A Dream I Had About a Play About Social Media

bp22

DREAM I HAD ABOUT A PLAY ABOUT SOCIAL MEDIA

(A FATHER and SON sit on the beach. The FATHER holds a helium balloon on a string. The SON is 6 or 7 years old)

FATHER: Okay. I’m gonna hand it to you, okay?

SON: Okay.

FATHER: But don’t let go yet.

SON: Okay.

FATHER: Now, we’ll just take this picture of you (pulls a small picture from his wallet) and attach it to the balloon.

SON: That’s me.

FATHER: Yep. You want to write something on it? A message for mommy to see when the balloon gets to her?

SON: Ummm… that I love her? And I miss her.

FATHER: That sounds good. I think she’ll like that. You want me to write it or do you want to write it?

SON: I can write it.

FATHER: Okay. Here, I’ll hold the balloon and you write on the picture. (FATHER takes a marker out of his backpack) Make the letters small, okay? So you have room.

SON: Okay.

(The SON begins writing. The FATHER stares at him for a beat, then takes out his phone and takes a picture of the SON. Then he stares at his phone for a bit and posts the picture online. He puts his phone back in his pocket, then goes and sits next to the SON. TWEETER 1 enters, staring at phone.)

TWEETER 1: (typing on phone) Check this out. Father playing with son on the beach. Cute. Forwarding.

(TWEETER 2 enters)

TWEETER 2: Awww… Very cute. Wonder if they’re gonna let that balloon go.

(TWEETER 3 enters)

TWEETER 3: Hope not. You’re not supposed to let balloons go like that. It’s dangerous.

TWEETER 1: They’re not doing anything wrong.

TWEETER 3: Released balloons are a danger to area wildlife. Just sayin’.

TWEETER 2: You have a point.

(TWEETER 4 enters)

TWEETER 4: It’s true. Here’s an article about why it’s dangerous to let balloons go.

TWEETER 3: My cousin works at the National Wildlife Service and he sent me these pictures of dead birds tangled in balloon string.

TWEETER 1: I think we’re overreacting. It’s just one balloon.

TWEETER 2: You have a point.

TWEETER 4: Don’t get me wrong. It’s nice that a father is playing with his son since almost no fathers do that. But It’s also selfish to not think about the birds.

TWEETER 3: Oh, it’s not just a danger to birds. Here’s a picture of six rabbits that choked to death on a latex balloon.

TWEETER 2: OMG. You make a solid point.

TWEETER 4: They just wanted food and they tried to eat a balloon. Poor rabbits.

TWEETER 1: This seems a little reactive.

TWEETER 3: In one of the Carolinas, a wedding party released all these balloons and they got tangled up in electrical lines and birds got all tied up. And then they fell and dogs ate the birds and got sick.

(Enter TWEETER 5)

TWEETER 5: Yes, it’s nice that a black guy is on the beach with a kid. But he’s a danger to wildlife. No discussion. Full stop.

TWEETER 1: What makes you think he’s black?

TWEETER 5: He looks black. I’m not racist.

TWEETER 2: No one is calling you racist.

TWEETER 5: I just pointed it out as a descriptor. He looks black.

(TWEETER 6 enters)

TWEETER 6: Umm…you didn’t just point it out. You said it was nice that he was playing with his son. Like black men don’t play with their sons?

(TWEETER 7 enters)

TWEETER 7: Snowflake! Libtard!

TWEETER 6: This is not political!

TWEETER 7: Maybe people talk about black dads not taking care of their sons because they don’t. Ever think of that?

TWEETER 1: He doesn’t look black to me.

TWEETER 2: Good point. He has privilege on his face.

TWEETER 3: It’s the middle of a weekday and he’s not at work. Must be nice.

TWEETER 6: Must be nice because he’s black?

TWEETER 3: Must be nice because he’s white!

TWEETER 4: Wall Street dad.

TWEETER 2: Good call.

TWEETER 6: I’d like to get back to racist comment that guy made.

TWEETER 7: Why are you people so obsessed with racism?

TWEETER 6: Excuse me? You people???

TWEETER 2: LOL

TWEETER 1: OMG

TWEETER 7: I am not racist, but white people are definitely in danger of extinction in this country.

TWEETER 3: You know what’s also in danger of extinction? The California Condor. What happens if it gets tangled up in balloon string?

TWEETER 4: Here’s a Buzzfeed article about how all the California Condors are dying. Oh, wait…my bad…it’s about bees.

FATHER: Almost done there buddy?

SON: Yeah.

FATHER: Read it back to me.

SON: “Mommy. I miss you so much. I wish you were still here. I love you.”

FATHER: Perfect. You want to let it go now?

SON: Yeah.

FATHER: Okay. We’ll let it go and it will go straight to mommy. Okay?

SON: Okay.

FATHER: On the count of three. One…two…three!

(SON lets the balloon go. It soars upwards while they watch. FATHER takes out phone, takes picture and posts.)

TWEETER 3: He let it go! This is just wrong.

TWEETER 4: Here’s a Mental Floss article about why people do things they know are wrong.

TWEETER 1: Read the whole thread, you guys. His wife died. His kid is letting off a balloon to say goodbye.

TWEETER 3: I’m not saying I approve of people dying. I’m just saying what about dogs that eat balloons?

TWEETER 7: Unless she died while getting an abortion or living on welfare. I approve of that kind of dying.

TWEETER 6: I can’t even handle this! I’m blocking you! I don’t care if you’re my cousin.

TWEETER 5: Don’t feed the troll!

TWEETER 2: He’s a troll. Fair point.

TWEETER 4: What beach are they on?

TWEETER 3: Looks familiar. Seaside Heights maybe?

TWEETER 5: I work at Seaside Heights. Yeah, that’s Seaside Heights.

TWEETER 4: Can you figure out who he is?

TWEETER: 5: Probably.

FATHER: There it goes. Up and away.

SON: Up and away.

TWEETER 1: Read the entire thread before commenting, you guys. This is getting out of hand.

TWEETER 6: Well then why did you start it?

TWEETER 7: This is just the way it is.

TWEETER 5: Okay. He’s staying at my hotel, you guys. His name is Chad Harris. And he works for the Fish and Wildlife commission.

TWEETER 3: No way.

TWEETER 7: Government employee. Figures.

TWEETER 5: Someone should write his boss and let him know he’s breaking the law.

TWEETER 1: Are you trying to get him fired?

TWEETER 3: Look, if he’s willing to put wildlife at risk like this, he shouldn’t be working for the wildlife commission.

TWEETER 4: Here’s a cracked.com article about people that get what’s coming to them.

TWEETER 5: I’m doxxing him.

TWEETER 1: What?

TWEETER 3: He deserves it.

TWEETER 2: Fair point.

TWEETER 3: Write his boss and tell him that Chad Harris doesn’t deserve his job.

(TWEETERS exit, tweeting)

FATHER: Say goodbye, buddy.

SON: Goodbye!

(FATHER’S phone buzzes. He takes it out of his pocket and looks at it.)

FATHER: What? Are you kidding me? Are you fucking kidding me?

(FATHER begins typing on phone furiously)

FATHER: Who the fuck are you people? What are you doing?

(All the TWEETERS return, yelling and screaming at one another at the same time. The SON steps away from the group. The TWEETERS continue to yell, but we can no longer hear them. SON stares up at the sky and waves.)

SON: Goodbye…goodbye…

END OF PLAY

FIXED – The Princeton Packet

fixedweb1038x483-4-1038x438

Playwright David Lee White wants to entertain, and start the right conversation about mental illness

  • By Anthony Stoeckert
  • May 5, 2017 Updated May 5, 2017
When David Lee White writes plays about characters with mental illness, he’s looking do many things — entertain an audience, get them thinking, get them laughing, and create a story and characters the audience will relate to.
“One of the things I’m really interested in is this idea of making it not such a taboo,” says White, whose play “Fixed” is being presented by Trenton’s Passage Theatre in Trenton through May 21.
 The play is about three friends from high school who reunite because one of them, Ronnie (played by Maria Konstantinidis), is suffering from schizoaffective disorder symptoms of which can include hallucinations, delusions, and mood disorders. One of the ideas of the play is that Ronnie’s friends, Valerie (Alicia Isabel Rivas) and Daryl (Phillip Gregory Burke), didn’t know Ronnie dealt with mental illness back when they were friends, and White says the taboo factor is likely a reason why.
“And I think that was one of the reasons why I didn’t notice the signs,” says White, who wrote about his struggle with depression in his one-man play, “Panther Hollow.” “I didn’t recognize it, no one really talked about that stuff.”
The play’s writing came about in part because of “Panther Hollow,” in which White addressed some of his experiences in high school.
“It dredged up a lot of high school stuff,” White says. “But then I got really interested in (the idea that) people who show symptoms of mental illness start showing it kind of young, but no one really gets it. No one really sees it and yet it can have this kind of profound impact if you’re around it.”
The character of Ronnie, he says, is somewhat based on someone from his college days.

“I just didn’t see it at the time,” he says of that college friend dealing with mental illness. “I didn’t notice everything that was happening.”

He adds that as he wrote about friendships, he found himself thinking about friendships from high school, and how we think those friendships could never end, yet some of them inevitably do. He says he is fascinated by the idea that he had friends in high school who he thought would always be part of his life, but aren’t.

He says that while he’s addressing mental illness in “Fixed,” he’s also writing a drama, and wants to do more than inform people about facts involving mental illness.

“One thing I didn’t want it to be is a brochure on mental illness or bipolar disorder,” White says. “I didn’t want to to be a docudrama about ‘How you too can get treatment.’ So I hope that strikes a cord.”
In writing these plays, he says he’s also conscious not only of what the plays address but if they’re doing it the right way.
 “I’m very conscious of, ‘We’re talking about it but are we talking about the right way and are we telling the right kind of story?'” he says.
He points to the Netflix show, “13 Reasons Why,” which has been the subject of controversy because of how the show’s approach to teen suicide and mental illness.
“I got mad at it without ever seeing it because I had a knee-jerk response, ‘They’re not telling the right story,'” White says. “Any kind of mental illness or treatment is so personalized, I think the talking about it, while good, has made people conscious of, ‘Are we telling the right story?’ Sometimes there’s a thin line between exploitation and honesty. I don’t know, I think it’s possible people could watch my play and think, ‘This is [ticking] me off because it’s not like that.’ I’m not sure what to do with that.”
White’s plays are often funny, and while “Fixed” has less humor than some of his other plays, White did include some funny moments, which he said was a delicate balance.

“I think those three friends are funny, and they’re not particularly politically correct, especially in 2000 when they’re 17 years old,” he says. “People have come back to me and said, ‘This particular joke, I think people are going to stop listening.’ And I’ve gone, ‘Oh come on.’ But then in the end, I’ve listened to their arguments and said, ‘OK for the greater good.’ People understanding the story is more important than that one joke, but it’s a difficult dance.”

“Fixed” is being performed by Passage Theatre at the Mill Hill Playhouse, 205 E. Front St., Trenton, through May 21. Tickets cost $20-$33l; www.passagetheatre.org; 609-392-0766.

headshots

FIXED director Maureen Heffernan

fixedweb1038x483-4-1038x438

Reprinted from the May 3, 2017, issue of U.S. 1 Newspaper
Veteran Director Right Fit for ‘Fixed’ Premiere
by Dan Aubrey

Maureen Heffernan sits quietly at the table set up in front of the Passage Theater stage on which a quartet of actors are work through a scene from the new play she’s directing, “Fixed.”

Heffernan — armed with a cup of pencils, a box of tissues, and a bottle of water — may seem as comfortable as a pilot who has logged numerous hours on a familiar route, but she is also likewise alert to the script open before her, the actors stopping to ask question about a line or movement, and the playwright sitting beside her. That’s former Passage Theater assistant artistic director David White, and he gets up and starts pacing.

While “Fixed” is not White’s first play, it carries some elements that can cause more anxiety than usual. The play deals with a theme he feels strongly about: mental illness. And it is under more than just a stage spotlight. It was commissioned by the NJPAC Stage Exchange, a program of the New Jersey Performing Arts Center. This is its first full production.

“I want to ask something about business,” says Heffernan, stopping the rehearsal and leading the actors and playwright into a discussion about stage action.

As she does, she draws on her experience of directing more than 90 productions. And while Heffernan recently retired as the executive director of Young Audiences of New Jersey and Pennsylvania, she is connected to the development of theater in central New Jersey— on stage and off.

“I was at George Street in the 1980s and ‘90s,” she says after rehearsals at Passage’s home in the Mill Hill Playhouse, an old church-turned-theater on the edge of the Mill Hill neighborhood in downtown Trenton, where Heffernan lives. “After I got out of grad school I started as a children’s theater actor, then (George Street Playhouse founder and director Eric Krebs) found out I did stage managing, and I moved to production stage manager, then stared the education department. Eric was a great mentor. He gave me the opportunity to direct. I directed a number of New Jersey premieres, ‘A Little Night Music,’ a stylized version of ‘Cabaret,’ ‘’Night Mother’ and (others). I also got to do some acting,” she says of her critically praised works.

Heffernan says when she left she started directing for different theaters — John Houseman Theater and Ensemble Studio Theater in New York City, Pittsburgh Public Theater, PlayMakers Repertory Company in Ohio, Pennsylvania Stage Company in Allentown, and the Florida Repertory Theater.

While Heffernan had the opportunity to work at a lot of different theaters, she says, “At the same time I was drawn to arts education. I was involved with the (New Jersey State Council of the Arts’) Summer Arts Institute, which became the Institute for Arts and Humanities Education, and I became its director. While I was there, I was involved with interdisciplinary learning, which is a passion for me.”

She says the reason she gravitated toward arts administration was to help give herself and other artists a voice. “(Artists) often complain that we don’t have control over our destiny. I thought I should step forward and work at the administration level.”

Her connection to “Fixed” began last year when Passage Theater Artistic Director June Ballinger invited her to a staged reading at the NJPAC in Newark. Heffernan says she shared her response with White, who in turn suggested she direct its first production.

“I’ve known David for years, loved his plays, and we wanted to work together. And I’m happy to work at a theater two blocks from my home.”

Yet it was her connection to the subject that sealed the deal.

White’s play is a comedy that deals with three Trenton High graduates who vow to always be there for one another whenever they get sick. It then evolves into “a story about how ignored, untreated, mental illness can wend its way around a group of individuals and derail their lives. It’s also about how those same individuals can survive and thrive through treatment and their love for one another,” White says in a statement.

Heffernan says her work as an arts administrator and educator has involved her with people who have similar struggles and “in my own circle of family and friends, I have seen the struggle of people living with mental illness. There’s so much stigma associated with it, it is such a hidden disease. My mother suffered from depression, and it took her a long time to find something to help her.”

Heffernan, 66, came to New Jersey via Chicago. “I’m South Side Irish,” she says. “My father was a human relations employee with the Chicago Police Department and other city departments. My mother was a homemaker and worked at Sears for 20 years.”

Her life in the theater started at age 12. “I spent a lot of time in the school office for talking, and a teacher said, ‘You think you’re funny. Would you like to be in a play?’”

That led to an interest and a scholarship to a college in East Chicago. “It was a small Catholic school where everyone (in the theater) did everything,” she says.

It was also where she met Jack Bettenbender, an actor, director, and playwright who served as first dean of the Mason Gross School of the Arts at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, from its founding in 1976 until his death in 1988. He was looking for students.

“He recruited me, and I came here (to New Jersey) and got a full ride to Mason Gross. I am very lucky. I went to school on a scholarship.” Her classmates were Avery Brooks, Crossroad Theater founders Lee Richardson and Ricardo Khan, and playwright William Mastrosimone.

Heffernan says she was originally focused on acting, but she eventually realized that directing would help her find more jobs. Additionally, “I loved plotting the works,” she says.

Assessing her approach, Heffernan says, “I would like to think I’m a good collaborator. I think I can listen to voices. And I love to make pictures on stage. I love aesthetic beauty. And I don’t forget that we call them ‘plays’ for a reason. While I’m serious and attentive, if we lose the sense of joy, we lose the humanity in it.”

She says her move to Trenton came 20 years ago when she and her partner of 35 years, Betsy Stewart, whom she met at George Street, lived in Highland Park and found that market was becoming too expensive. At the advice of arts advocate and former Lawrence High School principal Don Profitt, she and Stewart became Mill Hill homeowners. “I have been here 20 years,” she says. “I love Trenton and am committed to it.” She and Stewart married in 2013.

Looking back at both her early days at GSP and as a founding member of Crossroads Theater, Heffernan says, “It’s exciting see a new generation of young art leaders. It’s invigorating.”

Then thinking about the work in front of her, she says, “One of the exciting things about doing a new play is you add a variable. If it is Shakespeare or Arthur Miller, if you‘re having a problem, it is the director or the designer. But with a new play, it is the first time it’s brought to life, so it is like a tightrope walk.”

It is a walk she hopes leads to unfixed ideas. “It is important that when people leave the play that they have questions as much as they have answers and have serious conversations on the way home.”

Fixed, Passage Theater, 205 East Front Street, Trenton. Opens Thursday, May 4, 7:30 p.m., and continues through Sunday, May 21, Friday and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m., Saturdays, May 13 and 20, at 3 p.m., and Sundays, 3 p.m. $33 and $38. 609-392-0766 or www.passagetheatre.org.

headshots

FIXED – Ted Otten, Times of Trenton

fixedweb1038x483-4-1038x438

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.

headshots

Passage playwright’s new work works to fix ‘Fixed’ ideas

fixedweb1038x483-4-1038x438

Passage playwright’s new work works to fix ‘Fixed’ ideas

Prominent area playwright and former Passage Theater Associate Director David White brings Trenton — and more — to the stage when his new play “Fixed” opens on Thursday, May 4, for a three-week run at the Mill Hill Theater in Trenton.

As White tells it, “Fixed” follows three friends at Trenton Central High School in 2000, Ronnie, Valerie, and Darryl. Ronnie tries to kill herself, and neither Valerie nor Darryl really knows what to do about their friend’s budding mental illness. The friends lose touch with Ronnie, like people often do when someone becomes increasingly mentally ill, White says. Seventeen years later, they find that Ronnie is homeless, seriously mentally ill, and angry at her former friends.

If this sounds like a playwright’s convention, know that this very situation is a piece of White’s life.

“The most autobiographical part of ‘Fixed’ is, I had a college friend who was seriously mentally ill,” White says. “It was … awkward. We stopped being friends.”

Twenty-odd years later, White, now 48, started wondering what had become of his old friend. It turned out, her story had become a viral one online. She was living in a decrepit house with far too many cats.

“[Her story] was actually worse than in the play,” he says. “It would have been incredible if I tried to put it in the play.”

To be clear, White doesn’t mean incredible in the “really cool” sense of the word. He means it in the “absolutely contrived and not believable” sense of the word. He did do some digging and reconnected with his old friend, something he describes as “meaningful in a way I can’t quite put my finger on.” The two still correspond the old-fashioned way — through actual written letters in the mail.

Told through flashbacks, “Fixed” confronts the anger and guilt and uncertainty that comes with having a mentally ill person in your life, White says. An aspect of the play is admittedly about mental health advocacy, something White has a passion for. He sees the importance of being the voice of the voiceless; talking to and about, as the late Peter Jennings once said, not the movers and shakers, but the moved and the shaken.

‘Fixed’ confronts the anger and guilt and uncertainty that comes with having a mentally ill person in your life.

Mental health, White says, is still such a taboo. People of all kinds, from the down-and-out to “rich, white oligarchs” suffer from depression, he says, but it’s still considered something to be ashamed of, something to hide, something that makes us look weak.

“Let’s talk about it,” White says.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, White has had to cope with his own depression issues. To a degree, he says, he wouldn’t be able to discuss mental illness if he wasn’t so familiar with it. But just because it’s a serious thing, just because it needs to be de-scandalized, doesn’t mean you can’t make talking about it entertaining, which is why White writes about issues like depression, anger, guilt and distrust in engaging, sometimes bitterly funny ways.

The reception to his plays, he says, has always been positive. People seem to recognize what he’s going for, and they appreciate that he’s bringing up realities that people don’t always feel comfortable talking about. To White, “the voiceless” is not just the poor — though, he says, poor people are often the most damaged by mental illness — it’s anyone who doesn’t feel comfortable admitting a problem.

“I want everybody’s stories to be told,” he says.

White is also familiar with uncomfortable topics like racism. He grew up in St. Louis, the son of a psychologist father and English teacher mother, and his grandparents lived in Spanish Lake, which has developed into a genuinely boiling-over hotbed of racism and extreme politics. The roots go back to the Pruitt-Igoe apartments constructed in the 1960s (and torn down in just a few years because the complex turned into a real-life horror show), a reaction to St. Louis’ “white flight” that drove African Americans into the city center and white city residents to the suburbs, including Spanish Lake.

Incidentally, you can read White’s 10-minute play, “Spanish Lake,” on his website, DavidLeeWhite.net.

White was drawn to the stage from the beginning and attended the University of Missouri-Kansas City for his bachelor’s in theater. He then got his MFA from the University of Pittsburgh, where he met his wife, Allison Trimarco, a Jersey girl attending Carnegie-Mellon University, on a blind date.

After Pittsburgh, Trimarco moved back to New Jersey, and in 2002 founded Consulting for Nonprofits (now called Creative Capacity) to “collaborate with nonprofit organizations of all types to increase their management capacity,” according to the company’s website. White moved to Chicago to be an actor and director, at least until he realized he was so very much not a theater director. Allison moved out to Chicago, where, he says, they ended up “spinning our wheels” in the city’s theater scene. So they moved east and settled in Bordentown.

White wanted to get into Trenton’s theater scene and started as a volunteer with its most famous outfit, Passage Theater. He became an assistant art director under June Ballinger, who eventually challenged White to write a play for Passage. The script he came back with was “Blood: A Comedy.”

Having moved more into playwriting, White eventually left the safety of Passage’s steady paychecks to do his own thing. It’s something most people can’t understand, he says. But he never felt like he was driving his own car while he was working at Passage. He has nothing but nice things to say about the place — he just felt the need to guide his own path.

The Whites have a six-year-old son White describes as “very outdoorsy.” Translation: probably not crazy enough to find the carnival-style life of the gig economy appealing. At least not in theater. But that’s just fine, White says. The boy will find his own story.

White also teaches theater at Drexel University as an adjunct professor, does occasional theater work at McCarter Theater in Princeton, and volunteers with kids at Trenton High. These days, long removed from wanting to be a director and only occasionally interested in acting, White says he enjoys the company of other writers. They seem to understand him internally — except for the fact that he genuinely loves the rewriting process, which most writers dread.

“I know that’s strange,” he says, “but I love being faced with a writing problem and then having to write my way out of it on a tight deadline.”

If there’s anything resembling a life lesson, it’s probably that acting taught him how to cope with rejection, he says. And that’s key to batting a thousand by getting up every day. “The world doesn’t end if people don’t like your work,” he says. “It really doesn’t.”

Fixed, directed by veteran theater director and Trenton resident Maureen Heffernan, was originally commissioned by the NJPAC Stage Exchange, a program of the New Jersey Performing Arts Center. It runs May 4-21 at Passage Theater, 16 East Hanover Street. $33 and $38 for Saturday night shows. Student, senior, and group tickets available for select dates. For information, visit passagetheatre.org.

This story was originally published in the May 2017 Trenton Downtowner.

headshots

People have been asking me what FIXED is about…

fixedweb1038x483-4-1038x438

My play FIXED opens May 6th at Passage Theatre. It was commissioned as part of the New Jersey Performing Arts Center’s Stage Exchange Program. Here’s the official blurb:

“What would you sacrifice for the people you love?

Ronnie doesn’t want help. Valerie and Daryl don’t want to reunite. But high school vows bind pretty tightly. Broken promises and dark humor fill David Lee White’s new play about friendship, mental illness, and facing the truth.”

It’s a good blurb. It captures the story and themes concisely.

Here’s what the play is really about –

Almost 3% of the US population suffers from bi-polar disorder. That’s 5.7 million people. Over 16 million Americans suffer from depression. We should talk about that more. Yes, I know there are Facebook memes and click-bait articles. But mental illness is still a frightening taboo. And some otherwise reasonable, intelligent adults still treat mental illness like it’s a medieval curse or a moral failing. Likewise, mental health treatment gets a bad rap. Fifty years after Frederick Wiseman made “Titicut Follies” our general understanding of how mental health diagnoses and treatment has evolved is not widely understood.

FIXED is a play that talks about these things. While the story is fictional, it’s based on interviews I did with friends and acquaintances who have suffered from, and survived, these illnesses. Most of what I write is comedy. I LOVE comedy. I think comedy in theatre is terribly important. FIXED isn’t humorless by any means (especially not with the ace actors that we were lucky to nab) but behind the story of three Trenton High graduates who vow to always be there for one another whenever they get sick, there’s a story about how ignored, untreated, mental illness can wend its way around a group of individuals and derail their lives. It’s also about how those same individuals can survive and thrive through treatment and their love for one another.

That’s it. You should come see it.

headshots

Directed by Maureen Heffernan

Featuring: Phillip Gregory Burke*, Deena Jiles*, Maria Konstantinidis*, and Alicia Rivas
* Member Actors’ Equity Association

*Fixed was originally commissioned by the NJPAC Stage Exchange, a program of the New Jersey Performing Arts Center – John Schreiber, President & CEO