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Reviews: DivaFest 2012 at IndyFringe

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Katelyn Coyne and Rita Kohn reviewed the entirety of this year's slate at DivaFest, IndyFringe's annual workshop and showcase for new plays by female playwrights. The Fest runs through this weekend; remaining performances are listed after each play, and tickets run $10 each. Head to indyfringe.org for further info.

Strip For Change
By Julie Mauro
★ ★ ★ ★
In Strip for Change, idealistic college students plan a charity strip show to raise funds and awareness for oppressed women in East Timor. But big ideas and naivety get the best of the controversial group when their campaign to “strip for change” begins to get national attention. The concept cleverly deconstructs the difference between good intentions and selfish philanthropy, with Mauro's quirky characters existing perfectly in the ensemble dynamic. Mellie Sokolski, John Michael Goodson and Ben Thomas inject an already delightful comedy with vivacity, giving lively, over-the-top performances that avoid the temptation toward hamminess. In sum, this quirky comedy delivers solid laughs with a message. March 23, 7:30 p.m.; March 24, 9 p.m.—Katelyn Coyne

Voice of an Angel
By Tiffanie Bridges
★ ★ ★ 1/2
The title of this DivaFest play doesn’t lie; Bridges does indeed have the “voice of an angel.” This biographical short explores the life and voice of Mahalia Jackson, dubbed the “Queen of Gospel” at the height of her career, as she waits outside the pearly gates of heaven. Bridges doesn’t let herself get bogged down with story or exposition, giving us just enough about Jackson to jump meaningfully into her first song. Her character simply exists on stage, her voice at the forefront of the piece. Many in the audience, familiar with her repertoire of old spirituals and gospel hymns, clapped and sang softly in response. Her soulful interpretations of the music reaches down into parts of your being you didn’t know could shiver with delight. March 24, 7:30 p.m.; March 25, 6 p.m. —Katelyn Coyne

Sweatpants and High Heels
By Dija Henry and Denise Michelle Warnsby
★ ★ ★
Henry and Warnsby bring a slice of life to a new parenting class being taught by a substitute teacher. The twelve scenes weave humor and pathos through the trajectory of a nervous breakdown. Theresa has lost herself in the maze of being a wife and mother, her personal ambitions on standby. Henry brings a range of emotions and expressive physicality to this one-woman script aptly directed by Warnsby. How and why she descended into despair is part of our culture; how the situation can be avoided can be the strength of the play. It has a potential audience with teens whose future lives can be made happier with this kind of foreknowledge. Georgeanna D. Smith provides intriguing choreography; Pat McCarney is on the mark with lighting and sound. March 23, 9 p.m.; March 25, 7:30 p.m. —Rita Kohn (Ed note: Rita Kohn collaborated with Pauline Moffat to develop DivaFest; she is uninvolved with the day-to-day running of the festival.)

No Place Like Home
By Claudia Labin
★ ★
Whether the script failed to establish certain plot points or the actors were dropping lines is unclear, but on the whole, this look at squabbling siblings battling over ownership of their family's lake house was very difficult to follow. Many ideas were introduced only to be left unresolved. This protracted family tragedy hits high notes early in the first scene, leaving the action very little room to escalate. Add to that clunky staging and unfocused performances and No Place Like Home could have done with another couple of weeks in rehearsal. March 24, 6 p.m. —Katelyn Coyne

Chaotica
By Christel Bartelse
★ ★ ★
Canadian playwright Bartelse's Chaotica re-imagines Alice’s wonderland as a mind-bending board game design to push the limits of its player. The play takes a quirky look at the challenges and influences women face: career, relationships, marriage, babies, body image issues, etc. Bartelse demonstrated a strong stage presence and a good sense of timing as the sole actor in this one act. However, her use of voiceover to accomplish the play's exposition made it difficult to get on her side from the onset. But once the “rules” were established, it was easy to fall into a groove with Bartelse, who brings copious amounts of energy to the stage. —Katelyn Coyne

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