Imaginary Kyle by Bernadette Bartlett and Jenee Lusk was one of two new plays featured in this year’s DivaFest, presented last weekend in IndyFringe’s beautiful new Indy Eleven Theatre. The black box space, which can accommodate 65 seats — plus anyone within shouting distance when its moveable hanger wall (read: garage door) is open to the outdoors — celebrated its grand opening last weekend. It's an even more intimate space than the IndyFringe Basile Theatre, the 100-seat space that had been IndyFringe's only permanent stage.
Even in the small confines and with minimal set pieces, director Beverly Roche and her cast and design team made us feel that we were in several locations at a pivotal time in a young woman’s life. The script itself is an endearing yet realistic look at the coming-of-age of a group of friends, circa now.
Lisa Marie Smith played Jenny, a nearly-graduated college student who is sharing a basement apartment with three other people. She's been dating a man for five years and is looking to move it all “to the next level.” But she's unsure what that really means and has no clue how to do it. The show opens with her bombing yet another job interview.
Trying to comfort her afterwards, her roommate, Stephanie (Audrey Stauffer), suggests she “do the retro thing” and get her boyfriend to marry her, i.e., to support her. That would help move his life to the next level too. Jenny’s boyfriend, Jeff (Zachariah Stonerock), has a good job, but he is 27 and still living contentedly in his parents’ basement.
Neither woman thinks Jenny should just talk to Jeff about getting married or even moving in together. Instead, Stephanie tells Jenny to invent a desirable man to make Jeff jealous. Imaginary Kyle is good-looking, works for the Indianapolis Colts and is interested in Stephanie. She met him through a study group and now he wants to take her to concerts and other events.
There are funny elements in this piece, such as Tristan Ross screaming the voice of Jeff’s codependent mother from upstairs and Jenny’s helicopter mother calling her every two minutes. And Audrey Stauffer is hilarious playing a tipsy Stephanie’s impersonation of Kyle.
But I loved Imaginary Kyle because of the genuineness of the main characters. I swooned over Jeff’s gentle masculinity. I rolled my eyes at Stephanie’s eagerness to tell everyone else what to do while neglecting herself. And I empathized with Jenny’s feeling of everything being over her head, literally and figuratively. I also loved the realistic hope in the ending.
Even though we moved smoothly from one apartment to another and from job interview to gym to restaurant, I was sometimes confused about what city we were in. Jenny mentions wanting to leave Terre Haute and move to Indianapolis. Jeff gets an apartment in Broad Ripple in an attempt to make her happy, but Jenny doesn’t actually move out of her basement apartment until the end of the play. Yet she tells Jeff that Kyle wants to take her to the Rivoli Theatre, which is in Indianapolis. If the playwrights wanted to revise their script further, there may be ways to make the location though-line more clear.