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Review: Love Stories

Thursday night I attended the opening night production of Love Stories at the Irving Theatre, produced by Susurrus Performance Group, directed by Michael Burke. This Indianapolis performing arts event is an adventure into the unknown, as most Susurrus Performance Group pieces are. Under the direction of Butler University grad, Michael Burke, three very different takes on love are explored in three separate pieces that compose the entirety of this play.

You may remember Burke’s particular directing eye from this past summer’s production of Medea at FringeNext. In Love Stories, Burke proves that he is not a one trick pony, presenting visually stimulating and challenging work. I had a chance to sit down to lunch with Burke this afternoon at YATS near Broad Ripple Village, and picked his brain about the process he undergoes when venturing into a new rehearsal process. This Indianapolis entertainment event is a must see!

The first piece in Love Stories, titled “The Unfortunate Man,” is a lovely exploration of love circus style. Starrena (Georgeanna Smith) is a star dancer and main attraction of the world’s foremost non-animal circus, run by Augustus Zarilli (Daniel Barnes). When Zarilli discovers a poor hobo (Matthew Van Oss), who mistaken hopped his train car, he adds the unknowing and “unfortunate man” to his sideshow act as a freak. The hobo falls madly in love with the star dancer, admiring here night after night from afar.

The original script, written by Julie Wunderlin, is a bit melodramatic. And though this is by far the lightest portion of Burke’s Love Stories, it seems to take itself too seriously (particularly for the circus). However, performances from the trio, paired with intelligent direction from Burke, stand above the sappy writing, making the piece thoroughly enjoyable. Barnes’ Zarilli has perhaps the funniest moments on stage as the outlandish Master of Ceremonies, though he misses the mark when it comes time for him to be the larger than life intimidator. Bogged down by sappy dialogue, Smith gives a graceful and sweet, yet shallow performance as the star dancer. Van Oss is adorable as the gimpy sideshow freak and narrator of the story. His honesty shoots straight to the heart, giving a big dose of the warm and fuzzies with every misstep his character makes.

The second piece in this Indianapolis event, “Don’t,” takes a much darker turn as Burke’s exploration of love continues. Told entirely through movement and music (with a bit of recorded dialogue) the piece stars Melissa Fenton as the wife and David Deye as the husband. Together they are electric, conveying a great deal simply through Burke’s original choreography and their facial expressions. Burke’s capabilities to speak to basic human capacity shines through in this exploration of a marriage on the rocks. His use of music, repetitive movement and visual imagery capture the essence of hardship in romantic relationships.

Burke self admittedly says of his own objectives as a director, “It’s not about showing an audience something that is natural. It’s about eliciting the biggest response.” Burke finds beauty in heartbreak saying, “If I were to do a piece with a child holding a balloon, the most beautiful moment would be when someone comes up an pops the balloon.” Popping the balloon is precisely what Burke does, as he moves Fenton and Deye around like pawns in the dangerous game of love gone awry. His dancers share both tenderness and violence in repeated movement sequences. Fenton shines, beautifully emoting the frustrations that a loving, yet ignored, wife is faced with.

The last piece, “Epthis,” stars current Butler University theatre student Melody Landis. The original piece features Landis alone in a sort of cerebral vacuum, longing for love and companionship when none are to be found. The piece is extremely challenging, and smartly placed at the end of Burke’s trio of love plays. Because the first two stories he shares with his audience are both accessible and entertaining, it is easy to enter into his last story with an open mind. Yet, Burke intentionally leaves the audience as confused as Landis’ character, who shares her name with the title of the piece.

The emotions expressed as she confronts her reflection in the mirror seem to imitate Burke’s own ideas about art, “All art is fundamentally about reflecting on our life.” He does not allow Landis to be encumbered with technique or spectacle, demanding only honesty and energy from her. It is impossible for the audience to refrain from becoming enrapt with Landis, as she outlines the figure of a sitting self, expressing a longing felt by every human.

There are three chances to catch Love Stories at the Irving Theatre, east of Indianapolis downtown. Tickets to this Indianapolis art event are only $10.00, a deal considering the quality of Burke’s work and the likelihood of his success. Take this chance to say, “I knew him when…” this weekend!

Heading out in the Circle City this weekend? Check out our Indianapolis restaurant and Indianapolis bar listings before you venture into the heart of Indy. We even have great Eastside eats for those headed to this Indianapolis performing arts event. For more information about fun things to do in Indianapolis stay tuned to Fun City Finder.com.

Love Stories
January 22 to 24, 2010

The Irving Theatre
5505 East Washington Street
Indianapolis, IN