Directed by Sam Pinkleton
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited
“Fix me for my long white robe, /fix me, Jesus, fix me. /Fix me for my starry crown, /fix me, Jesus, fix me.
Fix me for my journey home, /fix me, Jesus, fix me. /Fix me for my dying bed, /fix me, Jesus, fix me.”
(African-American Spiritual, adapted and arranged by William Farley Smith)
There appears to be a considerable amount of fixing going on in Dallas, Texas in November of 1986 and in the preceding decades leading up to Annabell Armstrong’s (played with brilliance by Polly Lee) last minute shopping spree at Dallas’ famed Neiman Marcus store. Primarily, almost everyone in Annabell’s life has thought she needed fixing – everyone except Jesus.
Annabell’s mother (played with appropriate frenzy by Lori Gardner) – she a co-dependent creature – always believed Annabell was “fat” and needed to slim down. The child’s grandmother (played deliciously Southern by Lisa McMillan) considers Annabell’s left-leaning Weltanschauung in need of serious fixing. After slapping Annabell’s face hard after, as a child, she referred to a guest at the Democratic National Convention as a “Negro lady,” doting grandma fixes her grand-daughter’s diction with: “There’s no such thing as a “nigra lady!” A nigra is never called a “lady.” The proper term is colored woman or colored girl. (To Mother) See how you’ve corrupted her.” The chain of fixing never ends. Nor apparently does the scourge of racism.
Additionally, Annabell’s transplanted-from-New-York psychoanalyst Dr. Maxwell Feld (played with sweet smarminess by Mitch Tebo) also joins the fixing frenzy by suggesting all Annabell’s ills stem from a fear of success. Although he proves to be somewhat correct, his professional opinion is tarnished by his (not unexpected) confession of love for Annabell despite his married status.
Playwright Helen Sneed develops all of these characters with a firm commitment to authenticity and believability. She also provides conflicts that drive a series of compelling plots that cross over space and time. Annabell as a child (played with grace and charm by Kate Froemmling) stands on stage right next to the adult Annabell; both characters often performing the exact same movements in two different time periods. The “glue” which connects all space and time is Mrs. Craig (played with steely yet sensitive skill by Lee Roy Rogers) who is the only character who loves Annabell throughout her life unconditionally and non-judgmentally.
Ultimately, Annabell finds her way through the maze of self-acceptance and emerges a separate and individuated adult. She divorces herself from the “past which has caught up with her” and her “self-loathing” behavior and stumbles headlong into a meaningful construct of health and hope.
Special mention goes to director Sam Pinkleton who exquisitely fuses past and present into a unified and powerful performance given by a dedicated and craft-honed ensemble cast. Finding one’s way from co-dependence to authentic adulthood is not an easy task and many fail in the attempt. “Fix Me, Jesus” is the perfect anecdote to that failure. Annabell is fixed for her journey home in the present and in the future.