As “Barbecue” flavors up the IU Stage, Director Ansley Valentine shares his inspirations…

If you don’t already know Ansley Valentine, get to know him now…

Ansley Valentine

In general, how did you become a director? Why Theatre?

In high school, I was a musical theatre junkie. I became a director, in part, because I wanted to be the one to shape how the big sets and things moved around on a stage.  It wasn’t until later that I started to realize the pure power of storytelling and doing that with only a few resources could be just as dynamic and exciting as a huge production. While I do camera work as well, I am still a junkie for the theatre. The shared experience reshaped and recreated night after night is still the most thrilling to me.

Was there a particular event or time that you recognized that theatre- making  was not just a hobby, but that it would be your life and your living?

When I left college, I could not find a job in my chosen profession: graphic design. I saw a notice for auditions at the Indianapolis Shakespeare Festival and got hired for their touring company. Ever since then, I have made my living in the theatre (with only a brief stint waiting tables).

What makes a play great for you? What are the certain qualities that you look for in a play?

I am most interested in creating an experience for the audience…a thoughtful, emotional journey to places unknown. For me, a great play is one that allows the audience to think and respond and reflect on their human condition. I love plays that generate an authentic response from the audience. Laughing and crying are equally wonderful.

I would argue that theatre-makers have a responsibility to culture. Would you agree? If so, how? If not, why?

I tell my students to recognize the power they have as actors and theatre artists. They have the power to change people’s lives. And those who try to reduce artists saying that we are simply “entertainers,”  do a disservice to themselves and the artists. The works we choose to share with our communities should challenge, embrace and affirm our human existence. There is no higher responsibility.

 

Ansley, tell us about Barbecue by Robert O’Hara…


What was it about this play that ultimately struck you?

I was most moved by the clever storytelling. Robert O’Hara created something that is inherently theatrical but also takes on current issues in a creative way. I love satire and it’s ability to help us unpack the problems in society and culture.

Did you recommend this play for the current season? If so, why? 

We were looking for a play that could be minimally produced with a small budget. At that point, other than the new play by Kaela Mei-Shing Garvin, our season did not have a piece written by a playwright of color. I recommended “Barbecue” because it fit the bill and also offered some great roles for students of color in the department.

Do you identify with any of the racial politics that Robert O’Hara evokes in this play?

I’m not sure what you mean by “identify.” If you mean do I see things in the world as he portrays them in the play, then the answer is a definite YES. O’Hara asks a lot of questions about race, identity, and stereotypes. He doesn’t provide many answers or course of action. I enjoy engaging the questions and hope the audience will think about what the answers might be.

Can you tell us a bit about the original vision and the journey to get to where you are today?

I don’t really have a good “sexy” answer for this question. I wanted to do a clean and simple production of an excellently written play. I wanted to put the words in front of the audience and let them decide what the lives of these characters mean. There wasn’t a heavy concept for the production. The playwright gave us concept-enough in his writing.

What was the casting process like?

Casting was a bit of a whirlwind. After the general audition call for all of the fall productions, we only had a couple of hours for callbacks. There were A LOT of people I called back as I was searching for folks with the right sense of innate comic timing and pathos. I was also interested to see new students and give new people a chance to shine. I think we found actors who fit the bill!

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Kenneth Arnold II, Sha Collier, Adrianne Embry, (cast) “Barbecue”

What has the rehearsal process been like?

It was a bit like a 3-ring circus. We had two rehearsal halls going, two assistant directors and one associate director. Because of the structure of the play, we could have more than one scene rehearsing at the same time. Also, we rehearsed the play in ways to encourage the actors to be creative and discover their characters. The comedy grew out of them organically and we spent the rest of our time refining and sharpening the moments.

What were some of your inspirations?

I actually had a random assortment of things and pop culture references that inspired the production. Everything from George C. Wolfe’s “The Colored Museum” to television shows like “Golden Girls” and Tracee Ellis Ross on “Girlfriends” and the lives of singers like Beyoncé and Whitney Houston, all found their way into the work.

What can a person expect when they go to see Barbecue?

People should expect to be surprised, to laugh AND to think. 

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Christopher Plonka, Clark Conrad, Caroline Santiago Turner (cast), “Barbecue”

***

When can YOU catch Barbecue by Robert O’Hara?

DATES: October 12-13th & October 16-20th at 7:30pm, and on October 20, 2018 at 2pm.

WHERE: Wells-Metz Theatre, Lee Norvelle Theatre and Drama Center, 275 N. Jordan Ave.

TICKETS: Regular admission is $20 for adults, $10 for students. 812.855.1103 or theatre.indiana.edu.

 

*Interview by Christin Eve Cato, MFA Playwright Candidate 2021.

 

 

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Dale McFadden’s influence on local theater in his decades at IU

McFadden’s farewell: “The Heiress” will be his last, at least at IU

By Connie Shakalis H-T Reviewer

If you see Indiana University’s current production of Ruth and Augustus Goetz’ “The Heiress” you will witness the last act of Dale McFadden’s career with the department of theatre, drama, and contemporary dance. He’s retiring and leaving behind nearly 35 years of coaxing the best from theater students. “One thing that has stayed consistent all these years,” he said, “is the great quality of IU students, regardless of their majors.” Directors use various styles to extract an actor’s other selves, and McFadden says he focuses on imparting the value of discipline. “I’m not mean, but it has been said that you’ll never have a problem knowing what I think,” he said.

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McFadden joined the IU faculty in 1985. He is the department’s associate chair where he also heads the M.F.A. acting and directing programs. He attended University of London and Trinity College in Dublin before directing professionally in Chicago. He has worked at the Goodman Studio, Steppenwolf, the Theatre Building, the Raven Theatre, Renaissance Rep, Chicago Dramatists, and was artistic director at The Body Politic. His Chicago production of “The King’s Clown” won Joseph Jefferson Award citations.

He teaches his students to pay attention to their audiences, an integral part of any production. “When the audience loves the play, it’s because of both things: the audience and the production,” he said. He prepares them for the “artistic anxiety”of opening nights, a test of nerves for all directors, producers, tech crew and performers. “Opening nights are like funerals,”he said. “People always say: ‘I had to come tonight. I saw it in the paper. It’s so lifelike!’ ” McFadden’s dry wit will be missed once he closes his office door that last time. But one thing he’s serious about is “not turning on your work,” stressing that harshly criticizing one’s own efforts is counterproductive — and “never” to be done.

When directing a cast of performers with different levels of experience and ability, he is careful to start “where each person is,” not pushing, but assessing and guiding. Having worked in many local and regional theaters, including Chicago, Indianapolis and Bloomington — at IU, Bloomington Playwrights Project and the Jewish Theatre — he has seen a range of talent in his actors. “The best performers to work with are those who have done stage, TV and film,” he said. Directing — and acting — for the camera differs vastly from stage work, and having knowledge of all three disciplines helps create a well-rounded performer who can reveal emotions with the full body (stage) yet convey meaning through subtle, sometimes barely perceptible, facial expressions (camera).

A serious director with serious opinions about what theater is, he, albeit with a smile and his tongue in his cheek, refers to musical theater as “the dark side.” He shares this view with many critics who wonder why we Americans have no national theater, as do Paris and London, where intelligent and deeply dramatic plays are routinely produced. It’s not that McFadden disdains the —fluffier — musicals (he loved the unfluffed Stephen Sondheim’s “Assassins” and Mark Hollmann’s “Urinetown”), but his heart seems to lie with Shakespeare, Ibsen, James, et al. Musical theater has been a boon to theater and to theater-going, getting people in the doors he said. “I just hope that audiences don’t get the sugar-high from the musicals and then choose not to go see the dramas.”   And musicals, with rhythm and pizzazz, can move in a way straight plays cannot.

“I thought IU’s ‘Spelling Bee’ was a detailed, insightful production about young people with a competitive skill that is a refuge from the struggles on their life,” he said. Of audiences, he said, “Our job is to give them something to come back for.” Extolling the wonders of live theater he noted that audiences are aware of other audience members; they are not sitting home isolated in front of a screen. They are in this living, inhaling, heart-beating performance together, experiencing it not with one or two, but with a roomful all at once. A bond forms among people watching live performances.

The “Three on the Aisle” theater podcast even stated recently that audience members’ heartbeats synchronize while watching live theater. Ever wonder what the director does, exactly? Audiences can never really tell how much of the play is the director’s and how much comes from the actors’ own input. McFadden likes to teach about “the hidden hand of the director.” He said the director is responsible for every moment of the show, a frightening thought. “By tech night (usually the last rehearsal before the show opens), not many things are left unexplained,”he said. Directors also control what gets rehearsed and what doesn’t. “Most plays need about 60 hours of rehearsal time, he said.

Those five dozen hours are precious and must be apportioned, hopefully in the right increments. So, probably with feelings as assorted as a New York City brunch buffet, McFadden will watch his last IU play unfold, as we learn about “The Heiress’ ” main character dealing with an overbearing father and an ardent, misjudged (?) lover. McFadden said he might hide, or not — maybe depending on how it goes. And we will observe his directing.

His performers, if he has successfully relayed his message, will show us their three required traits: talent, temperament and tenacity. And the lights will lower again, this last time, on a McFadden-directed play at IU.

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Meet, Linda Pisano: The New Face for The Department of Theatre, Drama, and Contemporary Dance at Indiana University

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Linda Pisano 

 


Linda Pisano was appointed Chairperson for the Department of Theatre, Drama, and Contemporary Dance in July 2018.  The first female chairperson of the department, Linda comes from an impressive background of Theatre Making, Performance, and Costume Technology Design. 

Getting down to business with Linda…

As the new chairperson for the Department of Theatre, Drama, and Contemporary Dance, what are you most excited about?

I’m very excited to work more closely with all of my theatre and dance colleagues.  I have spent sixteen years as a colleague in different capacities but now I get to learn more about  the faculty as individual artists and scholars to work with them on their path for success here at IU.  Being able to facilitate opportunities and mentorship for the faculty and students is very exciting work.  I’m also very enthusiastic about getting to know more of the students in a different capacity.

What kind of changes or improvements will you like to see happen in the Department? Do you have any special plans for us?

We’ve got a lot of plans! Our mission is clear, that excellence in creative activity and research are paramount.  We stand by this in all its many forms; our faculty, students, classrooms and productions.

After listening to the faculty, I’ve established the following four priorities to navigate resources and initiatives. It is easy to see how these priorities complement one another, and indeed, support one another:

  1. Diversity and inclusion, we want to foster the experience and exploration of ‘difference’ in all that we do
  2. Refocusing a concentration on recruitment to our programs
  3. Cultivating a more intensive and robust BA undergraduate experience
  4. Partnership and engagement with our communities

The faculty has expressed our need for more partnership internally and externally as well as more exploration into bridging our classrooms and productions.  Due to the specialization of our fields we have often been situated in silos, we are looking for creative ways to break down those walls and divisions to take a more contemporary look at making, doing, researching and creating.  This includes studying of how dramatic structure, experience, rehearsal and methods are changing, and how we can integrate voice, movement, design, technology, playwriting, and so forth.

There are some physical changes being created to enhance our learning environment.  A300U is being transformed this year into a space more similar to a collaborative research space.  Not only does it house our script library but it will also have a configuration that is designed for small and large group intellectual and creative conversations about our work.  My hope is that we will create a physical space that connects and bridges our academics with the creative and intellectual process of our productions.  We are still working diligently and prioritizing dance space.

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Costume Design by Linda Pisano

What do you think your biggest challenge will be? 

I think rather than ‘biggest’ challenge will be contextualizing the ‘important’ challenge. Having a rotating chair model is new for us.  In our department you aren’t just the chair, you are also the artistic director and producer of around 15 fully produced theatre and dance productions, along with countless student and guest artist programming.  This model is unusual for the complexity of our department.   Therefore, I’m focusing on succession planning and cultivating future leaders within our faculty.  I’d like our future chair/producers to walk into an infrastructure that will support vision rather than having to create an infrastructure.

Getting personal with Linda…

Who are your biggest influences? Who do you admire most? Who or what inspired you to do what you are doing now?

So many people!!  Obviously my kids, my husband and my mom are huge on the list, always and forever.  Two mentors from grad school (Mark and Dennis) are still my mentors 20 years later! Hope I can be that kind of mentor.

But honestly, I find inspiration in so many places:  the student who survived cancer and was back in the classroom, the freshman who was brave enough to come up and introduce themselves in the first week of classes and their enthusiasm to start this new chapter into adulthood, the single parent coming back for their masters despite pressures telling them not to, the retired faculty whose wisdom buoys me up when I’m trying to solve a problem.

The people who inspired me to do what I do now is the drama therapist who helped me as a very young child find my voice and confidence, the teachers who believed in me, and my colleagues who believe in me now and who have been incredibly supportive during this time of transition.

What surprising lessons have you learned along your journey? What’s the best advice you ever received?

Heh heh…how about best advice that I’ve received that are life long lessons to learn?

  1. You get what you tolerate
  2. Be kind, you never know where someone has been
  3. Don’t compare your first chapter to someone’s tenth chapter
  4. Seek first to understand and then to be understood

How do you structure your days? How do you balance work and family demands? (Is this too personal?)

This is not too personal at all.  I’ve actually thought about writing an article about this facet of our lives in Theatre.  The work-life balance shifts over your life.  It was different from when my kids were toddlers to their teenage years now.  However some are the same.

  1. Pay yourself first: not just money-wise, but with your time, love, and energy.
  2. Carpe-diem: you only live once
  3. Morning is Magnificent:  I get up at 4:45am every day and have created a ritual to ensure I never start the day with dread, fear or unhappiness.  It is not easy, especially during the darkest times of life (a family death, illness etc), but it is worth it and it helps me to pay-it-forward.

Getting advice from Linda…

What tools do you find indispensable for accomplishing anything in the Theatre industry?

My mantra for students is “Be Brave, Bloom, and Be Kind”.  I live by this mantra and it stems from my experience with the hard knocks of this industry. Integrity, curiosity, self-discipline, drive: Write a mission statement so you explore why you are doing what you are doing…it will ground you.

What do you find are the biggest stumbling blocks for a career in Theatre, and what are the best ways you’ve found to overcome them?

I’ve come to realize that there are people who drive their career by feeling competitive with others and they end up selling themselves and that is so disrespectful to oneself.  It is important that people only compete against themselves and find reward in bettering their own work and their intelligence. Not compromising their integrity by just doing something to be better than someone else. I find always comparing and competing with others is not a sign of a deep-thinking artist and is a wasted life. It’s better when used in happy and meaningful endeavors.

Always, always focus on something bigger than oneself.

In this industry, we are endlessly being critiqued for so many factors. What’s your best advice for handling criticism?

As I mentioned above, there are still those who are always compelled to compete against others and our industry tends to enable that through the criticism. Be open to advice, mentorship, and evaluation from trusted and respected sources.

When I was 17 I had my first professional gig.  After casting I was told I was too fat by  two of my acting professors.  I was 5’6 and 125 pounds of muscle.  Yeah, that was rough on a 17 year old and led to bulimia.  This is why I have my mantra for students: “Be Brave, Bloom and Be Kind”.

The first response I have when getting criticism is ‘consider the source’.  Who is giving you the criticism and how did they give that criticism?  If the criticism is from a valued individual in a dignified and respectful tone, than I should listen. A true mentor/teacher gives criticism to help direct and guide an artist/student to a better place, not to demean, belittle or harm.

When criticism is given in a callous, flippant, sarcastic or hurtful manner the criticism is not worth your time.  I ignore it and move on.  Nobody has time for that.

I paraphrase the Dalai Lama:  “If you cannot be kind, at least do no harm.”

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Interview by Christin Eve Cato, MFA Playwright Candidate 2021.

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Introducing Sean Blake, our final IU Summer Theatre TGotW: Guest Artist Edition!

A member of Actors’ Equity Association, Sean Blake is a Chicago-based actor and singer. This summer Sean has been delighting IUST audiences as the doting Mr. Webb in Our Town and the tough-loving Mitch Mahoney in The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.

 

1. When did first you realize you were a “theatre geek”?

I probably realized I was a theatre geek when I did my first musical. I was a junior in high school and auditioned for Damn Yankees.  I got cast as Joe Hardy, and I was hooked.

2. What is your favorite thing about the theatre, and why?

My favorite thing about the theatre are the people. In this profession you get to meet so many people from all walks of life.

3. Do you have a favorite show or role? Why is it your favorite?

I don’t really have a favorite show or role. I have pretty much loved every show I have been involved with.

Sean Blake and the cast of “Smokey Joe’s Cafe” at Drury Lane Theatre in 2016. Photo by Brett Beiner.

4. Who in the theatre world inspires you, and why?

E. Faye Butler inspires me. She’s the ultimate PRO and a force on and off the stage. She has been my mentor and dear friend for many years.

5. Do you have any words of advice for our theatre students?

My advice to IU Theatre students is to be kind, be professional, and above all learn to balance ego with humility.

6. When no one is watching, what song do you love to dance or sing along with?

Anything by Celine Dion!!!!

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Theatre Geek of the Week: Mark Ulrich

Introducing Mark Ulrich, our next TGotW: Guest Artist Edition!

IUST Guest Artist Mark Ulrich

A Chicago-based member of Actors’ Equity Association, Mark offers  some insight and humor, as this week’s TGotW. Mark can be seen this summer in IUST’s productions of Thornton Wilder’s Our Town (Stage Manager) and The Foreigner (Charlie).

1. When did first you realize you were a “theatre geek”?

Even after three decades, I’m still not entirely certain that I’m included in the club.  Every morning I expect a phone call or an email informing me that there has been a grave mistake – my equity card is being revoked, and all past shows in which I was cast only occurred because of a clerical error.

2. What is your favorite thing about the theatre, and why?

My favorite thing about theater is its impermanence – it vanishes with very little trace, if any at all.  That, and the snacks at opening night. 

3. Do you have a favorite show or role? Why is it your favorite?

My favorite role was in a college production of THE VISIT, where I played one of the blinded twins.  My twin and I could finish our scene, then go to the Wendy’s drive through in full blinded eye makeup, and be back in plenty of time for the curtain call. 

Mark and Martin Yurek in “Assassination Theater” by Hillel Levin. Photo by Michael Brosilow.

4. Who in the theatre world inspires you, and why?

I am inspired by the group with whom I am working right now.  The experience and craft work of the directors, designers, and professional actors are a constant source of inspiration.   And the enthusiasm and energy and optimism with which the IU Theater students approach the work is a refreshing wave of good hope that an old crank like me can easily lose sight of. 

5. Do you have any words of advice for our theatre students?

My advice for the theater students?   I find blue Hi-Liter makes the script difficult to read.  Use yellow, or pink.

6. When no one is watching, what song do you love to dance or sing along with?

Someone is always watching.  

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‘Our Town’ reveals secrets shared by many a small community

Asked my fellow audience member after the show Friday night: “Have you ever seen a BAD ‘Our Town’?” She referred to another high-quality Indiana University Summer Theatre production, this time Thornton Wilder’s Pulitzer- Drama Desk Award- and Tony Award-winning play about wasted moments, overlooked treasure and other notorious human behaviors.

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Joshua M. Smith, Karen Janes Woditsch, Marya Grandy, Jimmy Hogan, Max Weinberg, Glynnis Kunkel-Ruiz, Katie Swaney, Justin Smusz, and Matthew Weidenbener. Karen Janes Woditsch and Marya Grandy appear courtesy of Actor’s Equity Association.

The behavior that strikes me most is in a line from the play’s choir director, Simon Stinson (Joshua M. Smith): “To be always at the mercy of one self-centered passion or another.” That is I. And, I suspect, many others, and Smith’s delivery of that line snapped at my conscience. We ignore the spouse, grab a bag of hot wings instead of taking the half hour to cook something, blow off a friend for a work assignment.

The early 1900s citizens of Grover’s Corners, New Hampshire, where Wilder’s characters work and play, ignore and deny, are all people we know, in disguise (costumes by Heather Milam), whether we live in Beijing or Bedford. We do these things and probably always have. Maybe it’s imbedded in our instincts for survival. After all, if we noticed all the homemade breakfasts and listened to every bluebird call, wouldn’t we have died out eons ago? When we should have been focused on hunting, gathering, achieving.

The play’s ingenue, Emily (Nina Donville) pleads, “. . . all that was goin’ on, and we never noticed! Do any human beings realize life as they live it?” Stinson answers no, except for some saints and poets.

This play intrigued me decades ago and still does. It’s one that lingers for days afterward, maybe months. A story about all of us, it stabs us in the gut as it describes our floating through life so immersed in our (seemingly) teensy trials that we are deaf to the joys and tribulations of others. The final scene with young George’s (Michael Bayler’s) once adoring mother (Karen Woditsch) barely noticing, and anything but interested in, him will haunt me forever. I won’t say more to avoid spoiling the ending.

The man seated next to me commented that because he grew up in New York City, Wilder’s plot doesn’t apply to his experiences. “We had no chickens to feed or cows to milk,” he explained. But his mother worked in Manhattan’s garment district, his father in a Manhattan restaurant. One person’s chickens are another’s bolt of percale or 30 dozen eggs to fry. Regardless of the town or city, “Our Town” is indeed our town.

Wilder describes the little things: mothers making thousands of breakfasts, births, a responsible paperboy on his route, ice cream sodas sipped by young lovers. How little are they, really? These are the moments that make a life, a town, a world.

Friday’s production began and ended in the dark, opening just before dawn and closing in the local cemetery, underground. The minimal use of props and scenery made Wilder’s writing and the cast’s ubiquitous talent all the more striking. Mark Ulrich claimed the night’s biggest share of applause. A flexible actor, he varied his pitch and style, even taking on additional roles, one as a vociferous neighbor lady. In answer to my friend’s question, “Have you ever seen a BAD “Our Town,” it would be “Yes,” if the director (Dale McFadden, here) doesn’t cast an excellent stage manager character. But he did. Ulrich narrates the story, keeping us informed and the plot rolling.

Last month I reviewed a play in which the young mother dies, but I couldn’t manage to care enough about her to feel the loss. No chills, no squeezing back tears. Without spoiling the ending of “Our Town” though, I will just say it produced those chills. And not just when the characters I had grown to like died. Donville’s Emily is dear and spunky. I can’t imagine anyone not wanting to buy her an ice cream soda. Her scene with George as they admit their mutual love is one of this production’s best.

Bayler is the epitome of a sweet, eager boy stammering his way through exuberance in being face to face with his long-lived crush. Later, he is every man whose feet have gone cold on his wedding morning. Donville is equally darling here as the cherished daddy’s girl. “Just look at (George). I hate him. I don’t wanna get married,” she informs her daddy. At that moment, before the wedding march, she would much prefer to “run away” with Dad, who has always called her “My Girl.” The scene is too wonderful. Any woman who has loved a father would be rummaging for a Kleenex.

Glynnis Kunkel-Ruiz brought some necessary laughter as the officious Mrs. Soames. She looked beautiful in her crimson shawl and flower-trimmed hat, too. This is my favorite of the roles I’ve seen her play, and her characters here (lady in balcony, also) showcased her range.

The two mothers (Woditsch and Marya Grandy) were believable and well cast. I particularly enjoyed their roles in reminding me how women behaved in the early 20th century, postponing their own dreams, skirting any talk of sex and keeping those fresh breakfasts coming. Wilder’s many mentions of the day’s first meal reminded me, too, of our current granola bars and sugared lattes. A parent emerging from a warm bed and making oatmeal says something. Says many things.

Sean Blake played a lovable father of the bride. I get why Emily wants to escape with him and do his cooking and cleaning instead of marrying her dashing George. Smith’s alcoholic choir director has some of Wilder’s pithiest lines, and Smith handled each cogently, even, maybe especially, while drunk.

Andrew Hopson designed the sound, which was a highlight. From this minimalist set, we heard rain, thunder, trains, chickens clucking, a cow clopping and crickets rubbing their legs together. Allen Hahn’s lighting design was chilling — literally — in the cemetery but also in a more cheerful scene using spotlit ladders to indicate teenaged Emily’s and George’s bedroom windows.

Our town has “nobody very remarkable,” the stage manager announces. Untruer words were never spoken.

Shared from https://www.heraldtimesonline.com/entertainment/our-town-reveals-secrets-shared-by-many-a-small-community/article_b2bf92a2-5b1b-593c-952b-f302ac5f091a.html

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Five stars for IU’s ‘The Foreigner’

If you have laughter-induced asthma, take your inhaler when you see Indiana University Summer Theatre’s “The Foreigner.” Yes, that was I laughing and gasping Sunday evening, all through this hilarious, insightful and exquisitely cast play about how we view and treat The Other among us. And, maybe more important, how we view and treat ourselves when we are with The Other.

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Mark Ulrich (Charlie) and Jimmy Hogan (Owen) in “The Foreigner”. Mark Ulrich appears courtesy of Actors’ Equity Association.

Although this production earns a 9.9, I will begin with the negatives, of which there are two:

It ended — two and a quarter hours can be long for many plays, but not for this one.

The playwright, Larry Shue, died young, truncating the list of what might have been more plays like this.

Highlights are missing, because every performer was so splendidly suited to his or her role, so no one stands out. I don’t remember when I have witnessed that. Who chose this play? Who chose this cast? Thank you for one of the most joyous, funny, thought-provoking plays I have seen, ever.

“The Foreigner” is the perfect complement to IU’s summer repertory season of three plays, the other two being the Americana drama “Our Town,” and a peppy musical look at our obsessions with winning, “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.”

And, remember, repertory usually means these actors switch roles — and plays — from night to night, a daunting task for both performers and crew.

Charlie (Mark Ulrich) is a sweet, good-to-the-bone proofreader who is also mortifyingly bashful. He always travels the high road, including tolerating his wife’s 23, give or take, episodes of adultery. Seeking respite, he arrives at a country lodge in Georgia with his assertive and outgoing friend Froggy (Joshua M. Smith). What to do!? Charlie must make conversation with “strangers,” other lodgers at the property, and he’s particularly reticent because his wife’s terminal illness has plummeted him into a funk.

Quick-thinking Froggy, however, devises an impromptu solution: He introduces Charlie to the others as a foreigner who cannot speak or understand English. Lucky Charlie can now vacation without the strain of interaction.

The lodge’s widowed owner, Betty (Karen Woditsch), whose dream of seeing the world has been thwarted by having to hold down the lodge, thrills to the idea of meeting a real, live foreigner. “You done saved my life when you brought ‘im here,” she tells Froggy. “He’s not a communist, is he?” she asks, just making sure. Delighting in her new foreign friend, she gushes, “We have this, this, this extra-circular communication!” Woditsch is precious.

Charlie, keen on being upstanding, refuses to go along with Froggy’s deceptive scheme, but when he overhears a very personal conversation between Catherine (Glynnis Kunkel-Ruiz) and her fiance, the Rev. David Marshall Lee (Michael Bayler), he is trapped into following the foreigner plan. After all, to do so will save the honor of the young lovers.

Catherine’s younger brother, Ellard (Max Weinberg), seems lacking in intelligence, which may cause him to lose out on his half of the $10 million inheritance he deserves from his and Catherine’s parents’ recent demise. The reverend is eager to trick Catherine into seeing Ellard as too impaired to get his, Ellard’s, half. I begin here to loathe the minister.

A good ole boy — and Ku Klux Klan member — Owen Musser (James Hogan) brings a deeply dark twist to the plot and kept me teetering on my seat’s edge. Hogan is deliciously frightening.

Admittedly, I enjoy farce, physical humor, convoluted identities and other types of comedy, but even if I didn’t, this play would have kept me laughing — and thinking.

Charlie, by default, becomes the ideal listener. At first, at least, he doesn’t criticize, analyze or advise; he just blithely listens. And as he listens, he learns secrets and gains confidences and wins friends. He has power for the first time in his life, and oh so much wishes his wife “could see me now, Mary!”

Ulrich plays Charlie to perfection. We adore Charlie, because Ulrich is so intuitive. Woditsch’s Betty is thoroughly lovable in many ways. Her facial expressions tell us exactly who this dear woman is, and her sense of comedy is the stuff casting directors pray for.

Kunkel-Ruiz hits it out of the park with this role, seemingly written for her. Creator Shue develops her character more than some of the others’, and Kunkel-Ruiz is divine. For one thing, she is gorgeous in Linda Pisano’s costumes; for another, she has this part down. Weinberg, who seemed nervous during his curtain speech, was — I hate to say it — perfect as little brother Ellard. I’l bet everyone in Sunday night’s audience is in love with him now. Sweet, honest, genuine, helpful — that person we all want living next door.

Smith as Froggy is just right here, playing a wonderful straight man to Charlie’s outlandishness. They are a team. Spoiler alert — I just despised that underhanded, apple-biting minister/fiance, played so beautifully by Bayler. And Bayler’s deep voice added to the character’s sordidness.

It’s difficult to tell what parts of a play are the director’s and what parts come from the performers themselves. And, of course, without a good, doable script, neither matters. But I imagine that since this production is so well-rounded, with every single actor getting a 10, that a lot of the credit goes to director Jonathan Michaelsen.

I don’t know when I last thought I could see the same play every week, for a long time.

Shared from https://www.heraldtimesonline.com/news/local/five-stars-for-iu-s-the-foreigner/article_94c76986-08b3-5798-ad53-fadfa975fd8e.html.

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