Rehearsed readings by Butler Theatre majors and guest actors were followed by a Q/A session with audience members, actors, playwrights and directors.
Play readings are part of Butler Theatre department's legacy. I remember them in Robertson Hall's scrappy basement. I also remember readings at Broad Ripple Players in the 1980s, followed by Phoenix Theatre, Indiana Theatre Association's and Beckmann Theatre "New Plays." These ceased; IndyFringe picked up. Most recently playwrights gather at IndyReads to test scripts. So the circle comes round to Butler.
With script-in-hand, the emphasis was on words, with ideas brought forward by vocal and facial expressions and body language without reliance on movement, sets, costumes, props or lighting. The actors at Schrott strove to bring depth and breadth to the characters and their relationships.
The audience talked about the entertainment values of "readings," along with giving feedback to help assist the playwright decide to revise or leave the script as is. And audiences gave thumbs up for some of the scripts. These stripped-down performances reminded one of radio drama, podcasts and Readers Theatre, a genre that flourished after WWII but gave way to more lavish productions.
Andrew Black returns to Indianapolis with Cornflower Blue, a delicately touching slice-of-life brief between a girl, her mother and a visitor from the Make-A-Wish Foundation, set in a hospital. What would be your fervent wish if you were a teenager with a terminal illness? Would it be a wedding planned to the smallest detail? How would you as a parent react?
I've seen Jim Poyser's Spots before; the satire was edgier in this interpretation, allowing us to understand more fully how pervasively advertising has entered into daily conversation, even during our most intimate moments.
Historian Stephen H. Webb developed his Traces magazine article about Harry Hoosier into a one-man play. The Barren Fig Tree provides a metaphor and a conundrum: Is renowned 19th century preacher Harry Hoosier our namesake?
Elsie & Frances & Fairies is based on a 1920 London magazine article. Tom Horan takes us into the story of two girls "finding fairies" in 1914, how they overcame derision and gained support from Arthur Conan Doyle, for whom "the discovery" has personal meaning. Do we scoff or believe?
With Under a Tree at the End of Time, Dan Sherer creates an atmospheric family drama that opens with a father shooting his daughter, and spirals us back into what propelled this atrocity. Dysfunction materializes as we listen to "what people choose to say and tell."
"Unstuck in place and time," David Hoppe's Dillinger is set in the kitchen of a woman cooking. Exploring the concept of fame, is Indianapolis-born Dillinger reinventing himself for a new generation?
Gari Williams' Castle Gardens, set in Fall 1941, has the feel of Twyla Tharp's Movin' Out in its exploration of WWII's effects on one community and one family.
As the first scenes of two-act plays, both of the above tantalize.
Matt Benedict's Outside Providence was the most problematic of the scripts. At the center is Shakti, the Hindu mother goddess who is the source of all creativity, energy and/or power and whose energy enters into anyone who worships her. Benedict frames his play as a telephone conversation between a talker and listener; but the talker's words are interrupted by Shakti's exceedingly long ruminations and commentaries. Clarity was elusive.
I read Lou Harry's full-length script because I had to be elsewhere. Lightning and Jellyfish, set in the '80s in a New Jersey boardwalk rock-and-roll poster shop, time travels out of a realistic episode to explode into a future based on the a choice made by 17-year old Angela. In the season of Dickens' Christmas Carol, Harry's cautionary tale is gripping on many levels.
Disclaimer: David Hoppe is a contributing editor and columnist at NUVO; Jim Poyser worked for NUVO from 1996-2013.