In “Destination Moon,” teenage Truly gets the shock of her young life. Hospitalized for most of her 16 years with a fatal illness, she is suddenly given dramatic news: She is going to live.
“Destination Moon” is the latest play from Orlando writer Joseph Reed Hayes. It runs Saturday and Sunday, July 14-15, at the Timucua Arts “White House” performance space. While having a death sentence overturned sounds like good news — it would be unsettling if illness is all a person has ever known and longevity has never been in the cards. “She has been told in no uncertain terms she won’t survive,” Hayes says. “She’s never prepared for a normal life.”
As with many of Hayes’s works, music plays a strong part in the storytelling. John C. O’Leary III of Tampa band La Lucha has written an underscore for many scenes and vocalist Lauren Carder Fox adds to the atmosphere — singing without using words. “This is a movie on stage in many ways,” Hayes says. As in film, the play’s music is designed to trigger an emotional response. O’Leary and Hayes had long discussions about the principal characters before the composer developed musical themes for them. O’Leary tried to capture the complexity of young Truly, asking himself, “How can I write something that shows her emotional pain but also the hope and potential she has?” Truly’s counterpart in the show is “Doc” Miller, a late-night radio DJ for a jazz station. Although on the surface they would seem to be quite different, “there are commonalities in these two people,” Hayes says. “They spend a lot of time alone in little rooms.”
Emilie Scheetz and Chan Sterling play the unlikely pair. Scheetz recently lit up the stage in Mad Cow as college-age Alison in Mad Cow Theatre’s “Fun Home.” Sterling does a lot of hosting and emceeing work. Both have found connections with their characters. Scheetz is headed off to New York City in a few weeks to begin college at Manhattan School of Music. Like Truly, she is figuring out how to “enter the real world independently,” she says. Sterling relates to Doc’s obsession with jazz trivia. He’s not a jazz buff himself — “I’m more a ‘60s singer-songwriter kind of guy,” he says — but has a passion for movie minutiae. “There’s a lot of junk in here” — he points to his head, laughing — “that no one cares about, but I care about.”
Hayes says theatergoers will forge connections with these two souls over the course of the 75-minute play. “The idea is to make the audience think about people other than themselves, to make them feel like they’re overhearing a private conversation,” he says of his play that defies neat pigeonholing. “It’s a comic, tragic nonmusical musical,” Hayes says of “Destination Moon.” “It’s the way people are. It’s real life.”