studied there.  I had never heard of it before, but I bet it is a wonderful place.  The inventiveness AND polish that “The Fabulous Problemas” show has could only happen in an atmosphere of support, commitment, skill, and experience.

By the way, past Indy Fringe visiting artist Brent McCoy (“Clown at Work”) contacted me for the first time in years to tell me about this show and to encourage me to see it.  Another past Indy Fringe visiting artist Paul Strickland (“Any Title That Works) wrote on his Facebook timeline encouraging his Indianapolis FB friends to not miss this show.  A woman I didn’t know struck up a “What have you seen?” conversation with me in person to tell me about this show. 

Now sometimes, too many people telling me “you must see this show” makes me want to dig my heels in and refuse, just to be ornery.  Much as I love live performance art, there really isn’t any individual show that I have to see.

However, I was sitting in the “Summerapocalypse” show when those improv guys asked the audience for a classier word than “dildo” to work from.  The woman from “The Fabulous Problemas,” who happened to be in the “Summerapocalypse” audience, too, offered them the word “substitute.”  It was a generous improv word and the improv guys ran with it.

That one generous suggestion is what made me finally go see “The Fabulous Problemas.”  I am SO GLAD I did!

“The Fabulous Problemas” was written and performed by Daniel Orrantia, Amanda Huotari, and Aaron Tucker; directed by Davis Robinson; produced by Celebration Barn Theater.  Its 2012 Indy Fringe shows are in the Indy Fringe Theatre building, which is on St. Clair Street near the intersection of Mass Ave and College – not to be confused with the Fringe’s temporary headquarters on Mass Ave.

“Feed Your Nightmares” 

This is the first show I saw this year on the Indy Fringe stage sponsored by Storytelling Arts of Indiana (known year-round as the Frank and Katrina Basile stage downstairs at the Phoenix Theatre.)   It stars Mary Hamilton.

I consider Mary Hamilton a friend beyond Facebook friends or whatever, but for me as an audience member she is also one of my favorite professional storytellers and has been for many years.  I own several of her CDs and when the Bloomington Storytellers’ Guild brought her up for a workshop earlier this summer, I bought her book, Kentucky Folktales: Revealing Stories, Truths, and Outright Lies, which University Press of Kentucky published this spring.  I love that Mary includes commentary for each story in her book as well as the stories themselves.

At her “Feed Your Nightmares” Fringe show, the theatre has become a darkened restaurant and audience members are handed a menu by Charles, the head waiter (aka Mary’s husband, Charles Wright.) The appetizer and dessert have already been decided but diners vote to select the middle courses.  Then, once the meal has been decided, Mary begins serving it.

She does not read aloud any of the stories.  Although some of the stories are in her new book, there are no books on stage.  Nor does she recite them word for word from memory like a poem.  Nor does she act them out like a theatrical monologue.  She wears her own clothes and stays herself the whole time, and there are no props or set pieces on stage.  There is also no “fourth wall” between her and the audience.

Mary tells the stories to us from her heart, shares them from the deep well of her careful research and her many previous tellings of the tales, brings the words out into the open with her voice and her timing and her gestures and her facial expressions and more…so that our imaginations can make the pictures of them in our heads and take what we need from them into our own hearts.

And this back-to-the-cave-fire collaborative cooking between teller and audience truly does feed everyone involved.

“G-D”

Theatre Non Nobis is the theatre ministry of The Church Within, a non-denominational church in the Fountain Square neighborhood of Indianapolis.  They put on a variety of shows throughout the year as vehicles for discussion and growth.  (And by the way, how cool is that?)

As far as I know, this is the first piece that they have written themselves.  The paper program says that this show grew out of writing workshops. “Participants were led through exercises to produce source material.  From there, the director and cast edited those writings into a script adding material where necessary.” 

I bet that was a very rewarding process.  I love to discover meaning by writing in my journal and I like a good “What/who is God?” conversation as much as the next person.

However, as a theatre piece, “G-D” felt flat to me, as if in an attempt to be all-inclusive and non-judgmental, the juice had been edited out. 

Six people sit around talking about how they experience God or Spirit or whatever, and what they think sin means, and so on.  Some people get a teeny bit emotional but there is really no drama or conflict or contrast or story or growth or change.  No one on stage is really taking any risks or learning anything new or being challenged in any way, so we in the audience don’t either.

On the other hand, no one is preaching anything except “do what works best for you,” which will offend some people but which will make other people relax.  In many ways, this show is peaceful and safe and comforting, and a good starting place for further discussion.

And there is certainly nothing wrong with that.

“G-D” is playing on the second stage of Theatre on the Square.  It was directed by Jeffrey Barnes.  Janet Veal-Drummond is the stage manager.  The cast includes Mary Armstrong-Smith, Darren Chittick, Sondra Hayes, Casey O’Leary, Michael Swinford, and Jenni White.

“Go to Hell”

Jim May is another professional storyteller that is sharing stories on the Indy Fringe stage sponsored by Storytelling Arts of Indiana (aka the Frank and Katrina Basile stage, which is downstairs at the Phoenix Theatre.)

I don’t know Jim personally the way I do Mary Hamilton, but I have long admired his work, too.  He is from Illinois but he was often featured at the Hoosier Storytelling Festival when it was still going on and I have heard him tell at other storytelling festivals as well.

Whereas Mary’s “Feed Your Nightmares” is a program of creepy folktales and true stories from other people’s lives, Jim’s “Go to Hell” is a collection of personal stories for adults from Jim’s own experiences growing up as a Catholic on a farm outside a tiny town in Illinois.  I guess you could call it “memoir storytelling.”

Although “Go to Hell” incorporates a story or two that have been part of Jim’s repertory for a long time, as an hour-long program it is a new piece.  It is still in development in some ways, so it felt much rougher in parts than Mary’s did, and at first I wasn’t sure where Jim was going with it, although because he is such an experienced and skillful teller I was having a good time milling around with him mentally as he explored his interior landscape.

He used richly specific language from the Catholic Church and richly specific language from his life on the farm, so my mind took pleasure in the richly specific pictures that formed as Jim talked.  He also quoted briefly from memory other philosophers and writers, which was interesting and enriched my experience still further.

He also made me laugh a lot.

At the end, to my surprise, Jim brought the whole journey home in a way that resonated in a deeply satisfying way with stuff I’ve been thinking about lately: stuff about the importance of living in “the complex middle.”  (I’m sorry I can’t remember where I first heard that expression.)  He didn’t call it that, but he talked about how always thinking in terms of dualities – of right/wrong, Heaven/Hell, black/white, and so on – is maybe not a venal sin, but not the best way to live one’s life.

He said it better than that, though.

If you go to hear Jim’s stories, try to sit near the front.  He has a quiet voice that was sometimes hard to hear from where I was sitting in the back, even in that intimate space.

“Phil Van Hest: Public Nudity”

This is Phil Van Hest’s  eighth stand-up comedy show for the Indy Fringe Festival.  He and magician Taylor Martin (“Illusionistory” this year) are the only two performers that have been in every Indy Fringe from the beginning.

Phil says it’s getting more and more difficult for him to write stand-up comedy because he has been so happy lately. 

I can understand that.  If, as Phil says, the formula for good comedy is conflict + time, and if you are happy in your love relationship, if you look forward to becoming a dad, if you have a good enough day job to pay your bills, if your health is good, and if you have more or less made peace with the fact that you are a liberal that now lives in Indiana rather than California…In other words, if you have no big conflicts in your life, well then, yes, it probably is a challenge to come up with something funny to say in a new stand-up routine.

Especially if you say you wouldn’t even have written this new show if your girlfriend hadn’t pushed you into it.

But whatever his circumstances or motivation, Phil definitely got it up again for this show.  The new material is thought-provoking, the writing is still brilliant, the delivery is still impeccable, the “he did NOT just go there!” is still there, there’s a big romantic gesture at the end, and there are laughs.  Many, many laughs.

Also the title works on many levels, which is very cool.

So yeah, that’s about all I have to say about this show.  Good luck getting in if you want to see what all the fuss is about.

Oh! That’s all I want to say…except that even though this show includes no physical nudity, it is for adults only and running on the ComedySportz stage during Indy Fringe.

“Schoolhouse Wrong To! Even More Wronger”

The Three Dollar Bill Comedy Company has created a sequel to their very popular 2011 Indy Fringe parody that is even raunchier than before.  Hoo-whee, this is NOT a show for children!  (Unless you want to explain to your kids what a pimp is or why the voting both in this show has a penis, and so on.)

But it is physically and verbally hilarious and I loved the mix of music styles – from heavy metal to folk ballad – even more this year. 

This year there are five strong voices: four men – Todd Kenworthy, Matt Kramer, Will Pfafenberger, and Chad Woodward – and Claire Wilcher, on whom I totally have a talent-crush.  I was glad we got to hear her sing more this year.

On the way out I overheard:

“Didn’t they have more guys last year?  Where was the tall guy and the other guy?”

“The tall guy and his wife had a baby recently.”

“Oh, really?  That’s great!”

The “tall guy” is Jeff Clawson.  I’m sorry I don’t know what happened to John Patrick Coan.  I think he was the “other guy.”

Anyway, “Schoolhouse Wrong To” is on the Livia and Steve Russell stage upstairs at the Phoenix Theatre during the 2012 Indy Fringe.   You can buy the CDs of this year’s and last year’s songs from cast members.  I’ve been listening to mine with my car windows rolled up so I don’t get arrested!

“Screw You, Nancy Drew”

This is a show that disappointed me at first but which grew on me over time until now I love it.

It is a one-woman theatrical piece written, performed and, I think, self-directed and designed by Kim McCann.  It was produced by Sarsparilla Shook Productions.

It is about a woman that is upset because the original 1930s(?) Nancy Drew mysteries have been re-published here in 1959 with edits that cause more problems than they solve.

I loved the feminism in this piece until the end, when it seemed to be the opposite of feminism.

Actor Scot Greenwell (not associated with this show) saw my “not sure about the ending” tweet right after the show and tweeted back, “pretty sure it’s historical fiction, if that helps.”

I woke up the next morning still thinking about this show.  If the WHOLE thing is historical fiction, rather than a woman in 2012 talking about something that happened to the Nancy Drew books back in the day, then the ending is authentic and truthful.  Still depressing in a way, but truthful.  And that frees me to enjoy the whole thing more.  It is an homage to all mystery writers and readers, and it offers good food for thought about the complexity of female role models, the complexity of racism, and the power and responsibility of editors and publishers.

The gloomy lighting design never did work for me.  I get that maybe the designer was trying to give the show a “noir” atmosphere, but I just kept wishing someone would raise the lights a couples of notches or that, at the very least, the actor would step INTO them more often. 

However, I loved the sound design.  The music chosen for the many scene changes was witty and just right. 

And I loved the attention to detail in the the 50s-style black crinoline dress with veiled black head ornament, red gloves, and red lipstick.  All together they made a perfect costume design.

The set design was just right for a fringe show: easily moved in and out in minutes.  More importantly for an audience member, the handful of set pieces and perfectly chosen props made clear the three areas in which the action of the story takes place: the woman’s home, the police station, and the publisher’s home.  My only quibble with it was that from where I sat house left on the lower level of the Theatre on the Square’s second stage, I could not see the publisher’s home.  That chair was too far downstage.

So…if you go to this show, make sure you adjust your own chair before the show begins so that you can see all three of the little areas on the stage.  However, don’t sit right across from the coffee cup chair unless you enjoy feeling endangered.

“Singular Sensations”

I confess that I had not intended to see this show because the description in the Indy Fringe program said so little about what is was – “Offerings range from touching and serious to hilarious and improbable” – and I didn’t recognize the name “A Wing and a Prayer Productions” or the writer’s name, Robert W. Berry. 

I’ve gotten burned once or twice at past Indy Fringes by artists that put their money down for a festival slot before they knew what their show would be and they didn’t realize how much work it would take to fully create, rehearse, and polish a show in the time they had.  I didn’t mind giving them ten bucks to keep them going artistically but I hated wasting one of my limited time slots as a Fringe-goer on something that was half-baked and not interesting mid-creative-process.

However, when I tried to see “465 Sex Drive…a musical” the first Sunday night of this year’s Fringe, the box office people didn’t say it was sold out until it was too late for me to go anywhere else except across the lobby to Theatre on the Square’s second stage, where “Singular Sensations” was playing.

In other words, I employed The Robby Slaughter Plan for that time slot but I went in grumpy, which is never fair to a show. 

And I stayed grumpy the whole time, which is worse.

Now, days later, my biggest take-away from “Singular Sensations” is the reminder (which I didn’t hear until a few days had gone by) that in life, as well as at the Fringe, you don’t always get what you think you most want, but you do always have the choice of whether or not to stay present and appreciate what you’ve been given.

As for the show itself, “Singular Sensations” was neither half-baked nor uninteresting.

It is a collection of unrelated monologues and scenes that were apparently written by Robert W. Berry for use as audition pieces and/or acting practice.  Director Cheryl Fesmire said in her introduction something like “Bob and I wanted to give you a sense of what our Saturday morning actors workshops are like.”

A few actors come on stage, sign in on a clipboard, and sit on a row of folding chairs.  They chat with each other, talking about why they are here: to get feedback on their audition pieces.

Then they perform one piece after another.

They never do get any feedback on their pieces, except for at one point when an actor responds to someone apparently asking her from the audience if she is doing a scripted monologue or just telling us about her career plans.  So…I don’t think this show gives prospective actors a true sense of what the workshops are like. 

However, that’s not why most people go to Fringe shows anyway.  If you like to read short story collections, you might enjoy this piece.  Some of the short stories work better than others, but that is true of most printed short story collections, too.   This piece is not the kind of storytelling that Mary Hamilton and Jim May do because here the actors have memorized the lines, and even if the Fourth Wall goes down, the actors are playing the characters, not staying themselves.

I don’t think I had seen any of the five actors’ work before (I might be wrong about that – I don’t always recognize actors from play to play) and I’m glad that now I have.  The five actors are Jonathan Evans, Adam Grandy, Rex Wolfley, Susie Wolfley, and Cito Wyatt.

“Singular Sensations” is on the Theatre on the Square’s second stage at Indy Fringe.  For more information about Robert W. Berry’s Actors Workshops, please visit www.indyactorswkshp.com.

“Summerapocalypse”

I love that Left Right TIM – a huge group of guys, mostly bearded, from Boulder, Colorado – call themselves “an improv battalion.”

Their show is “long form improv” which, as I understand it, means they start with a concept or two and run with that for a while (20 minutes or longer), looking for the funny in wherever it takes them and bringing it home to a satisfying ending as best they can.

This means that every show is different and there’s always the risk that the impromptu collaborative storytelling won’t be funny at all. 

The night I went, it was. 

There were two sessions or acts or whatever you want to call them in the show.  In the first, the leader of the five or six guys on stage asked the audience for one word.

Someone called out “dildo.”  The leader laughed but asked for something “two or three levels higher in classiness.”

Someone else offered “substitute.”  That turned out to be a word rich with possibility.  The men took turns sitting in two chairs center stage and pretended to be substitute teachers, the principal, or any other character related to “substitute” that occurred to them.  The other men hung back at the sides of the tiny ComedySportz stage, listening and watching, and whenever they sensed the storytelling needed new energy, and/or whenever they thought of something funny to add, one or more of them would stick his hand out and one of the sitting men would hit it and get up, making room for the other man to sit down and begin playing a new character in the story.

Sometimes characters came back on.  Sometimes one character would refer to something that another character had said much earlier.

One character, the school janitor, even told the overly friendly and inquisitive math teacher (I think it was) about the fact that his wife wanted to use a dildo on him.

(Because isn’t the first rule of improv that you say “Yes, and…” to whatever you’re given?  I’m glad the leader didn’t allow the whole story to be about dildos – that would have become boring very quickly, I bet, once the feeling of getting away with something naughty wore off – but I was delighted that every bit of audience input was incorporated at least a little bit.)

I don’t remember how that first session ended.  But then it was time for the second session…and a whole new group of guys came on stage!

This time when they asked for a word from the audience, someone gave them the word “hillbilly.” This time, instead of jumping right in to group work, the new leader told a little story by himself about his hillbilly family reunion.  The other men listened intently.  I’m not sure if he was giving them ideas that they were supposed to incorporate into their own improv – setting the direction or whatever – or whether he was giving them time to think of what they could add to the story – or whether he was just taking advantage of his leadership position to indulge in a solo riff for a while.

In any case, after he stopped talking and stepped back, the other men jumped in and again worked at finding the funny two or three men at a time.

I didn’t laugh out loud as much during the second session but I still enjoyed it very much.  I admired the men’s creativity and in-the-present-ness (which is not quite the same as presence.)  I also admired the respect they had for each other and their seeming lack of individual egos.  When one of your colleagues holds his hand out to switch, you switch and switch quickly, even if it feels as if you’re still in the middle of something that’s working.

Yes, and…yes, and…yes, and…

“Summerapocalypse” is on the ComedySportz stage during the Indy Fringe festival.  If you go to this show, don’t go expecting a polished piece.  Go looking for adventure.

***********

I took a break from fringe-ing yesterday, but I told a friend about it.

She said, “Hope, you really love the Indy Fringe, don’t you?  You seem very happy this week.”

I looked within and realized she was right.  I am happy!  Yay!  Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. moment!

The Indy Fringe continues through this Sunday, August 26, 2012.  ‘See you at the theatres!

Hope Baugh – www.IndyTheatreHabit.com

(and www.Twitter.com/IndyTheatre)

©2012 Hope Baugh- You do not have my permission to copy this post onto any other website or publication or handout.  You may link to it, and you may quote a sentence or two but then please be sure to say that the excerpt was written by Hope Baugh for Indy Theatre Habit and, if possible, please link back to this post.  Thanks for reading!

8/25/12 addendum – I spent HOURS proofreading this post yesterday, but of course, when I looked at it again today I found some more misspellings, etc.  I corrected what I found today and added a few more links to the theatres, etc.  HB

5 thoughts on “Reviews of 16 Shows from the 2012 Indy Fringe Festival”

  1. One of the $3 Bill “other guys” moved to Chicago…but he did come back to perform with Claire in “Going…Going…Gone” last weekend. We hope he’ll make many a return visit.

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