IBJOpinion

LOU'S VIEWS: IRT's 'Interpreting William' needs rewriting

Back to TopCommentsE-mailPrintBookmark and Share
Lou Harry

If you've spent any time at Conner Prairie, whether on a school field trip or a family outing, you may have realized that you don't see the living history museum's namesake, William Conner, anywhere nearby.

That's because, as I learned from James Still's new play "Interpreting William," Conner left no journals or letters that reveal anything about his thought processes. He, like most of our ancestors, just left a few facts and a lot of questions.

Primary among them: How could he have negotiated the treaty that pushed the Delaware Indians—including his own wife and six children—west of the Mississippi? It's a fascinating question. But early on in the play, which is having its world premiere at the Indiana Repertory Theatre, we know that the answer is unknowable.

So instead of doing what many of his historical-fiction-writing predecessors have done "making things up based on available evidence," Still chose to focus on the historian rather than the history. The result—while hammering repeatedly on a few interesting ideas—still feels like a first draft of a promising play rather than a fully realized one.

The chief problem is that Still's historian character, Bill (David Alan Anderson), comes across as more of a naive undergraduate than a learned professor. "If I could just find that missing piece of Conner's story," he says. But, really, what academic believes he's going to find that by wandering around a tourist attraction? Further, with so little known about Conner, what's filling the rest of Bill's already sizable manuscript? I might believe it if the character were 20. But that would be a different play.

The thinness of Bill's core dilemma is accentuated by tossed-off references to a vaguely troubled marriage. And a makeshift mother/daughter conflict between Conner Prairie worker Anna and her daughter, Naomi, seems far too convenient. The hand of the author is obvious in both as he tries to force parallels to the Conner conflict. A few drafts from now, it might work.

The play isn't helped by a simplistic set that has the unfortunate feel of a museum diorama. Or by costumes that seem right out of the Halloween shop. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I don't think pioneers and Native Americans had access to dry cleaners. Where's the grit?

The treading-water first act is briefly brighted after intermission by an engaging sequence between Bill and a Conner Prairie historic interpreter (Robert Neal) that hints at one sort of play that this could have been. There's also a beautiful moment late in the piece where Tim Grimm, as Conner, drops 20 years with barely a gesture. Such moments hint at what a solid, specific play "Interpreting William" could be if it stopped trying to be so universal—if it felt more like the character's outline rather than a playwright's controlled action.

Tomorrow is, as we know, only a day away. And sometimes it seems that yet another local production of "Annie" is also always only a day away. But just because it's done constantly doesn't make "Annie" any less of a tuneful, entertaining fantasy.

And Beef & Boards Dinner Theatre mines it effectively, understanding that cute kids aren't enough. What the show needs beyond a charming title character and a reasonably well-behaved dog are adult humans who grasp that desperate villainous Miss Hannigan and blustery Oliver Warbucks are equally important to the success of the show.

Cindy Collins, best known locally for her work with Actors Theatre of Indiana, is up there with Sally Struthers as the best of the Hannigans I’ve seen (alas, I didn’t see the Dorothy Loudon original) and her gin-soaked thought process is clear throughout. Ty Stover neatly fuses the chummy-with-Roosevelt king-maker with the softy-in-need-of-a-daughter Daddy. And his vocals, particular in the ode to “NYC,” soar.

If the orphans don’t emerge as distinct personalities (miking makes it difficult to distinguish which orphan is saying what), it’s nice to see them played by a wide range of kids. There’s fun supporting work from John Vessles as radio host Bert Healy and Drake the butler.

And a nice casting touch has been provided by having the “Star to Be” played by star-to-be Jessica Murphy (the kid can sing).

ADVERTISEMENT

Post a comment to this story

COMMENTS POLICY
We reserve the right to remove any post that we feel is obscene, profane, vulgar, racist, sexually explicit, abusive, or hateful.
 
You are legally responsible for what you post and your anonymity is not guaranteed.
 
Posts that insult, defame, threaten, harass or abuse other readers or people mentioned in IBJ editorial content are also subject to removal. Please respect the privacy of individuals and refrain from posting personal information.
 
No solicitations, spamming or advertisements are allowed. Readers may post links to other informational websites that are relevant to the topic at hand, but please do not link to objectionable material.
 
We may remove messages that are unrelated to the topic, encourage illegal activity, use all capital letters or are unreadable.
 

Messages that are flagged by readers as objectionable will be reviewed and may or may not be removed. Please do not flag a post simply because you disagree with it.

Sponsored by
ADVERTISEMENT

facebook - twitter on Facebook & Twitter

Follow on TwitterFollow IBJ on Facebook:
Follow on TwitterFollow IBJ's Tweets on these topics:
 
Subscribe to IBJ
  1. I think the poster was being sarcastic and only posting or making fun of what is usually posted on here about anything being built in BR or d'town for that matter.

  2. Great news IRL fans: TURBO the IMS sanctioned movie about slugs running the Indy 500 has caught the Securities and Exchange Commission because Dreamworks had to take a $132MILLION write down...because the movie was such a flop. See, the Indy/IMS magic soiled another pair of drawers. Bwahahahahahaha! How's CARTOWN doing? HAHAHAHA...Indy is for losers.

  3. So disappointed in WIBC. This is the last straw to lose a good local morning program. I used to be able to rely on WIBC to give me good local information, news, weather and traffic on my 45 minute commute.Two incidents when I needed local, accurate information regarding severe weather were the first signs I could not now rely on WIBC. I work weekend 12 hour nights for a downtown hospital. This past winter when we had the worst snowfall in my 50 years of life, I came home on a Sunday morning, went to sleep (because I was to go back in Sunday night for another 12 hour shift), and woke up around 1 p.m. to a house with no electricity. I keep an old battery powered radio around and turned on WIBC to see what was going on with the winter storm and the roads and the power outage. Sigh. Only policital stuff. Not even a break in to update on the winter storm warning. The second weather incident occurred when I was driving home during a severe thunderstorm a few months ago. I had already gotten a call from my husband that a tornado warning was just southwest of where I had been. I turned to WIBC to find out what direction the storm was headed so I could figure out a route home, only to find Rush on the air, and again, no breaking away from this stupidity to give me information. Thank God for my phone, which gave me the warning that I was driving in an area where a tornado was seen. Thanks for nothing WIBC. Good luck to you, Steve! We need more of you and not the politics of hatred that WIBC wants to shove at us. Good thing I have Satellite radio.

  4. I read the retail roundup article and tried Burritos and Beers tonight. I'm glad I did, for the food was great. Fresh authentic Mexican food. Great seasoning on the carne asada. A must try!!! Thanks for sharing.

  5. John, unfortunately CTRWD wants to put the tank(s) right next to a nature preserve and at the southern entrance to Carmel off of Keystone. Not exactly the kind of message you want to send to residents and visitors (come see our tanks as you enter our city and we build stuff in nature preserves...

ADVERTISEMENT