Diva Fest is the latest invention of indyFringe Theatre Festival’s organizers. In this brand spanking new Indianapolis festival, five plays, all written by women playwrights, were selected to be performed in an abbreviated festival format over the course of one weekend, May 6 through 9. If you didn’t catch this new Indianapolis theatre tradition, boy did you miss out. But don’t worry. Diva Fest will be back next Spring in Indianapolis arts. Fellow Fun City Finder writer Mark Cline, and myself (Katelyn Coyne), covered the indyFringe Theatre Festival’s inaugural Diva Fest. In a two part series, we hope to offer varied perspectives on this new Indianapolis performing arts events. Mark caught two of the Diva Fest offerings, Dash Thirty Dash and Madwomen’s Late-Nite Cabaret, and will share his experience in Part II of our Diva Fest coverage. While I attended Alarmed, Winter Solstice and Moment of Impact. Read on for my thoughts on these original plays by new Hoosier playwrights.
Alarmed by Bernadette Bartlett
Alarmed is a new play by Bernadette Bartlett, a first time playwright, who offers a wonderfully funny comedy about protecting yourself. Though this is her very first play, Bartlett is a practiced writer of short stories and fiction. Her play, Alarmed, shares the story of a young woman attempting to arm her house with a security system. But the temperamental alarm system proves to be more trouble than its worth as the paranoid central character and her comic confidant/roommate experience a sleepless night, during which the alarm seems to terrorize them.
As a first attempt at playwriting, Bernadette Bartlett should be more than satisfied with her short script. Dialogue between her two central characters, Frieda (Carrie Schlatter of the Phoenix Theatre’s Yankee Tavern) and Claire (Kate Ayers), is filled with over-reactionary comedy that maintains a strong sense of both eccentricity and believability. As further characters are introduced including a creepy security installation guy Rob (John Danyluk), a bumbling and incompetent police officer (Destiny Phoenix) and Frieda’s ex-boyfriend Fritz (Patrick Weigand), each offers a distinctive characterization with their own comic elements.
Parts of the script lack clear development on paper. Information contained in the online synopsis at indyFringe’s website was not entirely clear on stage (i.e. Claire and Frieda professions and the nature of Claire’s former relationship with Fritz). However, the script walks a fine line of understated humor that reveals enough without saying too much, an important faucet for a comedy/suspense like this. Yet as the action on stage neared a half hour, I found myself wondering about the repetitive nature of the script’s structure. “Is this play really only about a mercurial alarm system?” I asked silently as the crazy characters on stage kept me laughing. When the show ended a few minutes later, I learned that the answer to my question was, in fact, “Yes.”
With a great ending punchline, Bartlett’s script reads like a really creative first act of a full length play with a lot of potential. In the structure of what she already has accomplished, the possibilities for further development seem endless. Each ancillary character offers an entire feast for the imagination, hopefully leading Bartlett to finish her first full-length play. As a playwright, Bartlett is the perfect candidate for a program like Diva Fest, which provides a safe space for experience and growth. It will be interesting to see where she takes this script. I hope to see more of her work in the future.
Winter Solstice by Amy Pettinella
I was not a fan of Amy Pettinella’s Winter Solstice. An active member of the Indianapolis theatre community, Pettinella recently performed in Richard III at the indyFringe Building and in her original play Nevermore in last Summer’s indyFringe Theatre Festival. Her Diva Fest offering, Winter Solstice, was a disjointed mess that lacked clear intention and definition. In it a young man, Phelan (James Gross), learns that his parents Twila (Carrel Regan) and Adam (Ken Ganza) are getting a divorce after decades of a seemingly blissful marriage.
Using the technique of direct address to the audience throughout the exposition of the script was the first sign that this show conflicted with my tastes. Through belabored dialogue the actors laid the groundwork for the script’s plot. But certain moments lost effectiveness because of a commitment to the device of direct address (i.e. a mother explaining to her invisible son about the changing night sky, as her grown son stands next to her). Stylistically the device seemed awkward and forced, pulling me as an audience member immediately out of the play.
Though her characters were distinct and interesting, they were also flat and underdeveloped. I did like the opposition of the parents and the resulting personalities of their children, yet each relationship in this family failed to take flight in a believable way. In addition, the script lacked a sense of crests and troughs in each scene. Instead of building each scene to some sort of discovery or conflict, Pettinella placed ellipses and a black out at the end of each. She ought to have been thinking in terms of periods, exclamation and question marks. Instead, we were given lack luster summaries of what we had just seen, as the narrator, Phelan, attempted to place meaning on meaningless interactions.
The script offered very little plot development, changing little as the story progressed. In addition, Pettinella introduced symbolism that failed to connect to her story in an obvious way, reveling a bit too much in cerebralism. This lack of awareness plagued the story throughout, making for a disjointed telling of an unclear tale. Pettinella would do well to take a step back and look up the definition of “cohesiveness” before her next attempt at writing.
Moment of Impact by Jessica Strauss and Julie Mauro
Jessica Strauss, a graduate of Butler University, and Julia Mauro, a former student of Hanover College, teamed up to write Moment of Impact for the inaugural Diva Fest. In this clever script, the lives of six people intersect around a subway train just prior to a catastrophic crash. Each angle, each perspective, of the fateful subway ride is explored through the eyes of each individual character. In a fractured, yet extremely logical structure, Strauss and Mauro touch on one of the great secrets of humanity: we are all connected through our various and miscellaneous anonymous interactions.
In a character driven script with a simplistic plot, Strauss and Mauro examine life, and death to a certain extent, in degrees. After an expositional scene, in which we meet the nervous, yet sensitive Bart as he waits for the subway to arrive, a great deal is revealed without sharing very much. He yearns for human contact, yet is unable to reach out and converse with anyone but a child. As the train passes each new stop, new characters are introduced and the basic plot is shared: after a certain point on their journey the train crashes, killing all on board.
What makes Moment of Impact interesting is not the plot, but the varied perspectives given on the plot. Each scene begins with a kind of “rewind” technique that brings us back to the moment of calm before the storm, so to speak. With each rewind comes a shift in perspective. We see life through the eyes of an angry divorcee (Kent Livngston), trying to balance his cruel ex-wife and her hold over his children. Then the audience peers through the eyes of a pair of drunken club kids (Hannah Lyon and Amanda McSwine) as they make their way home after a night of partying. And ultimately we see the ride through the lens of Bart (Matt Anderson), who is perpetually stifled by his own shyness.
The script offers a refreshing take on the way in which we view others, perceive ourselves and are seen by strangers. Each new perspective creates a new layer of daily life, that would normally go unnoticed. But as the lives of these strangers intersect for a brief moment on a subway train, before ending forever, we are left with not only a sense of the futility of life, but also the importance of every interaction we have. Other elements such as a sound scape by Joseph Lehner that completes the setting, dance that conveys meaning without browbeating and the use of multiple languages, which creates a global perspective on the ideas shared, complete Moment of Impact, making for a very impactful evening at the theatre.
The indyFringe Theatre Festival offers much more to Indianapolis theatre this Summer. Head to their website (listed below) for information about upcoming shows including Moby Dick Tonight and the incredible Acrocats. Located in Indianapolis downtown in the Indianapolis cultural district, Mass Ave, the indyFringe is an important Indianapolis nonprofit organization that celebrates and supports Indianapolis arts. Don’t forget to read Mark Cline’s reviews of other Diva Fest shows in our two part series on this exciting Indianapolis event. Stay tuned to Indianapolis News, Events and Information on Fun City Finder.com for all the latest on fun things to do in Indianapolis. Get out in Indy and find some fun!
IndyFringe Theatre Festival
The IndyFringe Building
719 E St. Clair St