FIXED – Ted Otten, Times of Trenton

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Theater: ‘Fixed’ at Trenton’s Mill Hill Playhouse

Ted Otten | For The Times of Trenton By Ted Otten | For The Times of Trenton
on May 03, 2017 at 7:00 AM, updated May 03, 2017 at 7:04 AM

Passage Theatre, Trenton’s only professional theatrical company, is closing its 31st season with another play that will continue the company’s tradition of presenting new and sometimes controversial plays and playwrights with David Lee White’s “Fixed,” onstage through May 21 at Trenton’s historic Mill Hill Playhouse.

Of this world premiere production directed by Maureen Heffernan, Passage’s artistic director June Ballinger said, “Once again, Passage is pointing to the elephant in the room. This time it’s the question of what our society is doing to address proper care for those with mental health challenges who are without private resources or the education on how to navigate the existing system. We look forward to hearing illuminating and perhaps prescriptive points of view during our post-show panels.”

White, a New Jersey-based writer, performer, and educator whose other plays like “Slippery As Sin” and “Blood: A Comedy” had their world premieres at Passage, spent 14 seasons as Passage’s Associate Artistic Director and is now its resident playwright. For the past two years, he has been performing his autobiographical play “Panther Hollow” around the country. That play was about White’s own struggle with chronic depression in his earlier years, and his extensive research for that play provided the foundation for “Fixed” which takes place in Trenton in both the past and the present.

“When I started writing ‘Panther Hollow,’ I really wasn’t sure what that was going to be or how I would present my own problems with depression onstage, so I started doing research by talking with friends who had gone through schizophrenia or bi-polar disorder or some other mental problem and recording those interviews.

“When my own play was finished as a one man show, I had this unused but compelling research which I did not want to waste, to go unnoticed. NJPAC Stage Exchange, a program of the New Jersey Performing Arts Center, was looking for proposals to support, so I submitted my idea for this play where I could in some way use what I had, and so I received a commission from them for this play about mental illness and how people look at it and at those who suffer from it. We had readings in Newark, and I worked and reworked my material to get what you’ll see at Passage,” said White.

“I decided to use the one act format of about ninety minutes,” said White, “because I didn’t really see a place in the story to stop, a place to give the audience a moment to think about what they were watching unfold. That might change as we see how these Trenton performances go. What I’d like to see happen is that mental illness isn’t a taboo subject, that it deserves to be discussed and de-stigmatized.”

The play asks a fascinating question: What would you sacrifice for the people you love? The play does not offer definite answers to that question, but it does present an interesting situation involving three long-time friends and a counselor who is trying to help one of the friends find the answers she need to help herself.

Director Maureen Heffernan, who’s both a director with over ninety productions to her credit and an actress who recently played Benjamin Franklin in an all-female cast of the musical “1776,” has known and enjoyed White’s work for years.

“I attended a reading of this play, then had lunch with David who asked if I’d like to direct the run at Passage. Since I live in Mill Hill, I jumped at the chance. I had been impressed with it because I think of myself as a people person and I’m intrigued by every aspect of people. This is about a person’s family, not only the one you’re born with but the family of friends you create and what your responsibilities are to them and theirs to you.

“David has the ability to create characters that audiences can care about, and he has the uncanny ability to find the warmth of humor in even the most serious of situations,” said Heffernan, “and these people are so real and worth caring about. You can become engaged with these people and want the best for them. The play invites us into four people’s lives and takes us from the year 2000 when three of them were seniors at Trenton High to today when they’re asked to keep promises they made back then. What do we owe to the people we have loved? Going back and forth from past to present, David tells a story full of warmth and humor and sometimes harsh reality.”

Passage Theatre, Trenton’s only professional theatrical company, is closing its 31st season with another play that will continue the company’s tradition of presenting new and sometimes controversial plays and playwrights with David Lee White’s “Fixed,” onstage through May 21 at Trenton’s historic Mill Hill Playhouse.

Of this world premiere production directed by Maureen Heffernan, Passage’s artistic director June Ballinger said, “Once again, Passage is pointing to the elephant in the room. This time it’s the question of what our society is doing to address proper care for those with mental health challenges who are without private resources or the education on how to navigate the existing system. We look forward to hearing illuminating and perhaps prescriptive points of view during our post-show panels.”

White, a New Jersey-based writer, performer, and educator whose other plays like “Slippery As Sin” and “Blood: A Comedy” had their world premieres at Passage, spent 14 seasons as Passage’s Associate Artistic Director and is now its resident playwright. For the past two years, he has been performing his autobiographical play “Panther Hollow” around the country. That play was about White’s own struggle with chronic depression in his earlier years, and his extensive research for that play provided the foundation for “Fixed” which takes place in Trenton in both the past and the present.

“When I started writing ‘Panther Hollow,’ I really wasn’t sure what that was going to be or how I would present my own problems with depression onstage, so I started doing research by talking with friends who had gone through schizophrenia or bi-polar disorder or some other mental problem and recording those interviews.

“When my own play was finished as a one man show, I had this unused but compelling research which I did not want to waste, to go unnoticed. NJPAC Stage Exchange, a program of the New Jersey Performing Arts Center, was looking for proposals to support, so I submitted my idea for this play where I could in some way use what I had, and so I received a commission from them for this play about mental illness and how people look at it and at those who suffer from it. We had readings in Newark, and I worked and reworked my material to get what you’ll see at Passage,” said White.

“I decided to use the one act format of about ninety minutes,” said White, “because I didn’t really see a place in the story to stop, a place to give the audience a moment to think about what they were watching unfold. That might change as we see how these Trenton performances go. What I’d like to see happen is that mental illness isn’t a taboo subject, that it deserves to be discussed and de-stigmatized.”

The play asks a fascinating question: What would you sacrifice for the people you love? The play does not offer definite answers to that question, but it does present an interesting situation involving three long-time friends and a counselor who is trying to help one of the friends find the answers she need to help herself.

Director Maureen Heffernan, who’s both a director with over ninety productions to her credit and an actress who recently played Benjamin Franklin in an all-female cast of the musical “1776,” has known and enjoyed White’s work for years.

“I attended a reading of this play, then had lunch with David who asked if I’d like to direct the run at Passage. Since I live in Mill Hill, I jumped at the chance. I had been impressed with it because I think of myself as a people person and I’m intrigued by every aspect of people. This is about a person’s family, not only the one you’re born with but the family of friends you create and what your responsibilities are to them and theirs to you.

“David has the ability to create characters that audiences can care about, and he has the uncanny ability to find the warmth of humor in even the most serious of situations,” said Heffernan, “and these people are so real and worth caring about. You can become engaged with these people and want the best for them. The play invites us into four people’s lives and takes us from the year 2000 when three of them were seniors at Trenton High to today when they’re asked to keep promises they made back then. What do we owe to the people we have loved? Going back and forth from past to present, David tells a story full of warmth and humor and sometimes harsh reality.”  MK

One of them is played by Maria Konstantinidis who said, “My character is Ronnie, and she is best friends with Valerie and Daryl who see each other daily at school, but, as often happens with school friends, they drift apart to live their own lives; now, only two still live in the Trenton area with the other in L.A. While teenagers, Ronnie and Daryl may have taken that relationship a bit further than just friendship, but I’d rather not discuss that part of their relationship since it might give too much of the story away.”

Actress Deena Jiles-Shu’aib, who’s worked in different capacities with Passage including Passage’s educational outreach over the past 14 years, plays Janine, the play’s fourth character, who’s a health care giver working with Ronnie.

“Janine herself is bi-polar but is in recovery. She’s giving back by helping other people who face similar issues. She’s been there; she knows what it feels like; she’s had that personal experience. She knows what it is to struggle,” said Jiles-Shu’aib,” and I really enjoy a scene towards the end when Janine and Ronnie have it out. If Janine can do it, so can Ronnie, even if Ronnie doesn’t want to face that responsibility.”

IF YOU GO

“Fixed”

When: Through May 21; Thursday, May 4 at 7:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m.; matinees on Saturday and Sunday at 3 p.m.

Where: Mill Hill Playhouse, 205 E. Front Street at Montgomery Street, Trenton.

How much: Tickets are $20-$33 except on Saturday at $38 with student, senior and group discounts available.

Contact: 609-392-0766.

Follow NJ.com on Twitter @njdotcom. Find NJ.com on Facebook.

One of them is played by Maria Konstantinidis who said, “My character is Ronnie, and she is best friends with Valerie and Daryl who see each other daily at school, but, as often happens with school friends, they drift apart to live their own lives; now, only two still live in the Trenton area with the other in L.A. While teenagers, Ronnie and Daryl may have taken that relationship a bit further than just friendship, but I’d rather not discuss that part of their relationship since it might give too much of the story away.”

Actress Deena Jiles-Shu’aib, who’s worked in different capacities with Passage including Passage’s educational outreach over the past 14 years, plays Janine, the play’s fourth character, who’s a health care giver working with Ronnie.

“Janine herself is bi-polar but is in recovery. She’s giving back by helping other people who face similar issues. She’s been there; she knows what it feels like; she’s had that personal experience. She knows what it is to struggle,” said Jiles-Shu’aib,” and I really enjoy a scene towards the end when Janine and Ronnie have it out. If Janine can do it, so can Ronnie, even if Ronnie doesn’t want to face that responsibility.”

IF YOU GO

“Fixed”

When: Through May 21; Thursday, May 4 at 7:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m.; matinees on Saturday and Sunday at 3 p.m.

Where: Mill Hill Playhouse, 205 E. Front Street at Montgomery Street, Trenton.

How much: Tickets are $20-$33 except on Saturday at $38 with student, senior and group discounts available.

Contact: 609-392-0766.

Follow NJ.com on Twitter @njdotcom. Find NJ.com on Facebook.

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