Wednesday, January 27

IRT's Romeo and Juliet

William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet opened this weekend at IRT, 140 W. Washington Street, as part of the theater’s Shakespeare for a New Generation program.
While generally considered drier than sawdust and too difficult to understand for many, this modern version jazzes up the Bard’s famous love tryst.
Post WWII era finds the Montagues as Caucasian and the Caputlets as an African-American family in a racially charged atmosphere; as tough a hatred as the Jets and Sharks in West Side Story, the well-known musical also based on R&J.
The cityscape set was complete with lights strung about the building-top patios. Costumes consisted of exceptional replicas of the styles in the years after the war.
Shakespeare-veteran Karen Aldridge as Nurse to Claire Aubin Fort’s Juliet rang strong and true as a woman who has been more of a major role in the raising of the young girl than the mother, Lady Capulet, portrayed by Cynthia Kaye McWilliams. Seasoned Aldridge brings an authenticity to the role which was absolutely heart-wrenching during the interaction between her and Juliet’s believed-dead body. The dialogue and emotional bond between Fort and Aldridge throughout the play was the most powerful interpersonal connection.
Fort’s delightful romp as Juliet was made all the more impressive when contrasted by her reversal into a heartbroken and desperate teen in the angst of a forbidden love. The emotional rollercoaster effect was dead-on (no pun intended) for teens unable to effectively fight against injustices brought upon them by the more powerful authorities of their parents, peers and society.
Keeping the dialogue true to the original works should temper any dismay felt by true die-hard Shakespearean fans who dislike the modernization of R&J. However, if you enjoy different interpretations of the centuries-old story, do not let the language throw you off. The high quality acting helps interpret any meaning you might otherwise miss.
Bottom Line: This style of blending the old language with the modern setting is an excellent way to introduce Shakespeare to the uninitiated or personally discover a new take on an old theme.
If you have an event or performance you would like reviewed, send an e-mail to elizabeth@gottago.us. Me, I will be right here; parting is such sweet sorrow.
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This post was originally published under "Gotta Go" in the West Side Community News in Indianapolis, and the West Indianapolis Community News.

Wednesday, January 20

Housewives of Mannheim

Never to shy away from uncomfortable issues, The Phoenix Theatre, 749 N. Park Avenue, Indianapolis, steps back into history for this adults-only scenario, dealing with anti-Semitism, gender-related issues and prejudices.

The Housewives of Mannheim, written by award winning Alan Brody, is based on a mock Johannes Vermeer painting of the same name. Depicting four women of the mid-1600s, it is actually a compilation of four of Vermeer’s true art pieces, A Girl Reading a Letter by an Open Window, The Milkmaid, Young Woman with a Water Pitcher and Mistress and Maid. The reflection of the painting can be seen on the white bed sheet used in the opening and ending sequences.

Set in the kitchen of a 1944 Brooklyn middle-class apartment, THOM’s cast consists of three housewives and a widow. May, the sunny I-do-everything-right housewife with a school-age son; Billie, the unhappily married, independent woman with a school-age son; Alice, the neighborhood nosy body with a holier-than-thou attitude and Sophie, the Jewish pianist who escaped from Europe to become a widow in America.

With the authentic set and the proper music playing in the background, the play sets about dealing with real life issues, as poignant and real today as they were in the 1940’s and even in the 1600’s as May finds out. It is a coming-into-awareness theme for the four women as they figure out their roles in the modern world, with and without husbands.

When May (Lauren Briggeman) opens up to decade-long friend Billie (Allison Moody) and to new neighbor Sophie (Martha Jacobs) that she feels different and not quite like her old self, they each react in a different way to the news.
Whereas Sophie begins to open up to the idea of friendship and trust again, willing to teach May about another world, Billie is resistant to May’s desire to become educated to a world outside of theirs.

Alice (Wendy Peace) comes in and out of the scenes to represent the neighborhood chorus of dislike for anyone deemed “different or foreign.” She is similar to the mothers who do not let their children play with the child unlike the others, to simply follow the crowd and never question the rules. Throughout time remaining clueless as to the beauty of something other than what she was brainwashed to believe.

Billie and May feud after an evening out and May becomes scared of her own new lifestyle choices. Lashing out and blaming Sophie and Billie, she tries to slip back into the mold of perfect housewife.

Unwilling to allow her to pretend, Sophie and Billie corner May and convince her that if she does not follow her heart, she is worse than those who are ignorant to the truth. May finds her inner strength and grows into a stronger woman with the help of her old and new friends.

Briggeman, Moody, Jacobs and Peace are each a strong actor and merge for a cast of well-defined characters who do not flinch during the pivoting points of the performance.

Although the storyline is tragically old; hatred, cruelty, betrayal and intolerance, it is well-written and brings out points which, unfortunately, are as relevant today as in prior generations, around the globe.

If you have a performance or event you would like reviewed, email elizabeth@gottago.us or elizabethjmusgrave@yahoo.com.

Thursday, January 14

Beef and Boards & Dance Kaleidoscope

Dance Kaleidoscope opened to a nearly sold-out theater Friday night at IRT. World Music Carnaval was a delightful, well...kaleidoscope of colors and energy with Brittany Edwards taking the former male lead role in post-intermission's Play Mas'.

Artistic Director, David Hochoy, channels his memories, via the dancers, of his cherished experiences in Trinidad and Brazil at Carnaval time. The musical cornucopia originating from Argentina, Spain, Saudi Arabia, Brazil, Africa and Pakistan provides the upbeat tempo required for the intense choreography.

Jillian Godwin’s energy was show-cased best in the first half in Food of Love, matched by George Salinas in the latter half during Play Mas’.

Another mention goes to a behind-the-scenes star. Cheryl Sparks has been the costume designer for DK since 1996. This program’s enchanting costumes became, in themselves, characters. Swirling, parading and leaping with the dancers, enhancing their movements with fluidity and gracefulness at one point, sensually silhouetting and accentuating bodies at the next. Sparks was aided by Lydia Tanji and Deb Dryden in completing the synchronization of color, material and dancer.

Beef and Boards veterans Jeff Stockberger, Ty Stover and Sarah Hund opened the 2010 season for the north side dinner theater with The Foreigner. Zany antics occur with this trio....to be expected with their talent and the venue of a British farce.

Stockberger (Annie, Hook) plays uber-shy Englishman, Charlie Baker who is convinced to trot off to America, with friend, Sgt. ‘Froggy’ LaSueur…to a backwoods fishing cabin in Georgia. The KKK apparently still exists and is less than pleased that a non-American is residing in their small town, even for a few days.

Stover (Annie, Cats) plays Froggy admirably giving the ‘only sober guy at the party’ attitude needed for the madcap adventure. He attempts to help his shy friend from having to socialize with the locals, by telling everyone that Baker can’t speak English. Then promptly leaves Baker in the hands of the strangers and departs for the local Army base.

Hund (Smoke on the Mountain) plays Catherine Simms, fiancĂ© to the local Reverend David Marshall (David Schmittou). Always with perfect timing, Hund plays the debutante-trying-to-be-a-reverend’s-wife. A tough act to pull off, socialite party girl trying to turn over a new leaf, but Hund creates the perfect balance. Playing off the Reverend, the Englishman who doesn’t speak, and younger, intellect-challenged brother Ellard (David Purdy), Hund proves she is capable of being the hub of the wheel.

When everyone divulges secrets to Baker, Stockberger shines at what he does best…almost nothing. With slight twitches and minor glances, he speaks without uttering a word, which makes almost nothing into something great. A master at emoting through his movements, Stockberger brings quirkiness to the staunch man which is endearing.

Kate Braun brings authenticity to the lodge-owner, Betty Meeks, a southern lady with spunk, creating a likeable character with whom the audience empathizes.

Daniel Scharbrough nails the closed-minded, redneck, Owen Muser, with thorough despicability. As Baker finds out the sister and brother are being conned out of their money by the man of the cloth, he finds a way to bring everyone together to fight the evil within their midst.

Bottom Line: The Foreigner proves, once again, why British farces are the charming specialty of Beef and Boards.

If you have a performance or event you would like reviewed, e-mail elizabethjmusgrave@yahoo.com. Me, I’ll be right here, picturing Froggy at the Carnaval.

Wednesday, January 6

A Color Purple was presented by Broadway Across America at Clowes Memorial Hall in Indy and I was on hand to check it out. Based on Alice Walker’s novel, the musical follows the life of Celie (Kenita R. Miller) an uneducated, and abused, girl-turned-woman, whose experiences earn her the love and admiration of many, including, eventually, her former husband, Mister (Rufus Bonds, Jr.).

With powerful vocals belying her petite size, Miller turns in the strongest performance; threading her way through the production much as her character threads her way through the lives of all who know her. As the lives intertwine throughout time, Celie remains the constant, offering wisdom as needed, a firm hand as required.

Stand-in La Trisa A. Harper, as lanky sister Nettie, complemented Miller’s performance, as the two played off each other’s differences in vocal style and physical size. With such a short amount of time to encompass many decades of living, it’s understandable if you feel something is
skipped over.

The best advice I can give is to read the book or, at least, watch the film before checking out the musical to help meld the gaps.

Also ending the year was the annual holiday tour from Trans-Siberian Orchestra at Conseco Fieldhouse. With new video screens, an updated light/laser show and a rising stage, fans were not disappointed.

Once again performing with the full intent of making sure no one is sleeping, TSO brought the traditional artificial snow, nontraditional holiday tunes and a little extra this go round, playing selections from the newest album Night Castle.

With the October ’09 release, TSO steps away from its well-known Christmas line and gives a new choice for rock opera fans. Also included with the CD is a storybook with excellent illustrations, somewhat like a dream sequence captured by the artist.

Founded in 1996, the group has toured every winter since 1999, announcing at this year’s concert that there will be a spring tour to promote the new music from the 26-track CD. This is great news for those who get a case of withdrawals, waiting for the group’s signature sound, from one Christmas season to the next.

If you have a unique restaurant, event or performance you would like reviewed, contact me at elizabeth@gottago.us. Me, I’ll be right here, thinking about Wizards in Winter. Catch Elizabeth on facebook or Twitter.

--This post was originally published under "Gotta Go" in the West Side Community News in Indianapolis, and the West Indianapolis Community News.