56.8 F
Thursday, June 8, 2023

Local theater company portrays Billie Holiday

More by this author

Fonseca Theatre Company, a local troupe dedicated to giving a voice to Indianapolis’ minority communities through theater, tells an intimate story in “Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill.” 

The play is about legendary jazz singer Billie “Lady Day” Holiday during the twilight of her life and career. In the fictional Emerson’s Bar and Grill, Holiday tells her life story and gives what will be one of her last performances. 

If you’re familiar with any tragic musician story, there will be little in the plot of “Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill” to surprise you. The script’s strength lies less in surprising drama and more in Holiday’s engaging personality. As Holiday recalls her life, she switches from snark to poignancy back to snark again, creating a dramatic full picture of her life. 

Actress Monica Cantrell was a major part of that picture. This is Cantrell’s second time playing Holiday, and her familiarity with the character shines through.

“This time around, what’s different is that not only am I older and have more life experience, but I also got a chance to hear a lot of her contemporaries speak about her,” Cantrell said. “I also got to hear her own voice, her own words, because of the internet.”

Cantrell’s singing was also top notch. Musicals too often feature a sharp divide between music and acting, with songs feeling like an intermission from the acting or visa versa. Cantrell, on the other hand, performed her best acting while singing. Her facial expressions conveyed both the emotion of each song and how Holiday felt. “Strange Fruit,” a Holiday song taken from a poem protesting lynching, was particularly moving and sad. 

The production’s venue added a sense of realism. It takes place not at an auditorium, but the Linebacker, a bar a few doors down from the company’s headquarters. The bar remains largely unchanged during the performance except for some rearranged chairs, purple drapes and a lone microphone for Holiday. The Linebacker creates a genuine and personal atmosphere. Audience members don’t require suspension of disbelief to believe they’re watching a singer at a bar. 

 “A big part of our mission at the Fonseca Theatre is, of course, working with the neighborhood and working with the community,” Jordan Flores Schwartz, associate producing director and artistic director, said. Schwartz added the play is “helping bring more activity to the neighborhood and helping fill a couple of the slow nights at the bar.”

The script, Cantrell’s performance and the setting all coalesce to portray a larger-than-life character in an intimate and personal way. If you are looking for a play to scratch a drama itch or to try something new, consider attending Fonseca Theatre Company’s “Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill.


Contact staff writer Ben Lashar at 317-762-7848. Follow him on Twitter @BenjaminLashar.


When: Now through April 7

Show times are 7 p.m. Wednesdays and Thursdays; 4 p.m. and 8 p.m. Saturdays

2 p.m. April 7 show will celebrate Billie Holiday’s birthday.

Where: The Linebacker, 2631 W. Michigan St.

Cost: $25; $15 for residents of zip codes 46208, 46214, 46219, 46220, 46221, 46222, 46224, 46225.

Tickets: Available at the door or at fonsecatheatre.org/shows.

- Advertisement -

Upcoming Online Townhalls

- Advertisement -

Subscribe to our newsletter

To be updated with all the latest local news.

Stay connected


Related articles

Popular articles

Español + Translate »
Skip to content