Genergy. noun – The study of male and female energies – gender energies – as applicable to roles presented on the stage. This concept is thoroughly explored and developed through Venus Theatre’s world premier of A Girl Named Destiny by Rand Higbee. It is an uproarious journey that sets two actors to the task of playing multiple roles on a quest powered by love at first sight. There’s a little something for everyone wrapped up in this romance – from vigilantes to public urination and several peculiar but entertaining characters and mishaps that fall in-between, so love may be strange but this production takes it to a whole new level.
There is a subdued mural of sorts chalked onto the walls; muted purple city skylines that look as if they’ve been washed away by rain. This artwork, from Scenic Designer Amy Rhodes, already gets the mind thinking along a gentler perhaps feminine course and helps to set the dividing line between male and female right from the beginning. The show flips through many scenes taking place in an assortment of locations and this effect is achieved with subtle shifts in character, the use of a few well placed props, but it is polished to perfection with the assistance of overlaid soundtracks. Sound Designer Neil McFadden works to ensure that each scene has a clear location so that the audience isn’t left guessing. During the opening number, and every consequent scene where the characters are fishing, we get the soft sound of waves lapping against the dock with the errant cry of a bay bird every so often. There is muffled bar room chatter for scenes in bars, and even old TV comic book style fight music for the scene that becomes a police chase. It enhances the experience and provides an extra level of reality to the show.
Director Deborah Randall works intensely with the two actors to execute this tricky play. There are roughly eight different roles that are presented to the audience with clarity despite the gender blending and the actors switching roles frequently throughout the production. Randall’s intent of discovering what makes a man a man and a woman a woman comes through in these portrayals in clearly defined tactics; the way the characters walk, the way they talk, all of their mannerisms create a distinctive male or female on the stage, which becomes an intricate part of this play’s exploration.
We first encounter Chuck (played by Ann Fraistat) as the epitome of your redneck man. Fraistat adjusts her voice to a lower register, walks with a masculine wide-spread gait and takes great vocal pleasure in public urination. She then tackles the male role of a police sketch artist who has a dark twang to his accent, and then a jittery homeless person. Despite changing costumes and shifting accents for one of the characters – these characters appear in their portrayal as the same type of male – one with a gruff low voice, a wide walking stance and a stereotypical man approach to homophobia. But this is not to say that she does not do a decent job of convincing the audience she’s a male.
Fraistat’s best presentation of two distinctly different characters is when she plays the “good cop/bad cop” routine in Act I. She goes from entering as a surly menacing male cop who speaks with the sound of a Chicago mobster. There is explosive vocal violence from her as this character and then she slips back stage, immediately enters the space again – with no physical changes, and slides into this smooth, very bubbly feminine character who utilizes her sexual wiles to elicit a confession from Joe. She makes lightening quick changes between this good cop/bad cop several times throughout the scene, creating an unmistakable delineation between the two.
Joe (D. Grant Cloyd) appears to us first at that same fishing pier where we encountered public urinating Chuck. Cloyd’s main character of Joe is awestruck by the concept of love at first sight, so much so that he begins to see the face of his destiny everywhere. He presents this character with an emotional vulnerability, wearing his heart on his sleeve— a characteristic often reserved for describing women in love. When Cloyd speaks, professing poetry or his infatuation with this unknown woman with whom he had a chance encounter you can hear Romeo, Valentine, Lysander built up in his voice; every youthful lover of Shakespeare rings clear in his passionate pleas of desperation to find her. He too has a moment of unparalleled characters shift where he goes immediately one moment from being the dopey love struck man to Rick— a rough low-life who plays dirty with the good cop during the investigation. The way he leans, speaks and responds to her questions in this face-off between himself and Rick are as different as night and day.
And just as we see Fraistat mounting the roles of males we see Cloyd take on the role of a female. Betty, Destiny’s best friend, is mastered by Cloyd as he becomes every bit the feminine character. He uses subtle mannerisms and affectations to fit the stereotype of a woman with southern charm and etiquette. Cloyd makes excellent use of his feminine props, going so far as to gently beat Destiny with his bright pink purse during moments of frustration.
Together this pair makes for a wild ride of love and emotions seen through everyone’s eyes. When they finally meet as the characters they have been seeking all show there is something quite magical about it. Love carves a path through these characters lives and with hope a little determination and a powerless Superhero named ‘The Vigil Ant’ they just might make it to the ending.
Now you can do this the easy way or the hard way, hard or easy – easy or hard – but however you do it— do it while A Girl Named Destiny is still playing!
Running Time: 1 hour and 40 minutes, with one intermission.