Indy Fringe 2016 reviews 

A few of our picks from Indy Fringe, from spoken word to puppetry

Indy Fringe is the mile marker for the beginning of the fall arts season. We went through the list and found performers with some amazing personal stories and reviewed some shows that might be outside of your comfort zone. But that's what Fringe is about — break out of the box and try something new.

Happy Fringing, y'all. 

For tickets to any of the shows go to the Indy Fringe website

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What Is This Place?
at the Indy Fringe Basile Theatre


The intimacy of the IndyFringe Basile Theatre perfectly sets the mood for this tense, claustrophobic play.

The set is spare — four chairs, one covered in junk food wrappers and the scent of despair. Four women emerge from the shadows, and we learn that they are trapped in this tight space. Are they hostages? Patients in a mental hospital? Addicts in some kind of severely strict rehab center?

Playwright Jan White creates an ominous atmosphere in which unsettling uncertainty hovers over every scene. Well, almost every scene. Once the mystery starts unraveling, the play grows slightly less interesting. The answers to the viewers’ questions don’t feel as shocking and revelatory as they should.

The beginning of the play is filled with dark magic. A scary sense of mystery washes over the audience, and we feel as vulnerable as the characters. But what starts as a harrowing drama too quickly tries to wrap the viewers in a warm blanket of hope and optimism.

What Is This Place? could use some more time in its setting. It’s a strong, evocative, well-acted show, but it feels like it ends too quickly and neatly. It should make you uncomfortable, squirming and itching to escape its suffocating setting. Like its characters, it’s eager to move from the darkness into the light. But maybe it needs to linger in the dark a little longer. However, all in all, this is a compelling show that will leave you shivering at the thought of being in the same nightmarish scenario as its tragic, compelling characters. —Sam Watermeier

A Tairy Fale
at the Phoenix Theatre

A Tairy Fale — yes, that’s how it’s spelled — has a whimsical and engaging set-up. Set in a fairy tale world where iconic characters from our childhoods hang out together in a place called “Artists Alley,” it’s a sugary-sweet show that offers some food for thought, but it ultimately leaves a lot to be desired.

The play follows the fourth little pig as he befriends other fairy tale characters while doing time in community service. The pig, who is amusingly named Steve, must perform three acts of kindness: First, he has to persuade the Boy Who Cried Wolf to stop lying; then he has to spend some quality time with the grandmother of Little Red Riding Hood; and finally, he has to help Pocahontas pick up trash in the forest.

For quite a spell, these scenes don’t seem to go anywhere. They feel more like random episodes in a web series than threads tied to a larger narrative. Eventually, though, Steve learns an important lesson through his time with these characters. He realizes that he’s not an unworthy runt. He doesn’t deserve to live alone on the fringes of the fairy tale world — he deserves to live “happily ever after.”

The play culminates in a beautiful, heartfelt message and sends you out into the night with a smile on your face. Unfortunately, what leads up to that ending is a largely dull and faintly funny fantasy. But the actors’ energy and enthusiasm will occasionally rub off on you. Michael McLendon Tetmeyer is particularly fun to watch as a sleazy Donald Trump version of Jack (from Jack and the Beanstalk).

A Tairy Fale is a fun 45-minute outing for the kids. But it will probably leave adults fidgeting impatiently in their seats. It’s a flawed play, but it’s paved with good intentions. —Sam Watermeier

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Bad Brother: Religion and Politics in '69
at the Phoenix Theatre Underground

Loren Niemi’s autobiographical storytelling is intense and personal at the same time. He recounts how he ended up at Catholic seminary, though not Catholic and not even very religious, after high school and how his journey evolved, eventually shaping him into a Buddhist antiwar demonstrator. Everything was changing in that decade—it was post Vatican II, and Vietnam was on the horizon. Catholicism and the country were torn between the past and the future, with causalities on both sides confusing the present. Eventually, Niemi was denied his final vows because, as he was told, “it isn’t what you believe; it’s that you say it out loud.” While racism, “post-riot architecture,” and the questionable morals of the church and country are at the heart of his story, the seemingly inconsequential details bring counterbalance to the performance’s serious subject matter, such as Niemi smoking a joint during visiting hours in a minimum-security prison with 62-year-old Brother Basil, who had been imprisoned for protesting—a joint that was smuggled in via Jennie O’s vagina. History buffs, lapsed Catholics, and antiwar supporters will find much to enjoy in this show. —Lisa Gauthier Mitchison

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Drankspeare
at ComedySportz

Drink! The audience is continually invited to imbibe along with the actors while EclecticPond plays fast and loose with Romeo and Juliet. This raucous, frenetic send-up brings you such lines as “Are you fucking fisting me right now?” Drink! “You have to be 16 to drive a Chevy but only 13 to drive a vulva.” Drink! “Who the fuck is in my bushes?” (the infamous balcony scene). Drink! And, regarding Juliet, Nurse says, “She isn’t experienced with men, so if you are looking for butt stuff, this is not the droid you’re looking for.” Drink! Some of Shakespeare’s original lines are thrown in for good measure at a tempo that doesn’t seem humanly possible—but is deeply impressive. Drink! Some ad lib adds to the flow, and anytime actors manage to crack each other up onstage means good comedy. This is an excellent show to cap off an evening of Fringing. Drink! —Lisa Gauthier Mitchison

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Passing Notes
at Theatre on the Square Stage Two

Wonder Years
style, an adult Matt looks back at his teen-age relationship with May. May and “Matty” pass notes as a major part of their interaction. It was the 1990s, so these were actual paper notes that had to be hand-written and sometimes even mailed, like with a stamp. Matty calls notes May’s “weapon of choice” but only because he is portrayed in all his teenage male awkwardness and oblivion. As Matt says, “Life as a teenage boy is making a series of stupid statements and then trying to make up for them.” Overall, it’s a sweet picture of bumbling first love with wide-eyed actors portraying the teens. But then their lives take a heart-wrenching turn. Looking back, Matt says you always remember the first and the last of something, but you never know when that last is until it’s over. This initially lighthearted show ends with the audience having a more conscious appreciation for the people in their lives. —Lisa Gauthier Mitchison

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Silken Veils
at the Phoenix Mainstage

It’s prettily done, incorporating marionettes and shadow theater into the story of an Iranian émigré who flees the marriage altar and then, in a storage closet, has PTSD-like flashbacks to her childhood during the Iranian Revolution. In her mind, Darya has linked her family’s tragedies to her parents’ soulmate-like connection to each other. A love her mother clung to even though her husband eventually left them and created a new family with a new wife. Now, Darya is terrified of losing her own identity to her fiancé because she is the product of what we would now call a dysfunctional family. The bones of the production itself are strong, with solid acting and cunning props and staging. It’s visually striking. My discomfort comes from the slow pacing and the extraneous use of Darya’s fiancé, Ahmad. Ahmad’s presence on the other side of the closet’s locked door does little to move the story forward until the end. I wish he had been a stronger character—someone who had a personality that showed he was worthy of Darya commitment. While the flashbacks and puppetry are intriguing, they run too long. The puppetry scenes especially could be tightened up because they drag down the story’s momentum. —Lisa Gauthier Mitchison

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Carve
at Theatre on the Square Main Stage

The opening act of this hybrid dance/music performance is a string quartet taking the stage solo with no dancers. Their music is somber, like, say, Bach meets Philip Glass. (Later in the performance, the quartet, in fact, plays a work by Glass.) When the dancers do arrive for a piece called Ping Pong Fumble Thaw, the dance is definitely as advertised. That is, there’s something a little fumbling about the way the dancers move across the stage in bare feet, roll across the floor, slither under chairs on which the quartet members are sitting as they perform, and slither over one another. You might wonder at the significance of the black tape wrapped around the arms of the dancers like phylacteries and their burlap sack-like garments but the performances don’t provide any clues. Things become less pongy and fumbly in a dance piece called Hello Night where dancers Sara Little and Katelin Rupp move around the stage more like Bolshoi dancers than ping pong balls. When the dancers’ glances finally connect, the performance ends. The next act entitled “Solo’iquy” has even more of a storyline. (Perhaps it’s invoking Jean-Luc Godard's short film Armide, from the 1987 motion picture Aria.) In this dance, the female dancer (Rachel Mack) seemingly becomes jealous of the relationship the violinist (José Valencia) has with his violin. (Unlike in Godard’s film, there is no stripping naked here.) Elsewhere in Carve, you see some dancing on (and with) chairs. An allusion to Flashdance, perhaps? You might think that dancers dancing to the occasionally mournful music of a violin quartet wouldn’t result in the most spirited or engaging performance. But music and dance merge well here. —Dan Grossman

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Sexual Politics
at ComedySportz

At first Scott Long, who hails from Fishers, wanted to do a Fringe show about “a crazy politician who says whatever the hell he wants.” But then Trump came on the scene and he had to scrap the whole program. Anyway, he thought, no one wants to hear politics for 100 percent of a show. So he tried mixing it up a bit so part of his show would be about politics, the other about relationships and sex. He certainly does have some barbed observations about the political scene, say, like when he compares Evan Bayh to a male nipple. Long’s gifted with a casual stage presence and he connects well with an audience. But ultimately, the sexual and the political largely stay separate in his monologue, like distinct memes and posts on a Facebook wall. And Long largely fails to make the connection between common bedroom politics and the scene outside the bedroom. Thus, a certain kind of predatory lust seen often in politicians goes unremarked upon. Call me crazy, but I think that people still want comedians to make such connections. —Dan Grossman

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Terror on the High Seas
at ComedySportz

No, this isn’t some hostage-taking melodrama set on the high seas starring Somali pirates and Tom Hanks. But there is maybe just a little bit of a Tom Hanks-type everyman in Hollywood, CA.- based Kurkendaal. It’s certainly easy to relate to his desire to get along and have a good time with his boyfriend and his family on their cruise along the Alaskan coast. But the dreadlock-wearing Kurkendaal is clearly not Tom Hanks: being gay and African American makes him a minority within a minority.

And the particular situation that he gets thrown into is far from Love Boat territory, despite The Love Boat theme playing as Kurkendaal walks out onto stage. Actually, at times it’s more like Psycho. (Kurkendaal appropriates this music as well at certain key moments.) You see, his boyfriend’s family is “Right-wing Caucasian...NRA loving.” So opportunities for miscues and arguments abound. Kurkendaal’s solution to all this is to take as many day-trip excursions as the cruise line offers so as to avoid conflict with his in-laws. (And it turns out that such trips are filled with people trying to escape their in-laws.) But it’s impossible to escape such conflict. Because of Kurkendaal’s appearance, certain cruise ship passengers mistake him for staff. And certain members of his boyfriend’s family think his reaction to this incident is overblown. The question is: can such conflicts ever be resolved? Kurkendaal’s at least willing to give it a shot. His delivery is fast, smart, high energy, and — perhaps most importantly — humanistic. (He’s also great at doing impressions.) Ultimately he chooses not just to avoid conflict but to see the best in people, even in his right wing in-laws. So it’s quite easy for an audience to see the best in him. —Dan Grossman

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  • Simon Coronel: An Alien of Extraordinary Ability
  • Dan Axler

Simon Coronel: An Alien of Extraordinary Ability
at the Phoenix Underground

The very first magic trick that Simon Coronel did up on stage was to make his fingers disappear and reappear. Maybe it was a little scary for some people. After all, you can’t practice sleight of hand if you don’t have fingers. But just as impressive as his adept trickery was the stream of Australian-accented words coming out of his mouth. Because Coronel was able to accomplish more than just magic tricks. He was able to teach his audience something about the stage craft of magic and make them laugh—a lot.

“I just broke a rule; never show them how it’s done,” Coronel said, after he showed the audience how to turn a one dollar bill into a twenty dollar bill in the blink of an eye. (He did it, in part, by having a twenty dollar bill taped to the underside of a one dollar bill.) But then he progressed to a harder trick. He changed a five dollar bill into a fifty after having an audience member test out the bill to make sure there was nothing funny about it. And for those who like a sense of mystery – for those who like to believe in magic – his only explanation for this trick was that it involved 15 years of practice.

Perhaps the most amazing thing he did up onstage involved that Nora-Roberts-meets-the Marquis-De Sade classic Fifty Shades of Gray. And perhaps that was an appropriate climax, as it were, to the show. After all, Coronel had the confidence of Christian Grey, and the audience was like Anastasia Steele in his hands. —Dan Grossman

Divas Workshop
at Theatre on the Square Main Stage

A Fringe highlight every year seems to be the rule now. This year boasted more dance than ever before and Dance Kaleidoscope used it to it’s full potential. It’s the one time of year that dancers try out choreography that might make t onto the IRT state later in the season. Highlights included First Touch choreographed by Jillian Godwin, Edge of Seventeen by Missy Trulock and Enlightenment by Timothy June — all of which are based on influential “divas” in music. While the show had weak points, DK’s strong partner work showed through. —Emily Taylor

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Kurt Vonnegut’s: God Bless You Dr Kevorkian
at Indy Eleven Theatre

This show is riddled with literary references, the mannerisms of Indiana’s eccentric author and plenty of humanist humor. Oh, and every character is dressed in a Vonnegut red sweater and mustache. The premise follows Vonnegut as he does reporting on near death experiences from a state of the art lethal injection facility in Texas/Peter’s pearly gates. However parts of the show felt off in directional choice — for example the the one Black actor playing every minority. Overall the show boasted a strong representation of Vonnegut and had diverse actors who could make various roles believable while still in the same costume. — Emily Taylor

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Magic, Music, Mischief! Comedy Magic Show
at the Indy Fringe Basile Theatre

This comedy/magic show follows the narrative of Jamahl Keyes’ childhood. His sleight of hand is impressive, especially considering his sleeves were rolled up. Though most of them were predicable, there were a handful that stumped me. The show was comical in a self deprecating kind of way. This is a good bet if you are taking the kids. — Emily Taylor

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Class Grass and Ass
at Theatre on the Square Main Stage

It’s like watching mommy and daddy hugging between the sheets for anyone under 50. Deb Mullins has made a show that’s part jazz hands, part sticky resin fingers and part showgirl. The backup dancers/singers lent to the comedic effect. A few sound issues made Mullins’ voice less powerful than it could have been. —Emily Taylor


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Poems for the people
at the Phoenix Underground

This was singularly the best show this reviewer saw at Indy Fringe thus far. It holds down a strong mix of comedy and spoken word. This piece has seamless transitions covering topics like women’s rights, coming out, social media, privilege, transgender rights and mental illness all while making you laugh five minutes later. Spoken words artists who have appeared at Vocab and other poetry staples around the city performed and interacted with one another on stage in a way that felt entirely natural. If you are a poetry proficient or novice this is a must-see. —Emily Taylor


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Dan Grossman

Emily Taylor

Emily Taylor

Bio:
Emily is the arts editor at NUVO, where she covers everything from visual art to comedy. In fact she is probably at a theater production right now. Before joining the ranks here, she worked for Indianapolis Monthly and Gannett. You can find her thoughts about Indy scattered throughout the NUVO arts section and... more

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