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A&E: Strange 'Sisters,' Liberace and more

June 11, 2007

This week: an author's art show, Vegas night with the ISO, and new life for a beloved theater.

Audrey Niffenegger is a well-established printmaker, artist and best-selling author (you might have read her outstanding-so far, at least, I'm only halfway through-bestselling debut novel, "The Time Traveler's Wife"). So I'm guessing that the last thing she would want her work compared to would be Beavis and Butthead.

Sorry. If Beavis and Butthead had a trio of goth cousins, they might look something like Bettine, Clothilde and Ophile, the siblings whose tale is told in "The Three Incestuous Sisters." Not a criticism. Just an observation.

What is/are "The Three Incestuous Sisters"?

Tricky question. It began as the writer/artist's handmade book (with only 10 copies made), evolved into a mass-market edition, and now, unbound, is hanging at the Indianapolis Art Center as a gallery show.

Contrary to the title-which I think is an unnecessary roadblock in the likelihood that you'll see this show-the work really has nothing to do with incest. Played out over more than 80 aquatint prints with minimal text, it's a surreal tale of siblings torn by their attraction to the same man. Lest it sound like a soap opera, I should mention the presence of aggressive, hair-pulling birds, an exploding baby carriage and a flying fetus.

In both book and exhibition form, I had some issues with style inconsistencies. In such a dreamlike creation, anything can happen. But, for instance, does that justify starting like a storybook ("There once were three sisters ... "), switching briefly to theatrical devices ("As the curtain slowly rises ... ") and then dropping both altogether?

Still, the idea of a gallery show as narrative is an engaging one and Niffenegger is an enigmatic storyteller/artist. Expect to see patrons starting from the first panel and then working their way up and down the columns of pages until they get to the end-then doubling back to appreciate the details missed while being caught up in the story.

Well worth a special trip or a quick detour off your Monon Trail hike (which you should be doing anyway-the museum is free and the ArtsPark sculpture garden comes alive in the summer).

With gambling tables in the lobby, a team of showgirls at the ready, and even a light-up jacket for conductor Jack Everly, "Pops Goes Vegas" (which ran June 1-3) had the glitz down pat. It also came out ahead in musicianship, with Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra stalwarts making clear the musical magic of "I've Got You Under My Skin," "Luck Be a Lady," "Big Spender" and other swaggering classics.

The ISO creates and packages these shows-including original orchestrations-not just for the pleasure of our audiences, but to sell to other symphonies around the country. And they have a potential winner on their hands here. Brian Duprey delivered a solid Sinatra (something he does almost daily in the real Vegas) and Martin Preston showed even the cynical why bead-bedecked pianist Liberace was able to charm crowds.

What the show lacked was smooth gearshifting between impersonation, spoofery and original song styling. The show got particularly muddy when able singer/impersonators Joe Cassidy and Allison Briner took the stage with a sort-of Steve & Eydie act-but calling themselves Joe & Ally-and performed a set that included put-down humor and the songs of other artists (These aren't the folks we want to hear do "Danke Shoen" and "It's Not Unusual"). Both singers proved themselves, sans characters, later in the show. Briner-who bore the burden of a series of unappealing gowns-held the stage with a not-quite-right-for-this show "If He Walked Into My Life," while Cassidy earned a big ovation for a more-appropriate "I Gotta Be Me"/"My Way" combo.

It's good to see theater back in the "Star Wars"-senate-like Shelton Auditorium at Christian Theological Seminary, which long-time-Indy theatergoers should remember as the former home of the Edyvean Repertory Theatre. Alas, the play chosen for this production, "Dependence Day," by Anne Nelson, never does more than glance across the overly familiar surface in its treatment-of-the-elderly issues.

Here's hoping that the guest speakers booked to accompany the show (psychiatrists, hospital administrators, ministers, etc.) provide the unique, human drama and appreciation of the complexity of the issues that the well-intentioned show misses. And here's hoping that more productions find their way to this unique space.
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