Jest Politics

Campaigning cretins kick up laughs in Beck Center's The Fix.

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The Fix Beck Center, 17801 Detroit Avenue, Lakewood Through October 12, 216-521-2540
Paul Floriano (left) and Dan Folino lead The - Fix's mostly able cast.
Paul Floriano (left) and Dan Folino lead The Fix's mostly able cast.

When it comes to political nightmares, our demonic imaginations are always trumped by reality. Over the years, numerous fictional works have conjured images of conniving, brilliantly twisted political leaders who mean to destroy the United States. But all it's taken to actually push our country to the brink of disaster -- economically and in almost every other way -- is a smirky, intellectually incurious frat-boy President in a borrowed flight suit, who thinks corporations should have all the rights and individuals (especially those worth less than a cool million or so) should shut the fuck up.

And whether you like your public-servant evil served up banal or otherwise, there are electioneering and governmental infamies aplenty in Beck Center's Ohio premiere of the intriguing, quasi-rock-musical The Fix. Even though there are lapses of inspiration and enormous gaps of logic in this show, with book and lyrics by acidly observant John Dempsey and music by Dana P. Rowe, it features enough great singing and inventive staging to make it totally worth a trip to Lakewood.

The chicanery starts immediately as Reed Chandler, a shoo-in for President, dies and his viper wife Violet decides to keep the Chandler bandwagon rolling by grooming her blunt-smoking son Cal as the next hot candidate. In the style of HBO's Six Feet Under, dead Daddy Reed (played and sung with waxen good humor by Matthew Wright) keeps popping up and offering advice, while Cal is trained in the art of political spin-speak by his physically impaired, gay, and wily uncle, Grahame Chandler. Author Dempsey knows no restraint and crafts the Chandler family from a concatenation of historical scandals crossing eons -- from the venality of Augustus Caesar's wife Livia and the stuttering Claudius to the sexual escapades of Bubba Clinton, the organized crime links of J.F.K., and the coke-snorting of George W. This blunderbuss approach undercuts any serious satiric edge. But hell, as Clinton probably muttered to himself, it's a kick-butt party while it lasts.

Cal proves adept at baby-kissing as he advances from city council to governor, aided by a (literally) prepackaged airhead bride and custom-cut Italian silk suits. Simultaneously, he's also feverishly scrambling up the dreaded drug pyramid, starting out with weed and graduating to blow, crack, smack, and then flameout. That's when Cal decides, in true after-school TV special fashion, to tell the truth about his failings and his Mafia connections, which leads to a ridiculously forced denouement. While the first act of this mélange hangs together surprisingly well, all the loose ends get snarled in Act Two in a mess of paternity revelations, gratuitous murders, cheap morality, and extraneous solos.

Despite all the burps and hiccups in the script, the Beck Center company, under the lively direction of Scott Spence, wins the day. On Don McBride's appealing set, littered with Corinthian columns and video monitors, Spence keeps the pace breathless by using an almost continually rotating turntable to shift scenes as the cast powerfully delivers Rowe's eclectic score, swerving from rock to gospel and throwing in a torch song here and a country-western ballad there. While all of this music is eminently listenable, none of it is particularly memorable. Perhaps the catchiest tune is a vaudeville parody sung by brothers Reed and Grahame, "Two Guys at Harvard," which features some decidedly and hilariously un-PC observations on Grahame's physical infirmities.

The mostly able cast is led by Dan Folino as Cal (late of Hedwig and the Angry Inch local fame), who can flat-out rock and looks eerily like Robert Downey Jr., both in his persona and in his character's incessant drug use. X-ray-thin Tracee Patterson is a captivating singer and a marvelous mom-from-hell, cajoling her malleable son and strong-arming her brother-in-law to do her bidding. And as the crippled Grahame, Paul Floriano submerges nicely into the most nuanced character in the piece and aces his dry one-liners (speaking of Cal's youthful presidential image: "Yeah, I like the earrings in both ears. Very James Buchanan").

Ultimately, the show's creators undermine their own best efforts by muddying the message implied in the title. Is The Fix supposed to be the addictive adrenaline charge of running for office and being in power, is it the drugs that drag Cal down, or is it the way Violet and Grahame shape and "fix" reality to achieve their own ends? Chances are, the authors' answer would be "all of the above," and that would be a copout. Still, this lack of focus doesn't detract from the telling moments this production provides. Watching Cal sing his insidiously inane "I See the Future" speech, as a Teleprompter instructs him to put his hand over his heart, reminds us of the constant manipulation at work as our politicians, evil and otherwise, ply their trade.

About The Author

Christine Howey

Christine Howey has been reviewing theater since 1997, first at Cleveland Free Times and then for other publications including City Pages in Minneapolis, MN and The Plain Dealer. Her blog, Rave and Pan, also features her play reviews. Christine is a former stage actor and director, primarily at Dobama Theatre...
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