What if an overworked Greek goddess needed an intern? That’s the instantly appealing premise of Iris Dauterman’s deeply imagined Sing to Me Now—a healing work of comic art having its world premiere at Rorschach Theatre. The script was plucked from more than 70 entries submitted to Rorschach’s annual Magic in Rough Spaces New Play Lab this past spring and developed into a full performance.
Dauterman’s language is alive, street, funny, and rife with insightful zingers among the originally realized characters. Her quotable lines and inventive metaphors keep the faith in these dark times delightfully, like opening jar after jar of fireflies into the night. If there’s no hope out there, this artist makes a gift of it for you.
Sing to Me Now will help those tired from too much suffering to take heart. Its delicately revealed depiction of unresolved trauma and grief is greatly moving. Its argument for why making art matters gathers force as the plot unfolds.
Calliope (Chloe Mikala), the immortal muse of epic poetry and the last surviving sibling of her eight sisters, is burned out from answering pleas for creative ideas from artists through the ages. To impose order on her messy office, crammed to the rafters with unanswered letters, she hires an intrepid young woman, Yankee (Tori Boutin, who digs deep for peaks of feeling and gives her all).
Mikala’s Callie has the sharp-tongued swagger of a boss lady and the weariness of a survivor hiding heartbreak. Morpheus (Erik Harrison, who exudes laid-back charm and abiding goodness), the god of dreams, is her loyal best friend who also begins a romance with human Yankee. Mnemosyne (Cam Magee, with magnetic gravitas), the goddess of memory and Callie’s mother, drifts into dementia but comes to for lucid moments of love and frustration. For reasons that become clear, Callie hates Hades (Ian Armstrong, sardonic and excellently louche), god of the underworld. Desirée Chappelle and Jonathan Del Palmer add to the vim of a well-picked cast.
Rorschach’s co-Founding Artistic Director Jenny McConnell Frederick directs Sing to Me Now. In charged scenes between various pairs of actors, I could feel startlingly pure emotions leaping out from beneath their skin.
With hard work and a sense of humor, set designer Swedian Lie has transformed Lab Theatre II’s black-box space. From the hand-built “river” lined with poppies that cleaves the room, to an elevator grate that demarcates the underworld and allows Hades to make dramatic entrances, every area of the stage is used economically and pops visually.
The props include a replica of a Duchamp urinal sculpted from foam and painted. The costumes are contemporary with an edge—Callie wears a ripped mesh skirt and black lipstick—but wink at Greek mythology with laurel wreaths.
The play took a while to feel believable at the performance I attended. But soon, the theatrical ingredients combined and the actors’ chemistries combusted. The audience caught on, and the laughs began to land. The pacing of the denouement dragged a bit, and the play ends with a slightly too clever metaphor with the same actor in a dual role, which I won’t spoil here. It may need refining to get to the quick of what is meant.
As Mo tells Yankee, who has taken this unpaid internship while trying to be a lawyer, despite her student loans from college: “Whatever you are out there doesn’t matter. I can only see the inside of your head. And you have the mind of an artist.”
Dauterman is a young playwright from San Luis Obispo, California, who now lives in D.C. Her taste is exquisitely tuned to good ideas, and they fall from her fingertips (like when Yankee suggests “a sandcastle that lasts forever”). Her burgeoning understanding of the complexities of art, love, and pain is corralled by the inexorable logic of her work. I realize this will sound naive. But I still think she’s a real-life genius.
Sing to Me Now reaches into your guts and invisibly rearranges things with a gentle hand. You leave the performance feeling better connected to humanity, with a few tears sparkling in your eyes.
A river of wisdom, this play believes strongly that people can be saved.
1333 H St. NE. $20–$30. (202) 399-7993. rorschachtheatre.com.