While Clarke and Kubrick called their masterwork A Space Odyssey, it's doubtful whether they closely read Homer's earthly Odyssey before or during the project. Nor does their protagonist, if there really is one, bear any close resemblance to the King of Ithaca, the valorous and crafty Odysseus.
Fast forward from 1968 to today, and Tony Wright is righting the oversight in Omega, currently premiering at C.A.S.T. near Central Avenue. The Charlotte playwright and his Actor's Gym company navigated similar futuristic frontiers last summer with Alpha, sending scantily clad women on perilous time travels across galactic space in quest of the Cosmic Cube and its mystic powers.
Though Zelda and her cube have vanished, some elements of the Alpha universe will be familiar. The male gender remains extinct, but our spirit lingers on: Surviving females seem to do all their clothes shopping at Victoria's Secret. Queen Zair still rules over the Dark Zone, but now the dominatrix has acquired goddess-hood, flanked by Athena and Aphrodite. Warrior babes still voyage in outer space brandishing high-tech gadgetry, yet combat remains anachronistically hand-to-hand -- with clanking swords and no-o-o-o armor.
Besides the increased frequency of raunchy pelvic thrusts in Julie Laughter's choreography, what's new in Wright's futureworld is the Homeric thrust -- in our heroine Barbarella's planet-hopping adventures and in the structure of her narrative. We encounter Circe, Calypso, the Lotus Eaters, the unruly suitors, and the ever-faithful Penelope among the more renowned players from the ancient epic. Barbarella tells her story to a less familiar personage from The Odyssey, Alcinous, though of course our heroine's listener is now a queen instead of a king.
After a war on Troy that bears a curious resemblance to our current war against Iraq, Barb and her two crewmates, Yuri and Taso, find themselves in an embarrassing predicament. Although the prime motive for sacking Troy was its stockpiles of precious soma, Barb and crew have badly miscalculated, shipping so much of the magical nutrient-fuel to their native planet that there isn't enough soma left to power their Starship Homer back home.
There's a song in there somewhere, but Wright never looks for it. Nor is there a vacancy for Gershwin's "Soma-time" amid the hard-rock soundtrack. At one point, Barbarella calls upon her stash of rock CD's when she needs weaponry to counteract the narcotic effects of the finger food at the Lotus Cafe.
But we don't reach comedy hyperdrive until the valorous vixens alight on the planet of giants and meet the notorious Polyphemus. Amy Laughter endows the cannibalistic cyclops with a heavy lisp, dressed in dowdy camo and a cheap-o aviatrix cap. The contrast between Laughter's Polypheme and her S&M-flavored Zair is a sweet treat. Funnier still are the cheesy solutions Wright comes up with as playwright-director to deal with the cyclops' prodigious size and her soma-rich sheep.
More of that resourcefulness would help in spots where Wright leans heavily yet again on his fight choreography skills or when all those pelvic thrusts grow a tad tedious. Yes, that can happen.
To be fair, the gals have improved so mightily at wielding their swords that they occasionally appear to know what they're doing. None more so than Courtney Wright as Barbarella, nearly snarling in her intensity. Laura Aguirre as Yuri and Karen Surprise as Taso simulate a fine deadpan earnestness as Barbarella's underlings -- not that easy when your legendary Starship Homer is nothing more than three cut-rate office chairs. Aguirre and Surprise also excel in their grunt work when Circe turns them into pigs. Julie Laughter is the best of the rest as the seductive Circe and a freshly imagined Aphrodite whose favorite word is pussy.
You quickly get the idea that Wright and his Actor's Gym are not aiming for flawless artistic gems. They reference the classics like Shakespeare and Homer but with a pulp-fiction eagerness to please and two scoops of titillation on the side. Hey, Wright knows -- with a certain ruefulness, one hopes -- that an extra couple of crotch grabs or a cluster of dopey Starship Enterprise salutes helps to goose audience appeal.
He's also learning the ropes in his salacious cosmos. If you're marketing a Victoria's Secret universe, you need to pump up the volume and speed up the costume changes. Wright's Omega does both, and his ensemble shares the fun of breathing life into his kinky sci-fi fantasy.
Showcasing themselves briefly during the summer over at the Afro-Am Cultural Center, the Martha Connerton Kinetic Works dance troupe isn't at 12 o'clock high on most Charlotteans' cultural radar screen. But the professional company, augmented by promising students from Connerton's summer camp, puts on a fine show.Last week's New and Improved packaged five Connerton pieces, three of them spanking new. There were no scenic designs all evening long, setting Kinetic Works apart from NC Dance Theatre and the edgier Moving Poets. But with Charlotte's prince of gels, Eric Winkenwerder, handling the lighting design and Rebecca Cairns supervising wardrobe, Kinetic's look sparkled.
And there were light dashes of theatricality along the way. In Connerton's opener, "Sit Down!!" set to Vivaldi's alternately festive and dreamy Concerto in D for Lute and Strings, five Kinetic pros shuttled between dancing to the music and sitting in the front row as a demonstrative audience. Nancy Fountain's costume designs, hand-painted by Daniel Dutton, added an extra harlequin tang to the sprightly spectacle. Immediately following that provocative premiere, Connerton revived her own "Basically," combining dance and spoken text in her performance.
Perhaps the most impressive dancing last Thursday came when Jacqueline White and Kristopher Wojtera brought two simple folding chairs onstage to perform the aptly titled "Duet for Four." White's line, balance and concentration were exemplary with her prop -- and she brought equal measures of nonchalance and mechanical precision interacting with her partner.
The premiere of "Vox 2," set to various Miriam Makeba morsels, showed off the entire troupe beautifully to end the evening. Keesha Beckford and Nelson Reyes entwined in winsome duet, taking turns lifting each other. Then petite Audrey Ipapo brought a cinched sack onstage and delivered coquettish enchantment in a jaunty solo.
What struck me repeatedly about Kinetic Works was how well-schooled and meticulously rehearsed they are. Everyone was on the beat, together, from the opening of the first allegro of Vivaldi's concerto. Yet each of the company's permanent members is spontaneous in movement and individualized in style. I'm looking forward to seeing more of Kinetic's unique energy.