With a name like "A Girl Named Destiny," folks who find their way to Rand Higbee's new comedy should expect to connect with their inner romantic.
"Destiny," premiering at the Venus Theatre Play Shack on C Street in the Laurel Arts District, is a story about love — more specifically about falling in love at first sight. In the two-character play, enacted by Ann Fraistat and D. Grant Cloyd, the script does more than summon the warm fuzzies and lots of chuckles: Higbee challenges the audience to stretch their imaginations.
The show opens to two friends, Chuck and Joe, drinking beer and fishing. Instantly, viewers must suspend their disbelief at Fraistat's steely portrayal of Chuck: When she assumes a male position to urinate, it clicks that Fraistat will change characters, and gender, on a dime.
Cloyd's Joe confesses to Chuck that he is obsessed with a girl he's seen, so obsessed that everyone, including Chuck, looks exactly like her. Knowing nothing about the girl but seeing her "everywhere," Joe sweetly describes the moment their eyes met as like "staring at the greatest joy my life would ever know."
Joe spends all of Act 1 searching for his true Destiny. The situations he encounters digress into offbeat adventures parodying comic books, film, television sitcoms and classical literature. And though Cloyd remains constant playing Joe through Act 1, Fraistat brings a host of eccentric characters to life until Act 2, when the tables turn. Then Fraistat becomes a girl named Destiny, and Cloyd crosses age and gender barriers without missing a beat.
In Act 2, which occurs in parallel time, Destiny is searching for herself. By day, she lives a boring life supporting a deadbeat boyfriend. But at night, Destiny morphs into Vigil Ant, a fugitive superhero, who battles Dr. DDT and looks great in her costume.
Haunted by the memory of a man she saw, Destiny echoes Joe when she describes looking into his eyes as like "staring at the greatest joy my life will ever know," in another sweet moment.
But Higbee's dialogue is also comically incongruent. Destiny calls her unwanted boyfriend, played by Cloyd, silly pet names like "jelly bean" and "stud muffin." Characters comment on their own "mixed metaphors" and "irony"; and of course Vigil Ant can't fly, because "flying is hyperbole."
Mature audiences will appreciate the playwright's sophisticated wit. Higbee's plays are popular in high schools and middle schools across the country, and local youth should find "Destiny's" frenetic action and bathroom humor irresistible.
As star-crossed lovers and all the others, Fraistat and Cloyd deliver superb performances in demanding physical roles. If or how Joe and Destiny find each other as the outlandish plot circles neatly toward a conclusion will remain a mystery for now.
What's not a mystery is that "Destiny" is a first-rate production.
Venus Theatre is Prince Georges County's only indie professional storefront black box theater. Owner and artistic director Deborah Randall received the 2009 Helen Hayes Theatre Artist Award; and previous Venus productions have won two Curve Magazine Play of the Year Awards, an American Theatre Critics Award nomination and an American Express Award.
Higbee, who lives in Minnesota but will attend the second week of the show's run in Laurel, wrote the play to be easily staged, and it fits Randall's black box space to a tee. The expertise of her creative designers — Amy Rhodes (set), Kristin Thompson (lighting), Marilyn Johnson (costumes) and Neil McFadden (sound) — glibly transports the audience through time and space into Higbee's fantasy.
As always in art, "Destiny" is open to interpretation. For instance, Joe and Destiny could really be themselves playing an elaborate game all along. Fraistat says in the program that she welcomes the opportunity to be in love with Cloyd, onstage and off.
In the battle between Vigil Ant and Dr. DDT in Act 2, the show resembles a comic book and some of the physicality also brings the action of a video game to mind.
Randall's production of "A Girl Named Destiny" also pays tribute to love and hope. Randall has said she is dedicating "Destiny" to Tyler Cordrey, his dog Roscoe and Dan Denike, C Street neighbors and Laurel residents tragically lost in a boating accident in December. The show is also dedicated to Taylor Rogers, Cordrey's fiance who survived the accident.
"A Girl Named Destiny" continues through April 14, Thursdays and Fridays at 8 p.m., Saturdays at 3 p.m. and Sunday, April 1 at 3 p.m., at the Venus Theatre Play Shack, 21 C St. General Admission is $20. Buy tickets online at http://www.venustheatre.org or call 866-811-4111 for reservations.