Divafest: A Celebration of Women Playwrights 

IndyFringe Theatre

May 7-9


4 stars

Directed by Kate Ayers

First-time playwright Bernadette Bartlett's Alarmed works around a simple premise—the installation of a home security system--but its well-timed comic phrasing and performances make it well worth the 30-minute investment. Like the best of comic skits, it begins with normal characters who have a hint of the ridiculous about them. Are the dangers that drive homeowner Frieda to buy an alarm real or imagined? External or internal? Through posture and small gestures, Carrie Schlatter makes Frieda a likeable blend of false confidence and growing paranoia. She is balanced, figuratively and visually, by calm roommate Claire (director Kate Ayers). They often talk to each other from opposite wings of the stage to avoid setting off the motion sensor center stage. All other characters represent a comic possibility of menace. The best is alarm installer Rob (John Danyluk), whose deadpan delivery reflects either a worker's boredom or a killer's calculation. Alarmed never goes full-throttle wacky to make fun of our fears, culture, and commercialism. It only takes a few well chosen words to do so, and Bartlett has them.

Dash Thirty Dash

3 stars

Directed by Matthew Roland

Indianapolis Monthly editor Amy Wimmer Schwarb turns playwright to chronicle the demise of journalism in this one-hour twist on His Girl Friday. Unlike the fast-talking Cary Grant newspaper vehicle, everyone here has heart, perhaps too much of it. Chipper young reporter Kate joins Mosquito County Press and quickly earns the respect of veteran reporter Sandy, grisly heart-of-gold editor Roy, and ruggedly handsome photographer J.T. None of the staff have social lives—friends and lovers are potential conflicts of interest for news stories—and yet they all seem nice, too nice. Corporate marketing whiz Paulette makes six figures a year, but she only does so to save Florida's small dailies from extinction. When real-life Indianapolis Star editor Dennis Ryerson made his cameo as an ego-driven reporter Friday night (other local writers shared the part over three days), I felt completely conflicted. According to the play's logic, do I credit corporate publisher Gannett with saving the Star or destroying it? Schwarb knows her story is formulaic and she pokes fun of it, getting in a few good jabs at reporters, too. My favorite: "People found out how much fun we're having and put an end to it."

Madwoman's Late Nite Cabaret

3 stars

Directed by Julie Lyn Barber

Julie Lyn Barber's Madwomen is a mix of show tunes and torch songs, sung well to very well, but because the songs are meant to hook around historic female figures comically, something is often missing in the delivery. For instance, having Joan of Arc (Erica Dumond in French uniform) sing "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes" is a very funny idea, but it is only funny for a moment and then you have to listen to the whole song. Getting a great singer like Amanda Hummer to perform Sondheim's "Losing My Mind" is sweet, but it can never be sublime, because Hummer is made up as the be-headed Marie Antoinette. We also get a glimpse of what it would be like to see Hummer in Hair (terrific), if Ethel Merman was a drag queen (the enjoyably bizarre Ben Asaykwee), and how Mary Queen of Scots might sing (Berber with a wonderfully fierce Scottish accent). I came close to loving this show when the three women harmonized as beheaded ladies of history and when the troupe imagined the split-personality movie Sybil as a musical. With songs like "Personality" and "My Own Best Friend," the wide-eyed Berber reached a Mel Brooks high (or low, depending on how you feel about unrelenting tastelessness). I say high.


Moment of Impact

5 stars

Directed by Julie Mauro and Jessica Strauss

Moment of Impact does nothing greater than crystallize a moment in time for five unconnected yet interconnected characters. This is its greatness. Three strangers and two friends wait on different train platforms in Chicago for the same train. For one, missing the train will mean the difference between life and death, but wisely, co-writers Julie Mauro and Jessica Strauss focus on life rather than death, on banality rather than tragedy. Two separate single parents start their day, heading to work, with children and childcare on their minds. At the same time, two young women are ending a night of partying, filled with giggle and song. We watch the scene three times over, each from different characters' perspectives. It ends with one shy man's internal narration of the events and anything they bring to his mind, including yesterday's meatloaf and the Star Trek TV franchise. The tipsy ladies' (Hannah Lyon and Amanda McSwine) antics get funnier with each repetition and the man's (Matt Anderson) meandering thoughts surely echo those of many audience members: "I was never that young. I'll never be that young. I don't know how to be that young." Bravo.

Winter Solstice

3 stars

Directed by Amy Pettinella

Director/writer Amy Pettinella's heavy use of narration is an expository crutch that she does not need. Once she gets to it, her dialogue is quite good. The play opens with several minutes of narration to explain that lead character Phelan is an L.L. Bean-style economist, his mother is a constellation-gazing actress, his father is a TV producer, and his sister a thrice-divorced hippie. The play's flow improves significantly with dialogue between son and father, son and mother, and mother and husband. We learn that the middle-aged parents are fatigued by decades of living as polar opposites. One lives life as something to endure, while the other views it as something to discover. Carrel Regan is cast perfectly as the mother, a timeless beauty whose energy and poise a man could grow to despise. Ken Ganza captures the ambivalence of a man who wants to end his marriage, but doesn't like endings. Pettinella puts too much focus on the son's angst and the phases of the sky, but overall, Winter Solstice is a fair portrait of what it means to be married and un-married.

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