Sunday, August 28, 2022

Exhibiting virtuosic rapport, Kenny Banks Jr. packs 'em in at the Jazz Kitchen

Fond of sketching out meandering suites that miraculously hold together, Kenny Banks Jr.

Kenny Banks leans into his lively imagination.

has once again showed his intuitive range, with hand-in-glove assistance from bassist Nick Tucker and drummer Kenny Phelps. As I caught  the trio's first set at the Jazz Kitchen Saturday night, my amusement ran slightly ahead of my confusion at separating familiar music as structurally important versus taking it in as extensive quotation. He's made his mark here, having leapt to prominence as a finalist in the 2019 jazz awards of the American Pianists Association.

After the expansive unaccompanied introduction to the first selection, Phelps and then Tucker helped the performance jell around "Blowin' in the Wind." But Banks must feel his substantial departures from the Bob Dylan tune entitle him to present it as his own "American Canvas." There was certainly a lot of Banks' imagination rolled out along lines that didn't owe much to the song, but I couldn't help thinking that without "Blowin' in the Wind" "American Canvas" would have been something quite different. The last time I heard Banks play "American Canvas," I didn't notice the prominence of "Blowin' in the Wind." Maybe his concept of what goes under that title varies widely from gig to gig.

There are many jazz musicians who are fond of quotations in their solos. Sometimes it can be overreaching to see the quote as having shaping force. More often — and the example of the tenor sax master Dexter Gordon comes to mind — the borrowed phrase or two seems incidental, but sounds charming and appropriate for all that.

I was struck by how well-woven quotations seemed to be in the set's longest piece. Titled "Black Wall Street" after the sobriquet of a prosperous neighborhood in Tulsa, Okla., more than a century ago, Banks' composition encompassed the good life among blacks who in 1921 saw their homes and many lives destroyed by a racist white mob. It also had episodes of dissonance evoking the riot, and as an introduction to the bad omens of that atrocity, featured a stunning bass solo. In addition to suggestions of the black church, the best trio sections brought to the fore the era's fox trot and its ragtime antecedents, suggesting the bubble of prosperity burst by the white assault. There was a visit to "Softly, As in a Morning Sunrise," an old Sigmund Romberg classic (1928) much beloved among jazz musicians: a deliberate period reference, or just a whim?

I was a little unprepared to find a longer visit to "My Favorite Things" near the end. It gave the trio a sustained opportunity to revel in 3/4 time. Since the bridge was elided, I wondered if this was an oblique tribute to the John Coltrane approach to this song from "The Sound of Music." Later it turned out that Banks identified that finale as a personal tribute to a family member that he titled "Sunshine After Rain." I had assumed this was all part of "Black Wall Street."

 So I'm not sure in retrospect just how much of this uninterrupted performance was Banks' powerful memorial to what happened in Tulsa 101 years ago. Up to a point, I was regarding the suite as an evocative masterpiece. Now I can't say just where it might have wandered away from that focus. If he ever records it, Banks might be in need of an editor as canny as Teo Macero was with Miles Davis.

Some of the trio's virtuosity was expended on well-known tunes seen from a new angle: Dizzy Gillespie's "Con Alma" was refreshed  without its embedded Latin pulse. Sonny Rollins' "St. Thomas" was treated as a ballad, though it evolved into a free fantasy on its phrases that charged ahead in the manner of Rollins' versions before subsiding into ballad status. 

Banks usefully applied his eccentricity to that of people he's known in Atlanta. I heard the title as "Loon Tune," but in an earlier performance, I thought he said "Balloon Tune." Maybe either reading applies. It's a spacious interpretation of people who sort of drive us mad for a variety of reasons. It started out a bit like "London Bridge Is Falling Down," flecked with dissonance. Then it left the nursery behind and became an occasion for trio partying and the mix of irritation and delight that weird people often give us.

It was not surprising to identify both "Amazing Grace" and "Jitterbug Waltz" in the trio's finale. Who knows if by that point I was more in thrall to my musical phantasmagoria than what Banks was intending? Yet to a considerable degree, in whatever direction he went, he had something eloquent to say, matched by his local bandmates.

What also remains with me, though the comparison may seem remote, is the death a few days ago of Joey DeFrancesco, the Hammond B3 organist who made several memorable appearances here. In my memory and in videos I've seen, DeFranceso always looked as if he was supremely happy to be performing on that particular occasion. Many jazz musicians take delight in entertaining the audience, but DeFrancesco was extraordinary in that respect: He once introduced a break at the Jazz Kitchen by saying, with a broad smile: "We'll be right back with more of this groovin' music." And he meant it.

That sort of attitude is always present in a Kenny Banks Jr. performance as well. And it's a seductive plus, no matter how promiscuously spread around his musical inspirations may seem.

[Photo by Mark Sheldon]


Saturday, August 27, 2022

'Sweet Dreams, Pillowman' takes an amusing, lived-in look at our pandemic lives

Monique tries to cope under Pillowman's watchful eyes.

 Most of us have probably had to put extra effort into seeing how much of the old normal we can bring forward into our lives since March 2019.  J.E. Hibbard's "Sweet Dreams, Pillowman" takes one newly single woman's approach to that difficulty and goes deep into the problem. The problem in her case is definitive.

In American Lives Theatre's production at the Indianapolis Theatre Fringe Festival, it takes a while for the audience to know just how severe the psychic costs have been.  The suspense is delightfully laid out before we are let in on the desperation of the woman's coping mechanism.

Monique (Audrey Stonerock) seems to have  populated her messy apartment with three rodent companions (Carrie Powell, Maria Meschi, Chelsea Mullen), richly embodied in this show, whose chorus-line outbursts and sensitivities are projections of her state of mind. But their companionship goes only so far. Through captivating puppetry, another figure takes on fantastic proportions: one half of her couch, a pile of oddly assorted pillows, becomes a kind of Greek chorus. That's the Pillowman (Zachariah Stonerock) of the title, whose avuncular New Yorkish voice firmly, gently represents the reality that Monique must inevitably accept.

Near the end, a way out of her isolation and grieving materializes, about which nothing more should be said here. But it's a resolution that makes sense to the degree that anyone who went through the worst of the shutdown and the viral assault that caused it may have needed an outstretched hand to grant a new lease on life. 

Pat Mullen directs a cast of five with evident shrewdness, so that everyone contributes to detailing the whimsy as well as carrying the emotional heft of the script. The props and costumes somehow work through a sensory overload  of colors and patterns that suggest a life assembled accidentally in the wake of the cataclysmic plague. The borders between a real life, however impinged upon, and the imaginary overlays that enable Monique to survive are nicely blurred. 

The show creates the kind of disorder we can believe in and may have dealt with ourselves. Even better, it generates a sweet escape from the perils of a disordered state of mind and the promise of a wiser emergence from it than was ever thought possible. It's essential to comedy that such messiness be laid out as chaotically as the stuffing can be knocked out of a pillow. "Sweet Dreams, Pillowman" fulfills the requirements with controlled abandon. It's the perfect Fringe show for our times.


Friday, August 26, 2022

Fringe fest force of habit: Fixating on 'Star Wars' guides her personal growth

Victoria Montalbano as Princess Leia
I come to a show such as "The Princess Strikes Back" with an appropriate sense of intergalactic travel,
Me as Hopalong

cultural division. Any personal resonance of a pop-culture phenomenon upon my life faded after my Hopalong Cassidy phase in the early 1950s. 

What kind of immense imaginative journey awaited a man who had long since hung up his cap guns and holsters and in the 70 years since has found no other mass-marketed phenomenon to admire intensely or emulate?

To have a theater professional as polished and self-revealing as Victoria Montalbano thread "Star Wars" through her life as a teen and young woman, pursuing a strong interest in theater into her professional life, was my adventure into understanding people who forge iconic connections with fictional people. (I saved the illustrated booklet from the 1977 first run of the first film, free in the lobby in that largely pre-merch era, and seem to have misplaced it; I've seen none of the subsequent series.)

Maybe I've missed something crucial to completeness as a person in never having zeroed in on an icon. I'm not sure what conclusion I've come to, but Thursday night at the District Theatre I enjoyed her Indy Fringe Fest performance, which carries the mouth-filling subtitle "One Woman's Search for the Space Cowboy of Her Dreams." (She will do it here once more, at noon Saturday.)

The space cowboy, as those familiar with George Lucas megahit series know, is Han Solo, classically portrayed by the dashing Harrison Ford. Montalbano encountered the original "Star Wars" on its rerelease in 1997; she was 13 years old. Not surprisingly, there was some attempted identification with Princess Leia at first, which worked fitfully for a while. Drifting among secondary characters, some of them played by boyfriends — her recalled interaction as R2D2 with a fussy C-3P0 is hilarious — she knew that the Luke Skywalker types were never the ticket, but the restless Han Solo was a man to hang a dream on. 

Real-life connections tended to be on a less exalted plane, of course, and in the show Montalbano is unsparing in her narrative of struggle to gain a foothold in Chicago theater while achieving romantic satisfaction. Typically among memoirists, through time humor overlays experiences that were unsettling when they happened. Montalbano balances well the heartache and disappointment against the resilience that seems natural to her. Her capacity for amusement is richly shared with the audience.

As a one-woman show, "The Princess Strikes Back" is notable for the quality of the writing and the energy and pacing of the delivery. Montalbano is conversational in manner, but the style is neat and engaging. She never falls into the error of thinking that to exude charm these days requires being offhand or even sloppy in word or gesture. 

The pop-culture engagement that shaped her personality is presented as something that served her well, just as the multi-decade voyages of the "Star Wars" series have made their beneficial mark on the zeitgeist. She clearly recognizes that whatever symbols we hang onto as we pursue our own paths, with luck we draw from those connections just what we need to give zest and style to our real selves.

[Montalbano photo by Sarah Elizabeth Larson; Harvey photo by Margaret Felton Harvey]

Monday, August 22, 2022

'Vinyl Visions': DK dancers cast their choreographic visions back over decades of recorded music

Professional dancers get the chance to display their creative chops in an attractive once-a-year format — no reason it shouldn't be a recurrent hit. The Indianapolis Theatre Fringe Festival tradition for Dance Kaleidoscope is to present an hour-long showcase of its members' works. It's an anthology of carefully cultivated bounty.

Separation by circumstance and anxiety ini "Unending Waves."

The 2022 assignment from artistic director David Hochoy was to focus on a recorded song or two from a decade of the choreographer's choice. As has long been the case, it's a treat to see how dancers realize their choreographic visions through the hard collaborative work of their colleagues.

Most  of the decades chosen represent the heyday of vinyl records. The term has attained almost a kind of sanctity in our digital, streaming age. And it's not just for alliteration's sake that the title fits a program comprising original works by seven DK dancers. Unless the chosen music is recast in a fresh, danceable form, its endurance rests on audio appeal. The bonus is that each choreographer presents a brief statement about his or her choice before it's performed.

There are two more performances (Friday and Saturday) at the festival's Venue 6 in the Athenaeum, and "Vinyl Visions" should not be missed. I saw Sunday's matinee, and was struck by the range of expression, from engagements with history through the cultural scene to personal statements about the trials and rewards of intimate relationships.

The party/club scene lifted up in Marie Kuhns' "Let's Get Loud" (after the Jennifer Lopez song) matches the music's energy in costuming and movement. The feeling is that anything can happen if the fun is foremost. The suggestions of untrammeled behavior were nicely held in balance by the choreographic design.

Of course, small groups of people forging closer connections can result in "eternal triangle" kinds of tension and release. Such was an occasion for the amusing thrusts and parries of the threesome in Cody Miley's " 3's a Party," as well as for the haunting, nostalgic tug of Holly Harkins' "Three's Company."

 Sometimes the third character is more abstract: the passage of time and the difficulty of dealing with loss was  poignantly brought forward by Paige Robinson and Manuel Valdes in Kieran King's "Just the Same."

Manuel Valdes' "Human" illustrates division as well as unity.

The present day is the focus of the finale, created and costumed by Valdes. "Human" brings the other ten participants onstage, costumed in loose red trousers, for a four-section piece using mostly the recordings of Labrinth. The import of the choreography, as Valdes expressed it in his introduction, is the ongoing importance of recognizing the full humanity of everybody, whatever the palpable differences that sometimes erect barriers and support alienation. 

A focus on costuming as an essential dance element also gave structure to Robinson's "Unending Waves," with its representation of the geographical and emotional separations forced upon Americans, almost uniquely spared the direct impact of war, by World War II. The way natural and human forces of division and yearning were integrated had extraordinary poignancy. 

The benefit of the  "decades" theme in bringing these young dancers out of their time frames was immediately emphasized in the show opener, "Welcome to the 7 O'clock News," by Sarah Taylor. The focus on the 1960s, when I emerged from childhood, gave the choreographer lots of choices, most of them of turbulence and distress, reflected in  musical choices crowned by the thematically apt "7 O'clock News/Silent Night" of Simon and Garfunkel. That was almost too much recollection for me (the recent death of songwriter Lamont Dozier implanted in me the daylong earworm of "You Can't Hurry Love"), but it amounted to an alluring way into "Vinyl Visions."

[Photos by Freddie Kelvin]

Saturday, August 20, 2022

Two FringeFest comedies (seen on Aug.20): We may be the jokes we don't get

Even the most mechanical side-splitters on the stage are uplifting somehow. That's not the best argument for the reality of the spiritual life, but there it is. And it could be the path to insights generally not afforded to us this side of the grave. John Gay, whose "Beggar's Opera" deflated the fad for opera in Georgian England and who knew a thing or two about tickling the public ribs, summed it up in this epitaph couplet:

Life's a jest, and all things show it.
I thought so once, and now I know it.

My debut at the 2022 Indianapolis Theatre Fringe Festival consisted of two adjacent productions on Indy Fringe's two home stages on St. Clair Street: "Tortillo 3: Sombrero's Revenge" and "Breakneck Comedy of Errors." Each production tends to highlight Gay's declared belief, as well as his after-death supposition that the ultimate truth is a joke.

Tim Mooney: A man of many words and hats
Let's look first at Tim Mooney's latest installation in his "Breakneck" series. Here he crams Shakespeare plays into an hour each, knitted facilely together by a combination of narration and the fast-paced assumption of roles from his well-studied sources. If this can amount to tweaking your education for a blithe hour, the series also earns its place as captivating entertainment perfect for our era of shortened attention spans.

Well-remembered for his hell-bent-for-leather Fringe versions of "Hamlet" (2015) and the history plays (2021), this time Mooney is a stowaway aboard the Bard's maiden voyage, a revised Latin tale of  mistaken identity on steroids briskly titled "The Comedy of Errors." 

It's helpful both to assess this virtuoso's achievement and its possible shortcomings by recalling the scholar Harold Goddard's reminder that the near-farcical, Latin-derived play is an example of pure theater — insofar as there's nothing to ponder about depth of character or fate and everything to take in as wind-up action focused on an ever-shifting now. "Present mirth hath present laughter," as Shakespeare reminds us in "Twelfth Night," a play of subtler complications.

Theater puts us above our everyday confusions and misunderstandings to allow us to revel in contrived ones. "For a brief interval, theater allows us to become gods," wrote Goddard, who was surely mindful of his name's punning force. The action remains below us, and any clarification for the people involved must await resolution until the last act. God-like, the audience is in on the joke from the start. 

The disadvantage of Mooney's format as applied to "The Comedy of Errors" is that the radical suspension of disbelief the show requires can be exercised only in a staged version, with its multiple players and the merely approximate resemblance within two sets of twins. No matter how doubled the costumes of the two Dromios and two Antipholuses, we have to accept that the lack of mirrored identity is not apparent to the characters thrown together in Ephesus. 

What "Breakneck Comedy of Errors" celebrates best is Mooney's deft balancing of action that's deliberately out of balance.  Slight but telling vocal shifts (thank goodness he doesn't ascend into falsetto for female characters!) and an array of headgear donned and doffed flawlessly toss the hot potato around the dramatis personae.
Sombrero declares his devotion to snacks.

The audience may not be as in on the joke of "Tortillo 3: Sombrero's Revenge," unless it is familiar with the first two episodes of "Tortillo." I'll admit to being a newcomer to the series, which burst out from Catalyst Repertory in the Indy Fringe Festival of six years ago. Casey Ross is writer and director of this manic fantasy involving jealousy and ambition in the corner of the corporate world involving the manufacture of snack foods. 

"Tortillo" repeatedly touches on the real world, even if such touches are more like groping and goosing. The cast spins like whirligigs around the story of contamination of the compulsively eatable product by cocaine. Not that the list of ingredients properly  on the package adheres to the dictates of health, as one of the play's fly-by shots has it. The characters bring their own demons into the mix. In the tradition of farce, such desirable qualities as "work-life balance" are jokes according to the John Gay standard.

The costuming is imaginative and character-driven. The cast has its command of Ross' rousing script honed to a fine point. In common with the requirements of farce — perhaps this is part of what we look like to the gods that Goddard alludes to — characters are always just there when they have to be. Entrances and exits have an automatic rightness and inevitability. 

The pacing and intensity never let up. Paroxysms of violence and desperation, orotund passions and petty kvetching alike are trotted out with hyperbolic gestures and facial expressions, probably inspired by the animator's art. 

The red-suited figure at the end, who had earlier carried a bass guitar like his namesake John Entwistle of The Who, returns with a mop, swishing the characters aside. He may represent an unlikely return to order, just as Puck in "A Midsummer Night's Dream" does as his show closes down, saying "I am sent with broom before / To sweep the dust behind the door." The dust of controlled substances hangs in the air, however, just as the riotous action of "Sombrero's Revenge" does in the memory — and in the audience's temporary confidence that life is indeed a jest.

["Tortillo" photo by Indy Ghost Light]

Monday, August 15, 2022

String trio brings out French works written between the world wars

With only a spotty knowledge of French and seeing the title of a brilliant new Cedille release, my mind

BOE: David Cunliffe, Desirée Ruhstrat, Aurélian Fort Pederzoli.

went immediately to the most  familiar musical use of the word "orage" (storm). The original second act of "Les Troyens" by Hector Berlioz depicts the royal hunt and storm at the center point of the drama, and exemplifies the rare but significant extremes French romanticism was sometimes capable of.

The Black Oak Ensemble's "Avant l'orage: French String Trios 1926-1939"  hints at the storm of the Second World War that was to sap French cultural and political confidence for the second time in the 20th century's first half. But unlike the flamboyance Berlioz and others brought to French music in the previous century, the composers represented here express a search for balance, a measured sense of small-scale expressiveness and upholding the traditional French virtue of clarté — a word whose English approximations offer so many ways of illuminating the bright side of the spectrum that it would be pedantic to list them here.

The original plans for depicting Aeneas and the soon to be betrayed Queen Dido enjoying the pleasures of the hunt had to be discarded; it would not do (as the production intended) to divert the waters of the Seine for a scenic spectacular, it turned out. The music remains worth hearing as an orchestral showcase; the lengthy opera itself is rarely done because of the aesthetic and vocal demands that remain. 

It's a pleasure to set aside such thoughts to revel in the modesty and more effectively controlled emotion and technical means of seven distinctive composers: Henri Tomasi, Jean Cras, Emile Goué, Jean Françaix, Robert Casadesus, Gustave Samazeuilh, and Gabriel Pierné. The storm to come in 1939 lay outside the realm of art, and would be so much more capable of overshadowing it, of course. 

Two familiar names —  the prolific Françaix and the concert pianist Casadesus — seem good places to start: Francaix's easy command of a neo-classical style shows energy and wit. His Trio's first movement (Allegretto vivo) justifies its abrupt ending after a full-energy display. The scherzo is fresh and rhythmically alert in the Black Oak Ensemble's performance. The Andante is sentimental but engaging because the mood is not overdone. The finale ends gently after its distinctive,  hard-driving assurance that somber messaging is never the point. 

Casadesus' Trio a cordes displays the ensemble's gift for hanging together with communicative purpose. That prevails after an initial outburst that sends violin, viola, and cello off in different directions. The muted, vibratoless "Legende" has a modernist aloofness without following any dogmatic assertions of the need to sound different. Allegro aperto, the finale, carries in its movement heading a word rarely encountered, but recalling a similar description at the top of the first movement of Mozart's best-known violin concerto; "Open" is how "aperto" can be translated, and Casadesus' bold unanimity of attack and feeling holds sway, wiping away the attractive mists of the "Legende."

Of the other trios, Tomasi's stood out to me for its "Nocturne" movement, restful despite its purposely meandering harmonies. The finale has that debonair self-confidence one expects from French music.  And I need to mention Emil Goué's Trio for its adventurous Final en forme de tarantelle, which gets a well-defined performance steering with aplomb over shifting harmonic terrain.

All the music deserves revival, in part because of the optimism of the disc's title: If there are storms to come, it may help to savor music that comes out of a bubble of relative calm, promising relief in the long term, as long as there are musicians like the Black Oak Ensemble to advocate for it. Clarté is always a welcome ingredient in recipes for repasts that last.  The culinary skills  in "Avant l'orage" are of the highest order.

Sunday, August 14, 2022

'Benjamin Harrison Chased a Goat' lifts biography of the only Hoosier president

 Arts for Lawrence has staged an unfortunately delayed world premiere with "Benjamin Harrison

Stenographer Alice Sanger and President Harrison confer.

Chased a Goat," a play commissioned from Hank Greene. It ends a short run over the weekend at its theater at 8920 Otis Avenue, at the former fort named for the title character.

The 23rd president of the United States moved to prominence in a period of national adjustment following the Civil War, with the emergent Republican Party riven by success as well as challenged by the broad-based Democratic Party. 

"Benjamin Harrison Chased a Goat" exemplifies Ralph Waldo Emerson's confident, controversial prediction that biography was destined to replace history as a way to understand America. It is directed  by Christine Kruze with a firm resolve to highlight vividly how distinctive individuals shape history.

When the first scene focuses on the figure of Caroline Harrison, the president's strongly assertive wife, the audience is being prepared for reminders that the underdogs in life have only their memories to tell their stories, because those experiences will not rise to the top of the dominant historical narrative. Played with authority by Carrie Ann Schlatter, Mrs. Harrison returns in oratorical form several times. Near the end of the play, we learn how hugely influential she was upon her husband. Benjamin Harrison is depicted as practically a visionary, an upright man effectively done in by his party's machinations.

I won't pretend to set my knowledge of the history behind the Harrison story next to the playwright's. He seems comfortable going into the weeds of the forces that both elevated Harrison and left him isolated for one term at the top. Those years (1889-1893) inserted a Republican between the two terms of the Democrat Grover Cleveland — the only instance of an interrupted two-term presidency.

Harrison is shown as an amiable man stirred to action both by his family history (grandfather William Henry Harrison had preceded him in office, serving just one month before dying of pneumonia) and his effectiveness as an orator. The Electoral College, nowadays revived outside of civics classes as the key player in presidential elections, put Benjamin over the top in 1888. Political precariousness was his lot, and perhaps the wandering goat he had placed whimsically on the White House lawn functions in this play as a kind of symbol of that. 

Republican manipulativeness is represented here by Edward Proctor, who openly strides into a liaison position from the party to the presidency. He is played by Joshua Ramsey, sturdily voiced and ramrod-straight in posture. In the background are the circumstances that moved Harrison into the Oval Office. As stated by John Bartlow Martin in his lively "Indiana: An Interpretation," here they are as set in  the campaign of 1888: "Though the Republicans controlled Indianapolis, they provably never had a plurality of the white votes. They won by voting bought or deluded Negroes, floaters and dead men." 

It's proper to Greene's mission that not all of these circumstances can be detailed in the play; it is loaded enough with political talk of an intricacy that is managed pretty well through dialogue. All the characters speak with flashes of wit and the kind of stylized thoroughness that might remind playgoers of George Bernard Shaw.

Despite the prominence of Proctor and Harrison loyalist James Noble, passionately interpreted by Allex Oberheide, "Benjamin Harrison Chased a Goat" rests on the ambitions and intelligence of two women, presented over a range of years from Harrison's courtship of Caroline through the very end of his term, when the second woman almost takes over the action.

She is a pioneering White House staffer, Alice Sanger, whose job title as junior stenographer only hints at the skills she brings to a job close to the President in 1893. Both she and the Chief Executive are confused about her proper role at first, but she ends up shaping and rounding off his farewell speech. In Morgan Morton's portrayal, Sanger seems kind of a flibbertigibbet at first, scattered in speech and focus as a young woman well aware that young women in the 19th century were not expected to make any kind of impression on the workaday male world, particularly at the highest levels. These all-too-hidden strengths are clearly intended to contrast her with Caroline Harrison, self-assured and restive about the secondary roles assigned her and all of her sex in the 19th century.

Sanger turns out to have an advanced sense of social justice that puts some of the views she advances as suggestions for the President on the progressive side of how we look at things today. I will not question the possibility of these views among influential women in an era when several of them earned respectable niches in the American story. My eyebrows shot up a bit when she deplored the massacre at Wounded Knee in 1890, which occurred on Harrison's watch, and used the phrase  "Native Americans" to refer to the victims at a time when the only neutral usage was "Indians." I can't imagine how that might have gone down with a man whose grandfather rose in national esteem as an "Indian fighter" right here in Indiana.

Structurally, in fact, the whole play is weighted too heavily toward the end on revelations as to Sanger's improbable rise and the back story she brings to the action, including the central role of the First Lady. Playwrights who rework history are probably aware of the difficulty of front-loading the exposition, so that historical drama gets perceived as "educational." And suspense is vital in staged stories, so it's understandable that so much about Alice Sanger rests on how the drama is resolved, and much of Caroline Harrison's role in the stenographer's rise gets a touching, posthumous seal placed upon it. This ties up all the knots in a story of underlying complexity. Greene's way of doing so is handled creditably, and this production seems whole-hearted in making vivid the character of the only Hoosier president and some of the people around him.