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

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Lou Harry

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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  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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