Holiday stages from Broadway to Dayton
By Jacqui Theobald
Our turn to see a judge’s own play
“I didn’t dumb it down,” Helen Sneed said on one of the last preview performance before her first play, “Fix Me Jesus,” opened off-Broadway for a November run. Sneed, so well-known to Dayton Playhouse’s Future Fest audiences, has been an astute adjudicator of others’ new scripts for some 20 years. Now, she has written her own.
“I’ve really learned a lot about playwriting from others at Future Fest” she added.
Five faithful theater lovers – three generations – traveled to New York recently from Dayton to enjoy this turn of the tables and to be supportive. It had to be fun to see a New York show written by someone we know.
We skittered and dodged down crowded 8th Avenue to 36th Street, a dim little street, to the Abington Theatre (supporting New American Playwrights), up a floor to the definitive, small, black box theater. There was Sneed seated in a top row, then welcoming us with her usual gracious manner
She said, “I really believe in the intelligence and heart of the American audience” and has written a very smart play that’s garnering rave reviews for “delivering laughter and hard truth.”
She expects her audience to recognize how the after-effects some family dynamics we survive contribute to our dysfunctional lives. She expects her audience to recognize classic books; she expects her audience to understand the embodiment of her child-self as memory and pain. She expects her audience to connect manic behavior to those early unrecognized, but damaging, childhood experiences.
“Fix Me, Jesus” – the title of a hymn – takes place in a dressing room at ultra-upscale Neiman-Marcus during the mid-eighties. While it is a bright, briskly well-written and directed comedy, it bravely tackles serious issues.
“I like conflicted characters” Sneed has said. Well here they are! We meet a thirty-something pulled – or yanked – in many directions, old memories materialize: She’s seized with self-doubts and the beginnings of mental illness.
Here’s her child-self, experiencing subtle, but devastating, emotional abuse from the family. Here’s the damaged child offering a pistol. Here’s the grandmother, superbly elegant, teaching requisite good manners while spewing biases and vicious racial hatred. She may not be a stranger to some. With a desperate mother who gives praise, then diet pills, to a skinny 10-year-old, what can help but follow? She has to deal with a husband who substitutes material generosity for personal warmth. He’s the unseen father grooming the girl in Texas politics all her life. Good theatrical plot twists bring surprises.
Holding the dressing room – and maybe the worlds of privilege – together is the sales associate, reigning firmly over her dominion. It is not her world. She’s closer to everywoman, practical and realistic, although she’s another conflicted secret keeper. There’s also a psychiatrist who has an affair with the vulnerable protagonist. If he’s not conflicted, he should be.
The cast of “Fix Me Jesus” is first-rate, giving truth to these complicated characters. “I like to laugh and think and feel, in a play” Sneed said. “I like open-ended plots.” She has given us that, along with plenty to discuss.
Community theaters feature familiar holiday stories
Dayton Playhouse – “Fellow Passengers” is an adaptation of “A Christmas Carol” and a version you’ve not seen before. Three actors play all characters. This would be a leap, were it not for skilled people in the cast. Set to undertake daunting tasks are Charles Larkowski, Megan Cooper and Franklin Johnson. Dodie Lockwood directs, with Jean Berry assisting.
Greg Carter adapted the story, selecting the title from words of Scrooge’s nephew Fred: “Christmas time … is when men and women think of others … as if they really were fellow passengers to the grave.” Michael and Sandy Bashaw have written special music.
The show runs two weekends, Dec. 6-8 and December 13-15. Call 937.424.8477 or visit firstname.lastname@example.org for tickets and performance times.
Dayton Theatre Guild – “The Gifts of the Magi” brings another gathering of old familiar stories: O. Henry’s sweet couple willing to give up their most prized possessions to manage gifts for the other. With the addition of new music “Magi” gets a facelift with a book by Mark St. Germain and music by Randy Courts. The two wrote lyrics together.
Kathy Mola directs, with Barbara Jorgensen and Carol Finley producing. Musical Director is Luke Williams. It is a six character play, including a pair identified as “The City: Him” and “The City: Her.”
This show runs Nov. 22 through Dec. 8. For more information, please call 937.278.5993 or visit daytontheatreguild.org/tickets.
The X*ACT Arts Center (Xenia area community theater) “A Modern Christmas Carol” – This is the more conventional presentation with a new twist to the story, featuring children. Adapted by Ruth Ann Pattee, it’s directed and adapted by Jennifer Sparks.
It runs Dec. 6-15. For more information, please call 937.372.9516 or visit info@XeniaACT.org. Performance times vary, so be sure select the time you want. Extra matinees available. Great fun for kids here.
Beavercreek Community Theatre –“A Neverland Christmas Carol” Peter Pan, the Darlings and the Lost Boys, with Tinkerbell and Captain Hook in a cast of 28, ages 8 to 18, will make the magic in the Sheri Flannery’s updated script. Kaleigh-Brooke Dillingham shares love of kids, Christmas and family as she directs.
“Neverland” is open from Dec. 6-15. For more information, please call 937.429.4737 or visit bctheatre.org.