Banana Bag & Bodice launch spectacular 'Space//Space' from Brooklyn, final destination unknown
THEATER On a warm evening last week in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, Jason Craig and Jessica Jelliffe were milling around the sidewalk outside the Collapsable Hole, a small warehouse performance venue one subway stop from Manhattan, dressed in dark blue one-piece suits, skull caps, heavy-rimmed glasses, and long beards.
"You wanna see a show?" asks Jelliffe, looking a little like a Hassid at the public pool. It's a physical fact that passersby can't always pass by fast enough to escape the sideshow gravity of a woman in a beard, and sure enough one or two wanderers fall in with the rest of the crowd arriving already determined to see Space//Space, the much anticipated new show from the bicoastal company that most recently brought Bay Area audiences (with co-producers the Shotgun Players) Beardo and Beowulf: A Thousand Years of Baggage.
The audience comes through the front door and slips passed a silvery space ship set snuggly inside the painted brick garage, a combination that carries the vague threat of an aluminum container shoved in the microwave, only you're inside with it. Some airy, oxygenated house music thrumming the room like a zither adds nicely to this anticipatory pre-show mood. Soon the lights go down leaving only a clip lamp on a sidewall illuminating the figure of some rambling madman-scientist-grease monkey (Peter Blomquist) who introduces a half-comprehensible "experiment."
And with that, the stunning space pod — a self-contained octagon with milky translucent glass walls, an old-school turntable for a control console, and a series of small bare speakers clinging magnetically to its aluminum framework — comes to life, rumbling and flickering like a miniature nightclub, a plush DJ booth, or an industrial-sized hi-fi egg chair. Its passengers, wearing furry suits with ear hoodies, are the bearded pair of brothers seen outside a few minutes earlier. Penryn (Jelliffee) is waking up confused from a deep sleep. Lumus (Craig) cautiously explains to his addled brother that he's been asleep for the better part of three years. In that time their mission has been going forward: they're still bound for some unknown destination as representatives of earth civilization, a madcap message in a half-corked bottle recording their words and deeds for some future audience.
But like a latter-day Gregor Samsa, Penryn has awakened to find himself metamorphosed, still hairy as a Harry but sporting the "girl bits" of a Henrietta. This change will propel the mission in an unanticipated direction. Penryn reborn is full of questions and challenges for his/her brother and their gender blender of a mission inside this increasingly stuffy intergalactic studio apartment.
Meanwhile, it seems Lumus, when not studying his brother's transmogrifying bod, has spent the last few years working out a comedy routine, bits of which wend their way through the narrative as an alternately hilarious and eerie metanarrative of sorts, inviting a Henny Youngman–grade hermeneutics of the patriarchal social construct left back on earth. "I'm dying up here," Lumus likes to say in an increasingly ominous showbiz metaphor, hitting a button for canned laughter as his inept struggle with off-color bar jokes and Rat Pack–era machismo gives way to a darker prophesy of his own demise.
Too much more plot will spoil the surprises in store for venturers to Brooklyn or those awaiting the production's hoped-for (but not yet scheduled) future landing in the Bay Area. But let's just say this oeuvre Lumus is making — a summation of a life, the echo of a civilization now reduced to two — is up for grabs, and Penryn may be the person to grab it. The outcome of their space//space odyssey contains the seed of a new world and an old one, both slouching toward Alpha Centauri to be born.