Reviews

Please note – the reviews below have been abridged. The complete reviews are freely available on the web.

FIXED

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Passage Theatre presents David Lee White’s ‘Fixed’

A broken system revealed

Mark Cofta

The Broadstreet Review

When mental illness appears in the news, it’s often associated with violent events and editorials about preventing mentally ill people from harming others. The counter-argument to more gun regulation is a call for more mental health care. What’s missing in that discussion, however, is the more typical daily struggle with mental illness that many people — who will never commit violent crimes or make headlines — face, often alone.

Cognitive cocktail

Playwright David Lee White writes movingly of one such person in Fixed, a world premiere at Trenton’s Passage Theatre Company. In director Maureen Heffernan’s smart production, Maria Konstantinidis plays Ronnie, whose high school friends Daryl (Phillip Gregory Burke) and Janine (Alicia Isabel Rivas) intervene when she’s spiraling.

Flashbacks

Much of Fixed revisits the trio’s high school friendship, when they would meet at a local sculpture called The Rhombus. Daryl and Valerie aspired to careers after high school, while Ronnie just wanted escape. But she couldn’t run away from the voices in her head, which we often hear as whispers in Chris Sannino’s sound design, Amanda Jensen’s lighting augments this effect with illumination that flickers like fireflies in when the voices act up.

Konstantinidis excels as mercurial Ronnie, whose manic moments hide her terrible home life. She switches impressively from Ronnie’s almost-normal teenage behavior to her mid-30s derangement. Burke and Rivas likewise transition between the two time periods, believably revealing the bonding of high school misfits and their uneasy adult relationship. They’re joined in the present by Deena Jiles-Shu’aib as a harried but well-meaning doctor who steers Ronnie into treatment despite the many hurdles required by a splintered mess of programs.

Heffernan’s production emphasizes the flow of scenes in two time periods, using Susan DeConcini’s set of six framed screens in different shapes, like puzzle pieces, onto which drawings of locations are projected along with abstract representations of emotional states, giving the play a hand-drawn graphic-novel quality.

Hopefulness

While Fixed doesn’t shy away from the ugliness and messiness of mental illness, White’s story is ultimately positive, stressing the importance of caring people who can intercede for the mentally ill. Alone, they face a bureaucratic abyss, but with supportive friends, Ronnie’s tale shows, they might have a chance. Healthcare provides no clear path now for those seeking help, however, and recent developments suggest that assistance will be even more difficult in the future.

“Fixed” can mean repaired, of course, which is unlikely with mental illness. Like addicts, maintenance requires constant effort. “Fixed” also means stuck in one place. Which meaning best describes mental health in our country is up to us.

The new play ‘Fixed’ at Passage Theatre takes up deep inside a tortured mind

By Patrick Maley | For NJ Advance Media

“David Lee White’s new play “Fixed” produced by the Passage Theatre Company (where White is a former Associate Director) sets out to examine mental illness from a variety of avenues. Not only do we see the struggles of Ronnie (Maria Konstantinidis) trying to navigate an everyday world that is becoming increasingly distant and frightening to her, but we also venture regularly inside Ronnie’s fractured mind for a dramatized glimpse of her delusions. It is an inventive technique that makes “Fixed” an intriguing and at times compelling portrait of mental illness and its repercussions.

“…Without these glimpses inside Ronnie’s psyche it might have been difficult to summon much more than pity for her scattered sense of defiance, but White and Konstantinidis combine to create a more complex rendering of her illness, allowing us to move past pity towards understanding and empathy.

“…at the center of this play remains a unique, creative glimpse into a too often unexplored realm of the mind.”

‘Fixed’ at Passage Theatre: Friendship vs. mental illness

Philadelphia Inquirer – entertainment— John Timpane

“David Lee White’s Fixed, now at the Passage Theatre in Trenton through May 21, is trying to do something valuable and difficult: To tell of friends with mental illness in their midst. When family and society fail, much often falls to friends, and what can they do?

“As of 2000, Valerie, Ronnie, and Darryl are three high school friends in Trenton. Ronnie and Valerie are “drama geeks,” Darryl a sensitive jock. Ronnie is the glue: Played with wild gusto by Maria Konstantinidis, she’s magnetic, the leader in charge of vision and mischief.

“I like these three. We get their oddfellows-club friendship, readily accept the sexual ambiguities. Norman Meranus’ white/brown/black casting (not called for in the script, but very much Trenton) is ideal, and the troubling flashbacks – Ronnie haunts their dreams – prevent sentimentality.

“Where mental illness is concerned, it’s too easy to be wrong.   Fixed explores whether anything can ever be right, and, where friends are involved, what “fixed” can even mean”

STAGE REVIEW: David Lee White’s ‘Fixed’ offers insight into mental illness and friendship

By Anthony Stoeckert – The Princeton Packet

“With his new play, “Fixed,” David Lee White is aiming to write effectively and believably about mental illness. I’m no expert, but this story rings true, and there is one particularly powerful scene that is stunning, even painful. While mental illness is at the center of “Fixed,” being presented by Passage Theatre at the Mill Hill Playhouse in Trenton through May 21, White also writes about friendship, and what our obligations are to those we love.

BLOOD: A COMEDY
DYSFUNCTIONAL DELIGHTS
Anita Gates – New York Times

“David Lee White’s “Blood: A Comedy” couldn’t be cleverer as it deals with the onset of Alzheimer’s disease, a soap-opera-style family shocker and reflections on the existence of God.The Passage Theater Company’s satisfyingly sassy production, a world premiere directed with decided finesse by Adam Immerwahr, introduces us to a painfully honest modern family with outstanding verbal skills. Jacqueline Stanzi (June Ballinger, the company’s executive artistic director) is a college professor who has been yanked out of the classroom after suggesting to a science class that DNA could be proof of intelligent design. This is strange, because Jacqueline has always been a confirmed atheist.”

“‘Blood’ is about family relationships: emotional patterns as well as bloodlines. The most delicious is Franny and Alec’s sibling hostility, because it’s so enthusiastic. Their best zingers cannot be shared here, because the Stanzis are a particularly foulmouthed family. That includes Mom, who periodically turns to the audience and comments on the action, her life or the cosmos. In the delightful Ms. Ballinger’s most memorable monologue, she reports that people who have had near-death experiences and those who practice erotic asphyxiation describe the same phenomenon. Apparently there’s more than one way to go into the light.”

“‘Blood: A Comedy” is consistently entertaining. And if you listen very carefully, it does offer a worthwhile thought or two about the meaning of it all.”

FAITH MEETS FUNNY

Peter Filichia/For the Star-Ledger

“Theatergoers who don’t like pot-shots made at religion might be offended by White’s free-for-all stabs at people who believe. For one thing, White establishes that the more biology professor Jacqueline Stanzi loses her mind, the more she finds her faith. When she had no mental problems at all, she was an atheist. Her thirtysomething daughter, Franny, used to be an atheist, too, but she’s putting that aside because her new beau, Matthew, is a born-again Christian. White makes sure that Matthew comes across looking mighty silly, too. Of course, as is often the case with farce, everyone winds up looking foolish. Son Alec is a former porn dealer who’s now moved on to selling mock marijuana. Matthew’s father, Noah, seems as if he spent his whole life smoking the real thing. Franny admits that she “tried to figure out my life through sex.” So White is an equal-opportunity insulter of the human condition.”

On opening night, much of the audience had a rollickingly good time, exploding with laughs as outrage was piled upon outrage. The crowd adored hearing about how crazy everyone onstage was and relished learning about pyramid schemes and bedroom scandals. Even after Noah delivered a serious diatribe, the laughter quickly resumed and lasted right up to curtain calls.”

“In the end, White winds up delivering many muddled messages about religion. That, though, may very well be his point: Who knows for sure what one really should believe?”

REVIEW: BLOOD: A COMEDY AT THE DREAMCATCHER REP THEATRE – NEW YORK THEATER/EXAMINER.COM

Rick Busciglio/Northern New Jersey Theater Examiner

“The mystery is why did this very funny and irreverent gem of a comedy go without a stage for so long?”

“What David Lee White has provided is a fascinating, very intimate peek into the lives of two dysfunctional families that are about to be bonded by marriage.”

“…what you need to know is that this is a remarkably talented cast, especially Noreen Farley, so perfectly cast, and Jessica O’Hara-Baker, in a hilariously funny play (especially for the open-minded), beautifully directed by Laura Ekstrand, that could easily make the transition to Broadway without the slightest alteration.This is four-star entertainment.”

‘BLOOD’ IS THICK IN COMEDY AT DREAMCATCHER

By Peter Filichia/For the Star-Ledger

“Playwright David Lee White has penned a very black comedy. Lest anyone miss the point that this play is meant to be funny, White has included a genre definition in the show’s title. It’s not simply “Blood” that’s playing at Dreamcatcher Repertory Theatre in South Orange — it’s “Blood: A Comedy.” When a playwright adds those two words to this title, he’d best be able to deliver hilarity. White does so in this dissection of a dysfunctional family.”

“A newly engaged couple introducing their parents may be a familiar plot — but White’s prodigious gift for gab and gags make him a post-modern Neil Simon.”

“Dedicated New Jersey theatergoers may feel that “Blood: A Comedy” sounds familiar. It was first presented in 2009 at Passage Theatre Company in Trenton. New Jersey artistic directors routinely replicate Manhattan hits at their theaters, but they rarely choose to revive a play that’s only been seen in the Garden State. Ekstrand’s belief in the play is understandable, and her production of it is stellar.”

SLIPPERY AS SIN

SLIPPERY AS SIN, Passage Theatre

SLIPPERY AS SIN, Passage Theatre

‘Slippery’ whodunit is actually a play on politics

By Peter Filichia/For the Star-Ledger

“…White has accomplished the extraordinary: He has written a mystery play unlike any other.”

“At first, White seems to be penning a standard thriller. Here in the lovely living room of a mansion, Harry and Lolly are getting engaged. Their guests include Randolph, her father, and Sarah, her aunt, as well as his business partner, Detective Dorrington. Just from the mood that director Adam Immerwahr creates, we know that no good is going to come to at least one of them. That turns out to be an understatement. Naturally, there is an ominous butler is on hand. Morrison enters surreptitiously and causes everyone to flinch in fear. They jump higher when he leaves and slams the door. By the time thunder and lightning punctuate every ominous disclosure, we assume that White has shifted gears and is spoofing the murder mystery genre. Not exactly. White has taken elements from both serious and silly murder mysteries to create a platform on which he can make pungent political statements.”

“The plot comes to revolve around Diabolicus — the “head of a network of criminals” who commit “crimes beyond our imagination, all with the intent on of creating chaos and toppling our most sacred institutions,” says Dorrington. The detective adds that this master criminal comes from “some hidden corner of Europe or the sands of the Middle East.” And although the play takes place in 1933, there are mentions of mail bombs, destroyed buildings and chaos on Wall Street — all familiar to modern audiences. Dorrington mentions Diabolicus as often and as menacingly as Senator Joseph McCarthy did when he had everyone fearing Communists. White seems to be commenting on the uneasiness we feel in this post-9/11 world and suggests that we may be overly paranoid. And eventually Diabolicus does appear — in an outfit that greatly resembles Muslims garb. But White brings up the possibility that Diabolicus may very well be an American in disguise, one who is working against the establishment.”

“Before it ends after 90 intermissionless minutes, we’ll see evidence tampering, betrayal, and sexual harassment. Yes, for all “Slippery as Sin” does resemble real life.”

REVIEW: SLIPPERY AS SIN

by Simon Saltzman – U.S. 1

“…I am happily obliged to welcome the very funny “Slippery As Sin,” a world premiere (dare I say it?) spoof of old Hollywood murder mysteries, the B variety that filled out the lower half of a double bill during the 1930s and 1940s. The good news is that its author, David Lee White, and director, Adam Immerwahr, have not only created a fast-moving, laugh-outloud howler, but also delivered a nifty 90-minute entertainment that gives us every reason to suspect that “Slippery as Sin” will have a prolonged life after this production closes. How nice for those characters that have to end up dead. White’s affection for the farce and his flair for writing them was first apparent to me in his “Blood,” produced in 2009 at the Passage Theater. That he injects his own commendably progressive philosophical, political, and social views into the plot without being preachy is a trick that he uses with great ingenuity.”

SLIPPER AS SIN is Slick as a Whistle

Walter Bender/Stage Magazine

“Occasionally we at STAGE get to review a new play. When you have no preconceptions, no prior productions to compare it to, it makes the review even more exciting than usual. And, when the new production is produced by a skilled team like those at the Passage Theatre Company, it makes the evening a total joy. SLIPPERY AS SIN debuted on May 17, with its official opening night on May 19. A new comic thriller by David Lee White (the author of BLOOD: A COMEDY, which debuted at Passage in 2009,) SLIPPERY AS SIN is a loving homage to the film noir of the 30’s and 40’s as well as a tip of the hat to the famous detective genre. The central character is Detective Dorrington, played with great skill by Greg Wood. Wood brings pieces of Sherlock Holmes, Charlie Chan and Inspector Maigret to his portrayal of Dorrington, an aging master detective who is being put out to pasture. He commands the stage, showing the uber-confidence of the veteran problem-solver, and in more private moments allows the audience to see the fraying confidence and skills that he fears the most.”

“The show is directed with great skill by Adam Immerwahr, who keeps things moving along briskly, and adds in all of the prototypical effects…slamming doors, thunder and lightning, and “convenient” blackouts. The cast moves in and out smoothly, never allowing the pace to lag. And, there are some slapstick physical comedic moments that had the audience laughing throughout.”

SLIPPERY AS SIN – Expert Comic Thriller that Really Works

Bob Rendell/Talkin’ Broadway

“…as successful and satisfying a variation as one could ever hope to see of the satiric stage thrillers which evoke the ever palpable jolts of early film classics, such as those involving a cocaine-addicted English detective and his biographer, haunted houses, charlatans, vampires, and other things that go bump in the night. There is a dose of liberal politics which, while intelligently conceived, amounts to nothing more than an unnecessary minor distraction.”

“And how has David Lee White managed the rare feat of successfully revivifying this hoary genre? Unlike Neil Simon, who failed dreadfully in his screen variation of this genre (Murder By Death), White respects the genre, and, rather than ridiculing and shredding it, he reconstructs it by skillfully and lovingly providing a rich and complex narrative which improves upon most of the plotlines of the most sophisticated and effective straightforward originals. Add White’s ear for appropriate and witty dialogue and Adam Immerwahr’s stylish direction, and the result is a Slippery as Sin that is both as smooth as silk and sharp as a sword.”

“However, as difficult as it is to prognosticate a new play’s future projectory, I would not be surprised if Slippery as Sin goes on to become a popular, widely produced staple of the American stage. It is certainly worthy.”

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