On stage

A premiere, a classic and a serious musical: Three contemporary issues

by Jacqui Theobald

Photo: Rachel Wilson (Annabell), Shawn Hooks (Dr. Feld) and director Brian Sharp (center) in early rehearsals for Dayton Playhouse’s “Fix Me, Jesus”

“I am flat-out curious,” Texas-born Helen Sneed said, anticipating the regional premiere at the Dayton Playhouse of her first play, “Fix Me Jesus,” “but of course the interpretation is strictly up to the director, actors and designers.”

“It is really exciting for us to create the first fully-staged production of this show that debuted on a small stage Off-Broadway,” Director Brian Sharp said. “The playwright is well known to Dayton and to fans of the Playhouse’s summer FutureFest as adjudicator of others’ new scripts.”

“Fix Me Jesus,” (the title comes from an old gospel hymn) is the story of a 30-something, groomed in politics, who rushes into Neiman-Marcus to purchase just the right dress for a Texas November that’s suddenly too hot for her white fur. Underneath the coat is a woman influenced by her political father, unseen, her controlling and shockingly biased grandmother and a mother so focused on appearances that she gave her young skinny daughter diet pills.

The action takes place in an upscale dressing room with a patient associate, Mrs. Craig, who has dressed all three generations of the family.

Rachel Wilson plays the main character Annabell, really trying to find herself, while her mother is played by Cassandra Engber, grandmother played by Pam McGinnis, and Tina McPhearson plays Mrs. Craig. Sophia Shannon plays Annabell as a child, and Shawn Hooks plays the lone male character, the psychiatrist Dr. Feld.

The play’s setting in the ’80s – and the ’60s, during a flashback – provides a challenge for Sharp, who actually has a lifetime of retail experience.

“Chris Newman, also a long-time retail person, and I have designed the dressing room, using elegant mauve of the era,” Sharp said. “Tina and I selected all the costumes shortly after the show was cast. Bob Kovach does sound design and Kelly Locker is Stage Manager.”

Sneed’s curiosity is surrounded by humility and respect for Dayton, and the savvy audiences she’s come to know in the 20-some summers she has judged at the Playhouse.

“I have never seen a sustained mainstage production at the Playhouse,” she said. “Life hands us surprises … it’s ironic that it will be my show.”

The dark comedy that deals with social justice, personal relationships and memories runs two weekends, March 13 through March 22 at the Dayton Playhouse in Wegerzyn Gardens MetroPark, 1301 E. Siebenthaler Ave. The Playhouse has also planned some opening night festivities. For tickets and more information, please call 937.424.8477, email box.office.dayton.playhouse@gmail.com or visit wordpress.thedaytonplayhouse.com.

“Desire Under the Elms”

Craig Smith accepted the challenge of directing Eugene O’Neill classic at the Dayton Theatre Guild with determination to make certain the “unusual plot and the near Shakespearian language of this classic story set in New England, 1850s made sense.” He worked on his own understanding, and began rehearsals before the holidays to assure his cast had time to study and appreciate. A dialect coach, the knowledgeable Charles Larkowski helped achieve a comfort level.

“So when it was time to really begin rehearsals, we were ready to focus on the emotional content of the play,” Smith said.

“Can you imagine the shocking effect of this story in 1924 when O’Neill wrote it?” actor Danielle Dawler, who plays Abbie, said. “It must have been scandalous; now nothing shocks us.”

This is the story: Flinty farmer Cabot, played by Dave Nickel whose last wife has died and his sons, Peter (Adam Clevenger) and Simeon (Mark Anderson), expect to inherit the farm. The younger, Eben (Alexander Chilton), hates his father, thinking he worked his mother to death. Into their world comes the father’s new wife Abbie, provocative and intense.

“She’s needy, wants the security the marriage brings, but finds herself attracted to young Eben,” Dawler, a radio personality on Fly 92.9 explained. “The language is most difficult and beautiful, and we’ve got it now!”

Chilton said, “My role is about competition, for the woman, the farm; it’s greed, lust. The colloquial style makes us search for meaning.”

The plot has shades of Greek tragedy and Strindberg, definitely an ambitious, worth-seeing production. It runs for 3 weekends, opening February 28 and running through March 15. For information and tickets, please call 937.278.5993 or go to daytontheatreguild.org.

“Next to Normal”

“Next to Normal” at Beavercreek Community Theatre is anything but normal – or is it? Director Matt Owens sees the rock and roll near-opera about mental illness as a “powerful, personal, intimate connection between cast and our audiences for ‘Edge of the Creek productions.’”

“With music by Tom Kitt and book and lyrics by Brian Yorkey, it’s powerful vocally and theatrically and spatially and we have wonderful talent to do justice to the demands,” Owens said.

Diana, mother of the family, played by Becky Barrett-Jones, is in treatment for bipolar disorder. Her patient husband, Dan, is played by Bryan Wallingford. Natalie (Abby Land) is affected by the dynamics of the family. Boyfriend Henry (Brandon Ramos) gives insightful support. Son Gabe (Desmond Thomas) provides the unexpected. K.L. Storer as Dr. Feld/Dr. Madden completes the cast.

Owens, who provided the design (with John Falkenbach, light designer and producer), expressed his passion for the show.

“We make a tri-level house work in our space, with energetic blocking,” Owens said. David McKibben is Music Director.

Normal, which has previously been compared to the dysfunctional families of O’Neill or Williams, runs March 8-March 15. Go to beavercreekcommunitytheatre.com or call 937.429.4737 for information and tickets.

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Jacqui Theobald
Reach DCP theatre critic Jacqui Theobald at JacquiTheobald@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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