Not far from here in either time or space, there flies the Octavia Butler, a small spaceship crewed by three enterprising lesbians in search of something bigger than themselves. They live and work communally, down to the collective Diva cup boiling pot and regular slam poetry presentation. Their story, in the form of Deep Space Lez, is now being told at the Calamus Auditorium at Gay City, Seattle’s LGBTQ Center, through April 23.
While I went into the show expecting Star Trek references, thanks to a name evocative of Deep Space Nine, ilvs strauss’s play is actually refreshingly original. Sure, the set’s layout calls to mind the traditional main deck of the USS Enterprise, but the Butler is all her own. No other ship that I’ve seen is filled with quite so many crystals (selenium, dilithium, does it really matter what sort they are, as long as they’re covered with glitter and other craft supplies?), astrology jokes, feminine hygiene products and, obviously lesbians.
Captain Witch Hazel Van Dyke, played with sincere hilarity by Dawn Marie Trouve, is one of only three lesbians on board – along with Insta Bae Lavender, played by Val Nigro, the CFO (chief fisting officer) and social media navigator, and Mac, portrayed by Kathleen Nacozy, the ship’s mechanic. They’re soon joined by ex-friends, new friends, and, well, Denise of the Red Planet, brought to robotic, alien life by Annie Michelson. With a costume simultaneously better than anything ever put together for Star Trek: The Original Series and yet just kitschy enough to fit into the homemade set (hello, plaid quilt display board), Denise is one of the true gifts of the production. Denise may not have arms, but her crotch pompoms are something to behold. Andy Systems Engineer, played by Devona Lang, joins the story halfway through thanks to Insta noticing her intergalactic queer ride share request on Spacebook (seemingly fortuitously fulfilling the captain’s request for a systems engineer, although I won’t spoil how that ends up for the crew.) Erstwhile “Captain” Pat Dry, played by the playwright ilvs strauss, is dragged into the commotion against her will, and against her ex-best friend Insta’s desires as well; they may have matching “Righteous Babe” tattoos, but they’re feeling anything but righteous when it comes to their relationship at the beginning of the show.
The players in our story are all not only lesbians but also pretty masculine-presenting leaning, which is quite literally winked at during the show. Even as a feminine-presenting asexual I was able to enjoy, laugh at, and indeed connect with the characters. Some of the references went over my head, but it was clear the rest of the audience thought the jokes landed. A few lines were flubbed, and one of the crew members broke into laughter halfway through her spoken word performance, but that was rather understandable.
There’s a lot of humor focused on vibrations (of multiple kinds and from multiple sources), organic naturalism, and running both the ship and the eventual commune as a collective force, clear parodies of how crunchy lesbians tend to be. One of my favorite points, though, wasn’t when the play poked fun at the naturalistic tendencies of the gay community, but at the racist ones. Andy is embroiled in misunderstandings from her introduction, the best one being when she refuses to wear an orange jumpsuit. The white crew members fall over themselves to explain they didn’t mean anything by it, but Andy’s problem is more about the color clashing with her vibes than any racial undertones.
Andy was also the only one to see a “temporal shift” coming their way, destroying queer life as parts of the solar system knew it (even causing asymmetrical haircuts to lose all meaning!), shining a light on how willfully ignorant white people can be when faced with societal change, even as black voices push for actual action. The meta references throughout the show helped ground the story, referencing both the auditorium’s small space that was somehow effectively split into three separate sets and the real world issues impacting the audience.
Each character is appealing in their own way, each one a different “type” of lesbian. There’s Insta, the millennial, self-centered, basic young thing, and her best friend Mac, the butchiest of the butch, a woman not very in touch with her feminine or sentimental side, focused more on realism and being a little over it – and specifically over the hippie tendencies of her captain, Witch Hazel Van Dyke, who I saw as all the good parts of The Office’s Michael Scott. Andy, at first, doesn’t seem to have time for the Octavia Butler’s inherent wackiness — not even the captain’s “communing with the goddess,” which involves at least one sex toy — but she gets in the act, even participating in the beat poetry segment, throwing her sticky notes at the audience as she reads. Captain Pat Dry is quippy and sarcastic, without a reason for being on-board, but still willing to help out with the crew’s problems. The whole crew is disparate and focused on differing goals — some of them just want to get home, some want to form a commune. But both in the end, and throughout, they all come together and support each other.
In the less-than-90 minute runtime I became a major fan of the whole crew. There’s no way I can safely and happily go about the rest of my life without Insta’s snark, Captain Van Dyke’s enthusiasm, or Andy Systems Engineer’s straight-forward wit. Here’s hoping there’s a web series, a podcast, or, heck, even just some fan-fiction of Deep Space Lez in my future.