Review: ‘Sheila and Moby’ by Flying V at the Writer’s Center

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Sheila and Moby is a show about a young woman and a friend she thought she’d left behind forever. It’s also about personal responsibility as a member of the community, doing the thing that works when the right thing works out wrong, and owning every bit of everything that makes us human. Sound overblown and far-fetched? It’s not. It’s also not particularly original, though it IS fresh and fun and funky.

Madeline Key and Robyn Rikoon in Sheila and Moby by Flying V Theatre Company. Photo by Ryan Maxwell Photography.
Madeline Key and Robyn Rikoon in Sheila and Moby by Flying V Theatre Company. Photo by Ryan Maxwell Photography.

If I say “derivative,” is that a bad thing? Is “homage” the same thing, only spun positively? If I say Drop Dead Fred (hands up, who remembers?) meets Calvin and Hobbes, have I given away the whole thing? Let’s be clear, however: I really, really like Patrick Flynn’s new script. Director Courtney Self and the Flying V ensemble cast make some potent magic in the black box theatre at the Writer’s Center.

This is a show that explores the matter of Being A Grownup and its relative importance as a life-goal. I’m ambivalent about this because I suspect theater is NOT the proper medium by which to discuss Being A Grownup, because, honestly, what do we know about it? We dress up and play pretend and hope that somebody finds money for beer afterward. Anyway.

The show is partly about children, (so, to a large degree, also about parenting), but make no mistake, it is not FOR children. Well, I suppose children–older children, who can sit still for Acts I and II–would like it, especially if they have an appreciation for Queen, but there’s language. Actually, with the exception of language, (including the “F-word”), there’s no reason to NOT bring children to see Sheila and Moby. As long as you’re the sort of parent who is okay with that sort of thing–in public, in front of other people who might be parents and their potential judgment. (The show is billed as 13+ kid-friendly.) If, however, you’re in a pre-parent phase of life, CFBC, or simply want to leave the ankle-biters at home, this show is definitely adult fare.

Flying V, only seven years old, is a theatre company full of vigor and sass, with contemporary sensibilities, an ambitious mission statement and an audience experience designer (Sydney Moore). It’s also chock-a-block with talent, some of it Equity, both on the technical and performance side of the show.

Visually, everything just works. Stephen Cyr, set designer, provides a stacked set, full of angles and entrances, nooks and crannies, and, with the help of some truly excellent soundscaping by Neil McFadden, sound designer, it transforms itself most satisfactorily into every setting required of the script. What the physical set or sound fill doesn’t manage, group choreography completes by giving us a sense of environment. Inspired choices by Costume Designer Paris Ford give each character a unique, timeless, almost archetypical, look.

Cassie Cope, Robyn Rikoon, and Madeline Key in Sheila and Moby by Flying V Theatre Company. Photo by Ryan Maxwell Photography.
Cassie Cope, Robyn Rikoon, and Madeline Key in Sheila and Moby by Flying V Theatre Company. Photo by Ryan Maxwell Photography.

In Sheila and Moby, performers not only portray characters but act as running crew and special effects during the two hours’ traffic. They all seem to be having a great time. As title character Sheila, Madeline Key demonstrates the tension of adult self vs. child self vs. authentic self with nuance and passion and interacts with all her stage mates brilliantly.

Cassie Cope, playing the plot-propulsive role of Courtney, is enthusiastic, energetic, furious and not for one second self-conscious. Kathleen Akerley’s warmth and Nigel Reed’s expressive features bring wonderful mom and dad energy, and they perfectly capture the delicate touch of loving adult offspring. In the Janus-like dual role of Lara/Curly, Farrell Parker adjusts toughness levels in both directions and is 100% relatable in each.

Tim German as Jason and Megan Reichelt as Quinn bring human neurosis to parenting in a way that’s entirely convincing even (perhaps especially) when it’s unflattering. Robyn Rikoon is, without a doubt, a wonderful, exuberant embodiment of Moby, vibrating with barely contained energy throughout. She and Madeline Key’s Sheila together onstage are quite enchanting.

Flying V’s debut of Sheila and Moby offers a refreshing look at becoming a grownup, and how hard that can be. It does so with clever dialogue, snappy action, tension, laughter, drama, make-believe and a big huggable armful of warm fuzzies. If you’re chasing the butterfly of imaginative-kid-turns-into-responsible-adult-without-selling-out, put down your net. It’s right here in a Black Box in Bethesda.

Run Time: Two hours, including one 15-minute intermission.

Sheila and Moby, presented by Flying V, plays through November 18, 2018, at The Writer’s Center, 4508 Walsh Street, Bethesda, MD 20815. For tickets, go online.

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