Dallas — It seems oddly fitting to take a single character’s arc from Echo Theatre’s Brides of the Moon by the Five Lesbian Brothers as representative of this production as a whole: Dai Dai the monkey. A lab animal launched into space with the titular Brides, Dai Dai (portrayed by LisaAnne Haram) could have easily been nothing more than a collection of sight gags and broad physical humor, and indeed, the majority of the character’s appearances fall under those categories. But as the show progresses, Dai Dai’s ill-fated journey comes to its equally ill-fated conclusion with a surprisingly touching grace note. And so it goes throughout the play: off-color humor and broad satire interspersed with unexpected moments of depth. In this absurd, dystopian vision of humanity’s future, seemingly one-note caricatures will suddenly reveal themselves as lost souls in search of some sense of meaning and connection.
But let’s not be too self-serious, here—Lord knows the show itself never is. The Five Lesbian Brothers (which included Lisa Kron, who wrote the lyrics and book for Fun Home) is a five-woman theatre collective who sought to skewer cultural and theatrical norms through “politically incorrect” satire. They premiered this riff on 1950s B (or Z?)-level sci-fi flicks at the WOW Cafe in New York in 1996, and the show maintains much of its loopy, gleefully vulgar charm, even if the satire frequently feels like it’s searching in vain for a target. In the not-too-distant future, mankind has conquered the stars. Meanwhile, womankind, in the person of our four intrepid astronauts, travels into space for somewhat less glamorous reasons.
Not to put too fine a point on it, but: Mars needs women! Or at least, a deep-space resort system dubbed the “PMS” needs women, thus prompting the launch of the “BJ-15” spaceship (many, many more jokes in this vein) with its all-female crew, dubbed for promotional purposes as “The Brides of the Moon.” Leading the crew is no-nonsense Commander Tylie Holway (Stephanie Butler), whose tough exterior masks her lack of experience in matters both professional and personal. Her lieutenant, Gabrielle Bichon-Frisse (Leslie Patrick, whose accent work is consistent and quite good), works to hide the effects of her painful, time-displaced past with a mask of French ennui, obligatory product placement (“Bitch Cigarettes: You’ve Come a Long Way, Bitch”), and endless smoking.
The crew is rounded out by the lusty Russian engineer Slotya Rimjobovich (as previously stated, yes—jokes like this abound), portrayed with much verve by Kateri Cale. Finally, there’s the fresh-faced civilian teacher Bridget MacKinney (Caroline Cole), who won her place onboard ship with the winning entry in an essay contest, and whose primary duty appears to be caring for Dai Dai the monkey. MacKinney views the Brides’ “goodwill” mission with significantly more enthusiasm than her crewmates, whose sexual proclivities gradually emerge as the mission continues; MacKinney’s horror at being surrounded unexpectedly by—gasp!—lesbians recalls no lesser LGBTQ touchstone than the film, But I’m A Cheerleader! Said mission is barely on its way before the ladies’ ship is marooned in space “on the dark side of Uranus.” To make matters worse (or better, depending on one’s point of view), the crew has unwittingly been implanted with “Sex Drive Implants” that lead to regularly scheduled orgies amongst the crew in various duos (and occasionally trios).
As the crew attempts to repair their ship between athletic bouts of (simulated) sex, their fate ends up in unlikely hands: a dotty housewife in Ohio with a broken microwave picks up the ship’s transmissions. Mrs. Steve Powers (LisaAnne Haram who, when given more to do than hoot as Dai Dai, offers quite a nuanced performance) spends her days in a haze of television jingles and “consciousness lowering” tapes—a mix of banal platitudes and peppy advertisements—but her communications with the Brides gradually reveal that she may be more than she appears. She lives with her semi-oblivious husband Ken (Caroline Cole), and her 31-year-old daughter Carmen (Kateri Cale), who flunked the personality test required by the Space Academy. Carmen’s frustration with her failure to launch (both literal and figurative) leads her to befriend Lynn Stone (Leslie Patrick), Commander Holway’s ex-best friend and a former astronaut. All these threads converge in satisfying and sometimes surprising ways as Mr. Steve, Carmen, and Lynn begrudgingly work together to save the Brides from their Sapphic limbo.
The cast, under the direction of Terri Ferguson, makes the most of a script that, at times, is more a collection of vignettes than a cohesive whole. The conceit of the sex drive-enhancing chip offers hilarious opportunities for new pairings and frequently complicates existing relationships, bringing new characteristics and feelings to light rather than simply titillating the audience.
The Bath House Cultural Center theater’s low ceilings lend themselves well to the sense of claustrophobia one would expect from a spaceship, while the set design’s mix of Apple-inspired futurism with cheesy sci-fi doodads is reminiscent of Mystery Science Theater 3000’s “cardboard and Scotch tape” aesthetic. The sound design is a charming mix of original music, sci-fi sound effects which will be familiar to even a casual fan of Star Trek, and 50’s-esque advertisements for futuristic products (“Hamburgoo: No meat to chew!”)—though the audio was occasionally somewhat low for the space. The costume design was effective in evoking the cobbled-together “space suits” of classic sci-fi schlock, as well as in ensuring there was no confusion between the actors playing multiple roles.
Brides of the Moon may on occasion suffer from a lack of focus in its criticism of…what, precisely? Traditional gender roles? Sexuality? The patriarchy? Consumer culture? Any and all of the above? But its boisterous good humor, glimpses of true pathos and thoroughly game cast carry it through to a satisfying, if silly, conclusion. End transmission.