A&E: ShadowApe visits Vonnegut's 'Monkey House'

August 13, 2007

This week, a Harrison Center art opening, a visit to the "Monkey House" and an improv nightcap.

If, today, you stop into the Harrison Center for the Arts (1505 N. Delaware St.) to see the multi-artist exhibition "Unusual Animals," the experience will be very different than if you popped in, as I did, during its First Friday opening.

For starters, there won't be as many gummy bears and animal crackers (opening night snacks are matched to the show's theme). Second, there won't be a band. Finally, the crowd is less likely to be, well, a crowd.

The art itself, though, will be just as playful, whether it's Beth Eisinger's "dot-to-dot," which uses fluid-injected bubble wrap, Cindy Hinant's children's sticker murals (The small framed ones, each with beasts playing variations on "King of the mountain," are more compelling than her giant sticker wall, which tips the balance from vision to gimmick) or Kyle Ragsdale's paint-splattered tarp that bears the moniker "Alaskan Cruise Lines Can Not Be Held Responsible If Your Destination Melts Before You Arrive."

I couldn't stay long enough for the music, since this was just the first on a multi-stop evening-one of those nights where it felt good to be in Indy, not just because of the quality of the work, but also because of the free parking. Take that, Chicago.

Onward to the Indiana Repertory Theatre, temporarily turned over to ShadowApe Theatre Co. for its adaptation of "Welcome to the Monkey House." In it, seven Kurt Vonnegut tales are woven together with ensemble members-who break theatrical tradition by working without a specified director-playing befuddled scientists, parts of a massive computer, soldiers forced into a sick game of chess, and future citizens forced into conformity.

With all of the sci-fi and satiric craziness, though, what stays with me are the more human moments, specifically Jennifer Johansen's achingly long, silent, stare as she watches what could be the love of her life walking away; Constance Macy's soon-to-be-shattered confident, sexy strut; and Chuck Goad's meek desperation as a new father longing for someone to acknowledge the miracle of his child's birth. There's a thrill to seeing actors and designers this inventively and passionately engaged. If Indy is to create work that is worthy of national attention, ShadowApe may turn out to be our best ambassador. This also is the kind of work that inspires other performers to break form, to be truly creative, and to shake the bindings of expectations and precedent. What ShadowApe's presence implies is that the remaking of theater can happen anywhere. And that's exciting.

I would be disingenuous, though, if I didn't say that with both "Monkey House" and the company's equally solid past production, "Gorey Stories," my elation was tempered by a sense that the literary roots of the material held ShadowApe back. I can only imagine what our homegrown company is capable of without being obligated to the vision of Vonnegut, Gorey or anyone else.

Correction: I don't want to imagine what ShadowApe will do. I just want to see it.

Afterwards, there was just enough time to drive over to Mass Ave to catch the 10 p.m. performance at ComedySportz Theatre.

I'm pleased to report that Fundumpster, the local improv group that takes the stage during the Friday evening "adults only" slot throughout August, didn't dive headfirst into the blue material. Very little, in fact, rose above PG-13. I'm even happier to report that much of the show was very funny.

The format: The audience shouts out a random starting point (in this case, "dead clowns"). The troupe swaps random thoughts related to that idea (in this case, the free association led from "The Bozo Show" to his signature balls-in-buckets Grand Prize Game to Bob Barker's retirement from "The Price is Right.") Then the spur-of-themoment play starts, first with seemingly random scenes that are then woven together into a coherent-if absurd-story.

Again, I want to be careful about overpraising. Fundumpster's characterizations were often rough around the edges and the actors took a bit too long to communicate to their fellows where a scene was going. Increased attention to the physicality of the action would be a plus.

But the bottom line is, the group offered a smart, funny $10-a-ticket nightcap to a terrific Indy downtown evening. Next time a Friday night out seems like it's ending too early, consider stopping in.
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