Last year, my Klein & Alvarez Productions collaborator, Dustin Klein and I presented a preview of “Calder, The Musical,” which was the #1 Best-Selling show of IndyFringe16, As you can imagine, I was obviously preoccupied. And though I did see a few shows, I did not review any because I felt it would be a conflict of interest to do so. This year however, I more than made up for it by seeing 14 shows. Many of them I secured tickets for early on because the shows were productions created by local artists whose work I was familiar with. Others were presented by out of town artists who were recommended by those in the know. As it turns out, most of the shows I saw were highly successful with some being just so-so. Overall, however, I am pleased that most of the works I saw represented the highest quality the festival had to offer this year. My last day seeing Fringe shows was Saturday. Herein are reviews of three I had the good fortune of seeing.
“Saint Harley, Adventure Girl”
This comedy drama, was written by Mark Rigney, directed by Diane Brewer and presented by In The Mix Ensemble of Evansville, Ind. Held at the IndyFringe Basile Theatre, the play starred Alex Raby as Harley Lynn and Nate DeCook who played multiple characters.
The story which explores the nature of altruism and what motivates people to help others, centers on idealistic, Harley Lynn, a young woman from Indiana who yearns to help make the world a better place. To do so, she absconds with her father’s credit card and makes her way to the middle east where she volunteers in a hospital. She eventually meets up with a young American with whom she gets caught up in battle. After he is killed, she is eventually captured by a member of ISIS and threatened with death. Discovering that the terrorist is from the States, she tries to convince him to give up his evil ways and return home. Eventually she is let go and she travels back to the U.S. where she visits the dead boy’s father before returning home, profoundly changed by her experiences.
Sound far-fetched? Yes, but that is what made Rigney’s action packed script, both relevant and timely and interesting enough to keep me fully engaged in its entirety.
As far as the actor’s performance, Lynn was appealing and convincing as Harley but could have added some nuance to her performance since her character seemed much too frantic throughout.
DeCook on the other hand, was very successful at creating a variety of characters, including Harley’s brother, a priest, the young man who was killed, his father, and the ISIS member. All were distinct from one another. The downside of his overall performance was that, at times, DeCook projected his voice far too much, substituting volume for intensity in his speaking delivery.
Though a inventive idea, better in theory rather than in practice, plastic tubes employed by the actors to suggest objects and locations and which required assembly throughout the play. proved to be a distraction.
Despite its flaws, however, the production was a worthy effort, with a good message, and effective enough to compel me to see more of playwright Rigney and In The Mix Ensemble’s work.
There is a reason that Zach (Rosing) & Zack (Neiditch) are the darlings of the Indianapolis theatre community. Zach Rosing Productions with Neiditch as a collaborator, is responsible for past hits such as the “The Great Bike Race” at the 2014 Fringe and last season’s full-length version, along with other show’s such as “Holy Ficus,” “The Two Heathers” and two productions of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show.”
Once again, the creative duo has achieved high praise with “The Gab” which won them the IndyFringe Best Local Show award at Sunday’s closing night party. Presented on the Theatre on the Square main stage, the comedy, written and directed by Neiditch is a spoof, primarily, of the daytime talk show, “The View” on ABC and its chief competitor “The Talk” on CBS.
The plot of “The Gab” involves the cast interacting with one another as their show is broadcast live and during commercial breaks when they are off the air. The premise of the comedy’s plot, is that, like in the real thing, cast members are often accused of not getting along off-camera, but deny it and insist that they do. But in this satirical scenario the audience gets to witness bitchy sarcasm between cast members as well as both verbal and even physical confrontation. They also see the impact on crew members who must endure the disruption and chaos that comes as a result.
Playing the cast members, all of whom fit particular types typically chosen by TV producers to ensure a certain chemistry and political diversity, were Devan Mathias as the talk show’s long suffering floor director Maureen; Chad Woodward as Alex, her gay assistant; Jenni White as Dee, the show’s outspoken token lesbian; Vickie Cornelius Phipps as Jackie Deutsch, the program’s senior cast member and Joy Behar type; Nathalie Cruz as Nadine Bustamante, camera hogging diva and token Asian; Betsy Norton as the token conservative and Dee’s foil, Brianne Marsh; and Ericka Barker as steady moderator Angela Merriweather. Zach Rosing the show’s producer, positioned in the TOTS booth, played Jim, the director of “The Gab.”
I was particularly interested in seeing “The Gab” for various reasons. One, is because I am a regular contributor on IndyStyle, a daily one-hour talk show on WISH-TV, Channel 8. Secondly, because I spent 15 years as an employee of RTV, Channel 6 where I worked a producer-director and also on air talent. So, let’s just say that I am quite well acquainted with television production, both in front of and behind the camera. I am also very familiar with the pressures that come with operating in what is often a high-pressured environment and stress that arises from working within in industry that attracts its share of type-A personalities, ambition driven egos, volatile temperaments.
When asked by a guest who joined me for “The Gab,” if the characters were realistically portrayed, I said “close” but that there was exaggeration for the purpose of entertaining the audience with broad comedy. At the same time, however, there were kernels of truth in its depiction. No matter how you look at it, such shows as “The View” are entertainment and nothing plays better on live TV than friction, dissension and confrontation. So, I would say that Neiditch and Rosing did an excellent job creating a very funny and perceptive commentary on TV practitioners and a business that takes itself very seriously.
“Hedy! The Life & Inventions of Hedy Lamarr”
Who knew that 30s, 40s & 50s film star Hedy Lamarr was partially responsible for our smartphones? This and other fascinating facts were explored in Heather Massie’s tribute to the beautiful move star who was also a scientist.
A few weeks ago, I interviewed Massie so I knew what to expect when I saw her solo show at in the intimate Indy Eleven Theatre. I also aware that Massie, who came to IndyFringe directly from the Galway Fringe Festival in Ireland where she won the Best Actor Award. As a result, I presumed she had chops. Carrying an entire show on your own is no small feat. Happily, Massie did not disappoint in her portrayal of Lamarr whose interests mirror her own. Massie once had dreams of being an astronaut but became an actor instead. That means, that through this play she can combine her two passions.
Born Hedwig Eva Maria Kiesler Austria in 1904, and under the auspices of film mogul Louis B. Mayer, Lamarr made her way to Hollywood. There she made such popular feature films as “Algiers” (1938),” I Take This Woman” (1940), “Comrade X” (1940), “Come Live With Me “ (1941),” H.M. Pulham, Esq.” (1941), and” Samson and Delilah” (1949).
At the onset of World War II, Lamarr and composer George Antheil developed a radio guidance system for Allied torpedoes, which used spread spectrum and frequency hopping technology to defeat the threat of jamming by the Axis powers. The principles of their work are now incorporated into modern Wi-FI, CDMA and Bluetooth technology and led to their induction into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 2014.
Looking as glamorous as her subject, Massie, whose make up and costume, reflected the era, wore a full-length gown, costume jewels and a dark period wig as she conveyed stories and anecdotes as LaMarr. She also played other key individuals who peopled Lamarr’s life. All in all, her characterizations were all distinct from one another but at times a bit jarring whenever turned to signal she was switching roles.
As thoroughly fascinating as Lamarr’s life, and Massie’s telling of it, I wish there had been more visuals to illustrate it. Given that Lamarr’s medium was film, the piece cried out for it. Of course, I copywriting and licensing requirements and the expense related to the use of film clips probably made it impractical if not impossible, but it would enhance Massie’s show if it were at all possible to do so.
When I interviewed Massie, she mentioned that Lamarr’s story will soon be shared with the masses when HBO airs a documentary about her, produced by actor Susan Sarandon. Hopefully, as Massie has attempted to do, more women and girls and the public in general, will be exposed to this inspiring, empowering story about a woman who overcame sexism and stereotypes to prove that a woman could be beautiful and have brains at the same time, and most importantly, make a lasting contribution to mankind.