There are a LOT of great performances at this year's IndyFringe. Here's a roundup of the four-star shows, according to our Gang of 8 reviewing team. You can find the five and four-and-a-half star IndyFringe Reviews here.
10 Simple Rules to Become a Gentleman
The Gentleman Callers
So committed are the Gentleman Callers to the art of gentlemanship that, either side of the show, they go out of their way to hold the door open for patrons. But don’t let this more conventional form of chivalry fool you — the six characters offer up a brash, foul-mouthed and (it should be said) tongue-in-cheek dose of relentless action, as they rattle sequentially through their 10 simple rules for becoming a gentleman. The admittedly sophomoric humor might not be to everyone’s taste, but the phenomenal energy that this young group of promising performers brings to the table is difficult to resist. — Laurence Brown
800 Bloc, Wednesday, 7:30 p.m.; Saturday, 1:30 p.m.; Sunday, 6:00 p.m.
Alice vs. Wonderland
Not everything in this creativity-stuffed girl power show works but it is all fascinating. Instead of falling down a rabbit hole, Alice (Valerie Stoffer) finds herself in a Wonderland that is part alien laboratory, part video game where the Queen (Georgeanna Smith) wants Alice’s purity for herself. The White Rabbit (Ryan Mullins) gives the audience a website and code so we can advise Alice via our phones about which bottle to drink, etc. Most of the dialogue is pre-recorded and although the actors’ movements fit it ingeniously, it is still hard to understand, so it helps if you already know characters such as the Cheshire Cat and the Caterpillar. —Hope Baugh
Cook Theatre, Friday, 10:30 p.m.; Saturday, 7:30 p.m.
ANTS by Sharla Steiman
The Arden Theatre Union
Young playwright Sharla Steiman returns to IndyFringe after her first year of college with a broader perspective and a wider vocabulary to again address themes explored in her previous Fringe offerings. This slam poet has a rhythmically pleasurable handle on language, with her ability to turn a phrase and render familiar phrases in a totally new way. Yet her writing style is more advanced than her worldview. Portions of the show felt as if they were lifted directly from her freshman philosophy homework. It's as if Jezebel's newsfeed were translated into a Fringe show. Regardless, it’s wonderful to see this Hoosier playwright grow year after year. — Katelyn Coyne
IndyFringe Theatre, Thursday, 9 p.m.; Friday, 7:30 p.m.; Saturday, 6 p.m.
The Death of Me
Assorted Fruits and Vegetables
In The Death of Me, sharp dialogue built on cutting insights delves into how easily people misinterpret good intentions and miss blatantly obvious bad omens. In a topsy-turvy riff on It’s a Wonderful Life, John finds himself dead when he’s not at all finished living. “I haven’t made my mark,” he informs the Angel of Death. Gaining a 24-hour reprieve, John —who always does the right thing —tracks down his former fiance to learn why she was a no-show for their wedding and confronts an emergency room doctor to remedy his untimely death. Brisk, on-target acting. — Rita Kohn
TOTS Stage Two, Friday, 6 p.m.; Saturday, 9 p.m.
Fat Kid Chronicles
Eryn Bowser’s Fat Kid Chronicles describes coming of age in the nineties in enough detail that you may feel like she is telling your own story. The scene is set with a folding screen and various clothing pieces that, as Bowser reflects on how she perceives her own body, get strewn all over the stage. The mood is at times funny and at others angsty, fittingly echoing the battles that every young person faces, whether it is because of weight issues or other feelings of not quite belonging. The atmosphere gets a bit too heavy toward the climax; that said, this compassionate show should hit home with people of all sizes. — Tarah Cantrell
ComedySportz, Friday, 6 p.m.; Saturday, 6 p.m.
Fruit Flies Like a Banana: 21 Things They Won’t Teach You at Julliard
The Fourth Wall
This show made me weep, it was so beautiful and fun. “Pick another card! Quickly!” Audience members read each card aloud and the Fourth Wall people run to gather the tuba or the tiny piano or whatever is needed for that lesson. We race against the clock to complete all 21 lessons in the pack before the hour is up. But inside each lesson, nothing is rushed. There is exactly enough time to experience everything from the music of silence to how not to bow. Hybrid artists C. Neil Parsons, Hilary Abigana, and Greg Jukes blend dance, music, and comedy into gift after gift for us, neatly credited and exquisitely performed. — Hope Baugh
Cook Theatre, Wednesday, 7:30 p.m.; Saturday, 1:30 p.m.; Sunday, 6 p.m.
Maggie Mae Productions
This is the story of how Lou Ann Homan went back to nature, taking a page from Henry David Thoreau’s Walden, in her attempt to “live deep and suck all of the marrow of life.” But Thoreau didn’t have a family to drag to his pond, as Homan dragged hers out to homestead a plot of land near Angola, Indiana. Homan channels the naiveté of her younger self to lay the groundwork for many humorous stories (living with a chamber pot and without electricity). Ultimately though, she reveals some success in following another Thoreau dictum: “If you’ve built castles in the air that is where they should be…now put foundations under them.” . — Dan Grossman
Phoenix Basile Theatre, Thursday, 7:30 p.m.; Saturday, 9 p.m.; Sunday, 3 p.m.
Indiana! A Hoosiercal Musical!
Three Dollar Bill Comedy
The members of Three Dollar Bill know the ingredients for top-shelf sketch comedy: open big, close big, pick the right targets and know where to drop the f-bombs. After the first ten raucous minutes, one wonders if the crew can sustain the thing for nearly an hour, and the answer’s yes. Some pretty funny recorded local-celebrity voice-overs introduce quite a few scenes (nice work, Mr. Mayor), and two running bits are given just the right amount of stage time. Any good standup knows that local references are always easy for a big laugh, but this troupe pulls off what may be the funniest (hell, maybe the only) sketch revolving entirely around President Benjamin Harrison’s historical re-enactor. A few juvenile and cringe-worthy moments are completely overshadowed by mostly sharp writing and home-run physical comedy. Ever wondered what a shirtless Abe Lincoln with a beer gut might look like? Here’s your answer. — Ed Wenck
Phoenix Main Stage, Thursday, 6 p.m.; Saturday, 9 p.m.; Sunday, 3 p.m.
Live On Air with Poet Laureate Telia Nevile
A smart representation of an on-air radio show from a bedroom in the Australian hill country, Nevile in turn beguiles and berates, soothes and provokes, speaks the truth and parodies. The pacing is sharp, the timing is perfect, the poetry is pointed and the intentions are honest. “The coin of passion has a flip side — rejection,” quips Nevile, “taking the ka-chunk to a higher level with and rejection fuels my passion.” The litany of pet peeves hits home. Disengaging oneself from a go-nowhere relationship “gets back self respect and peace and quiet.” We smile at the wisdom and chortle knowingly. — Rita Kohn
TOTS Stage Two, Thursday, 6 p.m.; Saturday, 10:30 p.m.
Mrs. President: A Visit With Mary Todd Lincoln
MaryAnne Mathews is Mary Todd Lincoln in her final year, back in Springfield, living in a cluttered room at her sister’s. She is not sure who we are — she even asks Mr. Lincoln’s portrait on the wall, “Who are these people?” — but she accepts that we are suddenly guests in her home and interested in her life. As Mrs. Lincoln reminisces, the actor becomes MTL at various ages. This show might be a little confusing if you don’t already know something about MTL’s life, but I love that Mathews shows us, not just tells us, that MTL was a complex woman. — Hope Baugh
Phoenix Basile Theatre, Wednesday, 9 p.m.; Thursday, 6 p.m.; Friday, 7:30 p.m.; Sunday, 7:30 p.m.
My name is ________
Ben Asaykwee stars in this one-man show that's more social practice art than straight-up entertainment. The refreshing piece brings togehter seven stories from former soldiers, who agreed to participate in a theater-as-therapy experiment. Through music and monologue, Asaykwee deftly captures the essence of each real life story. The results are moving, but the theatrical construct is a bit too on the nose, particularly when the writing becomes overtly political. However, the show is a testament to the therapeutic power of theater. All proceeds from the show will be donated to a veteran rehabilitation progam. — Katelyn Coyne
IndyFringe Theatre, Wednesday, 9 p.m.; Thursday, 6 p.m.; Saturday, 4:30 p.m.; Sunday, 3 p.m.
It's billed as the “first time DK dancers have created their own choreography.” And to that I'll say: What took so long? They certainly aren't lacking for ideas. If anything, a few of these pieces are a bit overstuffed, with dancers/choreographers trying to cram life stories into 10 minutes or less. Lively interludes like Noah Trulock's ribbon-flourishing Fleeting Moments and Jilian Godwin's street dance-fueled Contemplation break up heavier loads like Justin Sears-Watson's Epidemic, a twitchy, confined depiction of drug addiction. The six-piece show closes on an urgent note: Stuart Coleman's Electric Fences, created in response to a bigot's proposal that gays and lesbians be thrown in concentration camps, opens in fear and trembling and closes with a much-needed embrace. — Scott Shoger
TOTS Main Stage, Wednesday, 7:30 p.m.; Saturday, 1:30 p.m.; Sunday, 6 p.m.
Out of the Doghouse, Into the Heart
This easily could have been a dog of a performance, as it were. But Perkins transcends possible pitfalls of the one-woman-show genre as she tells of her and her families experiences with raising dogs. Perkins talks about choosing her poodles — and naming them after pizza chains — without skipping over the more unsavory parts that followed (poop, vomit and the poodles’ well-compensated vets and trainers). This performance works because of Perkins’ engaging manner, her mastery of physical comedy, and her ability to stamp out squirmy sentimentality with a well-placed wisecrack. — Dan Grossman
Phoenix Basile Theatre, Friday, 6 p.m.; Saturday, 1:30p.m.
In UnMasked, Curt morphs into eight different characters, each teetering on the brink and into the precipice of madness. In baseball, if you don’t physically touch second base, it’s an automatic out. Well, these are honest-to-life characters that somehow can’t reach out and touch the bag even when they’re practically on top of it. Heartrending, the wry humor makes listening bearable, and the acting makes watching enjoyable. Wisdom comes with heartache. — Rita Kohn
TOTS Stage Two, Wednesday, 6 p.m.; Thursday, 9 p.m.; Friday, 7:30 p.m.; Sunday, 4:30 p.m.