IndyFringe is here!

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IndyFringe is here!

 

It's the halfway point for the Fifth Annual IndyFringe Festival. So many shows, so little time left to see them -- especially if you told yourself last week that you were especially keen to see Kevin Kling and Simone Perrin, the masterful storyteller and songstress from Minnesota. If you're holding this paper on Wednesday, Aug. 26, their last show is TONIGHT!

But don't despair. Most shows play through the weekend, so there's time to draw up a plan of action.

Which is where NUVO comes in. We sent out a flying squad of reviewers to see everything they could and come back alive, if a little groggy, to share their findings with you.

What you hold in your hands is NUVO's first take on the Fringe's first weekend. Bear in mind that this is the Fringe, an arts extravaganza where opinions are meant to run rampant. Ultimately, you will be the best judge of what you see. Nevertheless, if you're trying to figure out how best to use the time that's left, this guide should help you find your way to some high points and, perhaps, an unexpected gem or two.

See: www.indyfringe.org

55 Minutes of Sex, Drugs and Audience Participation

Tongue Tripping Productions, Minneapolis

the Phoenix Theatre

4 stars

The show's title pretty accurately describes the content, but what really sets this improv comedy act apart are the members' interactions with the audience and the quality of their storytelling. Audience members are chosen to engage with the improv process, either by acting out a part of the story or by asking questions ("But what kind of drugs were your friends taking?") so that the actors may fill in the gaps of their anecdotes. In doing this, the audience is actually a part of the act, helping to take the stories into new directions. Perhaps the most rewarding aspect of the show is how well Howard Lieberman and Loren Niemi spin their tales, focusing on engagement rather than quick, cheap laughs. It's easy to forget that they are improvising the stories the whole time, as it quickly becomes clear that the two are as much storytellers as they are comedians. Thursday, 7:30 p.m.; Saturday, 9 p.m.; Sunday, 3 p.m. - Jeff Cox

7 (x1) Samurai

David Gaines, Virginia

Theatre on the Square Mainstage

4 stars

At first blush the idea of condensing Akira Kurosawa's epic, Seven Samurai, into an all but wordless one-man show with a run time of less than an hour might sound like a parlor stunt. But David Gaines, a master clown, actually makes it work, turning what could be a gimmick into a small miracle of imagination. Gaines evokes a cast of hundreds - samurai, villagers, brigands - in ways that are vivid, hilarious and amazingly comprehensible throughout. The result is part Chaplin, part Looney Tunes and more than a little Cirque de Soleil. Clowning, in other words, of a high order. Watching Gaines you understand why people started calling certain kinds of performances "plays." Wednesday, 6 p.m.; Saturday, 3 p.m. - David Hoppe

America's Next Top Bottom

Assorted Fruits and Vegetables, Indianapolis

Theatre on the Square StaGe 2

This satirical take-off on America's Next Top Model - in which contestants compete in categories like "Would You Know Your Best Asset If You Saw It?" - was sold out the night our critic tried to get in ... and couldn't. The show is co-hosted by Tiara Skanks and Jasmin Dicklessone and written by Ron Spencer and Co. NUVO regrets that this one got away; i.e. we were not able to review it. Wednesday, 9 p.m.; Saturday, 3 p.m.; Sunday, 10:30 p.m.

Andrea Merlyn's Greatest Hits (and Missus)

Taylor Martin's Indy Magic Monthly, Indianapolis

Theatre on the Square Stage 2

3 stars

Andrea Merlyn (Taylor Martin) is confrontational, crude, abusive and condescending - and that's exactly what makes her so likable. With a self-awareness that often seems lacking in the world of magic performances, Merlyn's show has an unpolished charm as (s)he combines rude humor and magic into a one-of-a-kind act. Andrea and her assistants are playful and engaging, visibly enjoying themselves while performing their largely impressive tricks. Martin's various guises and accents are sometimes a bit distracting, but the show maintains an upbeat engagement. The between-trick banter is often quite amusing, including what is most likely the only IndyFringe reference to Alice B. Toklas brownies. Being plucked from the audience as an assistant can be brutal, but this show has a lot of heart. Wednesday, 7:30 p.m.; Saturday, 7:30 p.m.; Sunday, 6 p.m. - Jeff Cox

Another Classic of Western Literature

Heartland Actors' Repertory Theater, Indianapolis

Theater on the Square Mainstage

2 stars

This overtly satirical play has moments of cleverness and punchy humor, fighting against other moments of unimaginative metaphor. It is billed as a vengeful jab against the banking giants that caused the recession, but in reality is not as topical as suggested. The banking bailout merely serves as substance for B-jokes, whereas the main devices are more timeless, playing on old-fashioned disdain for ignorant rich people. It thrives in its phrasing of dialogue and raunchy humor, using spiteful analogies that satirize the American lust for cash and ill-achieved wealth. However, there is a running gag that pointlessly exploits mental handicaps, as the antagonist has the sad character shamefully dancing for peanuts. The mannerisms are unnecessary to the character and a little tasteless. The actors have a great rapport and the dialogue is fun, but the play just hasn't decided what it wants to be: clever satire, or mindless toilet humor. Wednesday, 7:30 p.m.; Saturday, 6 p.m.; Sunday, 7:30 p.m. - Andrew Roberts

Attack of the Big Angry Booty

The Adventures of Les Kurkendaal,

Los Angeles

ComedySportz

1 star

It is every bit as gimmicky as its title suggests, and the moral ideology is tired and heavy-handed. Les Kurkendaal is back at Fringe with a monologue about his misadventures in weight loss and vanity, as he essentially talks about foods that he likes for an hour, and snickers at his own "oh yeah, I went there!" breed of jokes. He discusses his experiences working at Jenny Craig and feeling fat with his "You go girl!" sense of humor, which would be better suited for a buddy comedy with Eugene Levy than a theater festival. He's likable enough and has a loud, clear voice and a lot of personality, but he tries too hard. Ultimately, there's a gaudy life lesson to be learned, which most of us already learned in junior high. Friday, 9 p.m.; Saturday, 10:30 p.m.; Sunday, 6 p.m. - Andrew Roberts

Blunder Construction

Brent McCoy, Greensboro, Vt.

Theatre on the Square Mainstage

4 stars

This show certainly has to be one of the most impressive off-beat physical performances at Fringe this year, as Brent McCoy wows the audience with his juggling and balancing skills. McCoy is a very personable guy and his interactions with the audience are humorous and playful, no doubt honed from his experience as a street performer. Audience members are invited to participate both in and out of their seats as the action moves in and out of the aisles fluidly. The show never seems repetitive, as a wide variety of acts are performed, including the Chinese Yo-Yo, knife juggling and ball balancing. Most impressive are the moments when different daunting feats are performed simultaneously. Kids especially will love Blunder Construction for its dazzling show of talent as well as McCoy's witty comments and slapstick humor. Friday, 9 p.m.; Saturday, 10:30 p.m.; Sunday, 6 p.m. - Jeff Cox

Broken Fragile Mind

Motus Dance Theatre, Indianapolis The Earth House

3 stars

Surreal family dynamics in a dead family's duel with a survivor whose sleep is shattered by conflicting, repetitive incidents of paranoia in this performance of larger-than-life choreography that becomes engrossingly bizarre. Fans of Motus will applaud the physicality of the five company members who show dancing doesn't have to be pretty, it just has to be true to the intent of the work, which here is a portrait of a mind fractured and seemingly unable to have respite from conflict. Music and costume choices add to the unsettling atmosphere. Worth attending. Friday, 10:30 p.m.; Saturday, 7:30 p.m.; Sunday, 6 p.m. - Rita Kohn

The Cask of Amontillado:

An Opera by Paul Geraci

Paul Geraci, West Lafayette

Theatre on the Square Mainstage

5 stars

Geraci's musical adaption of the Edgar Allan Poe classic is nothing short of spectacular. His composition perfectly captures the transition in tone of the original narrative from the carnival-esque to the macabre. In 45 breathtaking minutes, the audience goes from tapping their feet along with festival music to sitting on the edges of their seats in gruesome anticipation of Fortunato's fate. Along with Geraci, this transformation in tone is especially effective due to the success of Dr. Todd Samra and Joseph Clarence Stewart at portraying the eventual transformation in moods of their characters from mirth to madness. Thursday, 9 p.m.; Sunday, 9 p.m. - G C Cristo

The Cool Table

The Cool Table, Chicago ComedySportz

4 stars

Young adult humor at its finest, The Cool Table is versatile sketch comedy that is intelligent, unique and cutting. The troupe uses subtle wit and exceptional phrasing of dialogue to manufacture comedy that is self-confident in its substance, without a gimmick. It is refreshingly simple in its lack of any heavy motifs or social commentary. The troupe seems to be perfectly self-aware of what it is: youthful scene-based comedy for the sake of entertainment. Though the performers look to be some of the youngest at Fringe, they are also the most professional of any I saw in the opening weekend, maintaining character in absurd situations and keeping the fourth wall intact. The only let-down is that their skits are on the short-end of the sketch length spectrum, and lack real development; I found myself intrigued by scenarios on stage that were cut down in their prime by the dimming of lights. Friday, 6:30 p.m.; Saturday, 1:30 p.m.; Sunday, 10:30 p.m. - Andrew Roberts

Crossing the Bridge

Leonix Movement Theatre Ensemble, Los Angeles

The Earth House

4 stars

Crossing the Bridge represents the kind of well-executed movement-infused theater we could use more of in Indianapolis. Adapted from a Studs Terkel oral history on one man's death from AIDs, Crossing combines monologue and realistic scenes with lyrical dances, lounge singer mugging, spoofy sketches and actor-created sound effects. In being stranger than life, it looks a lot like life: tender, beautiful, painful, ridiculous, joyous, foolish and pitiful. Leonix may themselves only be at the tip of the iceberg of what might be said and felt through movement theater. At times, Crossing seems too silly and, other times, too maudlin. Its many just-right in-between moments, however, make it worth investigating. Wednesday, 7:30 p.m.; Saturday, 1:30 p.m.; Sunday, 9 p.m. - Josefa Beyer

A Cynic Tells Love Stories

Katherine Glover, Twin Cities

the Phoenix Theatre

2 stars

Perhaps this one needs a little more time to gestate: Glover, after all, reads two of her stories from a music stand, and may employ minimalistic staging more out of convenience than intent. But there are more than formal issues to contend with. Glover certainly, as she says, has the right to tell her side of her failed marriage, but maybe that might be better done in a more intimate setting; without digesting her thoughts or giving them the added value of reflection and sublimation - making theater from the raw materials of her life, in short - the whole exercise seems pathologically exhibitionist. Friday, 9 p.m.; Saturday, 6 p.m.; Sunday, 1:30 p.m. - Scott Shoger

An Evening of Stories and Song with Kevin Kling and Simone Perrin

Kevin Kling and Simone Perrin, Minneapolis

the Phoenix Theatre

4 stars

Kling and Perrin's luminous two-person show is the good news/bad news proposition of this year's Fringe. The good news first. Kling is a masterful storyteller who, in this set, explores the ways human beings deal with two kinds of trouble: the kind that we're born with and the kind that rises up to meet us on the road of life. Funny and, at times, deeply affecting, Kling's vignettes are beautifully crafted feats of observation and memory. They are enhanced by Simone Perrin, a singer who accompanies herself on the accordion. Perrin's voice, while not exactly pretty, is a magically supple instrument and her phrasing is nonpareil. Her "These Boots Are Made for Walking" is an ironic tour de force. The bad news? You have only one more chance to see this exemplary duo. Wednesday, 7:30 p.m. - David Hoppe

Gone, Gone, Gone

Monica Rodero and Daniel Sschuchart, Milwaukee

The Earth House

4 stars

Choreographers and dancers Monica Rodero and Daniel Schuchart's Gone, Gone, Gone is an intimate view of the very private arc of their characters' romantic relationship. Simple props like masking tape and paper towels kept the audience guessing and drawing their own conclusions as to what they represented. The most impressive aspect of the show was its vocabulary. A specific movement would be introduced, and then repeated and varied not only in that routine, but throughout the entire show. This gave the show a distinct sense of character and cohesion. Most of the music felt out of place. The only music cues that did not were the cue made up mostly of sounds made with masking tape, and the music during Schuchart's solo towards the end of the piece. Overall, a great show for those of us who don't know how to read all the little details of a dance-drama. Thursday, 9 p.m.; Saturday, 3 p.m. - Brooks Frederickson

Groundwork Suites

Kenyetta Dance Company, Indianapolis

The Earth House

5 stars

Compelling choreography based on a world-centered view of tragedy takes us to the spheres that influence choices - succumb or move forward? Adrienne Jackson's tour de force Prologue, sans music, is movement to her heartbeat, to which the audience comes into sync. The company bursts from the theater door as Jackson runs down the aisle and joins them in The Procession's ascending, descending waves until spilling onto the stage for The Roots Suite, depicting a South African community in microcosm following "the 2007 raging inferno." Fluidity, grace and strength are Kenyetta hallmarks. This production marks the departure of Gregory Manning II, who will attend the Alvin Ailey Dance School in New York, and of Lelah Hazelwood, who will major in modern dance at IU Bloomington. A must-attend choice. Friday, 9 p.m.; Saturday, 6 p.m.; Sunday, 1:30 p.m. - Rita Kohn

The Hefner Monologues

John Hefner, Washington, D.C.

the Phoenix Theater

3 stars

John Hefner uses fresh language and varying tones of eagerness, angst and introspective fear as he spins the yarn of his youthful quest for self-identity. Fortunately, the show is not suffocated by the prevalent fact that his second cousin is Hugh Hefner. Though his real-life relation to "Hef" serves as the motor, it is secondary to an otherwise personable tale of what it means to grow up. At times he comes off as self-pitying, but his excitable demeanor and self-aware wittiness create a multidimensional range of characters within the one-man-show. The story of his life as it relates to his last name is genuinely interesting, rather than opportunistic, as one might fear from the bill. He successfully treads a delicate line between being self-absorbed and selling himself as the likable protagonist of his autobiography. But, you might leave with a vague sense that you've heard this coming-of-age story once or twice before. Thursday, 9 p.m.; Saturday, 1:30 p.m.; Sunday, 9 p.m. - Andrew Roberts

humanature

The (Re)Collective Company, Indianapolis

The Earth House

5 stars

Rather than being a hodgepodge of multimedia effects, humanature's dance, music, spoken word and video converge into moments of virtual synesthesia. It's an impressive performance that lets the enormously talented individuals shine on their own, while playing off each others' interdisciplinary strengths. The dancers combine traditional and modern techniques to present a visual delight, wisely not over-polishing their program to the point of sterility. The raw beauty of their movements is offset by music that, at times, simultaneously recalls both Philip Glass and Roy Buchanan with its shifting, rapid rhythms and singing cello and guitar. Spoken word and video give moments of repose from the dancing, though never letting go of the audience's imagination. The moments featuring only video projection and cello are arguably the show's most beautiful. Any IndyFringe-goer had better have a good excuse to miss this. Wednesday, 6 p.m.; Saturday, 10:30 p.m.; Sunday, 4:30 p.m. - Jeff Cox

Hypothetically Stupid

Doctor Spaceship, Indianapolis ComedySportz

2 stars

This comedy act definitely seems to be aimed at the 13-16 age group, most of whom seem to love the show's fast-paced sketch comedy format. Interestingly, much of the group's best sketches reference 1980s pop culture (Breakfast Club, Say Anything), which seems, in some ways, to be lost on the younger audience. John Patrick Coan and Matt Kramer have a natural chemistry, which is refreshing and enjoyable to watch, though their comedy doesn't always seem to hit the mark. Funny '80s references aside, the show focuses primarily on physical comedy in the vein of MadTV. The act's funniest moments come when previous sketches are referenced again later, adding a humorous continuity to the show. Great fun for teenagers, but older folks may find the humor aimed somewhere else. Thursday, 7:30 p.m.; Sunday, 7:30 p.m. - Jeff Cox

I Do, I Do, in Delhi or How to Survive an Indian Wedding

24th Street Players, New York City

the Phoenix Theatre

2 stars

Karen Thibodeau is an able storyteller, capable of setting the scene by detailing the environs and channeling characters, but her show about a wedding she attended in India never gives us a reason to care about her or her friends, making the experience akin to being forced to look at the vacation pictures of a person you've just met. By abruptly opening the show with her landing at an Indian airport and trip through the city, she manages to conjure up the confusion she felt upon arrival, but throws away her first chance of adequately detailing her characters or reasons for being there. By the end, we know what it feels like to be in her whirlwind, but we don't know much about her. Wednesday, 6 p.m.; Saturday, 10:30 p.m.; Sunday, 4:30 p.m. - Scott Shoger

Love Me Tender

Randy Strand, Indianapolis

the Phoenix Theatre

1 star

Sometimes at festivals like Fringe you take a gamble on a show, only to find out that you are not the target audience. Love Me Tender was that show for me. Being there by myself, and as a person born after 1980, the show missed me completely. The cheesiness started even before the music did, the "warning" sign out front that read, "Warning: Plenty of cuddle tunes ... Artist not responsible for what happens after!" Vocalist Randy Strand kept up the cheesy act all night with some of the most over-the-top renditions of some of the most over-played love tunes. Joining Strand on stage were multi-instrumentalists Brad Hoyt and Cutler Armstrong. Between the three of them, time, tempo and intonation were all slippery slopes. If you have to have your parents drive you to the Fringe Fest, send them to this, while you go see something good. Friday, 10:30 p.m.; Saturday, 7:30 p.m.; Sunday, 10:30 p.m. - Brooks Frederickson

Mr. Charles,

Currently of Palm Beach

Assorted Fruits and Vegetables, Indianapolis

Theatre on the Square Mainstage

1 star

So many people in the theater lobby Saturday afternoon clearly adored Ron Spencer, Theatre on the Square's artistic director, that I wanted to adore him, too. As Spencer pranced on stage, shaking his silver hair like a best-in-show poodle, I willed him to be funny as Mr. Charles, the cable TV host judged "too gay" even for New York. I smiled hard at weary jokes about the wispiness of gay speech and the gay man's love of hair products. I cringed at a mock advertisement for ass deodorant. I laughed at lesbian jokes and then felt instantly ashamed. This wasn't an honest-look-in-the-mirror sort of humor, but a look-at-how-odd-they-are burn. By the time Charles got his boy toy Shane (a buff, unnamed and unskilled actor) to drop his robe for us, it was clear that Spencer was staging little more than a peep show. I could stop trying to think he was cute. Friday, 6 p.m.; Saturday, 1:30 p.m.; Sunday, 10:30 p.m. - Josefa Beyer

murder, hope

Infinity Live Productions, New York City Theatre on the Square Stage 2

3 stars

murder, hope is something of a thoughtful, vibrant mess of a one-woman show, but at least there are a lot of thoughts to consider, presented via a fragmented but mostly linear story about two people (at least) afflicted with a rare form of epilepsy. The story jumps from a mime of a person in an epileptic or cataleptic attack, slowed to a crawl, to a bare performance of Appalachian ballad "Olmy Wise," to inventively-staged DIY versions of Batman and American Idol, the latter using heads on Popsicle sticks with great panache. Becky Poole is an excellent singing saw player (employed to spooky effect against the strains of Batman's theme music), rather funny when she gives herself the material and she invests each element of the story with just as much emotional resonance as it can bear. But the story needs more connective tissue to amplify her argument for the creation of new, more relevant heroes. Wednesday, 6 p.m.; Thursday, 9 p.m.; Friday, 7:30 p.m.; Sunday, 4:30 p.m. - Scott Shoger

Nevermore

Twilight Productions, Indianapolis Theatre on the Square Stage 2

4 stars

Amy Pettinella's script and Russell McGee's uncanny portrayal of the tortured soul of Edgar Allan Poe combine to make Nevermore an exceedingly powerful and emotionally packed piece of storytelling. Pettinella plays an unnamed female writer who is incapable of maintaining her literary success and decides instead to end her life rather than deal with the pain accompanying her unfulfilled existence. After washing down a bottle of prescription medication with a bottle of liquor, she begins skimming the works of Poe only to suddenly find herself in the presence of the author's ghost. Through examples from his own life, as well as those of other tortured artists who have acquiesced to the temptation of death, Poe illustrates to the woman the absurdities of her actions. Especially poignant is Poe's recounting of his undeserved abuse at the hands of his foster father and literary contemporaries, and his explanation of how such adversity can serve to either inspire or destroy an artist. Friday, 6 p.m.; Saturday, 4:30 p.m.; Sunday, 7:30 p.m. - G C Cristo

New Vaudeville

Midwest Emerging Artists, Indianapolis

The Earth House

3 stars

Do you long for the time when regular folks could discover top singing and comedy talents in person, if they were willing to first sit through balancing acts and contortionists? Me neither, but director Amanda McNeal clearly pines for vaudeville, the long-gone variety shows that surrounded rising talents like the Marx Brothers with mediocrity and oddity. New Vaudeville pays off big for 15 minutes, by sneaking some really good music into this theater festival: Joey Welch of The Born Again Floozies and John Orr (The Last Domino). Walking downhill from there, New Vaudeville showcases Elliot Feltman (Krembo) as a pleasant emcee/juggler/burlesque historian, Andy Cooper twirling deftly on one wheel of his BMX bike, the mildly comic Dion Curry (standing in for the missing Ms. Pat), belly dancers, non-dancers, strippers and a guy with Alice Cooper hair contorting himself through a tennis racket. Wednesday, 9 p.m.; Thursday, 6 p.m.; Friday, 7:30 p.m.; Sunday, 10:30 p.m. - Josefa Beyer

Phi Alpha Gamma

Dan Bernitt, New York City

ComedySportz

3 stars

Dan Bernitt's one-man show about how a college fraternity attempts to deal with homophobia after an incident in which one of its members is convicted of violently assaulting a gay man is a complex, intricately structured piece of performance art. Bernitt's ambition is large. On the one hand he manages, through the skillful evocation of several different characters, to dissect the menacing dynamics lurking beneath the fraternity's socially responsible public face. But he also puts us in the place of the imprisoned attacker, now a victim himself. The combination of dramatic anthropology and revenge fantasy is intense and skillfully observed if, at times, a little wobbly. Thursday, 9 p.m.; Saturday, 6 p.m.; Sunday, 9 p.m. - David Hoppe

Phil the Void: The Great Brain Robbery

Phil Van Hest, Los Angeles ComedySportz

5 stars

If my editors would let me, I would write "Go See This Show!" over and over again until I hit my 150 word limit, but I think they would see that as a cop-out. But, in fact, it is not, because that's what I've been telling everyone I've talked Fringe with in the past few days. Phil (real name Phil Van Hest) spends his stage time musing about the absurdity of our modern age. He touches on the topics one would expect - health care, the economy, technology - but he goes deeper than that. He digs into the ideas of social networking, gambling with our future and an idea he calls "conscience feedback." If I stopped now I could fit "Go See This Show!" in about five more times, but again that wouldn't fly. But seriously, go see this show! Friday, 10:30 p.m.; Saturday, 9 p.m.; Sunday, 1:30 p.m. - Brooks Frederickson

The Rise of General Arthur

Maximum Verbosity, Minneapolis

the Phoenix Theatre

2 stars

This one-man show, written and performed by Phillip Andrew Bennett Low, attempts to recast the Arthurian legends for our own time, setting them within the context of the Iraq War. But Low doesn't transform the legends so much as dress them in modern military garb. This avowed "work-in-progress" does indeed feel like it's being workshopped - Low reads at least half of his text from a music stand. This failure to internalize his language and the characters who speak it results in an overly oratorical style. The effort is more impressive than the dramatic impact. Friday, 6 p.m.; Saturday, 4:30 p.m.; Sunday, 6 p.m. - David Hoppe

Selections from the Spoon River Anthology

Starrynight Productions, Bloomington

The Earth House

3 stars

Engaging production choices provide an overview of Edgar Lee Masters' 1914-'15 epic poem centered in Fulton County in northwest Illinois. Ten actors convincingly portray 18 people "sleeping on the hill," who are making their case against unjust treatment during their lifetimes, being nostalgic for what was left behind, dwelling on what could have been "if" and generally showing a sweep of humanity set in the 19th century that remains as current as today's newspaper. Period costumes, music and projections of the cemetery add to a dramatization worth experiencing. Friday, 6 p.m.; Saturday, 4:30 p.m.; Sunday, 7:30 p.m. - Rita Kohn

Sex/Death

Bloomington Playwrights Project, Bloomington

Theatre of the Square Mainstage

4 stars

With the second penis I saw on stage Saturday, I learned that nudity has a place in above average sketch comedy. In Sex/Death, four players perform seven short plays contemplating what humans contemplate most. With varying degrees of wit, seven writers explore the wax and wane of our libidos and our fear of and desire for death. "Alibi" is short and sweet with a dark and meaty center. Sex/Death is propelled by the all-systems-go mentality of youth, while "Thursday Routine" portrays lust's demise. The winner of my personal blue ribbon is "Thanksgiving." Two online strangers hook up in real life for a horror film seduction that is hilarious, menacing, sexy and touching. I thank Ian McCabe for his killer deadpan delivery and Derrick Krober for bringing sweet vulnerability to comedy. To both, I quote, "You are so hot, it's retarded!" Friday, 10:30 p.m.; Saturday, 9 p.m.; Sunday, 1:30 p.m. - Josefa Beyer

Sex, Dreams and Self Control

Kevin Thornton, Nashville, Tenn. ComedySportz

2 stars

Perhaps there's still some audacity to singing a doo-wop tune about fucking James Dean's corpse, but despite that disconcerting act-closer, Southern Indiana boy Thornton's latest iteration of a Fringe staple, the coming-out monologue, is mostly undistinguished and masturbatory (literally and figuratively). And he doesn't deliver on the one thing that could have set it apart. Thornton sells his performance as something of a rock opera (he plays with a rock band, Waves on Waves), but the songs are few and far between, functioning as interludes to the spoken word, and not terribly interesting interludes at that - they have the sheen of a folk song gone musical theater (Webber not Sondheim), and include some clunkers like "things that mean everything and nothing." The show is separated into two parts; of necessity, we've reviewed part one, with part two's first performance coming after publication. Wednesday, 7:30 p.m.; Saturday, 7:30 p.m.; Sunday, 4:30 p.m. - Scott Shoger

Simple Joys

Jennifer K. Sutton, Indianapolis Theatre on the Square Stage 2

2 stars

Explore your simple joys quotient during this interactive exercise that starts with a circular walk by a couple, transitions into choreographed movement and traditional street games and closes with a goody bag that prompts a series of exercises. You'll have to attend to learn how Sutton transforms a seemingly random collection into a take-away, the depth of which depends upon your own connections with simple joys. Friday, 10:30 p.m.; Saturday, 1:30 p.m.; Sunday, 9 p.m. - Rita Kohn

The Stetson Manifesto

Happy Holler Productions, Lebanon Theatre on the Square Stage 2

4 stars

Jim Lucas has done an admirable job of adapting writer John Hamilton's modern western dealing with the disappearance of the American pioneering spirit to the Indianapolis stage. Considering recent events, the play carries with it even more significance as it addresses the process by which corporations have come to rule virtually every aspect of modern existence. In The Stetson Manifesto, one man wages a war against the commodification of his traditional way of life. Catfish, played by Bill Becker, stubbornly refuses to follow mandates from the company that has recently taken over the ranch where he has worked since it was founded. Ultimately, he must decide whether to keep his job or abandon his dignity and the only way of life he has ever known. Thursday, 7:30 p.m.; Saturday, 9 p.m.; Sunday, 3 p.m. - G C Cristo

Thurgoode

Fantaz Winnebago Productions, Indianapolis

Theatre on the Square Mainstage

2 stars

This story of a teenage girl's struggle with multiple personality disorder - she has seven, including one named Jack who's particularly nasty - tries to pack a gallon's worth of material into an eight-ounce bottle (indeed, the show I saw ran significantly over its time limit). The large cast (an actor for every personality) creates some unsettling effects but, more often, it proves to be an unwieldy device, imposing a kind of literalism that only serves to keep the audience at a distance from the protagonist's internal dilemma. The play's tone is also unsteady, veering from after-school special to seeming satire to something much more bleak. Thursday, 6 p.m.; Friday, 7:30 p.m.; Saturday, 4:30 p.m.; Sunday, 3 p.m. - David Hoppe

Tortillo!

Avenging Orange Productions, Indianapolis

Theatre on the Square Stage 2

2 stars

While ambitious in its scope and enthusiasm, Tortillo! ultimately falls short of its potential success by relying more upon the outlandishness of its comedy than any traditional sense of plot. At times, this outlandishness overshadows whatever the author's original intent must have been in conceiving the production. Where, in a mystery, one would ordinarily expect to find a sequence of clues leading to a resolution, the audience of is left instead to decipher the play's meaning through a series of disjointed dialogues held together by profanity. The profanity would be nowhere near as noticeable, however, if there was a discernible plot through which the audience could interpret it. Friday, 9 p.m.; Saturday, 6 p.m.; Sunday, 1:30 p.m. - G C Cristo

The Tragical Ballad of Black Bonnet

Black Forest Fancies, New Orleans Theatre on the Square Mainstage

2 stars

It seems that the Black Forest Fancies created this puppet operetta about a hermaphrodite's path to love, with a genuine love for puppetry and a strong belief in the healing power of acceptance. However, it's difficult to take their delicate subject or fairy tale treatment seriously without the exaltation of superior artistry or the blessed relief of humor. Neither is here. The castle/forest set is sweet, but not terribly crafty. The puppet faces are well made, but only one puppet's legs move independently. The rest bob up and down to the accordion music with little technique. The lyrics are doggerel without being spoofy or fun. The puppeteers' mild singing talents are rarely tested by interesting melodies or harmonies. What the Fancies have in spades is sincerity. For some theatergoers, that may be enough. Thursday, 7:30 p.m.; Saturday, 7:30 p.m.; Sunday, 4:30 p.m. - Josefa Beyer

True Identity

Firefall Dance Theatre, Indianapolis The Earth House

2 stars

Messages drive the medium with a scripted series of questions between six sections exploring the root question: Who are you, who you are. A company of six principally interprets lyrics through movement and mime while an artist paints thematically as the program progresses. (At the Aug. 23 performance, the canvas evolved with silhouettes within question marks surrounded by a flower and a tree, over which BELOVED appeared in bold letters.) A Narrator shares a poignant script between sections. The dancing is principally angular and disco-like, with one fine tap routine, and evolves into a closing with more softness and introspective facial expressions as an affirming vocabulary replaces self- or other-person hurtful labels. Thursday, 7:30 p.m.; Saturday, 9 p.m.; Sunday, 3 p.m. - Rita Kohn

Waiting with M'Godot

Wisdom Tooth Theatre Project, Anderson

Theatre of the Square Stage 2

3 stars

Like Beckett's masterpiece, Steve Pierce's Waiting with M'Godot is sparsely staged and consists primarily of a dialogue between two characters that borders at every instance upon the absurd. The similarities cease there, however, as Pierce's production is light and comedic where Beckett's delves into the realm of darkness and divine apathy. Waiting with M'Godot can best be seen as a postmodern version of the original, in which the characters are no wiser to their existential predicament than were Vladimir and Estragon, but have found novel means of fending off hopelessness. Especially noteworthy is the hilarious portrayal by Kurt Owens of Monsieur Godot, an enigmatic waiter who illustrates to a man awaiting his date the absurdities of modern life as seen through the ritual of dating. Thursday, 6 p.m.; Saturday, 10:30 p.m. - G C Cristo

Wanda and Rhonda's Bitchin' Bingo Bash

Blue Sky Productions and Arrowberry Productions, Ann Arbor, Mich.,

and Noblesville

ComedySportz

3 stars

Wanda and Rhonda's Bitchin' Bingo Bash answers the question, "Does being in drag give you a license to be offensive?" For these two twins ("paternal, not maternal") the answer is yes. Wanda, a "G.O.P. votin', gun totin', Christian," played by Adam O. Crowe, and her sister Rhonda, a "pedo-lovin, left-wing tree hugger" played by Tony McDonald, run the gauntlet of offensive topics. From boob-jobs to Rush Limbaugh to "the gays," these "girls" don't hold back. A couple of the more esoteric jokes fell flat; luckily, the girls had the Bingo game to save them. The Bingo game, for which cards were handed out at the door, was a great way to engage the audience. The game made it feel less like a performance and more like a gossip session you just happened to walk in on. In all I'm glad to say, "I played Bingo with Wanda and Rhonda!" Wednesday, 6 p.m.; Saturday, 3 p.m. - Brooks Frederickson

Welcome to Blanksville: An Improvised Tribute to Choose Your Own Adventure®

INDYPROV, Indianapolis

the Phoenix Theater

2 stars

Touting itself as a tribute to the classic "Choose Your Own Adventure" stories, Welcome to Blanksville chooses to go nowhere. It's an improvised sequence of scenes, in which the narrator asks the audience to decide if the stock characters on stage should - metaphorically speaking - choose door "A" or door "B." There was talent on the stage from the main characters, but there were moments when a few of the actors were frozen for words, or worse, desperately repeated something they had already said (only louder) hoping to get the same modest laughter. The improvised story seemingly had no beginning, climax or ending; it was like a little improv jellyfish, floating around without structure or consciousness. However, the lead acting was engaging and there were a few good jokes from the main characters. Wednesday, 9 p.m.; Thursday, 6 p.m.; Friday, 7:30 p.m.; Sunday, 7:30 p.m. - Andrew Roberts

The Worst Show in the Fringe

Merely Players, Inc., Owensboro, Ky. ComedySportz

3 stars

"How does one review a show that mirrors one's life so closely?" This was a question I asked myself a number of times while watching this show. The show is about a critic, Nathaniel Kent (played by Ken Gist), being confronted by an actor, Thomas Wayne (played by Kevin Roach), whose one-man show he had given a scathing review. The simple question of "Why did you give my show such a bad review?" leads the two, as well as the "common man" Biff (played by Shaun Beal) on a rotating ride of captive/captor. Gist and Rocha sometimes got caught up on their fast-paced dialogue, especially when it came to larger strings of multisyllabic words. I'm not sure if I'm giving this show three stars because I enjoyed it, or because I fear I, too, might end up tied to a chair if I give it a lesser rating. Wednesday, 9 p.m.; Thursday, 6 p.m.; Friday, 7:30 p.m.; Saturday, 4:30 p.m.; Sunday, 3 p.m. - Brooks Frederickson

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