Arts & Entertainment

IndyFringe17 offerings range from the silly to the sublime

August 21, 2017

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IndyFringe 2017 is off and running with Mass Ave. and its environs teeming with enthusiastic entertainment lovers sampling 74 shows, with something for every taste, presented in nine venues. Considered by many to be one of Indy’s hippest neighborhood, the booming Mass Ave. neighborhood possesses a special energy but IndyFringe brings it to higher level as crowds of “Fringers” travel from venue to venue to not only see shows but also patronize the numerous bars and restaurants that dot the area. Chances are, when you travel up and down the avenue, it is not uncommon to see familiar faces, especially performers and those who regularly attend performing arts events.

My Fringe adventures took place Friday and Saturday, when I took in shows that had come highly recommended and others I was simply curious about. As usual, there were some hits and misses but so far, IndyFringe with its usual mixed bag of entertainment genres,lives up to its reputation for providing artists, both professional and amateurs, with a democratic platform for expressing themselves through their work. Below are some reviews.

“Mike & Ronny: A Love Story” – 

Students from the Earlham College Fringe Company of Richmond, Ind. performed in this comedy written by Cameron Wooddy and presented on the Phoenix Theatre main stage. I saw it Friday. Set in The White House in 1987, the comedy is based on an outrageous premise that the Cold War between the U.S. and Russia ended because President Ronald Reagan and Soviet General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev were lovers, and thus, gay. Though the show had its moments, its weak script, inadequate direction and lackluster acting hampered its success. Nevertheless, the student performers deserve an A for effort. As a product and supporter of educational theatre, it is encouraging to see students taking risks to develop their craft.

“The Beast, The Lady, and The Sanguine Man” – Courtesy of IndyFringe. Used by permission.

“The Beast, The Lady & The Sanguine Man”

I saw this No Exit Performance presentation when it was first presented during the 2014 Fringe and raved about it in a glowing review I wrote at that time. Knowing that the current version, which I saw Friday, has almost a totally different cast than the previous one, I wondered if the roster change would be a plus or a minus. Happily, I was not disappointed with this reincarnation presented on the Theater on The Square main stage.

This latest version and the previous one proves to be apples and oranges, partly because of Ryan Mullins’ solid direction and the show’s strong performances. Then of course there is playwright Bennett Ayre’s charming script, subtitled “A Live-action Silent Film.” It’s about long-suffering Alma, the story’s heroine, who moves to a small town to study stenography while living with her abusive alcoholic father.  Later she must choose between a vampire and a werewolf’s who both vie for her love.

With its corny subtitles shown on scratchy-looking projected video; over the top melodramatic-style acting; purposely cheesy sets and generic recorded piano music; the play is an affectionate valentine to silent films of the 20s era and a campy homage to the dawn of American filmmaking.

Featuring endearing performances from Jean Charles Childer-Arnold as Alma and Matthew Douglas Goodrich as her mysterious love interest Tully, the production’s creative team also excelled. Resounding praise goes to Ryan Mullins & Lukas Schooler for their set design; Jaytel Provence and Zach Rosing for video design: Michael Burke for sound design:  Callie Burke-Hartz for her pitch perfect period costumes; and Daniel Klinger for his brilliant monochrome make-up and hair design.

“Showerhead”

“Showerhead” – Courtesy of IndyFringe. Used by permission.

Speaking of outrageous and over the top—there are no words to adequately describe this show presented at IndyFringe Basile Theatre which I attended Saturday. Suffice to say that the company presenting it is called “Formerly Fuckboy.” That should tell you a lot about what to expect. Just minutes after this deliciously filthy, lewd, sacrilegious, demeaning, horrific and appalling spectacle began, I knew I was in for a joy-ride that is truly not for the faint of heart. It is all the things members of the religious right would be horrified and disgusted by. In reality however, it is a hilarious commentary on religion, sex, violence, drugs, alcohol, and pop culture and in the end, really does offer a moral message.

At the center of the action is a modest housewife, played by a man in drag, who discovers that her husband is cheating on her. Calling on a blasphemous Jesus for help she journeys into the underworld of hookers, perverts, drug addicts, alcoholics and mobsters to search him. Along the way, she is transformed into a murderous killer, then goes on an LSD trip and is ultimately destroyed in the most heinous way one could imagine.

Sound like fun? If you like satire, social commentary and titillation, then this show is for you.  Be warned however, this show is not for children or even certain adults—especially those easily shocked or offended. I wish I could single out some of the actors but a printed program was not offered. But kudos go to the show’s leading lady, sort of a demented Donna Reed, who did a yeoman’s job of acting. Appearing in almost every scene and doing so with a straight face, his/her performance was an unmitigated triumph and one that John Waters, the king of trashy would surely love.

“CabarGAY”- Courtesy of IndyFringe. Used by permission.

“CabarGAY”

The Indianapolis Men’s Chorus, led by artistic director Greg Sanders, is blessed with some of the finest vocalists in the city. For the past several years, their cabaret shows have been hits at IndyFringe. This year’s edition, which I saw Saturday, along with a sold-out audience at Theatre on The Square, promises, I have no doubt, to do well once again. Having said that, it is unfortunate that the performance I saw Saturday, was marred by a sound mix that was faulty, causing the four-piece band to overpower the performers.  Therefore, the singers’ sterling vocals simply could not be heard at their fullest. Hopefully, that technical issue, about which I heard several patrons complaining about upon exiting the theatre, has since been resolved, because the show is entirely worthy of the success it deserves.

That success is owed to the IMC singers who performed. They are:  Jarod McElroy, Alex Milligan, Scott Curry, Joe Perkins, Andrew Gault, Drew Hedges and guest soloist Keirsten Hedges, a Ball State University graduate now living and working in Chicago. Subtitled “The Best of Broadway 2017” the show included three ballads from “Dear Evan Hansen,” which weighed down the show’s pace. There were several other moments however that beautifully showcased singers that included Jack Elroy who sang “I Believe” from “The Book of Mormon”; Scott Curry who interpreted “You’ll Be Back” from “Hamilton”; Andrew Gault who was affecting in “Why God Why” from “Miss Saigon; and Keirsten Hodges who sang “(You Made Me Feel) Natural Woman” from “Beautiful.”  My only wish is that the trio of Curry, Perkins and Gault who delightfully lip synched to “The Schuyler Sisters” from “Hamilton” had been utilized to serve as back-up singers for Hodges.

The only entertainment of its kind in the Fringe line-up “CabarGay” showcases talent that is as among the most polished and professional in this year’s festival.

Tymisha Harris – Courtesy of IndyFringe. Used by permission.

“Josephine, a burlesque cabaret dream play”

What is most appealing for me in writing a blog is that I do not have to adhere to the rules and protocol I had to follow when I wrote for television, print publications and websites as a free-lancer. And since I answer to no editor, I choose to write about whatever appeals to me and say what is ever on my mind. To that end, I want to be perfectly transparent about all the reasons I absolutely loved “Josephine.” Presented by Théâtre d’amour élastique of Orlando, Fla. in partnership with IndyFringe, the musical stars the incomparable Tymisha Harris.  Created by Harris, Michael Marinaccio and Tod Kimbro, it is based on the life of Josephine Baker.  Masterfully directed by Marinaccio, “Josephine” combines cabaret, theatre and dance to tell the story of the iconic Baker, the first world-wide, African-American superstar and one of the most. compelling figures of the 20th Century. Presented on the Phoenix Theatre main stage, I saw it Saturday.

Having co-created, with my collaborator Dustin Klein, “Calder, The Musical,”last year’s IndyFringe #1 bestselling show, I had am obvious special interest in seeing “Josephine.” For those reading this who did not see the Fringe16 version of our show or the full-length January-February 2017 production, the character of Josephine was included in the musical because she was a friend of artist Alexander Calder, the subject of our musical. Inspired by Baker’s dancing, Calder created five moving wire sculptures of her as he sought to replicate her kinetic energy through them. Having done my share of research on Baker, I was eager to see how Harris, Marinaccio and Kimbro would portray her. I am pleased to report that their original work was not only thoroughly impressive but of a caliber that could easily hold its own on Broadway if they ever decided to go that route.

The quality of Harris dancing, vocals and dramatic talent is extraordinary and if there is anybody capable of channeling the goddess that was Baker, it is certainly her. Not only did she capture Baker’s coquettishness and effusive personality, she also beautifully illustrated Baker’s strength, vulnerability and dogged determination.  Then of course, Harris also demonstrated that she had the chops to suitably match those of Baker’s when she sang songs once performed by the legend. They included “Minnie the Moocher, “Strange Fruit” and “The Times, they are A-changin’” Harris’ who is also a gifted dancer made quite an impression with her rendition of Baker’s famous banana dance. Displaying the kind of naturalness and confidence Josephine was known for, Harris also conveyed the sensuality that made Baker special.

As far as the show’s technical production—the costumes (designed by Harris), set pieces, sound and lighting were all impeccable—so much so that I was totally drawn into the story not only by Harris’s striking performance but also the show’s superb technical elements.

Considering current events surrounding this country’s often tragic struggle with race relations, “Josephine” is a powerful commentary regarding a toxic condition,  that unfortunately continues. Yet, at the same time the powerful work offers hope that, with sheer will and determination, true equality for all, may eventually be achieved.

As I previously predicted in a preview story I wrote about Harris, there is every indication that “Josephine” could sell out, but at press time tickets are still available for weekend performances.

 

IndyFringe Festival

Through -Sunday, Aug. 27

Eight stages along Mass Ave

Tickets: $15 adult/$12 student-senior/$10 children under 12

Fiver pass – Five shows for $55

Buy tickets online at indyfringe.org

 

MISS INDYFRINGE PAGEANT

Wednesday, August 23, 10:30 p.m.

IndyFringe Basile Theatre

Whom will be crowned Miss IndyFringe? Join us as drag queens compete for the title in front of celebrity guest judges in categories such as Q & A, Fringe wear and talent. Tickets are just $15. All proceeds benefit IndyFringe. Bring your dollars to tip the girls! The contestant with the most tips gets bonus points. Audience participation is encouraged!

LATE NIGHT CABARET

Friday, Aug. 25, 11:59 p.m.

IndyFringe Basile Theatre

IndyFringe presents our first ever LATE NIGHT CABARET featuring 2017 IndyFringe artists. You never know what you’ll see! Warning: Adult language and content. Tickets are just $15. All proceeds benefit IndyFringe.

CLOSING NIGHT PARTY

Sunday, Aug. 27, 8:30 p.m.

Firefighters Union Hall, 748 Mass Ave

Festival awards and wrap-up party

CENTRAL TICKETING AND INFORMATION

Located at the Firefighters Union Hall, 748 Mass Ave

Through -Sunday, Aug. 27

Information booth staff will provide programs, updates on shows and ticket availability

Tickets for all shows can be purchased at Central Box Office – right next to Information Booth

$1 fee on all tickets purchased at central ticketing and individual theatre box offices

Three-minute walk will take you to any theatre

OTHER WAYS TO BUY TICKETS FOR FRINGE EVENTS

Online: indyfringe.org, 24 hours a day and up to 60 minutes before a show

By phone: Call 317-308-9800, 12:00 p.m. – 9:00 p.m.

In person: (from July 31-Aug. 14) weekdays, 10:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m.

IndyFringe box office: 719 E St. Clair Street

Individual theatre box offices during festival

Ticket fee information:

Tickets purchased online are subject to $1 fee per ticket

Tickets at Central Box Office and theatres subject to $1 fee per ticket

Tickets purchased in person using credit/debit card are subject to $1 fee per ticket

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Author

Tom Alvarez

Tom Alvarez is a freelance writer who has covered theater, dance, music and visual art for over 40 years. He has written for the Indianapolis Star, NUVO Newsweekly, Indianapolis Monthly, Arts Indiana and Examiner.com. Tom appears regularly as a contributor on WISH-Channel 8''s "Indy Style." Also an actor/model, Tom is represented by the Helen Wells Agency and Heyman Talent Artists Agency.

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