Even in the vastness of space, gender discrimination persists. Astronauts at the international space station recently had their first all-female space walk cancelled because the only available suits were sized to fit men and not women. In “Women of 4G,” the crew members on a long-distance satellite repair mission are trying to accomplish a feat of their own, finishing this near-Mars mission as their nation’s first all-female crew. Well, almost all-female. Their captain is a man. And when he dies suspiciously mid-mission, the women’s hopes to make their mark on history are put in jeopardy.
Amy Tofte’s play essentially functions as a drawing room murder mystery, only the drama happens in space. Instead of the crew being stranded on an island, they are floating in a vessel they cannot escape. They have reached the edge of communication with the Earth, so they cannot report what has happened, not unlike when a storm cuts out the telephone lines in an Agatha Christie whodunit. Each crew member has reason to suspect the others, and when they split into smaller groups, their resentments at how they were treated by a sexist captain bubble to the surface and shed light on their potential motives. The familiar structure helps ground the fantastical near-future circumstances, and it gives the audience something to hold onto in the early going, when a lot of scifi terminology is thrown around without much context or sense of human stakes.
Director Lauren Katz develops the crew’s interpersonal relationships well, with the two older members of the medical team (Judi Schindler and Renee Lockett) providing much needed perspective and humor, while the rivalry between engineer Baston (Catherine Dvorak) and officer Nataki (Lakecia Harris) keeps things lively, particularly at moments when Maureen Yasko’s action movie fight choreography comes into play. Ashley Yates as the by-the-book first officer Stark is subtly led into violating protocol by a fierce Jazmín Corona as Wollman, the scientist who believes the crew has a right to make history. And Jillian Leff as the youngest, most inexperienced member of the crew seems as jittery as the audience.
If the confines of a storefront space do not allow the drama to soar as high as it might, that is not necessarily a flaw. With a solid script, an open scenic design by Jessie Baldinger, and a grounded set of actors, this Babes With Blades production stands out for the risks it takes in using movement to create an alien environment, coaxing the audience to imagine what it might feel like to walk through space. Even if a woman cannot escape the patriarchy while floating through the stars, at least she can push farther than she ever has before.
DICE RATING: d10 — “Worth Going To”
TEN WORD SUMMARY: What if Agatha Christie, but it happened in outer space?
Show: “Women Of 4G”
Company: Babes With Blades Theatre Company
Venue: The Factory Theater (1623 Howard St, Chicago)