One play borrows from the Theater of the Absurd. The other opts for naturalism — except that its characters include mermaids. Two mettlesome productions from feminist-leaning companies are pondering hard realities in the lives of modern women. The plays take drastically different approaches, but each makes honorable use of incongruity, humor and daring.
To say that Andrea Lepcio’s absurdist “Tunnel Vision” alludes to “Waiting for Godot,” the works of Edgar Allan Poe and the Gloria Gaynor disco hit “I Will Survive” is merely to hint at the idiosyncrasies of this two-hander, on view in a respectably acted Venus Theatre production, directed by Deborah Randall. A tale of mismatched strangers trapped in a junk-strewn limbo, the play also incorporates aspects of an in-progress art installation.
Olexzandra (Kyosin Kang) is an overachieving married doctor. Jill (Katie Hileman) is a rebellious loner who has recently had a paranormal experience on a train. After the two women (in blue and pink pantsuits) meet in a netherworld they can’t leave, they pass the time with talk, bickering and role-play. While ideas about career choice, body image, family, and sexual and existential identity ricochet around, the characters artistically arrange the junk (a fishing net, a baseball bat, a plastic flamingo, and more), personalizing the limbo.
“Tunnel Vision” concludes with a vision of healing and empowerment that feels cloying and too-tidy, and the art installation in the Venus production is wan. (“Tunnel Vision” premiered in the Pittsburgh area in 2015.) Still, Lepcio’s fusion of Beckettian homage and feminist critique will intrigue the literary-minded.
Meanwhile, the Mead Theatre Lab is hosting the world premiere of “Sioux Falls” by local playwright Megan Dominy. Mounted by 10th Muse Productions, this purposeful but lively drama imagines the paths that intersect at the only clinic offering abortion services in South Dakota. As with other recent productions touching on abortion — Forum Theatre’s “Nasty Women Rep,” Arena Stage’s “Roe” — Dominy’s play is timely, given recent developments threatening women’s health initiatives.
Director Rachael Murray has assembled a solid cast of actors who do justice to the considerable humor and occasional pathos in this well-researched script. Tess Higgins aces the foulmouthed wisecracking of Kat, a grad student, while Allyson Harkey is persuasively tense and wry as Maura, a professor who’s desperate for a child. Mo O’Rourke ably embodies the fragility of Annabelle, an abused wife who has modeled her imaginary friends on sea-folk from “The Little Mermaid.”
Playwright Dominy has a gift for conjuring funny and distinctive voices. (Maura quips that her husband’s baby-name suggestion, Mabel, would work “if we want our daughter to sound like an octogenarian in need of a bridge partner.”) So, even though a commendable desire to represent a spectrum of viewpoints has stretched “Sioux Falls” well past the two-hour mark, the play never feels like a slog. You won’t leave feeling downcast, even if you’re not exactly humming Disney tunes.
Tunnel Vision by Andrea Lepcio. Direction and costume design, Deborah Randall; set, Amy Rhodes; lighting, Kristin Thompson; sound, Neil McFadden. About 90 minutes. Tickets: $20-$40 Through June 4 at Venus Theatre, 21 C St., Laurel, Md. Visit venustheatre.org.
Sioux Falls by Megan Dominy. Directed by Rachael Murray; lighting design, Jason Aufdem-Brinke; sound, Niusha Nawab; set, James Finley; choreography, Nora Rosengarten. With Seth Alcorn, Ali Evarts, Jennifer Hopkins, Bianca Lipford and Jonathan Rizzardi. About 2 hours and 20 minutes. Tickets: $10-$20. Through June 11 at the Mead Theatre Lab, 916 G St. NW. Call 202-315-1305 or visit culturaldc.org or 10thmuse.com.