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LOU'S VIEWS: Harrison showcases recent additions to the Overman oeuvre

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Lou Harry
This week, great characters pop off the wall at the Harrison Center, the audience upstages at Civic, and a fledgling company fumbles.

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It always seems to be evening in the recent paintings of Emma Overman.

In her world, children have both innocence and dark thoughts. There's a sense of wonder and a sense of dread. And when you think she's become predictable, there's a twist.

Recall the Tim Burton animated films "The Nightmare Before Christmas" or "Corpse Bride." Both would have been drastically improved with a dose of Overman's visual strength and quirky sensibilities.

A past Art vs. Art winner and the woman who has given Indy Fringe its poster/button/program identity, Overman—the artist behind the solo show "Symphonies & Dirges" currently on display at the Harrison Center for the Arts—has grown a world of melancholy characters that somehow stay one step removed from the fearful world around them. The odds seem stacked against them, but they survive.

The best of her images conjure up entire stories. Whereas some artists use narrative—recognizable figures in situations that seem to have precedent and future—as a crutch, Overman seems fueled by it. In this show, I love the series of "Invisible Dan" paintings, with its translucent subject sharing low-key good times rather than taking advantage of his powers. Familiar Overman subject Vlad the bat is joined by carousing friends for "Late Night at Cavern Tavern." If "Reaping as She Sews" gives away the pun too bluntly, others in the ornately black-framed series—including "Olga Holds a Grudge" and the goofy "Polarized"—benefit from their on-canvas titles.

Overman's four-panel "Lost," both sad and strong, recalls her piece in the recent "Hansel and Gretel" show at the Central Library. "Lora in the Forest of Lost Loves" might have benefited from another tree carving or two, but the piece is still evocative and moving. The exhibition also features a series of smaller 6-inch-by-6-inch works, including the lovely "Insignificant Pig" and "Insignificant Bear."

Character after character deserves its own children's book. In the past, I thought that Overman needed a writer to pair up with to produce something classic. After this show, I'm convinced that she can do it all on her own.

And even if the publishing world never wakes up to her talents, Overman's continued evolution as an artist gives gallery hoppers and art collectors reason to smile.

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The addition of audience participation for one performance of the Indianapolis Civic Theatre's production of "The Wizard of Oz" (Jan. 1) made for a fun evening of interactive theater. With not-quite-Rocky-Horror zeal, the audience chimed in when instructed (although often confusing the twister noisemaker with the witch-welcoming kazoo) and sounded fine, especially when they were collectively off to see the wizard and worried about lions, tigers, etc.

As for the production, once again the inspired scenic design and costuming were of a much higher order than the by-the-book performances. The army of munchkins, however, were a treat, pulling off with their enthusiasm, costuming and quantity a spectacle that budget-debilitated professional companies can't.

Depending on the selection for next year's holiday musical (the other two usually featured are "Beauty and the Beast" and "Joseph etc."), the Civic sing-along could well turn into an Indy tradition. I'm all for that ... and for host Brent E. Marty cutting loose even more. There's lots of fun to be had in the format.

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Running for just one weekend (Jan. 2-4), "Edges: A Song Cycle" featured a quartet of performers and a trio of musicians performing the music of Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, who wrote it while students at the University of Michigan.

Their youth showed, and not in a positive way.

One or two decent songs were hidden in the batch, but even the best—the can't commit "I've Gotta Run" and the kids-growing-apart "Caitlyn and Haley"—seemed pale imitations of stronger writers such as Jason Robert Brown ("Stars and the Moon") and Dar Williams ("The Babysitter's Here"). And the tentative singers saddled with the task of delivering the sparkless tunes didn't demonstrate the stage power necessary to make the mediocre material compelling. (The expressive Sarah Hoffman came closest to success). It says something that the most engaging vocals came via keyboardist Nicholas Herman, who briefly lent his voice to the uncomfortable proceedings.

All might have been better served in this small space by performing without microphones. But even then, we would still have been burdened with songs such as the grating "Be My Friend," which demonstrated its understanding of 20-something life by repeatedly referring to "The Facebook."

I trust that the young composers—and Programs, the enthusiastic (if awkwardly named) young company that staged it—will go on to better things.
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