Review: Women at Risk in Space in Babes With Blades’ Feminist Epic, Women of 4G

Women of 4G is a brave sci-fi story set in the year 2094 as the female members of a space crew take over the operation of their ship when the male captain is found dead. (That’s not a spoiler; that’s how the play opens.) Lauren Katz directs this futuristic feminist epic with a cast of seven astronauts for Babes With Blades Theatre Company.

Amy Tofte’s script drags a bit in act one, perhaps being too concerned with demonstrating that the women of government spacecraft 4G are technically savvy and fully capable of managing a mission to save humanity (at first the crew thinks they are uploading a new program for a communications satellite).

Photo by Joe Mazza/Brave Lux.

The death happens while the ship is in dead space with 20 hours to go before clearing orbit and establishing communication with base again. Stark (Ashley Yates), the first officer, takes over as captain and discusses the dilemma with her crew. If we inform base of the death, she says, they’ll require us to turn around and abort the mission. Or we could just keep going to complete the mission, risking reprimands and being stripped of rank.

Wollman (Jazmin Corona), the tech genius who spent seven years preparing the program and another 20 months on the upload, wants to keep going. But there’s more to the mission than the crew knows. It’s not just a communications satellite. Stark tells them the real reason for the mission, which explains why male astronauts tried to buy various female crew off to get on the mission in their place, and why a “shadow crew” of mostly men is following 4G, in case something goes wrong on 4G. Stark says,

“The satellite, once online with Wollman’s program, converts unfiltered solar UV radiation and sends it back to Earth. Wollman found a way to bombard particles with enough force that CO2 can be transformed into O2 and O3. Over time, it will repair the earth’s negative atmospheric changes. Wollman believes it could buy us…it could buy Earth at least another five hundred years. Maybe more.”

Jillian Leff and the ensemble. Photo by Joe Mazza/Brave Lux.

Stark at first insists they follow protocol and turn back but events cause that decision to be reversed. Act two begins with a choreographed space walk by new astronaut Pierce (Jillian Leff) to upload the new operating program. She hallucinates while on the space walk but the crew is able to retrieve her. Act two brings more excitement than act one did, so don’t even think of leaving at intermission.

The cast is sturdy and unemotional in act one, as if director Katz counseled them not to be girly. More happens in act two as we get to know the crew a little better, including the two veteran staff, medical doctors Cava (Renee Lockett) and Toulle (Judi Schindler). LaKecia Harris plays navigator Nataki, who has a bitch with Wollman (resulting in fisticuffs) and Catherine Dvorak is Baston, the engineering chief.

In Women of 4G, Babes With Blades fulfills their mission of telling stories with women driving the action, including violence and its consequences. Unfortunately, in this case, the script doesn’t call for sword fighting (admittedly awkward to choreograph on a space ship). I did miss that aspect of BWBTC’s staging, which was gloriously performed, for instance, in Othello and The Lady Demands Satisfaction.

Be sure to take note of Elle Erickson’s creative costume design. At first glance, the crew are simply in all-white one-piece uniforms. But check out the color touches in collars, patch pockets, waistbands, stripes and patches in black, turquoise, red and yellow. Each costume is a unique design. Jessica Baldinger’s set design is also ingenious. Movable pods large and small are arranged and rearranged to serve as stools, the ship’s control and engineering centers, and an autopsy table.

If you go back a century and put the crew on water instead of in space, you may be reminded of Maiden, the documentary about the first all-female sailing crew to compete in Britain’s challenging Whitbread Round the World Race in 1989.

Women of 4G by Babes With Blades Theatre Company continues through September 14 at the Factory Theater, 1623 W. Howard St. Tickets are $28 ($15 for students and seniors) for performances Thursday-Sunday.

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