Sunday, November 10, 2013

Review "Fix Me, Jesus" - Off-Broadway

A Neiman Marcus department store dressing room is an unusual spot to set the action for a play, but that is the locale for Fix Me, Jesus, playwright Helen Sneed’s  rambling, yet appealing, self-examination by a young woman seeking her path in life. 

Annabell Armstrong (Polly Lee) is an up-and-coming Democratic Party stalwart in Texas, following in the footsteps of her politically powerful father.  Unfortunately, this is the Reagan era and her liberal leanings find little affinity among voters.  That is just one problem in her life, which is one big mess.  The trials and tribulations—in her personal and professional life--spew forth as she searches for just the right dress for a wedding that very night, a potentially very special wedding.  The longtime clerk, Mrs. Craig (Lee Roy Rogers), helping her in the quest as she has done for many years, listens, offers sagely advice, and acts as a sounding board to the excitable woman.  In addition, throughout the production, the small dressing area becomes alive with visitors from her past and present, including her younger, reticent self (Kate Froemmling); her overbearing mother (Lori Gardner); her boorish and rough hewn grandmother (Lisa McMillan), and present-day psychiatrist (Mitch Tebo).  All these characters provide a back story, which centers on her self-emancipation from her parents and the pains and adversity this causes her.

Ms. Sneed has sought to exam and chronicle the central character through her past and present, mostly familial, associations.   She is partially successful.  The show would have been more robust if scenes and characters were expanded, giving the audience a better framework for Annabell’s later years. Still, having the action take place within the confines of a Nieman Marcus dressing room, with characters popping in and out, keeps the audience engaged.

Polly Lee as the present-day Annabell Armstrong can come across as self-assured and directed, but for a successful woman she often appears too manic, indecisive, and fragile.  Maybe as a male I can’t totally appreciate her situation in life.  The rest of the cast is uniformily good even though some of the characters are rather one-dimensional.  Lori Gardner as Annabell’s mother would have been stronger if her character was inbued with more shading to present a better developed persona.  The same could be said with Lee Roy Rogers as the harried store clerk, Mrs. Craig.  She gives a solid performance as she tries to keep her charge grounded and focused, but there is resentment and a yearning boiling underneath, which could have been more fully exploited by the playwright.  Mitch Tebo is rather bland as a disaffected New York City psychiatrist.

Lisa McMillan as Annabell’s grandmother is opinionated, prejudiced, and sure of her convictions.  The actress, with a full-throttled delivery, makes the most of her time on the small stage.  Likewise, newcomer Kate Froemmling, as the adolescent Annabell, is enchanting and able to instill a certain level of intelligence and precociousness to her role.

Director Sam Pinkleton is at his best when shuttling characters in and out of the dress-laden changing room.  Scenes in the dressing room between the actresses Polly Lee and Lee Roy Rogers are more straightforward.

Fix Me, Jesus, a mostly entertaining show, at the Abington Theatre Company through November 24th.

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