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A&E: One more added to Best of 2007

January 7, 2008

Last week, I expounded on 11 of the most intriguing performances and exhibitions that I caught in 2007. But that list was compiled before I visited the Eiteljorg Museum for its Fellowship show. Having stopped in during the final days of 2007, I'm compelled to add the show as a 12th item on that list.

And so, for the record:

12. "Diversity & Dialogue: The Eiteljorg Museum Fellowship for Native American Fine Art"

The idea of Native American artists shattering stereotypes is almost a stereotype in itself. So I'm not going to dwell on the image vs. reality of this biennial show. Instead, I'm going to point you toward one of the five featured fellowship artists, Alaska resident Sonya Kelliher-Combs, whose work is among the most soulful seen in Indianapolis last year.

Take "Idiot Strings," just one of the works that makes dramatic use of space, line and unusual materials. The term refers to the string that connects mittens so that they are less likely to get lost. In Kelliher-Combs' large-scale work, oversized strung-together mitten-like creations (made from walrus intestines) hang rigidly from thin wire, seeming to float in the air like lost souls.

A similar feeling permeates "Unraveled Secret," in which threads woven through pins emerge from a wall and suggest a lost language (or life). The "written" text abruptly ends mid-line, leaving the thread to plunge to the ground, transforming the carefully created "text" into a graceless pile.

In all her work, the unusual materials (ink on paper dipped in beeswax, for example) seem absolutely right. And by avoiding obvious statements, she's created work that encourages revisits.

None of which is to take away from the five other artists whose work-ranging from Gerald Clarke's smile-inducing crushed-soda-and-beer-can "Continuum Basket" to William Wilson's large-scale apocalyptic photographs-make for an outstanding, important show.

It's been a couple of years since I caught "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat" at Indianapolis Civic Theatre (which closed Jan. 6) and while the production seems to have changed a bit, the overall feeling is the same: The large cast on stage is having far more fun than the folks in the audience.

Not that there weren't pleasures to be had. Joseph him- self (Joseph Robert Doyle) was in good voice and certainly had the right look for the part. And the children's chorus, which could have served merely as a means of generating parent-and-grandparent crowds, added sweet sounds to the occasion. Design, as has become the Civic standard, was very strong.

However, the Pharaoh-as-Elvis bit was lost in muddy sound. The extended dance-mix that ended the show here felt more like an indulgent mega-curtain call rather than a joyful recap. And Marni Lemons as the Narrator was in goodenough voice but seemed to have been directed differently in every scene, robbing the show of a guide. Without a solid through-line, this production felt random and a bit desperate.

In short, this was a production unlikely to convince the uninitiated of the joys of this early Andrew Lloyd-Webber/Tim Rice musical. When it circles around on the schedule again, some additional thought might be given to the question: How do we get the audience to care?

If I learned nothing else from spending a significant amount of time in comedy clubs in my 20s, I did learn this: If the headliner is terrific, audiences like the headliner. If, however, the host and middle act are strong, the audience likes the club.

The folks at Morty's Comedy Joint seem to have taken this axiom to heart. When I decided to visit the club for a performance by headliner Aries Spears, one of the anchoring stars of "Mad TV," I was fully prepared to force a smile through mediocre-to-bad opening acts before getting to the main event.

But not only did club co-owner Eric Shorts do an effective, localized welcoming set and jazz combo Rob Dixon and Triology set a strong mood (Morty's features Jazz & Jokes on Thursday nights), the other two acts were both remarkably solid. I'm not going to fall into the awkward trap of trying to translate funny, character-based stand-up into print, but I will say that edgy East Coaster Rory Scovel and Gerard Guillory, a house comedian at Hollywood's Laugh Factory, each could have headlined.

I left the show glad that I had seen Spears (at one point, when he did a bit involving a trio of boxers-Lennox Lewis, Evander Holyfield and, of course, Mike Tyson-I seriously thought my head was going to explode). More importantly, though, thanks to smart booking, I left liking the club.
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