IndyFringe 2007

 

"Our annual definitive guide

It’s another IndyFringe and, once again, NUVO has clamored forth to see and write about all the shows on offer as a kind of rough guide to see you through to Sunday. Think of what you read here as a print version of that person standing just ahead of you line, bending your ear about what they’ve just seen or heard about. We hope that what you find here inspires you to check out a production or two you might have missed otherwise. For more about the Fringe, go to www.nuvo.net. And by all means check out www.indyfringe.org for ongoing info about the festival, including shows by high school and college students and FringeNext at ComedySportz Theatre. Finally, keep in mind that if past is prologue, the crowds for Fringe shows during the festival’s second weekend tend to get bigger as the buzz about certain productions spreads. So make your picks — and get there early. —Editors

 

Almost Walking a Straight Line

Two stars

Greg Haskins, Hollywood, Calif.

Phoenix Theatre

This is an autobiographical piece that seems to do a disservice to most of the people involved in the story. Greg Haskins tells of his upbringing to where he is now, with nearly unbelievable characters. I’m not saying these people were made up, but Haskins’ caricatures are so outlandish and out there that, at times, his story is unconvincing. This made Christians look like nutcases who were regularly hypocritical, and the portrayals of homosexuals weren’t that great either. In listening to this story, I was concerned that people would walk out of the theater with a new set of assumptions, stereotypes and prejudices. Performances Saturday at 7 and Sunday at 10. —CI

And I Am Not Making This Up

Four stars

Nell Weatherwax, Improv Movement Theatre, Bloomington, Ind.

Theatre on the Square (Stage II)

Has someone coined the phrase “theater as therapy” yet? With curious sleight of hand, solo performer Nell Weatherwax actually makes this dubious concept mystical and funny. She inches on stage, hugging the wall like a child spy, and announces that she will mine for autobiographical material through improvised movement and sound effects. Moving in slow Tai Chi-like poses, with an occasional blip or woosh, she reaches into the air or bends from the hips to find a memory. For her first day’s performance — each will be unique — she relived, among other things, streaking through the woods as a child and running from her father’s deathbed to buy him a pack of cigarettes. Apologizing for slipping into mime, she conjured her childhood home, forming steps with her hands. “You open a door and Bam! There are stairs. Today, we call it feng shui.” There were a few awkward pauses, as Weatherwax rejected a topic in her mind, and then decided aloud that she needed to talk about it. Today, it was her deceased father she needed to revisit and the psychic who couldn’t connect to him, because he was still in a sort of spirit “recovery” zone. With a hand, the perspiring Weatherwax wipes the pauses away. We watch the hand, forget the stumble and wait for the magic. It’s true: Some people could charge their therapists admission. Performances Thursday at 9, Friday at 6 and Saturday at 8:30. —JB

Bliss

Brian Sheppard, Indianapolis

Two stars

Theatre on the Square (Stage II)

In a pivotal theatrical error, writer Julia Wunderlin chose to explore an intense college romance almost, but not entirely, from the woman’s point of view. The narrator (Wunderlin), a poetry-loving English major, tells her story with only occasional interruptions from her fiery art student boyfriend (Michael Bachman). Under Brian Sheppard’s direction, Wunderlin talks directly to the audience with mere glances at Bachman, while Bachman reacts directly and intensely to her. With unintentional irony, she runs the show, but he steals it. The effusive art student pulls the narrator into passionate rainstorms and awakens her with self-revealing sunrises. The narrator, in her turn, literally turns away from her beloved, to explain how wonderful it all is to the audience. He emotes and she practices the dull art of exposition. To her credit, the writer Wunderlin creates an emotion-packed boyfriend. Unfortunately, she neglects to give her own character emotional weight. Performances Wednesday at 9, Friday at 10:30 and Saturday at 2:30. —JB

Breathe

Three and a half stars

NoExit Performance Company, Indianapolis

Auditorium at the Athenaeum

No Exit Performance Company’s retelling of the Phedra/Theseus/Hippolytus myth through mime and movement/stillness with an emphasis on breathing as the mainstay for delivering the story and delineating characters. The question, “Can breath truly communicate?” drives Michael Bachman’s concept and direction. Five fine performers prove breathing shows emotions, activity and state of mind. Performances on Wednesday at 7:30, Friday at 10:30 and Saturday at 8:30. —RK

Burying Mom

Four stars

Shantz Theatre, Chicago, Ill.

Theatre on the Square (Main Stage)

Matt Fotis, the founder and writer behind Chicago’s Shantz Theatre, is brilliant. This is the third time Fotis has brought a production to IndyFringe — Burying Mom may be his best effort yet. This is a two-person play about a 30-year-old man who delivers papers and keeps his mom’s ashes in a shoebox. If the key to comic acting is to play it straight, Fotis and his partner, Jeanette Nielsen, are masters. Fotis’ script is hilarious throughout, its ultimate poignancy unforced. Burying Mom is easily one of the best bets at this year’s Fringe. Performances Friday at 6, Saturday at 4 and Sunday at 7. —DH

Coachology

Three stars

ROOMS Productions, Chicago, Ill.

Auditorium at the Athenaeum

When you enter the theater, you’re in a high school locker room in this raucous tour de force by Todd Frugia. Not only that, you’re in Texas and you’re a football player on Frugia’s team, the Buccaneers. If you’ve ever played the game, much of what transpires here will serve as a well-observed blast from the past — and if you’ve never suited up, get ready. Frugia not only plays an entire coaching staff, he also provides musical accompaniment. The show relies on an extraordinary amount of audience interaction, which, to Frugia’s credit, is never confrontational or off-putting. This show works in so many ways, one wishes it made the leap to some larger insight. Featuring Marrakesh as a haplessly blue-eyed teammate. Performances Saturday at 7 and Sunday at 2:30. —DH

Cool Table

Three stars

Thirteen Pocket Productions, Chicago, Ill.

American Cabaret Theatre

Cool Table’s sketches are to comedy what acid jazz is to music: They start out fast and speed up; the bits don’t finish, they stop. The ensemble brings unfailing exuberance to material that careens between unflinching witness and lazy cynicism. Back in Indianapolis for their second Fringe, Thirteen Pocket Productions has brought five shows with them –– so the version I caught may be completely different from the one you’ll see. Performances Thursday at 9, Friday at 6 and Sunday at 4. —DH

Crazy Quilt

Two stars

The Playwright Production Project, Cincinnati

Theatre on the Square (Main Stage)

Playwright Alan Jozwiak patches together two fairy tales to examine how adolescents become adults, something he’s witnessed repeatedly teaching college English composition classes. Although Jozwiak’s versions of “Little Red Riding Hood” and “Sleeping Beauty” accurately portray some of the dating rituals and family ties that consume co-eds, Crazy Quilt is at best a gentle parable for teenagers: Real men aren’t sexual wolves and women shouldn’t expect princes to save them. Directed by Lynne Aronson, college-age players Justin Haley and Kristin St. Clair depict date rape in surprisingly nuanced scenes. Crazy Quilt might make an excellent workshop for teens and parents to explore the “breaking away” period and especially attitudes about sex. Performances Saturday at 2:30 and Sunday at 5:30. —JB

Dance of Illusion

Three stars

Sarlot and Eyde, Tucson, Ariz.

American Cabaret Theatre

A last-minute fill-in last year, Dance of Illusion enjoyed the IndyFringe so much, they came back. You’ll enjoy them, too, especially if you bring the kids. Sarlot the magician and Eyde the dancer/magician combine humor, magic, dance and music for a pleasing, polished, but still intimate show. There are enough “wow, how did they do that” moments to make this a worthwhile Fringe experience. It’s interactive as well — get there early so Sarlot can do amazing card tricks right before your eyes. Performances Wednesday at 9 and Saturday at 8:30. —JP

Dexterity of Hand: Illusions in Time

Three stars

Magic Taylored for You, Indianapolis

Auditorium at the Athenaeum

Taylor Martin’s “new demonstration of olde magic” entertains despite its seeming unpolished demeanor. Tricks of self-torture give way to sleight of hand with audience participation. Taped music and 18th century street sounds underscore effectively; Taylor’s closing singing, on the other hand, is off-putting. Performances Saturday at 2:30 and Sunday at 8:30. —RK

Different Trains

Four and a half stars

Susurrus, Indianapolis

Auditorium at the Athenaeum

Susurrus superbly connects visually and viscerally with Steve Reich’s monumental string quartet performed with pre-recorded voices. Trains in the U.S. and Germany between the 1930s and 1940s carry different passengers and for different reasons with widely different consequences. David Yosha’s visuals, Melli Hoppe’s choreography, Michael Burke’s costumes and five finely trained performers connect seamlessly with personal and historic events. Performances Thursday and Friday at 7:30 and Sunday at 5:30. —RK

The Dock Brief

Three stars

Mugford Street Players, Marblehead, Mass.

Phoenix Theatre

This odd blend of shaggy dog story and Masterpiece Theatre seems a trifle staid by Fringe standards. It’s redeemed by a nicely polished script and the capable performances of its two-man cast. Set between the wars in a London jail, the action revolves around the relationship between an aging lawyer who’s never made a name for himself and his client, a seemingly gentle soul who has murdered his wife. Anglophiles will take delight in the details in John Mortimer’s script, though they may also wish for more authentic accents. Last performance Wednesday at 9. —DH

Down-a

Four stars

In Between Butoh Dance Company, Rome, Italy

Auditorium at the Athenaeum

Butoh is a painstakingly primal form of performance art invented in Japan following the nuclear holocaust in Hiroshima. In the hands of In Between’s Flavia Ghisalberti and Ezio Tangini, the experience is time-bending, akin to seeing a Francis Bacon painting come to life. By turns agonizing and exquisite, this piece is the deep end of the Fringe. Adventurous audience members miss it at their peril. Performances Wednesday at 6, Thursday at 9 and Friday at 6. —DH

FFN in SPAAAACE!!!

Two stars

Full Frontal Nudity, Columbus, Ohio

American Cabaret Theatre

You know how it goes with improv — troupes can have an off night. But FFN’s Sunday evening show was so off, it was off off. That this space-oriented show relied so heavily on the humor of the word “Uranus” is proof enough that this clearly talented group of actors never could find any real spine of creative fun. Complicating matters is the fact that 10 members comprise FFN (Full Frontal Nudity); they are almost literally tripping over each other. Performances Wednesday and Friday at 7:30 and Saturday at 10. —JP

Franka Potente is the Hammer

Two stars

Red Dragon Theatre Project, Indianapolis

Theatre on the Square (Main Stage)

Perhaps I am not cerebral enough (yeah, I laughed at the zombie play), but I found this show rather obtuse. It is inspired by and adapted from the works of Rainer Maria Rilke, considered one of the German language’s greatest 20th century poets, who wrote about ultimate sublime abstractions (such as God and true love). The pattern of the show is dance, voice-over poem, scene, repeat. Scenes deal with unusual stories about God. Performances were fine (period costumes were lovely), but I just didn’t get it. Perhaps fans of Rilke will love it? Performances Thursday at 9, Friday at 10:30 and Sunday at 8:30. —LG

Gallery

Two stars

Avenging Orange Production Company, Hanover College

Theatre on the Square (Stage II)

Four Manhattan 20-somethings in a romantic entanglement that involves art, intrigue and betrayal. What begins as a promising mixture of comedy and drama, slowly, inexorably, loses the comedy, leaving a drama that seems constantly to be making itself anew. Perhaps the writer or writers were thumbing through a copy of Roget’s Cliché Plot Twists and Overblown Monologues while crafting the play. The Avenging Orange Production Company hails from Hanover College, whose theater pedigree (Jim Leonard, Doc Evans, Woody Harrelson, etc.) can compete with any college or university in Indiana. The four actors in this play are talented — and fun to watch. Now they have to find material commensurate with those talents. Performances Saturday 8:30 and Sunday 2:30. —JP

Garden Variety Neurotic

Three and a half stars

Mary Armstrong-Smith, Indianapolis

Phoenix Theatre

During Mary Armstrong-Smith’s autobiographical play, I kept wondering where I knew her from. I actually don’t know her at all, but her manner of speaking made me feel this way, and I appreciated that sense of familiarity. Her stories are easy to relate to, from old Grandma comin’ to visit, to asking someone out on a date. Every story was extremely funny and the audience was laughing at her commentary on most things. There were only two things that rubbed me the wrong way: excessive profanity and a cheesy, warm and fuzzy benediction that I could have easily read in a Hallmark card at the end. But despite those two things, I very much enjoyed this show. Performance Saturday at"

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