After a day’s hiatus, it was good to be back at the Fringe tonight. I’m still a rookie at this whole Fringe thing–I only went to two shows last year, both in the same night–so I’m not yet familiar with the ebb and flow of the festival. I was delighted to see so many people out and about on a Tuesday night. Both G-D and I am Peter Pan were, if not sold out, darn close. It was a beautiful night to be out and about on Mass Ave, especially when surrounded by so many theater fans. So let’s get to the good part, shall we?
facebook me is ostensibly a look at the role social networking plays in the lives of teens, but for me, it highlighted how little has changed. Growing up is hard. It’s never been easy. Girls have always worried they were too fat, too thin, too straight-laced, too wild, fought with their parents, fought with their friends, questioned their sexuality. None of that stuff’s new.
What is new is how easy it is to spread that angst and drama with the press of a button. The play, performed by a group of ten real life American teenagers from the Young Actors Theatre, just underscored how glad I am that I didn’t get a Facebook account until the summer after I graduated high school.
All ten of the girls are game and bring life to what are fairly static characters. I was especially impressed with quiet, restrained Liv, who has a jackweasel of a boyfriend and made out with her best friend (of course, the video of the incident is posted to Facebook), and wild party girl Eva, desperately seeking attention and pushing it away when she gets it. I’m sorry I don’t know these young ladies’ names, but they brought unexpected depth to their characters.
Unfortunately, the girls are working with material that’s a bit too literal and a bit too preachy. Every teen growing pain in the world, from parental drama to drugs and drinking to eating disorders and questioning of sexual orientation, is on display here. The show would have been stronger with a smaller cast and more time to focus on the effects of thoughtless social networking rather than bouncing like a ping pong ball from girl to girl without real time to reflect on the consequences. But the cast does a great job with the material, and it’s an important lesson in today’s hyperconnected world. If you’ve got a teenager, this would be a great show to bring them to.
Log on with facebook me at the Basile Theatre (because one can never have too many Basile Theatres) in the Indy Fringe building:
Thursday, August 23, 6:00 p.m.
Saturday, August 25, 4:30 p.m.
Sunday, August 26, 3:00 p.m.
Next, I strolled down the street to Theatre on the Square for G-D. I ran into Hope Baugh, better known as @IndyTheatre. If you haven’t checked out her massive and fantastic blog post on Indy Fringe, go read it. I’ll wait.
G-D is billed as a production of Theatre Non Nobis (“Not to us,” a line from the Latin translation of Psalm 115:1), which is a ministry of The Church Within. Their website describes them as a post-denominational church here in Indy.
I’ll be honest with you. I probably wouldn’t have gone to this show if I’d known it was being put on by a church. Not because I have anything against churches, but out of fear it would turn into something preachy and proselytizing, and that’s not what I’m looking for in my theater. But as the performance points out, language can be a detriment to understanding. You don’t need to be afraid of being converted at this show, and I’m very glad I went.
G-D is a group of people sitting around talking about God. What he/she/it looks like, sounds like, is; the nature of sin and forgiveness; and whether or not God kills a kitten when you masturbate. Jesus is mentioned but not dwelt upon. As the group makes clear, it’s not a show about who you should or shouldn’t marry, what’s right or wrong or where you should buy chicken sandwiches. It’s much more about spirituality than religion.
At its worst, G-D can come across as a group of undergraduates armed with an Intro to World Religions class, but at its best, I could almost grasp the edges of something divine. Watching as the performers stared past us in the tiny second stage at Theatre on the Square, I never for a second doubted they were seeing God.
The best theater, and indeed the best art, doesn’t answer all your questions and tie everything up with a neat bow. No, the best theater experiences are the ones who lead you down a path, bombard you with questions…and leave you there to draw your own conclusions.
You won’t find answers in G-D. You won’t even find a suggestion that there is an answer. Instead, you’ll walk away with some smart questions to ask of yourself, the universe, and who or what ever you might believe watches over us. It asks the right questions, and that’s all I can ask for from a show. If you’re looking for something to ponder, a weighty show that still somehow manages to be joyful, then give G-D a shot:
Thursday, August 23, 6:00 pm
Saturday, August 25, 10:30 pm
Finally, it was time to head back to the Basile Theatre–this time, the one in the Phoenix. It was a nearly full crowd for I am Peter Pan, a one man show from NoExit Performance about the Boy Who Never Grew Up.
I never cared for the story of Peter Pan when I was a kid. The movie was old and hokey, and in retrospect completely racist and sort of awful. But as I got closer to adulthood, more and more reinterpretations of the story seemed to crop up. The excellent 2003 version with Jason Isaacs as Mr. Darling/Captain Hook. Finding Neverland. And the real reason I went to see this show–Peter and the Starcatcher, one of my favorite theater-going experiences of all time. But I think it’s more than just the quality of the storytelling that made me change my mind about Peter.
As a kid, all you want is to grow up, move on to the next thing and the next thing and then you look around and childhood’s gone. It was hard to identify with Peter because I never wanted to stay a kid forever. But now that I’m grown, it’s easy to see why Peter would want to stay behind in that easy world of make believe and youthful exuberance.
Like Peter and the Starcatcher, I am Peter Pan tells the story of Peter before he was Pan. We find out exactly why Peter ran off to Neverland with his trusty red wagon (slash pirate ship) in tow and how he wound up staying forever.
So did I am Peter Pan deliver? Did it help reclaim childhoods and remind us that fairies will live if only you clap your hands and believe?
The beginning was a bit rocky. Ryan Mullins, who plays Peter, Captain Hook, Tiger Lily, a slew of pirates, an Indian brave and some mermaids, was a bit overly excited in a performance that reminded me of Napoleon Dynamite, only more frat-like. But somewhere around the time Captain Hook showed up, he mellowed and showed his range as an actor, his true skill at playing multiple characters, some sharp physical acting skills and even some serious dramatic chops.
The use of props is intensely clever, especially in how it allows Mullins to play multiple characters at once. Strategic music adds to the show and a storybook serves as a narrative framework.
The ending, which I will not spoil, had me a bit teary eyed. One could argue that it’s emotionally manipulative. It definitely tugs on your heartstrings with everything it’s got in its last five minutes. But if I was manipulated, I was a willing participant. By the time you get to the final, heart wrenching moments, I’d been drawn into Neverland, where mermaids want to make houses of your bones and Fruit Roll-Ups are the best adventure food ever. It earned its pathos.
I am Peter Pan is a great show for families with kids, as it does work on multiple levels. Everyone can walk away with an enjoyment of this funny, sweet and even exciting show. And it’s entirely clean–not a single sliver of profanity or innuendo anywhere to be found. Be warned: if you sit in the first row, you might find yourself a participant in the show, whether you want to or not. The gentleman who was selected from our show clearly did not want to participate, but that didn’t put a damper on Mullins’ exuberance.
Fly off to Neverland with I am Peter Pan’s last few performances:
Thursday, August 23, 7:30 p.m
Saturday, August 25, 9:00 p.m.
Sunday, August 26, 3:00 p.m.
Tonight was a more thought provoking, quiet night of theater. While I appreciate the over-the-top looniness of many shows, it was nice to slow it down and ask some questions about who we are and where we belong. It was a fantastic night of theater. Tomorrow, I’ve got DON’T CROSS THE STREAMS: The Cease and Desist Musical, Creatures of the Night and Sirens: Chasing the Sun on my calendar. What will you be seeing?
My tickets were provided courtesy Indy Fringe.