Arts & Entertainment, etc. and Performing Arts and Indianapolis Museum of Art and Visual Arts and Booth Tarkington Civic Theatre and Lou's Views

LOU'S VIEWS: 'Pump Boys,' the IMA's 'Memory Cloud,' and Tarantino's latest

August 17, 2009

This week, “Pump Boys and Dinettes” returns, new lobby artwork at the IMA invites revisits, and Tarantino disappoints.

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The stereotype of a community theater production is time-tested material presented by less-than-top-notch talent. I’m not saying that’s always or even usually the case, but it’s usually best to expect that going in.

That assumption was turned on its head by “Pump Boys and Dinettes,” which recently played a weekend stint at Indianapolis Civic Theatre.

There, a cast that had been performing the show off and on for 20 years handled the chores well, gleefully, supplying the music on piano, guitars, accordion and even pots and pans. Their experience with the roles helped considerably—these characters are best served seasoned, not fresh. Particularly effective and endearing was Karen Frye, who both typified and transcended the diner waitress caricature.

The goodwill generated by the cast, unfortunately, couldn’t make up for deficits in the show itself. I somehow missed “Pump Boys and Dinettes” through the years, and my first encounter, I hoped, would at least find it at least in the company of such other small-cast, single-set stalwarts as “Nunsense” and “Forever Plaid.”

But despite decent-enough music and a simple, charming gas station/diner milieu, the book and lyric writing consistently left me shaking my head, wondering why more effort wasn’t made by the show’s initial creators. Song after song wandered until it hit the wall (the worst, a would-be introspective “Sister,” proved to be the most out-of-place show song I’ve heard in years). Line after line of dialogue took matters nowhere.

I don’t mind if a show aims low, but give me something.

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It’s great to see the lobby of the Indianapolis Museum of Art brightened again (good riddance, black rope stacks), thanks to Judith G. Levy’s “Memory Cloud,” a joyful and sad evocation of the things we remember—and the things we’ve forgotten.

Consisting of hundreds of small plastic photo viewers, some within reach and some beyond, it’s a strong, emotional, interactive installation that keeps drawing me back to the IMA with family members and friends in tow.

You have until Jan. 24 to experience it.

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I usually avoid talking about mainstream movies in this column. After all, film and TV seems to have eaten away at arts coverage in so many places, why make such concessions here? But while I’ve had many disappointments in movie theaters, it’s been a long time since I’ve felt as let down by a movie as I did with Quentin Tarantino’s “Inglourious Basterds” (the spelling errors are deliberate, by the way), so forgive me for taking some space here to vent.

“Inglourious Basterds” is awful not just as action-adventure (the climactic plot relies too much on coincidence and unbelievably poor security on the part of the Nazis), and as a character piece (nobody evolves in any way and few have any memorable personalities), but also as a Tarantino exercise. Where’s the perverse fun that made “Pulp Fiction” work? Where’s the playfulness that balances the gore and makes the brutal journey worthwhile? Where’s the wit?

And what should we make of a film where the ragtag group of Allies are as cruel as the Nazis—one in which we witness far more atrocities committed by Jews than Germans? No, it’s not a message movie—and there’s no sign that Tarantino expects us to think about the nature of violence. But it’s difficult to avoid feeling sickened by a movie that so clearly celebrates mutilation and blood lust. Tarantino seems to want the audience to take pleasure in the machine-gunning of already doomed German civilians. I couldn’t.•

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Visit ibj.com/arts for additional reviews, previews and arts discussion. Twitter: IBJarts

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