At one point in the 1999 sci-fi comedy Galaxy Quest, Sigourney Weaver’s exasperated communications officer, whose only function on board (aside from providing eye candy) is to repeat whatever Tim Allen’s captain has just said to the computer, blows up at her crewmates. “Look, I have one job on this lousy ship. It’s stupid, but I’m going to do it, OK?”
The all-female crew in Amy Tofte’s Women of 4G, now in a nifty local premiere from Babes With Blades under Lauren Katz’s direction, face higher hurdles and tougher jobs. What’s admirable is that Tofte’s script and the Babes cast mostly manage to balance a lot of competing genres—space-opera parody, whodunit, race-against-time apocalyptic thriller, melodrama-with-a-feminist-twist—with only a few scattered bobbles in tone. The deliberately low-fi aesthetics of Jessica Baldinger’s gray modular movable set pieces and the old-school tools (socket wrenches never go out of style, apparently) add to the sense that we’re in a world that is both retro and on life support.
In the first moments, we learn that the ship’s captain (the only male in the crew) has died under suspicious circumstances. Stark (Ashley Yates) takes command and wrestles not only with figuring out what happened to her predecessor, but also with whether the crew should complete its mission of launching a satellite that could reverse global climate change, or preserve their future careers by following protocol and returning to earth. The latter means the all-male “shadow ship” right behind them (hilariously named “Adonis 5”) would get credit for the launch.
Wollman (Jazmín Corona), creator of the satellite, fights for her scientific baby, while the hotheaded navigator, Nataki (LaKecia Harris), is ready to take down anyone who questions her competency, especially the engineer, Baston (Catherine Dvorak). The medical team of Cava (Renee Lockett) and Toulle (Judi Schindler) provide sharp comic relief throughout, as well as reminding their colleagues of the dangers of ageism. (Baston, realizing that disobeying the chain of command and finishing the mission might end her career, laments “I’m not ready to retire,” to which Schindler’s Toulle acidly retorts “You think I am?”) The youngest crew member, Pierce (Jillian Leff), embodies both naivete and cunning, to the exasperation of her shipmates, who realize she’s the only one who might be able to save them.
The fights (created by Maureen Yasko) involve straight-up fisticuffs instead of blades. Not all of the blows land believably on the small stage, but the verbal thrusts and parries tear through the chain of command as the women confront their own mortality and what their mission (or its failure) might mean for future generations, especially women. Underneath all the nods to other familiar tropes contained in the story, the show maintains a poignant note of despair and sadness that women’s gambits for personal glory must be measured against the expectation that they will always sacrifice themselves for the greater good. v