What if one of the saddest, shabbiest, solitary moments of your life were suddenly shattered by a noisy stranger appearing in your apartment out of thin air? So begins Unity Productions’ two-hander Fixate, which thrusts together obsessive-compulsive Wesley (Rex Martinez) with opinionated everywoman April (Sara Mackie). After being dumped by his girlfriend, Wesley has fallen into a particularly engrossing episode of compulsive behavior, unleashing his anxiety alternatingly on a light switch and the lock on his front door. April is inexplicably spirited 2,400 miles from Berkley, Calif., to Wesley’s doorstep after silently wishing to leave her nephew’s birthday party.
Presented in the round (or rather, in the square, with audience surrounding the four sides of the stage), Fixate often plays like a cage match between two cornered animals, each confused about why the other is there and what it wants. Though done no favors by the wet acoustic of the venue (the upstairs sanctuary of Nast United Methodist Church), the volume of the performance mirrors this “battle royale” sensibility, the tenor and intensity of the action remaining too strong for too much of the play. The few moments of silence — and silent physical action — were welcome and memorable respites.
Don’t, however, look to criticize the actors, who are both asked to employ their full faculties in what is an exposed and ceaseless 50-minute bout. Mackie flashes countless shades of believable emotion and intent as she wrestles with, earns the trust of and later learns from Martinez’s Wesley. Martinez too displays considerable talent in inhabiting the OCD unpublished poet, repeating difficult phrases and physicalities like a needle skipping on a record, while earning potent one-liners such as “Why else are we here if not to fall in love?” While his diction was occasionally imprecise, Martinez’s performance left me wanting to see him onstage again soon.
Perhaps opening night adrenaline contributed to a production that had moments of strength and clarity diminished by certain a lack of economy. Also complicating this first performance were the distractingly tardy light cues corresponding with Wesley’s repetitive flicking of the light switch. My suspicion is that well-regarded Unity Productions, led here by accomplished theatre artists Jon Kovach and Billy Chace, will find a way to get the most out of this promising offering in the remaining performances.
Joshua Steele is a theatrical producer, actor and vocalist who has worked with many local companies and ensembles. He proudly serves as president of the League of Cincinnati Theatres.