All in a day's work at Indy Fringe

All in a day's work at Indy Fringe
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384 performances. Eleven days. Eight venues. 64 groups. The Indianapolis Theatre Fringe Festival is underway, and Mass. Ave. was buzzing Saturday night.

The festival, now in its tenth year, attracts thousands of fun-seekers who trek the sidewalks for music, magic and more live art than you can shake a stick at. While I'd love to tell you that WTHR has a crack team of theater-loving drama nerds who will review every show, sadly, you're stuck with me, your humble exec producer of digital content. I'll be posting write-ups of the shows that look interesting.

I've been going to Fringe ever since its inception in 2005, and it's encouraging to see how the festival grown over the past decade. Shows can be hit and miss, but that's the idea. Take a chance, have some fun, support the artists and local restaurants....it's relatively affordable theater ($15 for Adults, $12 for Students/Seniors and $8 for children under 12, or fiver passes - five shows for the price of four) and it's only around an hour of your time. 

Holy Ficus

Holy Ficus from Zach Rosing Productions is an early hit at the festival this year, and it's not hard to see why. It sold out on Saturday night and Sunday night was close to it. Hilarious songs, fun choreography - and we get to meet Satan and God all in one performance. It's a pretty good deal. 

The story is a simple one. Or maybe it's complicated. Rod is a "family man, Nickelback fan and home horticulturalist" who happens to be in love with his Ficus plant. When his girlfriend arrives home earlier than expected from a work conference and catches him in bed with the tree, she kicks him out. A Prius strikes down Martha, the beloved Ficus, prompting Rod to search the depths of hell and the glittering heights of heaven to find her again. Think of Enkidu and Gilgamesh. Or Orpheus and Eurydice. 

The attention to detail is admirable - the red jacket-clad, po-faced elevator operator (a clever ruse that the same elevator can either take you to heaven or hell); the boogie woogie greeters in heaven, dressed in white; and Satan, in the shape of a formidable woman in purple (and a red wig) who fails to trick Rod into staying Down There.

Keep a keen eye out for all the references in the songs. (Hint - get there early and sit in the middle. I was off to the side and the music tended to drown out the actors' voices occasionally.) One memorable line about Satan inventing Twitter got a hoot from the audience, and there are plenty more zingers where that came from. 

You can catch Holy Ficus at the following times - and it's advisable to book ahead. It's playing at Theatre on the Square Mainstage.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015 - 9:00pm
Thursday, August 20, 2015 - 6:00pm
Friday, August 21, 2015 - 7:30pm
Saturday, August 22, 2015 - 4:30pm

Ca-Ching: A Modern American Religious Drama (Theatre on the Square Mainstage)

I’ll be honest. I didn’t see the guy in the chicken suit promoting this show in front of Theatre on the Square until after I’d bought my ticket. That would have been a game-changer for me, but alas, my fate was sealed. In addition to the aforementioned chicken-suited man, this show features a banjo-wielding hippie, a disgruntled minimum-wage worker and a sleazy moneymaker known as Mr. Big Spender.

From the NoMads Art Collective in Brooklyn, NY, the show delivers a sharp critique of capitalism with a heavy hand, occasionally lightened by a song and dance routine. As soon as you walk in, it looks like the show has already begun. The actors – comprised mainly but not entirely of Indiana University theater students - are already embroiled in a repetitive delivery about corporations, and the servitude they exact from anyone who wants to play the game. Once the actors launch into the performance, a series of sketches introduces the audience to the key players – many of whom are toiling at the bottom rungs of the socioeconomic ladder.

There are some memorable characters here (Kat Cox plays a mean banjo as Aunt Samantha, and Scott Jackoway’s Big Spender is entertaining, if a little horrifying), but the money worship theme starts to grate. This is a fun, occasionally cringe-worthy show (I’m thinking of the turkey baster scene) – but it would have benefited from more humor for balance. And maybe an additional dance number. Sorry if that sounds trite.

In many ways, this is your classic Fringe show. It reminds you of drama class. It makes you wonder “what have I gotten myself into?” It’s risqué in an entertaining way (although not as risqué as that time I saw an actor get completely naked - and hog-tied - during a Fringe show at TOTS several years ago and the audience GASPED!) Just keep clutching those pearls and everything will be all right.

Shows:

Tuesday, August 18, 2015 - 7:30pm
Wednesday, August 19, 2015 - 6:00pm
Saturday, August 22, 2015 - 3:00pm

Working Titles

Also exploring the theme of work, and all the indignities it demands, is Jeremy Schaefer of Chicago. He recounts his work history as he struggles to make a living as a storyteller and entertainer, starting with a childhood memory of his father demanding help as he fixes a toilet. From lifeguard to an elf gig at an all-Republican Christmas party, Schaefer expounds on the challenges of employment.

Schaefer’s humor lies in his ability to paint himself as wholly inadequate to carry out the tasks he’s hired to do – and in this he is a successful storyteller. He talks about how he went for an interview at a strip club after seeing an ad that promised, “creative talent wanted – great pay!”

“Great pay,” Schaefer muses. “Exactly my desired salary.”

While the strip club gig didn’t work out, Schaefer did manage to get some experience dressed as an elf for a dour audience at a Christmas gathering – who only perked up at a mention of the Republican sweep in the 2010 mid-terms. He also worked as an actor for medical students, who would try to diagnose his feigned problem;  another job was leading a diversity workshop, after which an employee invited him out for a party involving cocaine and prostitutes.

Schaefer delivers his insights in an articulate voice and with such carefully crafted sentences that I would have happily listened to him for another hour or two. And he quotes John Milton, so what else do you want? Go see this one.

Shows:

Tuesday, August 18, 2015 - 9:00pm
Thursday, August 20, 2015 - 7:30pm
Sunday, August 23, 2015 - 7:30pm

Note:  More reviews will be added to this story as the festival continues this week.