BWW Review: Flying V's SHEILA AND MOBY Refuses to Grow Up--And it's Good News!
Is it a comfort or a curse that no matter where you go and what you do, your most embarrassing childhood antics pop up? And, like, at the least opportune moment imaginable?
Sometimes it seems like a miracle we ever grew up, morphing into responsible, (semi-) competent adults. I have vivid memories reading Kurt Vonnegut's classic Slaughterhouse Five as a teenager; I was fascinated by the passage where the novel's hero Billy Pilgrim, "unstuck in time," has the odd experience of his youthful self watching in awe as his mature, adult self gives a riveting speech to his professional colleagues. Billy is agog at the self-assurance, the booming voice filled with a confidence he couldn't dream of ever having. It happens, but how on earth it happens is anyone's guess. So it goes, as Vonnegut would say.
Playwright Patrick Flynn has come up with a clever, fun, but wistful way to juxtapose childhood folly, adult maturity and yawning gap between the two. Sheila and Moby, Flying V's current offering at the Writer's Center in Bethesda, is directed with assurance and joyful, intricately-choreographed frenzy by Courtney Self and boasts an exuberant cast. Flying V has always done shows with its heart on its sleeve, and this is an especially heart-felt contemplation of the ways in which we can never really escape who we once were.
Sheila and Moby centers on a newly-promoted banking official, Sheila (the sensational Madelaine Key), who has made her reputation building Trumpian walls as a hedge against the cock-eyed optimism of her clients. Her prim, banker persona, ready to say "no" at the drop of a deposit-desk pen, is shaken from her complacency by a call out of the blue from a desperate 6-year-old.
The rabbit hole into which Sheila now falls is occupied by precocious six-year-old Courtney (the effervescent Cassie Cope), who has found an old handbill Sheila passed around the neighborhood when her grade-school self wanted to be a sleuth. Courtney, who lives across the street from Sheila's childhood home, believes someone has kidnapped her beloved stuffed koala, and has called for the services of Sam Speedometer, Private Eye (ahem, Sheila's alter ego of yesteryear).
Once on the case, Sam/Sheila calls on the services of her old sidekick Moby-the truly awesome Robyn Rikoon-a stuffed Iberian Lynx. The resulting daring duo will no doubt bring to mind the boy/tiger twosome cooked up by a certain Bill Watterson. "Calvin and Hobbes" fans should be delighted, and fascinated, to see how Flynn takes that cartoon series' premise, personalizes it, and shows us where that legendary final sled ride might lead.
So, 6-year-old Courtney's call brings thirty-something Sheila back to her childhood home, where Mom and Dad--the thoroughly zen Kathleen Ackerley and the stoic Nigel Reed-are busy adjusting to the trials of post-adulthood. The nest long empty, dad's recent retirement has been as awkward as-well, as any process of growing up and out can be. The difference is that while Sheila can leave home, they can't; the past is everywhere they look, inescapable. And once Sheila is back, she finds herself stuck in a time warp where every indignity, every quirk of her younger self is trotted out. Embarrassing doesn't begin to describe the prospect of escaping your parents at a restaurant, heading to the bar for a stiff one, only to find the bully who terrorized you standing nearby, now ready to sell you insurance. (Hell takes many forms).
The genius of Flynn's play is that we're not just following the antics of Sheila, Moby and her 6-year-old friend across the street, we're contemplating the passage of time and changes of persona from multiple angles. Courtney steadfastly refuses to grow out of her childhood, which is currently in progress, and Sheila-in spite of herself-finds she hasn't really given up hers either. Meanwhile, Mom and Dad can't quite give up their former roles as Sheila's parents either.
The threesome of Sheila, Moby and Courtney embark on a series of imaginary adventures, at one point trashing the basement of Sheila's childhood home with reckless abandon. We're talking styrofoam peanuts in flight, cardboard-box spacecraft, and a mess that takes all 15 minutes of intermission to sweep up.
If you're at all familiar with Flying V's zany, heart-felt work, you will grin from ear to ear as the peanuts fly and say that it just goes to show you, the child is the mother to the woman. Because no matter how old you are, no matter what you accomplish in life, there is always that little kid, that past, awkward persona, lurking behind the mask. And there will always be moments when, in spite of yourself, you pause to ask how on earth that little kid grew up. And became you.
Of course, there will always be folks who haven't got the patience for this kind of fun. One especially cranky critic, this past week, complained that Flynn's story about rediscovering your childhood self, and puzzling over that self's relationship with who you are now, is "deeply tedious."
Said critic clearly has no patience for stuffed Iberian Lynxes, especially when wielded (and personified) as a metaphor. Said critic is in desperate need, I might suggest, of a stuffed bear of his own. (Metaphorically speaking, of course.)
Mind you, the show has some kinks to work out, as all new work does; it would have been nice to have Mom's role more fleshed out, for example (a little too much zen for my tastes). And there are scenes which, once the business/goal has been established, it takes a bit too long to wrap up. But the cast is a finely-tuned instrument, with carefully-choreographed scene changes (and in-scene grabs of props, discreetly spirited away). Costume Designer Paris Francesca has some nice touches-especially with Sheila's half-professional, half-kid stuff jumper. And Stephen M. Cyr's set is a fine jumble of bunk-bed, kitchen island and whatever else you want it to be.
I'll apologize in advance for not giving shout-outs to the rest of the cast, each of whom deserves their own moment of praise. But as I'm also an adjunct prof, and I've got mid-terms to grade, I have to return to my so-called-adult duties for now.
Sheila and Moby is a Flying V classic, and a surprisingly layered, complex look at the messy business of growing up - whether you think you have or not.
Running time: 2 hours and 30 minutes, with one intermission.
Sheila and Moby runs October 27-November 18; performances are Thursdays through Saturdays at 8pm, with Saturday and Sunday matinees at 2pm. Performances take place at The Writer's Center, 4508 Walsh Street, Bethesda, MD.
Tickets can be purchased through Brown Paper Tickets online at http://flyingv.brownpapertickets.com, or at the door starting one hour before the performance.