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Q Artisty and TOTS productions offer mixed results

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There was an assortment of theater performances one could see over the weekend in Indianapolis, including BOBDIREX’s smash hit “Hair” and openings of Phoenix Theatre’s “Miles and Ellie,” Footlite’s “Shrek The Musical” and Acting Up Productions’ “The Tragedy of Hamlet.”

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Also gracing Indy’s rich theatrical landscape was Q Aristry’s “Zirkus Grimm,” brought back by popular demand, which Examiner.com saw Saturday. Then on Sunday this reviewer took in Theatre on the Square’s “Superior Donuts,” starring TOTS artistic director Ron Spencer, whose involvement in the show marks his retirement as an actor and director from local stages.

“Zirkus Grimm”

Ben Asaykwee, artistic director of Q Artistry, produced, directed, wrote the music and co-wrote (with the Brothers Grimm) the lyrics for “Zirkus Grimm” based on The Grimm’s Fairy Tales. Though not credited, Asaykwee was also the musical’s choreographer and music director as well.

“Zirkus Grimm” was first presented in July 2013 at which time it was so well received that performances sold out and people were turned away. And even some of those who did see it returned multiple times. Consequently, Asaykwee and company decided to bring it back. There are some changes and additions in this revival, including a few news songs, dialogue and new cast members. But essentially the show, an ultra-lively, colorful spectacle, retains its impressive production values, its quirky, whimsical charm and first-rate performances.

The current cast includes Ben Asaykwee, Georgeanna Smith, Julie Lyn Barber, Sally Scarborough, Tiffanie Bridges, Matt Hussong, Tim Hunt, Alex Raby, Katharine Ruegger, Elise Lockwood, JT Wood, Jaddy Ciucci, Maddie Deeken, Maria Meschi, Scott Russell, Ben Schutz, Amelia Smith, Janice Hibbard, Griffin Lohner, Elsie McNulty, Logan Sejas and Morgan Roof.

“Zirkus Grimm” continues through Saturday July 26. For tickets ($17/20) and information visit www.qartistry.org.

“Superior Donuts”

Ron Spencer, artistic director of Theatre on the Square which he founded in 1988, will be retiring to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, once a new artistic director is named. In the meantime, he is playing his last role on the TOTS stage in “Superior Donuts,” a comedy by Tracy Letts, best known for the Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award winning “August: Osage County”. The play was staged by the Steppenwolf Theater Company in Chicago in 2008 and premiered on Broadway in 2009.

Spencer, who also directs the show, plays Arthur. He is the owner of a donut shop that has been in his Polish family for years but is on its last leg. He employs young African American Franco (Daniel Martin), an aspiring, yet talented writer. Sparks fly, however, once Franco, who is enthusiastic and a visionary, wants to modernize the business but is stubbornly resisted by Arthur, who abhors change. Eventually, however, the two have a meeting of the minds, but their new friendship becomes threatened when Arthur learns that Franco has a gambling addiction.

“Superior Donuts” as a script offers much more likeable and sympathetic characters than those in the toxic family of “August: Osage County”. At the same time it is also filled with Lett’s caustic one-liners and overall sharp comedy, a vehicle that is very funny, and therefore entertaining. The plot itself is somewhat predictable and sitcomish, with the crusty old man and the struggling youth becoming friends and through their bond helping each other find themselves and change their lives for the better.

Spencer, 67, has been acting in shows since he was six years old, so inevitably he has a long list of credits that bespeak of his extensive theatrical skills and talents. According to a recent interview he did with Examiner.com, Spencer indicated that the role of Arthur is one that he has wanted to play ever since reading the play. One can understand why, considering the complexity of the character who keeps a distance between himself and others, revealing little about his past which includes his experiences as a 1960s radical. Spencer’s swan song in this production will be remembered for his ability to capture the emotionally broken Arthur who finds purpose through his relationship with Franco and those moments in which his character speaks directly about his past to the audiences.

Daniel Martin, making his TOTS debut, made for a thoroughly convincing Franco, who shakes things up at Superior Donuts by confronting his boss about his lack of openness. At the same time he helps Arthur find a new lease on life, as he himself, comes to terms with his own failings, standing in the way of his success. Martin, who is the artistic director and founder of Act a Foo Improv Crew, has considerable talent and showed natural ease on the stage, more than enough to hold his own against the veteran actor Spencer.

Jean Adams as Randy Boyle, a cop who carries a torch for Arthur, and Jean Adams, who played Lady Boyle, a homeless woman who is a regular and dispenser of wisdom at the donut shop, were both believable in small roles.

Unfortunately, the remainder of the cast, due to a lack of experience on the part of some and lack of talent in others, kept the show from moving beyond a mere amateur production into a polished one of professional quality.

On the plus side, Rachel Godollei-Johnson deserves plaudits for her donut shop set design, replete with authentic props and furniture, as does Spencer for his lighting and sound design.

For tickets and information about “Superior Donuts” at Theatre on the Square, call (317) 685-8687 or visit www.tots.org.

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