A play about society’s current practice of speed dating could result in nothing but laughs, but in Venus Theatre’s production, “Ding! Or Bye Bye Dad,” the activity is also a way to explore the painful lives of two adult sisters.
Their mother is in jail and their father sexually abused them.
“It’s a dangerous script,” said director Deb Randall, “It’s about them surviving a darkness, but to me the play is also full of laughter.”
Written by Jayme Kilburn, the performances are running from Thursday to March 30 at the Venus Theatre Play Shack in Laurel. The play features adult language and situations.
“It’s our 47th production,” said Randall, who founded the Venus Theatre to present plays about the experiences of women and children.
“I’m always looking for strong female characters,” she said.
In the cast are Kelsey Hogan, who plays Hamiere, and Amy Rhodes, who plays Hamiere’s younger sister, Boomer.
The male characters in the play are portrayed by Tina Fulp, who has performed at the Venus Theatre, Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company and other theaters in the region.
“It’s about two sisters [armed with a baseball bat and frying pan] ... who decide to kill their dad,” Randall said, “The play ends with whether or not they do.”
In the play, Boomer convinces Hamiere, a plus-size woman without a boyfriend, to try speed dating as a way to meet men.
The daters have two minutes to make their pitches before the bell dings and they change seats and move on to the next prospect.
“She’s thin and gorgeous, and all the men love her,” Hogan said about her on-stage sister.
But despite her appeal, Boomer is not into sex and is only dating gay men.
Meanwhile, Hamiere copes with rejection with a deceptive bravado.
“She’s outrageous and outgoing, and uses humor, sarcasm and sex to mask her vulnerability,” Hogan said about her character.
“She’s very open in her sexuality,” Hogan said. “She goes on the offensive before anyone can break her down — she breaks them down first.”
In between speed dates, Hamiere launches into monologues that transport the sisters back to scenes they’ve experienced as children, adolescents and young women.
“It’s all over the place, like random memories,” Rhodes said about the shifting nature of the play.
As actors, both Rhodes and Hogan said it was challenging to distance themselves as people from the darkness of the script.
“It’s almost scary to take [Hamiere] on, because the content can be disturbing,” said Hogan, who is performing her first play at Venus.
A 2013 graduate of Emerson College in Boston, Hogan interned at Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company in Washington, D.C., and now lives in the area.
Rhodes, a mother of two, said much the same thing about the script.
“It’s hard to let myself embrace the anger ... it’s hard to come back from,” she said.
Returning for her third play at Venus, Rhodes said she likes performing in the small theater’s space.
She also said she liked the script and working with Randall.
“It’s exciting as an actor, like going back to college class — you really get to do that,” she said.
Randall said there three more plays to come during Venus’ “Fierce 14” season.
Up next is “Light of Night,” which explores a woman’s marriage; “We Are Samurai” about four young suburbanites trying to resolve a crime committed in past lives and “Virus Attacks Heart,” which dissects the emotions around a one-night stand.
Randall also said she will be writing a play for the Women’s Voices Theatre Festival, a project planned for fall of 2015 intended to present more plays by women, who as playwrights are significantly outnumbered by men in the theater world.
Co-organizing the event are Eric Schaeffer, founder and artistic director for the Signature Theatre in Arlington, Va., and Molly Smith, artistic director for Arena Stage in the District.
Nearly 50 theaters in the region have signed up to produce world premieres by women playwrights at the festival.
“I’ll be standing on a lot of shoulders,” Randall said. “It’s progress.”