An Indiana premiere, Heartland Actors’ production of Neil Labute’s In a Dark Dark House was the first full-scale production of a play to be staged at the Indyfringe theatre. Directed by Michael Shelton, the cast included company members Ryan Artzberger and Matthew Roland, as well as Rebecca Masur. In producing In a Dark Dark House, Heartland Actors was fortunate to partner with the Christel DeHaan Family Foundation and Prevent Child Abuse Indiana, a nonprofit organization that facilitated post show discussions and provided literature about breaking the cycle of violence and avenues of help for abuse victims.
Heartland Actors’ Repertory Theatre’s “In a Dark Dark House”—is as well produced a drama as you are likely to see any time soon on local stages. Through effective design and direction, the seat-of-its-pants Indy Fringe building transforms into a legit theater space with the intense duo of Ryan Artzberger and Matthew Roland in the leads. Both are as committed to the silences as to the words, as compelling in their reactions as they are in their actions. They play brothers, one a Gulf War vet with anger issues, the other a shifty lawyer in rehab after crashing his car. The patient needs estranged big bro to corroborate to doctors the story of their troubled youth. And as the realities of their childhoods emerge through their conversations and confrontations, LaBute prods the audience to keep jumping to the wrong conclusions. A third character (whose age I didn’t quite buy) is brought into the second scene, complicating matters further. I’ll avoid sharing too much, because the brutal pleasures of LaBute have a lot to do with not knowing where things are going. Once all secrets are revealed, I’d imagine the play looks very different and I wouldn’t be surprised if some return to this show (tickets are $20, with half the proceeds going to Prevent Child Abuse Indiana) for a second look. Would I have preferred a less crafted final moment—one that grew organically from the situations and characters rather than feeling crafted by the playwright (and magnified by some rare awkward staging)? Did I wish the characters—rather than the playwright—seemed to be making their choices? Absolutely. But that doesn’t diminish by much my enthusiasm for what’s on stage at the Fringe building through April 4. We get too few chances here to see work that provokes lengthy post-show parking lot discussions. Mine lasted long into the dark dark night. Indiana Business Journal
The Heartland Actors’ Repertory Theatre assembles some of the most talented stage actors and directors in Indianapolis. Combine this with a work by acclaimed playwright Neil Labute, and you get an incredible evening of theatre. Thus I cannot recommend their production of “In a Dark Dark House” enough, provided you understand this is for mature audiences (think an HBO production) and there’s a reason the word “dark” is in the title twice. Laughs are rare and the content is heavy and personal. Matthew Roland and Ryan Artzberger play brothers Drew and Terry. When Drew, a disbarred lawyer, finds himself in a mental hospital, he brings up childhood issues that he and Terry must face. Something happened back when they were boys, and as Terry makes his own exploration into the repercussions he encounters Jennifer (played by Rebecca Masur) a flirty 16-year-old who does not realize her deeper connection to the plot. People who seem to live ordinary lives revealing their ugly dark side is a hallmark of most Labute works (think “Bash” and “Shape of Things,” more than “Nurse Betty”) and this look at the legacy of abuse goes to some very dark places. We try to see through all the lies and deceits the characters present to us and each other, but the truth may not bring redemption. A portion of ticket proceeds will benefit Prevent Child Abuse Indiana. The play is being staged at the new IndyFringe Building near the intersection of College and Mass Ave. EastofIndy.com
What I like BEST about this show is that ultimately it is not “a show about child abuse.” Or not just that, anyway. Ultimately, it is a satisfying piece of performance art. Indytheatrehabit