Society has a collective concept of normal that we think everyone experiences, but as it turns out everyone has a unique experience and no one’s experience is quite the same as anyone else’s. This is certainly true for everyone when it comes to being held to societal norms; be it gender, physical appearance, or relationships.
Venus Theatre, launching its 14th Season: Fierce 14, starts an explorative catalyst for this unapologetically intense season with Ding. Or Bye Bye Dad. A new work written by Jayme Kilburn, this evocative play explores the notion of coping, the skills required, the events that prevent us from doing so, and ultimately life as we experience it based on our struggles. Directed by Founder and Artistic Director, Deborah Randall, this emotionally gripping piece of theatre has a broad scope of relatability and presents a socially collective series of moments to which everyone can find a way to relate.
Playwright Jayme Kilburn presents a masterful work that delves down an intricately woven path of the human psyche in regards to functionality in society. Kilburn encompasses many things into her play leaving the focal point broad enough for interpretation yet specific enough to drive the actors into a compelling production. There is always something hovering in the periphery of the women’s existence: the bad but vague memories from childhood of their father that has poisoned their lives like an infectious canker in an otherwise beautiful budding rose. There are unifying elements of everyone’s struggle present in Kilburn’s play; revolting moments of human existence that we experience as we cope, or because of our inability to cope, all encapsulated within this raging rapid of human emotions that surges and pulses throughout the duration of the show.
Kilburn chooses to stray from the traditional linear structure of most narrative stories. This strategic use of carefully placed flashbacks, moments of internal monologue brutally externalized in moments of freeze-frame, and moments of live-action with non-existent other characters creates a compelling work that really draws the audience into the story as well as creates a living empathetic yearn for the characters as they roll through the play. Kilburn has crafted two thoroughly developed women that are emotionally charged and engaged in their experiences moment to moment. Also creating a series of male characters that serve as both plot devices and foils, antagonists and reflections, Kilburn’s work is inspiring.
Sound Designer Neil McFadden creates a heightened awareness of the characters’ childhood issues in his use of Nursery Rhyme Rock during the scene changes. By flooding the space with up-tempo, heavy rocker versions of innocent childhood songs, McFadden successfully symbolizes the notion that just because one has grown into an adult does not mean that the issues from childhood go away or are ever truly resolved until you address them and let them go.
Serving as the show’s Costume Designer, Director Deborah Randall augments this notion of children and troubled childhoods in her approach to the women’s wardrobe. By dressing the two female characters in these bright colored childlike outfits, a constant visual reminder is presented that although they are adults they still wear the emotional coloring of their childhood in their everyday lives. This garish clash of colors serves as a representative of what happens to the sweet innocence of childhood when corrupted; something that was once beautiful— like a pair of hot pink boots— looks twisted and distorted against the vibrant buttercup yellow of a frilly lace dress; both elements serving as symbols of how these women are unable to move past the vaguely described traumas of their childhood until they do find a way to cope and let go.
Randall orchestrates a brilliant ensemble piece that allows each of the three performers to deliver emotionally raw performances that speak directly to the audience. Her choice to have all of the male characters played by just one woman is a bold and daring move that brings a layer of complexity to the meaning of the play overall. In doing so it takes the threat of a male presence out of the play for the edgier scenes while keeping it hovering just in the periphery as these scenes develop. It translates extremely well because of Randall’s guidance in finding the gender energy of a male character and pulling that into the performance.
Tina Renay Fulp, playing the male characters, does an exceptional job of embodying male gender energy and finds distinctive choices in her physicality to make these characters extremely believable. Playing a handful of different men is a challenge in and of itself but Fulp not only rises to the challenge but exceeds expectations in her delivery by making each of them extremely unique and distinguished. Her presence on stage is sharply focused and channeled into the textual delivery of each of her characters’ dialogues. A commanding performer, Fulp brings an additional dimension to the production as a female in these roles.
Giving a visceral and emotionally explosive performance is Amy Belschner Rhodes as Boomer. As the character’s name might suggest, Rhodes has booming moments of emotional explosion that sharply contrast her otherwise meager and mild mannerisms. There is a ferocious embodiment of tainted fury that comes surging out of Rhodes when confronting the Walton character; every fiber of her being blazing with uncontrollable hate and rage, all stemming from neglect and insecurity. The complex emotional depth that she imbues into her portrayal is stunning. Rhodes develops a dysfunctional and yet complacent chemistry with Hamiere (Kelsey Jayne Hogan) that is the pinnacle of definition in their sororal relationship.
Hogan, playing the centralized focus of the work, gives a vivacious dynamic representation of a multifaceted character. Her temper comes in spurts and bursts that when in full swing are terrifying. Beneath the harsh exterior of her character’s defenses Hogan unearths a rich and tremulously raw vulnerability that creates an intense and fascinating juxtaposition in her character’s existence. The most stunning moment of delivery in the production for Hogan is during the freeze-frame speeches addressed at Schmivis (played by Fulp). The harrowing reality of getting to say every overloaded emotion right to the source of her pain is rewarding but deeply disturbing as the reality that she isn’t actually expressing this things comes to mind.
Hogan handles an eruption of verbal vomit that spews forth with such intensity that it is hard not to feel blown away by her tirade. Oscillating between desperately clinging and grasping at emotional straws and raging with bitter anger so sharp it slices through steel, Hogan balances the two main sides of this character with exceptional precision. An exceptionally confident and talented performer, Hogan delivers the carefully crafted complexity of this character without a moment’s trepidation.
It is a new and evocative piece of theatre, and a show like this will not be found anywhere else in the DC area; well worth seeing.
With Ding. Or Bye Bye Dad Venus is breaking boundaries once again with their edgy and evocative new work. A show like this will not be found anywhere else in the DC area. It’s an emotionally inspiring piece of theatre at its finest.
Running Time: Approximately two hours, with one intermission.
Ding. Or Bye, Bye Dad plays through March 30, 2014 at The Venus Theatre Playshack— 21 C Street in historic Laurel, MD. For tickets call the box office at (202) 236-4078 or purchase them online.