Saturday, May 5, 2012

International City Theatre Capitalizes on Election Year with The Fix

From left Sal Mistretta, William T. Lewis, David Michael Laffey,
Stephanie Hayslip, Adam Simmons, Carrie St. Louis, Jay Donnell. Photos: Carlos Delgado

In a year in which we are facing yet another presidential election, International City Theatre has opted to present the west coast premiere of The Fix a darkly cynical musical that shatters any illusion that civility and decency might actually count for something in the political arena.

Dana P. Rose’s driving rock score and John Dempsey’s caustic book & lyrics tell the story of a tightly wound Washington family on the verge of achieving the presidency, until candidate Reed Chandler (William T. Lewis) dies in the arms of his mistress before he can make it to the finish line. No one is more enraged than his wife Violet (Alix Korey), who isn’t as much upset by her husband’s affair as she is by the thought of losing the brass ring she has long coveted.

Dempsey’s trenchant lyric in “Embrace Tomorrow” tells us everything we need to know about this calculating woman as she bites into the words, “Work your fingers down to the gristle/ Grit your teeth/ Sell the lies/ Garden club/ Church ev'ry Sunday/ Then comes Monday/ One whore too many and/ Boom! Surprise/ Jesus, how they burn, Grahame/ Those flashbulbs in your eyes.”

Alix Korey and Sal Mistretta

She may have lost a presidential husband but she’s still got a son and Violet wastes no time in fixating on him to further the family dynasty. With the help of her brother-in-law, Grahame (Sal Mistretta), a bitterly conflicted man whose lot in life includes paralysis from polio, she sets about remaking Cal (Adam Simmons), transforming him from a drugged out guitar-playing lost boy to a carbon copy of presidential perfection, whether he likes it or not. And he most certainly does not. 

ICT has put together a terrific cast for the production all the way down the line. On the surface Korey doesn’t let anything crack her veneer. Her words are calculated and cruel but delivered with such casual nonchalance that they are all the more disgusting. When she breaks into her vicious diatribe “Spin” in the second act, it is chilling. Mistretta triumphantly returns to a role for which he won a Helen Hayes Award in 1998 at the Signature Theatre in Arlington, Virginia with Grahame. A commanding presence both physically and vocally, nowhere is he more powerful than during his blistering assault “First Came Mercy.”

Simmons, as Cal, plays both ends of the spectrum going from an ignored embarrassment to a defiant manipulator who lives on the edge of dangerous excess…and he does it while displaying a beautiful tenor voice that make everything he sings mesmerizing. “One Two Three” is electric, “Don’t Blame the Prince” is sadly simple and lovely, and “I See The Future” is an ironically beautiful power ballad that finds Cal’s transformation complete.

With the cast size trimmed from the original nineteen to nine most, but not all, cover multiple roles. Other notable performances are William T. Lewis as Cal’s dancing dead father Reed Chandler, David Michael Laffey as Violet’s lover Bobby “Cracker” Barrel, and Jay Donnell with a nice vocal feature as Peter.

Production values are always high at ICT and The Fix is no exception. Stephen Gifford’s distressed stars and stripes set design and Donna Ruzika’s lighting convey the wear and tear of political obsession on the psyche. Wig designer Anthony Gagliardi pulls off quite a surprise for Violet and Kim DeShazo’s costumes are also especially buttoned up.
 
Director Randy Brenner, musical director Darryl Archibald and choreographer Heather Castillo, who all previously collaborated on a staged reading of the show for Musical Theatre Guild nearly four years ago, are back together again. This time around they give it a full staging with plenty of punch to make the message stick in your throat. And while we may not like what the musical has to say about the blatant lust for power that exists on the road to the White House, it will certainly give you pause to think about it in context of your own choices. What lengths would you go to? Where do you look the other way? Why?

If theatre’s purpose is to make you think and feel then The Fix will give you an opportunity to do both. It isn’t subtle and it doesn’t intend to be. “Graceful exits were never your forte,” says Violet to Grahame, the polio victim, in one of her ugliest episodes. It's enough to make your skin crawl.

International City Theatre’s The Fix runs through May 20. For ticket information go to www.ictlongbeach.org.

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