One of the most efficient ways to identify the best shows to see at Fringe 13 is to chat with those around you while you are waiting in line to buy tickets at any of the 8 venues hosting them. The annual IndyFringe theater festival, which features 384 shows consisting of comedy, cabaret, dance, drama, music, magic and multimedia, continues through Aug. 25 at locations throughout the Mass Ave. Arts District in downtown Indianapolis.
The solid reputations of the companies that produced three shows seen by this writer over the past few days informed this writer’s decisions to see them, but it was the sidewalk reviews of those who had already seen them that solidified these choices.
The Liv and Steve Russell Phoenix Theatre Mainstage was the site for “Welcome to the Monkey House,” seen Saturday at 4:30 p.m. Presented by ShadowApe Theatre Company, which is led by co-producing artistic directors Rob and Jen Johnson, who also appear in the show, the remainder of the cast includes Charles Goad, Scot Greenwell, Constance Macy, Jolene Moffatt, and Robert Neal.
“Welcome to the Monkey House,” is an original adaption of some of the short stories in Kurt Vonnegut’s 1968 book of the same title. Dramatized on stage, they included “Welcome to the Monkey House,” “The Euphio Question,” “EPICAC,” “All the King’s Horses” and “Adam.” Typical of Vonnegut’s work, the stories, some of which are satirical, are provocative commentaries on human nature and society.
The ShadowApe actors, with the exception of Moffatt, are all members of Actors Equity. They possess numerous professional credits and have appeared regularly at the Indiana Repertory Theatre and Phoenix Theatre. As far as talent seen thus far at IndyFringe, these polished performers definitely represent the gold standard in their craft.
ShadowApe itself, which Rob Johansen founded in 1999, is celebrated for the freshness and novelty of its work. “Not a Peep,” which the company presented the last time it participated in IndyFringe in 2010, was voted the most popular show that year.
The attributes which make the company’s artistic product so unique, such as the physicality of the actors and use of their entire bodies in movement that is choreographed as opposed to merely blocked, and vocal sounds, such as in “EPICAC” during which they mimic the noises a computer makes — were all present in “Welcome to the Monkey House.”
Favorite scenes in the show, which is equally directed by all members of the cast as well as sound designer/composer Michael Lamirand, included the “Euphio Question,” which tells the story about a gadget that is supposed to produce tranquility and well-being but ultimately creates havoc for those seeking a quick fix and “EPICAC,” which is about the largest, smartest computer on Earth that becomes more human than its designers originally intended and reaches its demise as a result.
It speaks to the credibility not to mention the artistic quality of ShadowApe's work that the Kurt Vonnegut Library, headquartered in his home town, is lending its name to this production. By endorsing it, the organization acknowledges that ShadowApe has done justice to the author's work. Those who see it and especially Vonnegut fans, will agree.
Examiner.com than moved on to some lighter fare, when this writer saw one of Fringe 13's most creative productions, “The Beast, The Lady, and the Sanguine Man," presented by No Exit Performance, also at the Phoenix Theatre Mainstage, on Sunday at 1:30 p.m.
No Exit, another of Indy’s more adventurous theater companies, prides itself on collaboration among its artists, its ability to perform in any space and its focus on producing diverse material. With “The Beast, The Lady & the Sanguine Man,” No Exit more than lived up to its mission and aptly demonstrated that what is old is new again, except in this case, with a campy twist.
The scene for what was essentially a live representation of a ‘20s-era silent film was set the moment members of the audience entered the Phoenix house and were welcomed and handed programs by Ryan Mullins, costumed as an old-time theater usher.
The heroine of the piece, written by local playwright Bennett Ayres (who also wrote “Creatures of the Night,” an IndyFringe 2012 favorite), is Alma (Georgeanna Smith). After her mother dies, Alma moves to a small town called Pineborough where she is forced to live with her alcoholic father (Michael Burke) who insists that she go to school to learn how to be a court stenographer.
At school, Alma makes friends with fellow student Maggie (Audrey Stauffer) and meets mysterious and stand-offish Tully (Lukas Schooler) as well as the overly attentive Dickie who immediately develops a crush on her. Several times in the story, Alma also encounters Granny (Tommy Lewey) and interacts with other characters, played by Burke and Stauffer, as well.
Given to retreating to nature to admire the pines that dot the town’s landscape, Alma also meets Abraham (Matthew Goodrich), a poor country boy. Eventually Abraham and Tully become rivals for Alma’s affections and figure prominently in a plot that involves supernatural forces that seek to harm her.
In order to replicate the acting style of the era, the actors adopted the melodramatic-style of ‘20s performers who played to the camera with over-exaggerated facial reactions and broad movement.
The production itself featured the actors dressed in monochrome costumes of black and grey, as well as greyish and black-colored make-up ingeniously designed by wizard Daniel Klinger who also styled the wigs. Enhancing the look and sound of this silent-film tribute were purposely d-movie-quality, black and grey-colored cut-outs that served as set pieces, which held cheesy-looking line drawings. Adding to the authenticity of the homage were Zach Rosing’s masterful effects, which included subtitles of hilarious archaic dialogue, projected on a small, misshaped screen which hung above the stage and video of scratch marks that were continuously projected over the entire proceedings. Completing the illusion was Michael Burke’s sound design which included the continuous sound of a running projector and a music score that matched the dramatic action in the piece.
Though obviously a spoof of silent films, “The Beast, The Lady, & the Sanguine Man,” did manage to engage and entertain members of the primarily young, technologically-savvy audience, while at the same time educating them about movies earliest days when emotions were successfully communicated on the silver screen without a solitary word being spoken. In the end however, "The Beast, The Lady, & the Sanguine Man," like its celluloid predecessors served up a happy ending in which good overcame bad and in the case, Alma, the heroine, found her true love. Or did she?
Three Dollar Bill Comedy was a smash hit at the 2011 IndyFringe with “School House Wrong” and in 2012 with “School House Wrong Too Even More Wronger.” Building on its reputation as Indy’s favorite satirical sketch ensemble, the group, consisting of Jeff Clawson, Will Pfaffenberger, Todd Kenworthy, Matt Kramer, Claire Wilcher, Chad Woodward and with Tim Harrison as their tech director, repeats its success with this year’s “We May Very Well Be Sued: A Dalt Wisney Tribute.”
Seen Sunday at 4:30 at the Phoenix Theatre Mainstage (proving to be THE venue for the Fringe’s hottest shows), Three Dollar Bill’s show played to a boisterous full house (many were turned away). The crowd responded to the performance with continuous cheers, yells and laughter as the group skewered many of Walt Disney and the Walt Disney Company's most iconic animated and live actions films.
Though a few sketches fell short, most were funny and entertaining, due to the solid writing and the exceptional talent of these top notch comedians who earned their stripes performing improv. Wacky, lewd, and lascivious, the show’s best bits included Pfaffenberger, wearing a skirt and bare chested with shells covering his pecs in a spoof of “The Little Mermaid.” Another was Wilcher and members of the group in a parody of “Mary Poppins,” or “Mandy Poopins” as she is called in the show, in which she dispenses heroin via syringes, as opposed of spoons full of sugar. Drawing the most laughter of all was a spoof of “Sleeping Beauty,” in which Kenworthy as Prince Phillip tries to waken the princess played by Wilcher. For the easily offended, the most shocking might well be the group’s take-off on “Fantasia” which involves objects commonly used for purposes of pleasure.
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