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Theater review roundup: 'Water by the Spoonful' and 'Optical Popsicle Infinity'

October 16, 2015

In movies and on TV, the drug addict is often presented as a lone combatant, fighting his or her way to being clean. Oh, there might be some long-suffering friends and family, but the drama is about whether the main character will or will not resist temptation.

Quiara Alegria Hudes’ 2012 Pulitzer Prize-winning play offers something richer. She weaves together complex and very human characters trying to find their way in a culture of addiction. Relating at different stages of recovery, they sometimes demonstrate actions and words that border on heroic. Sometimes they are sad and self-serving. Hudes resists the pull toward realism, taking a poetic (but not romantic) approach to the story she has to tell.

The result is a story well-worth experiencing. And Wisdom Tooth Theatre Projects production of the play at the Indy Fringe Basile Theatre (through Oct. 24) effectively delivers the challenging material.

It’s easy to overpraise such a show. The lighting limitations, low budget, and occasional hesitancy of the performances don’t always bring out the best in the script. The final series of scenes lose some of their momentum because of the inability of the space to accommodate rapid scene changes.

But there’s beauty here, well worth exploring. And if Indy is to grow as a theater town, it’s going to be in part because companies such as Wisdom Tooth are willing to put resources and talent behind challenging, thought-provoking material such as this.

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On my way in to see Know No Stranger’s latest revue, “Optical Popsicle Infinity,” I was told by a misguided Indianapolis Museum of Art staffer that the show would be “about an hour.”

Ah, if that were only the case.

As demonstrated in over-two-hour, intermission-less show (through Oct. 17), Know No Stranger is a company with no shortage of ideas and positive energy—but not much of a sense of when an idea should be tossed or has run its course.

There’s wonderful stuff hidden in the bloated show. Kerstan & Emily Wallace’s live music and video “Troubadours” offers a smile-inducing journey with the psychedelic sensibility of HR Pufnstuf set to music out of Disney’s Main Street Electrical Parade. “Patterns of Passion” by Mat Davis & KNS takes a beautifully performed spoken-word poetry piece to another level with thoughtful overheard-projector imagery. An infectiously loopy song video “Friendship Sweater” and a high-energy guest spot by the jump-roping Indy Air Bears briefly raise the bar. Common denominator: Talent plus ideas plus timing.

Just when this whimsical variety show seems to be clicking, though, along comes another terribly acted, overstaying-its-welcome sketch or rambling video. Most of these are built around a sad-sack framing device of the core company worried that they are growing up and have lost their dream.

On a summer camp stage or in the cafeteria of a college without a theater department, the amateur acting and directing demonstrated here by might be excused. But as performance artists in residence at the IMA, surrounded by innovative, artful puppetry, more should be expected.

It’s a wonderful thing to be surrounded by friends helping you to fulfill your dreams. Translating them into a consistently engaging show is another matter. 

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