At Laurel's Venus Theatre, an artistic monument to a murdered friend

“Her spirit is curled up in my heart now, like a kitten on a couch," Deborah Randall told the audience.

That spirit, of murder victim Tricia McCauley, blossoms for an hour in the multi-media one-woman show "Living and Dying with Tricia McCauley," now at Laurel's Venus Theatre.

The performance is a touching evocation of a woman's spirit and a fierce damning of the "toxic masculinity" that caused her death.

The performer makes it clear that what she has accomplished in her career on stage is, in many ways, the result of her friendship with McCauley.

"She always encouraged me to be outside the box. I would thrive there," Randall said.

Randall and McCauley, both Washington area actresses, were friends for 20 years. They shared music and worked together in theater projects.

On Dec. 25, 2016, McCauley, 46, was driving to a Christmas dinner. She never arrived. At some point -- it is unclear how -- she was confronted by Duane Adrian Johnson, 30, who tied her up, beat and sexually assaulted her, then strangled her. Her body was found in the back seat of her car.

Johnson, whose DNA was on McCauley's body, was arrested and pled guilty. He is serving a 30-year prison sentence.

Randall told of her own encounter with a mugger who threatened her with a screwdriver. Shaken, she still got on stage with McCauley's encouragement.

"Performance does that. It heals you," She said.

Randall lets out her rage at points, but she also picks up a guitar and performs a song the duo liked, she plays some music on a record player and shows slides on the wall that depict her grinning companion.

McCauley had a thing about loving plants and when a video of her is screened, she tells the audience a bit impishly, "I consider my calling to be that of a plant translator."

The intimacy of the venue, which has less than 40 seats, makes Randall's grief palpable. Randall suffered from post traumatic stress disorder after the murder and it is clear that the performance is her way of preventing "the cement" from filling her heart. It is art as therapy.

"Cement makes you a statue," she said.

Randall founded Venus Theatre in 2000 specifically "to set flight to the voices of women and children" and the current performance, the first of the fall season, is an excellent fit.

The performances continue at Venus, 21 C St., Laurel, until Oct. 14 with shows on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 3 p.m. Tickets are $40 for general admission and $15 for seniors.

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