The VW Dome at MoMA PS1 in Long Island City, Queens is the evocative setting of web-inspired performance Star Odyssey: The Pilot. The show is the creation of Emily Allan and Leah Hennessey, whose cult hit web series “Zhe Zhe” is a satire of the New York City performance art scene. The show is a commission by PS1 and is a continuation of the pair’s exploration of “slash” culture, a genre of fan fiction that explores imaginary sexual relationships between fictional characters. In the case of “Star Odyssey,” it’s the speculative romance between Captain Kirk and Spock of “Star Trek” as portrayed by Allan and Hennessey.
The setting is the star of the evening and it goes the distance in helping establish scene and tone. The dome is set back evocatively from the main entrance to the museum and the brief, floor-lit walk along the wooden planked path below and the starry winter sky above suggest the galactic evening about to unfold. The performance begins with a soothing male voice-over narrator, a main character who remains unseen. He is a former human who is at the service of the spaceship’s captain, played by Allan. His droll delivery and incisive lines are a consistent source of pithy humor. Allan is disheveled after having been asleep for an extended period of time. She runs a gamut of emotions from annoyed to terrified and is a compelling presence. The evening’s strengths beyond setting are the elaborate set, detailed costumes, and impressive lighting and sound design. The acting is committed and engaging, with Hennessey offering up an affecting portrayal of an alien.
In addition to the two women and the faceless narrator is a series of characters who appear projected onto an upstage left screen. While the screen is ample these images are dim and lack the visual clarity of the metallic, evocative set design. The furry female character seems to be familiar to fans of Allan and Hennessey yet to the uninitiated her appearance is baffling in its lack of context or sense of purpose. More amusing is a male character who’s projected onto the screen.
While the technical details are considerable and the acting largely commendable, one is left to wonder who the intended audience is for this performance, beyond their established fan base. The show is described as an examination of an imagined romantic relationship yet “Star Odyssey” gives off little erotic heat, unless futuristic space language is your idea of foreplay. The relationship between the two main female characters is ultimately more emotional than physical.
The audience members seem familiar with the video work of Allan and Hennessey, such is their evident embrace of the nuances of this idiosyncratic evening. The jargon-rich dialogue risks being an off-putting gimmick by its overuse. Then there’s the occasional quote from Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, a comparison that no play should hazard, even in jest, certainly not more than one line. Far more suitable source material is an iconic quote from “I Love Lucy”.
The latter section of the play features an extended scene between the two women, a highlight of the evening. Their well-delineated relationship blossoms in this final scene, helping to give the performance a welcome boost of emotional heft. “Star Odyssey” has much to recommend it yet the overall effect is easier to appreciate than embrace. The evening would benefit from a bit more context to assist those who possess an interest in PS1’s performance series yet lack a subscription to the “Zhe Zhe” YouTube channel.
Star Odyssey: The Pilot was presented at MoMA PS1, 22-25 Jackson Avenue in Long Island City, New York
This post was written by the author in their personal capacity.The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not reflect the view of The Theatre Times, their staff or collaborators.