Comics and fantasies can have grown-up ramifications, but not in “Sheila and Moby,” a maddeningly trite new drama about a successful 31-year-old who – I am going to spoil the climax of the play — finally gives away her prized stuffed animal. At Flying V Theatre, it takes 2½ hours and a few four-letter words (just in case you thought this wasn’t for adults) to wrap it up.
Maybe Patrick Flynn’s script would seem whimsical on TV or as a quirky film, but on the Writer’s Center stage, it’s deeply tedious, even with a strong cast and direction by Courtney Self that convinces you someone with taste is in charge. The stakes of the play are too darn low, despite rumblings of economic crises and divorce and a corporate nightmare montage as our banker heroine denies loans to people who are hoping to finance their dreams. You know in the end those loans will be approved once Sheila, our heroine, has spent some quality time waking up to her better nature, thanks to a film-noir detective quest with a little girl who’s lost her own favorite stuffed toy.
Flying V skews toward action and cartoons; the company slogan is “Be Awesome!” Rorschach Theatre, on the other hand, plumbs deeper with its rich, dark fantasies and dives headfirst into myth with the new “Sing to Me Now.” Not that whimsy doesn’t govern this, too: Iris Dauterman’s play is about the burned-out muse Calliope, called Callie here. Callie needs an assistant, and gets a young mortal woman named Yankee.
As in “Sheila and Moby,” the secondary character plays a heroic role, but that’s where the comparison ends. Dauterman’s offhand dialogue and laid-back wit can be casual to a fault as she brings her mythic figures down to earth, yet there’s an aroma of melancholy that makes you wonder where the tale might be headed.
The answer is a world of hurt, literally, and it’s unexpectedly embodied by Marcel Duchamp’s famous ready-made sculpture “Fountain.” How that connects to despair won’t surprise buffs of dada, but Dauterman knits it up with Callie’s personal grief to create a fresh, sober story with just a touch of adventure.
The small show is lovely to look at. A slim mystical river runs through Swedian Lie’s set in the Atlas Performing Arts Center’s Lab II space, with Callie, Yankee and Mo — short for Morpheus — fishing glowing bottles from the flow. Those are dreams, in a nifty example of how special effects can be created on the cheap. Also alluring are the gods’ costumes, which Debra Kim Sivigny imbues with shabby rock-star chic (though I love the frumpy cardigan sweater Sivigny gives Morpheus as he induces slumbers).
Jenny McConnell Frederick guides her actors to a mix of godlike swagger and human insecurity, with Chloe Mikala as a fine troubled heroine, Tori Boutin as the plucky mortal, Ian Armstrong as an imperious yet amusingly uncertain Hades, and with Erik Harrison’s Mo coming across as a fragile romantic figure. Cam Magee is particularly poignant as Callie’s aging mother, Mnemosyne, whose memory has glitches that make it hard for her to know which daughter she’s talking to. That flicker of dementia is touchingly recognizable, and typical of how Dauterman fruitfully mashes up humanity and divinity in this offbeat quest.
Sing to Me Now, by Iris Dauterman. Directed by Jenny McConnell Frederick. Lights, Sarah Tundermann; sound design, Gordon Nimmo-Smith. With Desiree Chappelle and Jonathan Del Palmer. About 2 hours 15 minutes. Through Nov. 18 at the Atlas Performing Arts Center, 1333 H St. NE. $30. 202-452-5538 or rorschachtheatre.com.
Sheila and Moby, by Patrick Flynn. Directed by Courtney Self. Scenic designer, Stephen M. Cyr; sound design and original compositions, Neil McFadden; costumes, Paris Francesca; lights, Kristin A. Thompson. With Madeline Key, Robyn Rikoon, Cassie Cope, Kathleen Akerley, Tim German, Farrell Parker, Michelle Polera, Megan Reichelt and Nigel Reed. About 2½ hours. Through Nov. 18 at the Writer’s Center, 4508 Walsh St., Bethesda. $20. flyingvtheatre.com.