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LOU'S VIEW: Getting it just right isn't easy

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Lou Harry

Kyle Ragsdale is one of Indy’s most noted contemporary artists. And his new work on display through Nov. 26 at the Harrison Center is as strong as anything I’ve seen him do. There’s just a lot of it.

The first painting you see on entering the building is “Texts Swirling in the Evening Air,” in which a playful cloud of apostrophes and other symbols hover over one of Ragsdale’s signature profiled people. Its impact is watered down, though, by the myriad of similar pieces that fill one of the three Harrison spaces devoted to his work. Rather than have a cumulative impact, the abundance of work leaves the impression that Ragsdale just cranks these out.
 

Painting by Kyle Ragsdale on display at the Harrison Center.
Painting by Kyle Ragsdale on display at the Harrison Center. Punctuation symbols swirl through recent work by Kyle Ragsdale, on display this month at the Harrison Center for the Arts. (Photos courtesy Harrison Center for the Arts)

And that’s just one of three spaces.

A second—really the hallways behind the main galleries—is the most densely packed, with repeated images of his shadowy signature period figures—top-hatted and ball-gowned. In some, such as “Tiepolo Stroll,” they promenade. In others, including “Field Dance,” and “Formal Dance,” they elegantly pair off, seeming to fade deeper into memory as they dance. But, again, the quantity diminishes the impact.

Of course, if more art on display equals more sales, I’m all for the overload. Esthetically, though, it was too much of a very good thing.

There’s more variety in the main gallery, which is devoted to work created for a booklet called “Share, Half-share,” published by the Indiana Humanities Council as part of its Food for Thought program (think mini-literary and art magazine/exhibit catalog/brochure). In it—and on the walls—Ragsdale’s work is partnered with close-up vegetative photography by Paul Baumgarten and text by John Beeler, Cindy Ragsdale and Tyler Henderson. All deal with Indiana’s relationship to food. The text is a little much for on-wall reading, but Ragsdale’s work here has a different kind of warmth than seen elsewhere, particularly in the gracefully shy persimmon-picking “Josie” and the glowing “Family Dinner.”
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Proportion is an issue, too, at the Arts Council of Indianapolis’ new Gallery 924, which currently is presenting

the IDADA Members Exhibition. The juried show—featuring work from those involved in the Indiana Downtown Artists and Dealers Association—is slight, with just 13 pieces featured.

Color is as important as content in Mary Lou Dooley Waller’s oddly soothing “Variations on a Swiss Army Knife” and in Carmen I. Hurt’s “Heatwave 2,” which offers a cityscape in sweltering oranges and yellows. I wouldn’t be surprised at all if these and most of the rest of the work in this show find buyers. A single juror, Zionsville-born Chicago arts educator Rowley Kennerk, did the selecting, and there’s little to take issue with. It just feels more like a visit to a well-appointed lobby than a complete gallery show.
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Visual art spaces aren’t the only places scale and length are relevant. Indiana Repertory Theatre recently opened production of Stephen Massicotte’s “Mary’s Wedding” (running through Dec. 4). It has the scale right—it’s an intimate, two-actors-and-a-cellist piece fitting nicely on the upperstage. It’s the theatrical equivalent of a short story, and a simple one at that: Immigrant girl meets lower-class stable boy (Mom doesn’t approve, of course). Girl and boy innocently fall for each other. Boy goes to war. Harlequin romances have been built on more complex premises.

Massicotte enriches the thin plot by weaving the woman’s memories of the boy and her letters from the front into a dream that takes her where she couldn’t have actually been … and brings him back into places he never would see.

The delicacy—enhanced by the cellist perched high along the back of the stage—works up to a point. But the narrative offers few surprises, the characters reveal little that isn’t seen in the first few minutes and, ultimately, what could have been a jewel-box of a show at under an hour feels stretched and repetitive. I admired its restraint and clarity, but afterward I found myself yearning for the resonance or emotional pull of similarly scaled shows (“Talley’s Folly” by Lanford Wilson and Brian Friel’s “Lovers” come to mind) despite IRT’s well-designed, well-acted effort.
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Over at the Indiana History Center, Actors Theatre of Indiana (soon to be the professional theater in residence at the Center for the Performing Arts in Carmel) offered a developmental presentation of “Stardust Memories: The Life & Music of Hoagy Carmichael.”

In a curtain speech, company member Cynthia Collins made clear that the show is a work in progress and that, for some scenes, the actors would be holding script. The audience seemed comfortable with that, and soaked up a musically engaging evening of Hoagy’s greatest hits (including “Skylark,” “Old Buttermilk Sky,” and “Georgia on My Mind”).

In its mix of presentational songs, mild biographical drama, and on-stage projections of photos and videos, ATI seems to be positioning itself as the heir to the old version of American Cabaret Theatre—only without the pretense. The company is well on its way on the music side—a USO section in the middle of the second act, including a fun Jimmy Durante appearance, perked things up considerably. And playing with the relationship between Carmichael and his friend, cornet master Bix Beiderbecke (who died young) hints at a stronger show to come.

But as it stands, the first half was jarringly short at about a half hour, film clips ran too long, and there’s a lot of work to be done on the script. There’s enough here, though, to indicate that one of Indiana’s leading musical stars is an appropriate subject for one of Indiana’s most promising professional theater groups. It will be interesting to see how the show develops. Stay tuned.•

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This column appears weekly. Send information on upcoming arts and entertainment events to lharry@ibj.com. Twitter: IBJArts and follow Lou Harry’s A&E blog at www.ibj.com/arts.

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  1. to mention the rest of Molly's experience- she served as Communications Director for the Indianapolis Department of Public Works and also did communications for the state. She's incredibly qualified for this role and has a real love for Indianapolis and Indiana. Best of luck to her!

  2. Shall we not demand the same scrutiny for law schools, med schools, heaven forbid, business schools, etc.? How many law school grads are servers? How many business start ups fail and how many business grads get low paying jobs because there are so few high paying positions available? Why does our legislature continue to demean public schools and give taxpayer dollars to charters and private schools, ($171 million last year), rather than investing in our community schools? We are on a course of disaster regarding our public school attitudes unless we change our thinking in a short time.

  3. I agree with the other reader's comment about the chunky tomato soup. I found myself wanting a breadstick to dip into it. It tasted more like a marinara sauce; I couldn't eat it as a soup. In general, I liked the place... but doubt that I'll frequent it once the novelty wears off.

  4. The Indiana toll road used to have some of the cleanest bathrooms you could find on the road. After the lease they went downhill quickly. While not the grossest you'll see, they hover a bit below average. Am not sure if this is indicative of the entire deal or merely a portion of it. But the goals of anyone taking over the lease will always be at odds. The fewer repairs they make, the more money they earn since they have a virtual monopoly on travel from Cleveland to Chicago. So they only comply to satisfy the rules. It's hard to hand public works over to private enterprise. The incentives are misaligned. In true competition, you'd have multiple roads, each build by different companies motivated to make theirs more attractive. Working to attract customers is very different than working to maximize profit on people who have no choice but to choose your road. Of course, we all know two roads would be even more ridiculous.

  5. The State is in a perfect position. The consortium overpaid for leasing the toll road. Good for the State. The money they paid is being used across the State to upgrade roads and bridges and employ people at at time most of the country is scrambling to fund basic repairs. Good for the State. Indiana taxpayers are no longer subsidizing the toll roads to the tune of millions a year as we had for the last 20 years because the legislature did not have the guts to raise tolls. Good for the State. If the consortium fails, they either find another operator, acceptable to the State, to buy them out or the road gets turned back over to the State and we keep the Billions. Good for the State. Pat Bauer is no longer the Majority or Minority Leader of the House. Good for the State. Anyway you look at this, the State received billions of dollars for an assett the taxpayers were subsidizing, the State does not have to pay to maintain the road for 70 years. I am having trouble seeing the downside.

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