For your reading pleasure, I present Part II of Fun City Finder’s review of the first annual Diva Fest. Below are the reviews for Madwomen’s Late Nite Cabaret and Dash Thirty Dash. For those not in the know, Diva Fest is the latest invention of indyFringe Theatre Festival’s organizers. It featured five plays, all written by women playwrights, meant to showcase the talent and passion of the fairer sex. It is the hope of the indyFringe to inspire women to write what they know, and be confident in sharing their stories with the world. If you didn’t catch this new Indianapolis theatre tradition, you missed out on a grand event. But don’t worry, Diva Fest will be back next spring to once again do its part for the ever growing Indianapolis arts scene. If you missed Part I by Katelyn Coyne, check it out right here. In this two part series, we hope to offer varied perspectives on this new Indianapolis performing arts tradition.
Madwomen’s Late Nite Cabaret by Julie Lyn Barber
Rarely is it a good start to the evening when you are confronted by a cross-dressing man wielding a rusty axe. But when the purple dress wearing, blonde wig coiffured man is channeling Lizzy Borden, and provides a fantastic piano accompaniment for a show such as Madwomen’s Late Nite Cabaret, you learn to make exceptions.
The foundation of Madwomen’s Late Nite Cabaret is the pairing of historical women–both fictional and real–with classic cabaret songs that take liberty of the words for comedic effect. The show is the brainchild of Julie Lyn Barber who is an actor, singer and educator at Taylor University in Upland, IN where she also music directs and choreographs.
One such example, and my personal favorite, is the use of I Ain’t Got Nobody, originally written in 1915 by Spencer Williams but probably best know as a melody in David Lee Roth’s 1985 single Just a Gigolo. In Madwomen’s Late Nite Cabaret, the song was performed by the decapitated remnants of Marie Antoinette, Ann Boleyn and Mary Stuart Procne and should read I Ain’t Got No Body. The beheaded beauties also performed Don’t Get Around Much Anymore, and had the audience wanting to be no where but the indyFringe Building.
Madwomen’s Late Nite Cabaret accomplishes a feat too many musical comedy productions fall short of. The actor and actresses on stage had both impeccable comedic timing and show-stopping voices. Usually it is one or the other, but Barber assembled a cast that had these two aspects of theatre walking hand-in-hand throughout the show.
Ben Asaykwee played host throughout the evening as Ethel Merman. While Ethel Merman was often called the undisputed First Lady of the musical comedy stage, Asaykwee should be put on the shortlist for undisputed First Lady-Man of the musical comedy stage. As for the women of the show, each played too many parts to name all, but rest assured that all performed wonderfully.
Erica Dumond helped set the tone of the show early on with a farcical rendition of Smoke Gets in Your Eyes as a chain mail-clad Joan of Arc. The number came complete with a smoke machine for comedic effect. Amanda Hummer as Medusa was awesome in singing the theme song of Hair. And the ringleader of the bunch, Julie Lyn Barber closed out the evening in a getup that would have done Sally Fields proud as she sung Personality(ies) as the multi-layered Sybil. Darrin Murrell manned the piano all evening as the crazy lady Lizzie Borden, and added an extra level of intimacy with his live music performance.
The only time the audience did not devote their full attention to what was taking place on stage was when they were laughing too hard to hear. I don’t know where Barber is planning to show Madwomen’s Late Nite Cabaret in the future, I only hope it soon and close to the Circle City ,for not only would I see the show again, I can’t wait to see it again.
Dash Thirty Dash by Amy Wimmer Schwarb
There are moments during Dash Thirty Dash where the audience can’t help but feel playwright Amy Wimmer Schwarb’s passion for the newspaper business in which she got her start. And while the story and direction of this production could use some refinement, this was a sound premiere for the first-time dramatist.
The action opens on a cramped, small-town newspaper room in rural Florida during the days leading up to the 2004 presidential election. We are introduced to fresh faced cub reporter Kate Perkins whose job interview quickly turns into a sink-or-swim assignment in which she exceeds her new editor Roy Hooper’s expectations and lands the job.
In that first scene, the newsroom and characters are moving a mile a minute to paint the picture of the high-paced world that is news. But for the purposes of the play, perhaps everything was moving a bit too fast. Lines were fumbled and momentarily forgotten, which restricted the audience from becoming a part of the scene and reminds them they are only watching and not participating.
However, in that first scene, the true essence of what Dash Thirty Dash is all about is presented in an exchange between Kate and the newspaper’s photographer J.T. Hamilton. It is after hours and J.T. is giving Kate the rundown on the paper’s editor Hooper. He explains that Hooper is a throw back to the time when papers were in their heyday. He opens a file cabinet draw and removes a bottle of whiskey,–which at one point was a staple of every editor’s desk–a blue pencil for final markups and a green visor used to protect the eyes of copy editors; all are relics from the days of yesteryear. If such a draw exists today in the real world, a copy of Dash Thirty Dash belongs in the ranks, for it is an homage to the glory days of news print just as much as those previously mentioned items.
Scene two of Dash is the strongest in the play. It is easily relatable to everyone in the audience, regardless of their experience with print media. We see the formation of a friendship between the neophyte Kate and the battle-hardened veteran reporter Sandy as the elder takes Kate under her wing and tells of the do’s and dont’s of their industry. The four characters then hunker down in their battle station of a newsroom to ride out an oncoming hurricane together so they will be ready to serve the public as soon the storm makes landfall.
Scene three fast-forwards four years to the day the paper folds and the group is forced to go their separate ways. Things get a bit sketchy when Kate suddenly turns to the audience and starts a dialogue with them. Nothing like this was established through the first two scenes and it is a bit too much to follow. However, the play does close with pertinent food for thought. Kate tells of her plan to go back home to the family farm where her brother is successfully growing high-end produce. She draws a parallel between our country’s newfangled desire to consume only the best quality food, even if we have to pay extra, with the idea that it would be worth paying more for high quality news media as well.
The more familiarity one has with the newspaper industry and its struggles over the last decade the more Dash Thirty Dash resonates with you. While a fellow journalist would sit there watching with a grim smile on their face shaking their head in agreement, a less versed audience member might just sit there at times scratching their head.
Schwarb set out to set the record straight on what it really was like to live and work in a newsroom. No longer did she want her history told by outsiders who never spent a minute chasing done a source or sniffing out a lead. In this regard, Dash Thirty Dash is a success. The play’s strengths appear in the nuance throughout that screams of first hand experience. It is in these moments that Dash tells its best story.
Rome wasn’t built in a day, nor was Waiting for Godot Beckett’s first play. The art of playwriting, as with all fields of art, adheres to the timeless adage that practice makes perfect, and Dash Thirty Dash was an impressive first attempt. Thanks to IndyFringe’s Diva Fest, future first-timers will have an opportunity to share their heart and soul on stage for years to come.
For more information on Dash Thirty Dash, read my interview with playwright Amy Wimmer Schwarb here.
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 downtown Indianapolis in theIndianapolis cultural district, Mass Ave, the indyFringe is an important Indianapolis nonprofit organization that celebrates and supports Indianapolis arts. 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