If you are among the chosen few for whom the words dõmo arigatõ misutã Robotto ring like a totally rad incantation of doom, then N.C. Stage’s Catalyst Series has the show you’ve been waiting for — since, oh, 1983 or thereabouts.
Fight Girl Battle World is a prime example of what one can only call sci-fi geek theatre. Set, according to the program, in “A Time Before Our Time (way the hell back)” and “A Distant Galaxy (way the hell far away)” the play tells the story of the last two human beings in the universe, who must overcome their personal aversion to each other and replenish the species. Their names are “E-V” and “Adon-Ra,” and while the biblical allusion, though garbled, is hard to miss, the play draws its real inspiration not from scripture, but from American pop culture from the late ‘70s to the present. In other words, if you don’t know Star Wars (or at least Spaceballs) like the back of your Michael Jackson glove, then you will be very confused indeed.
It might help to note that playwright Qui Nguyen is co-artistic director of NYC’s successful Vampire Cowboys Theatre Company, a group that calls itself “downtown theatre’s most committed lowbrows.” Since the turn of the millennium, they have been creating and producing shows “for the pop-culture nerd in all of us” in an attempt to “bridge the gap between mass media entertainment and the performing arts.” Fair enough. But whatever you may think of the mass media, or of the ultimate desirability of building such a bridge, it’s impossible to doubt director Charlie Flynn-McIver’s complete commitment to appeasing the inner geek.
Flynn-McIver is better known to N.C. Stage audiences as both the company’s artistic director, and as a relentlessly good and versatile actor. And yet, having seen him in everything from Shakespeare to last year’s Boeing-Boeing, one would never have suspected the man harbored such unabashed goofiness. Maybe that’s why this is a Catalyst show and not a mainstage show. In any event, he and his rag-tag team of actors (many new to N.C. Stage) have at least as much fun as your average passel of 11-year-old boys with fresh batteries in their light sabers. The fast-paced if somewhat chaotic action features bizarre aliens, cool ray guns, girls in tight outfits, a loquacious robot, spaceships and fire-fights, a Chinese dragon ride across a desert planet, an intergalactic zookeeper, copious pseudo kung-fu and/or quasi ninja shenanigans, puppetry so bad it’s good, and an implement of “enhanced interrogation” I’ll call a tickle drill. All of it, mind you, is so shamelessly home-spun and, with the exception of Jason Williams’s consummate lighting and Flynn-McIver’s own precise sound design, so low-tech you almost feel you’ve already seen it on somebody’s home video on YouTube.
You’ll notice I’ve said little about the plot. Plot is not the strong point of this show. The scenes are much too short, clipped, and self-consciously clunky to allow for anything like, say, character development. But my guess is playwright Nguyen knows this and has placed his bets elsewhere, namely in the sheer delight the audience will experience when they recognize the pop-culture sources the play so lovingly spoofs. And truly, the script seems to consist almost entirely of quotation. Flynn-McIver and his actors have obviously had tremendous fun re-discovering their favorite sci-fi clichés of yore. The actors all play multiple roles, but particularly impressive is Bradshaw Call as the “Zookeeper,” a vaguely British-sounding sadist in short pants who delivers the only thing resembling a moral content to the play — something about how the humans deserved to be exterminated because of their violence and irrationality. Also, they don’t lay eggs, and like, how gross is that?
In the end, of course, the joke is on the two humans, adroitly played by Rebecca Morris (an N.C. Stage mainstay) and Bobby Abrahamson. Like most of us, they try so hard to be serious, but the universe, it turns out, is just not a very serious place. And if the general intergalactic silliness doesn’t undermine humanity’s self-importance, then the preposterous soundtrack certainly does.
At the sold-out matinee I attended, I noticed there were a fair number of people in the audience for whom the sacred names of Mark Hamil and Styx can only mean yet more evidence of parental dorkiness. And yet, judging by their reaction, the kids loved Fight Girl Battle World every bit as much as their parents — though perhaps for different reasons. If you do bring your kids, though, be prepared for the look they give you when you have to ask them what the phrase “bump uglies” means.
Fight Girl Battle World, by Qui Nguyen. Directed by Charlie Flynn-McIver. Lighting Design by Jason Williams. Scenic Coordinator: Jason Bowden. Costume Design: Deborah Austin. Props Coordinators: Bradshaw Call and Jessica Lewis. Sound Design: Charlie Flynn-McIver. Fight Choreography: Rebecca Morris. Production Stage Manager: Anna Reidenbach. Featuring: Bobby Abrahamson, Jake Bowden, Bradshaw Call, Travis Kelley, Lauren Kriel, Jessica Lewis, Rebecca Morris, Jason Williams, Allison Young. Through Feb. 4 at N.C. Stage, 15 Stage Lane, in downtown Asheville. For exact performance times and to purchase tickets: 239-0263 or http://www.ncstage.org.