‘Be Here Now’ is a quirky and compelling existential ride

February 1, 2020

L- R Ryan Ruckman & Carrie Ann Schlatter – Courtesy of Emily Schwank. Used with permission.

Try as I may, it is impossible to cover every performing arts event in a market where the options continue to grow. Sometimes my schedule is full or I am simply not aware of certain productions. Such was the case of Summit Performance Indianapolis’ “Be Here Now,” which opened January 10. Fortunately, however, because I was alerted to it, I saw the show at Phoenix Theatre Cultural Centre‘s Frank and Katrina Basile Stage on Friday night. With only two performances remaining, including Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 2:30 p.m., I heartily recommend you see it before it closes.

Summit Performance is Indiana’s first and only women-focused theatre company. This is the third production of theirs I have attended and based on this latest effort, the group continues to present work of outstanding artistic quality.

Keenly directed by Amy Lynn Budd, who received her MFA in theatre from Purdue University, the cast included three of Indy’s finest actors, Carrie Ann Schlatter (Bari), Cynthia Collins (Patty Cooper), and Ryan Ruckman (Mike Cooper). Completing the splendid cast was impressive newcomer Zariya Butler.

Written by playwright Deborah Zoe Laufer, the play is set in East Cooperville, a fictional town in Upstate New York. It’s a comedy, but has its share of tragic overtones. The story centers on cynical Bari who is beset with anger and depression and generally walks around with a black cloud over her head. After losing her job in New York City teaching nihilism, she is forced to return to her rural hometown where the only job she can find is in a distribution warehouse. Eventually, her recurring headaches escalate into strange episodes, during which she experiences bizarre and almost mystical visions that ultimately change her dark attitude and make her feel like she is unbelievably happy. Upon discovering the source of her newfound exhilaration is a medical condition that may kill her, she has to decide whether she wants to live a brief life of joy or risk a miserable lifetime of despondency. Consequently, she is forced to delve deeply into the meaning of life.

Cynthia Collins – Courtesy of Emily Schwank. Used with permission.

Because Laufer’s clever dialogue was so funny, the one-act play completely captured my attention for its entire 95-minute length, as did the flawless performances of the actors, who were thoroughly convincing in their vivid roles.

Schlatter, whom I admire for her previous work in Summit’s “Silent Sky,” Approxima Productions’ “Vinny the Pooh” at IndyFringe Festival 2019, and most recently in Storefront Theatre’s “Pilgrims,” showed a substantial  range portraying her character’s multiple moods.

Collins, one of my favorite character actors, whose numerous performances at Actors Theatre of Indiana (of which she is a co-founder) have always engaged me, once again displayed her versatility. Her role as Bari’s outspoken, opinionated, sometimes-crotchety, but inwardly loving co-worker Patti was yet another colorful addition to Collins’s notable body of work.

Butler, as Patti’s sweet, free-spirited, twentysomething niece, who also works at the fulfillment center, showed she could hold her own against her veteran colleagues. I look forward to seeing the young actor, with Ball State University and Richmond Shakespeare Festival credits, in more roles. It is always refreshing to see a new face on the local theatre scene, especially one with her singular talent.

L-R Carrie Ann Schlatter & Zariya Butler – Courtesy of Emily Schwank. Used with permission.

Having seen Ruckman previously in a variety of roles with NoExit Performance, Defiance Comedy and most recently “Pigrims” at Storefront Theatre, I had looked forward to seeing him this role as Mike, an artist who creates art out garbage, has a pet crow, lives simply off the grid and is a witness to Bari’s transformation once he enters her life. One can always depend on Ruckman to turn in a very well-drawn, subtly nuanced performance and this was no exception. Honed from his work in comedy, his sense of timing in this production and everything I have seen him in is impeccable. I consider him an actor’s actor.

Another distinguishing factor contributing to Summit Performance’s ongoing success is the quality of its technical production. Lindsey Lyddan’s creative set design, which incorporated multiple locations, such as the fulfillment center, a diner and Mike’s home, was simply ingenious. Combined with Laura Glover’s masterful lighting design, Courtney Bourque Frederick’s costumes, and Danielle Buckel’s props, the entire effort bespoke top-notch craftsmanship.

If you are fortunate enough to read my observations prior to Saturday’s curtain and the final performance on Sunday at 2:30 p.m., I hope I have convinced you “Be Here Now” is something you should definitely see. Go to summitperformanceindy.com to buy your tickets. There is nothing like live theatre that places you squarely in the moment and Summit Performance Indianapolis does so effectively.

photo: Julie Curry

About Tom

Journalist, producer, director, Emmy Award-winning documentary filmmaker, arts administrator, TV contributor, actor, model, writer and lyricist, Tom Alvarez has had an extensive career in media and the fine arts and continues to be an enthusiastic and devoted fan of both. His passion and unique background grant him insight, access and perspective to cover, promote and review the arts in Indianapolis, Central Indiana and beyond. Follow him on social media @tomalvarezartswriter and @tomalvarez1.

Alvarez has been writing about theatre, dance, music, cinema and visual arts for 40 years. His work has appeared in the Indianapolis Star, NUVO, Indianapolis Monthly, Arts Indiana, Unite Magazine, Dance Magazine, NOTE Magazine, and Examiner.com, among many other print and online platforms. A former contributor to Across Indiana on WFYI-TV, he currently has a regular performing arts segment on WISH-TV’s Indy Style, and is a creative arts reporter for Reel Life TV, an entertainment show also broadcast on WISH-TV.

A principal of Klein & Alvarez Productions, LLC, Alvarez co-created “Calder, The Musical” and is the managing director of Magic Thread Cabaret. As an actor-model, he has appeared in numerous TV and print ads and is represented by the Helen Wells Agency and Heyman Talent Artists Agency.

On the Aisle Team

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