“Carroll County Fix” is funny, sad, and heartwarming

“Carroll County Fix.” (Photo by Johanna Austin.)

If you’re like most people these days, you’re ready for some sunshine and a little warmth to come into your life right about now. Mother nature seems to be supplying the sunshine, and for warmth, may I suggest heading to the theater to catch “Carroll County Fix,” which runs from March 2 to 20. Written by Val Dunn, the play is a funny, sad, and heartwarming play about adolescents growing up in a changing rural community. Tess is a dreamer and a talented filmmaker who has been stymied by the inability to pay for film school and a family who doesn’t understand her drive to get out. Rach made it out only to come home for the summer and is torn by her roots at home and her new found relationships in the big city, most notably with Crash, her non-binary partner who is having trouble fitting into Rach’s life in Carroll County. 

Under the inspired directing of queer writer, devisor and director Priyanka Shetty, the majority of the play takes place in a Walmart parking lot which evokes a sense of melancholy as the characters gather and debate the state of life in Carroll County. Does it really “suck” or are there shimmers of familiarity and community that make it home? The set is cleverly designed by Jack McManus so that the scenes move flawlessly from Rach’s suburban living room, complete with throw pillows, to Tess’s chaotic work space, to their private “island” (a grassy strip between shopping carts). There are no curtains necessary, just a few lighting cues to move us from one scene to the next. The entire show is created to provide a sense of place, from the evening sounds of crickets against the background hum of the Walmart sign, to the hues of blue reflecting twilight in the rural community. Kudos go to sound designer Ava Weintweig and lighting designer Bless Rudisill for their innovation. 

But the play is far more than nostalgia and hopeful dreams, there are a lot of laughs to be had, mostly supplied by Adam Howard who plays “Stinky Pete,” a wannabe rapper and part time drug dealer. The kind of guy who you want to dislike right off the bat but who wins you over with his subtle and surprising (even to him) insights and personal ethics. He’s also funny as hell. Paige Whitman as Crash, the trying-too-hard love interest, does a good job of portraying the awkward outsider trying to fit in. Lorenza Bernasconi plays fledgling filmmaker Tess with a youthful exuberance that explores the mercurial emotions of a young person caught between worlds, and Anna Faye Lieberman portrays Rach with the calming demeanor of that friend who always knows what to say, but not always what to do. 

The show is produced by Azuka Theater Company, which was celebrating its 23rd birthday the night I saw the show (thanks for the bubbles!). One of its missions is to give voice to the people whose stories go unheard. In this instance it was the voices of queer and questioning youth on the verge of adulthood. In 2016, Azuka Theater Company was the first theater company in Philadelphia (and in the country as far as we know) to offer its entire season of productions as Pay What You Decide (PWYD). Every show, every season, it’s PWYD for everyone. In the programs there are envelopes to make a donation, but there’s no collection plate passed around like in church on Sunday mornings, no pressure and no judging. If they can, attendees can make a contribution online or drop it in a box in the lobby, if not, no worries. The productions are mostly advertised by word of mouth, so drop by this weekend, see the show and tell your friends. And then get ready for the next production, “Reverie”, directed by James IJames, running from May 4 – 22.