“Is it possible to be drunk and have a hangover at the same time”
Staged and directed at the Union Theatre by Michael Strassen, whose award-winning production of Assassins played here in 2010, the plot of The Fix follows the Chandlers, a Kennedy-esque dynasty of political players. When presidential hopeful Senator Reed Chandler pops his clogs in flagrante with a lady other than his wife, the family’s attention turns to Cal, his layabout playboy son. Mother Violet, a gin-sozzled matriarch, and uncle Grahame, a crippled gay Machiavelli, groom him to take up the family mantle but Cal is a reluctant politico, seeking refuge in drugs and extra-marital affairs. And as the stakes get higher the further into government he rises, the more dangerous it gets for those skeletons in the closet.
Composed by Dana P Rowe and with book and lyrics from John Dempsey, the 1997 show unfortunately occupies an uneasy middle ground between trying to tell the story above, yet simultaneously make satirical digs at the political classes, and I am not sure that it does either particularly well. It is therefore to their credit that the lead players, under Strassen’s careful direction, manage to tease as much out of their characters as they do.
Liz May Brice, a glass of Hendricks never far from her hand, is a fierce presence as wise-cracking enabler Violet and Miles Western’s arch-manipulator Grahame has a wryly-observed creepy omniscience, but their characters are shockingly under-developed by Dempsey. Even Cal, given a performance of tightly-controlled energy by Louis Maskell, remains an elusive figure – it is thus hard to determine what it is one is meant to be feeling for these people and their travails.
Rowe’s score does not help matters. Ostensibly a rock musical, The Fix also flits around a number of styles including gospel, country and western and ragtime which adds further to its uncertainty of tone. Where the music could have helped to build a dark, foreboding soundscape, instead it veers towards a mishmash of styles closer to a cabaret and there is little sense of the songs driving the narrative forward either. That said, Simon Lambert leads his band of four with bright enthusiasm.
Again Strassen comes close to addressing these issues, marshalling a tightly drilled ensemble to often great effect, his open staging allowing moments of clever staging, striking dance routines and interesting harmonies to spread out to all corners of the Union and cultivate the necessary sense of atmosphere. That the material can’t back this up is ultimately a real shame, in its parade of cartoon gangsters and insipid love interests along Cal’s uninspired journey in his father’s dubious footsteps, complete with unnecessary distracting subplots. So a strong production and a hard-working cast, but a problematic play.