"Fix Me, Jesus" is a show about a woman in crisis. In Abingdon Theatre Company's latest outing, Annabell Armstrong (Polly Lee) is a rising star in the Texas Democratic Party, although her personal life seems to be falling to bits. Where else would a woman go in Reaganite 1980s America than the dressing room of Neiman Marcus? The entire play is set in this location, surrounded by the most delightfully awful eighties evening attire. Characters from Annabell's past and present flit in and out, revealing the intimate details of her upbringing, her family, her love and her losses.
The performance is watchable. Lee brings great energy and fragility to the part, and her 10-year-old counterpart, played by Kate Froemmling in her Off-Broadway debut, is surprisingly believable. Lisa McMillan as Annabell's grandmother is by far the stand out performance: her rich voice is alluring, even as the savagery of her right-wing dialogue grates the nerves. Director Sam Pinkleton has done a reasonable job of making the play work, and the audience enjoys a good number of laughs along the way to a difficult ending.
Yet while there is nothing glaringly at fault here, the play was overall positively plebeian. A drama unfolding in a dressing room is hardly the kind of piece to truly capture the imagination. The devices used by playwright Helen Sneed seem forced and outdated: having a psychiatrist as a main character so that we can see the inner workings of Annabell's mind seems a choice that is all too easy for character development. Moreover, the constant flashbacks are distracting and often times repetitive.
Moreover, I wondered as to what the political drama brought to the current political sphere: what new insights can we learn from observing the politics of our past? That Ronald Reagan was a staunch right-wing neoconservative? That southern states are fiercely right-wing? That old people have antiquated views? Nothing seemed like new information to me, and I found myself wondering why such a story needed to be told right now. At a time when America is in the midst of political turmoil, the opportunity to explore our past so that we can better understand and perhaps solve our present is rife: this, however, is not it.
I also find the play troubling from a feminist standpoint. Yes, the character of Annabell purports to be radical and progressive. Yet all the women in the play seem to be hopelessly dependent on the male characters, most of which, like Annabell's father, don't even appear onstage. The idea that a woman can only find comfort in the expensive clothing of a dressing room, and that she completely falls apart without the men in her life, is somewhat repellant.
Perhaps this was Sneed's message: 'look how far we've come.' Yet the writing was not strong enough to make us truly feel for Annabell, nor see her as a beacon of feminist progress. Instead, the play plods along with moments of high drama that fall a little flat and a message that is ultimately confusing and a little uninteresting.
Performances of "Fix Me, Jesus" continue through November 24th. For more information check out our event listing here: https://stagebuddy.com/listingdetail.php?lid=15396