You-review-it Monday: Henson Alternative, Art vs. Art, etc.

On Friday, I was pleased to discover that, although the doors opened at 8, the Art vs. Art battle didn't really begin until 10.

That meant there was just enough time to get from the 8:00 one-night-only Clowes Hall stop by the Henson Alternative's "Stuffed and Unstrung"  to the Vogue for an out-there double feature.

The Henson show launched Clowes Off-Center, a new off-mainstream line-up of entertainment offerings that will grow throughout the season as productions become available. It seems to be off to a good start, with "Stuffed and Unstrung" drawing a sizable crowd. The Henson group offered puppet improv, with sketches built from audience suggestions and presented center stage with puppeteers and, simultaniously, on big screen video as a home-viewer might see it.

The dual presentation helped hold attention during some of the inevitable this-just-isn't-working improvs and gave added umph to those that didn’t. The latter included a sharp initial piece built on the suggestions "school bus" and "sex" (Sorry: I should have mentioned that the show was recommended for adults only). A goofy parody of James Bond opening credits and a pair of tributes to early Jim Henson puppet work helped expand the show beyond hit-and-miss spontaneity.  

With the big band version of the Leisure Kings on stage, Art vs. Art had a more polished vibe this year–but that didn't get in the way of the made-in-Indy event's signature combination of art appreciation and blood lust.

For the sake of newbies, here's briefly how it works: In September, artists and would-be artists gathered for a paint-out day, each creating works on same-size canvases. Those works were narrowed down through Internet voting and further narrowed when the doors opened at the Vogue last Friday.

By the time I got there, a final selection of 16 were picked and the head-to-head competition was about to begin. Each pair was presented for metered audience voting. The most popular moves on. The other is auctioned (with 70% going to the artist).

If no one buys it, its fate is determined by the spinning of The Wheel of Death.

Yes, it gets ugly. Chainsaw ugly. And worse.

This year proved more gasp-inducing largely because of the fickle nature of the wheel. One slot, you see, is labeled Instant Death, which prevents a work from being auctioned at all. That slot's repeated appearance–plus the random squaring off of potential front-runners early in the competition–made for some off-kilter later battles.

Once again, kudos to the organizers and to all involved. And, of course, to the band.

And that was only Friday.

Saturday meant a road trip to Muncie to see the world premiere of a new musical based on Cathy Day's outstanding novel "The Circus in Winter." More on that in a later blog or column. There and back, my appreciation for Arthur Miller was renewed once again by listening to L.A. Theatre Works' recording of "Death of a Salesman" with Stacy Keach and Jane Kaczmarek. Yes, the play has been practically canonized, but hearing it again I was reminded of the power of the very specific characters–this time particularly sons Biff and Happy–created by Miller. Yes, it's a classic. It's also great, urgent, contemporary drama.

And Sunday? That meant joining a small crowd at Theatre on the Square. More on this one later as well, but suffice it to say now that while there are more polished tuners and more accomplished productions, there are few musicals as good for the soul as "Working." If you've ever worked a day in your life, try to get to it before it closes Oct. 29.

And what about you? Did you get to any of the above or to something I missed?

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