No. With all the cross-dressing, daggered stilettos, pom-pom wigs and is-that-a-bulge? buffalo shots, these bitches are turned out.
The rules of theater hardly apply. Fetishistic pageantry trumps story and (sometimes) coherence. Actors feel free to improvise new lines; sometimes they struggle with the written ones. The scripts are pop-culture mash-ups, the work of bright people in their thirties who watch too much E!, and are packed with jokes I'm never sure are truly meant to be funny. The new Super Models in Space, a gender-pretzled sci-fi pastiche, takes fewer than two minutes to get to the first of its two Uranus gags.
Typical dialogue: "You have entered deep Vulvan air space and broken the Hymen alliance."
Fun, but a little unsteady on its heels, Super Models is John Piggy Cupit's baby, a show he has reportedly dreamed of for years. His premise has satiric kick. In some distant future, the Fashion Federation, having recently prevailed in the Beauty Wars, ensures interstellar fabulousness by outlawing outlet malls and monitoring the cosmetics mines. Faced with a couture crisis whose particulars I forgot as soon as the lines were spoken, the Federation ships out the titular (but flat-chested) supermodels all skinny guys in drag, including co-writer and co-director Cupit as Captain Honey Tahini.
En route, the models are wooed into joining Ikahna Von Thundersnatch (the always-great Jessalyn Kincaid) in marketing a product designed to make anyone and everyone beautiful.
The implications of this fascinate. If everyone were perfect, what value would perfection retain? Hotness is a limited, exploitable resource; by posing for the ads that promote Von Thundersnatch's product, our heroines are hastening their own obsolescence as well as a restructuring of their Brazilian-wax-based economy that will surely be as painful as the one awaiting us gas-guzzlers. In a society cleansed of all ugly, with what criteria would we arrange our hierarchies? Would we evolve beyond narcissism or sink deeper into class antagonism? Wouldn't Max Factor dispatch assassins the way oil companies some claim chucked Rudolf Diesel off that ship before he could get his veggie-fuel ideas out there? Retirement changed when Viagra rejiggered the plumbing of the Metamucil set; if our seniors could be beautiful and sexually functional, wouldn't we all be looking forward to life in the home?
That Thundersnatch's secret plan is to make everybody ugly is richer still. Or it would be if, for one moment, the show played with its ideas. Instead, we get lip-synching drag-drill-team routines that wouldn't fly at Missie B's and more DOA jokes than usual. At some point, for some reason, one character asks another, "The penal colony?"
The response: "No, the anal colony."
Cupit (and co-writer-director David Wayne Reed) offer a number of daft, hysterical set pieces, stuff as funny as anything you'll ever see on a stage. But the air between can be as dead as the space between stars, especially when we're stuck with our leads. Instead of making their girls wicked, bitch-slappy fun, the writers settle for variations on vapidity hardly new ground in a culture devoted to it. With the exception of Justin Van Pelt's almost-sexy turn as android Splenda Lux he seems to glide along on bearings and transistors, getting the logical-machine bit down cold the roles are curiously flat. Chadwick Brooks is reduced to playing the dumb blonde, and Johnnie Bowls, as Chocolata Crème Trail, earns his laughs in spite of the script, stomping and stumbling in his leather thigh-highs and barely keeping up with the costume changes. Cupit's Honey Tahini comes freighted with a backstory and a lover, Starfucker (Cory James Dowman, who shines singing "Rocket Man"), but neither adds much.
Fortunately, Kincaid's Thundersnatch is marvelous, a robust comic villain performed with measureless oomph. She gets the best lines, but she'd score big even with the worst. Her entrances find her perched on a shaggy divan high above the crowd; she lords over us, cackling deeply, equal parts insect queen and Cleopatra on her barge. Perhaps the show's biggest disappointment is that Kincaid, a highlight of Bar Natasha's cabarets, is never given a full-fledged song. (As Thundersnatch's googly-eyed, triple-breasted underling, Shannon Michalski is also deliciously funny.)
What energy the script lacks is lavished on the costumes, which dazzle. A hat that snakes pinkly above Kincaid's head is worthy of Go Dog Go!; it's somehow bested later by one with fringed Hostess Sno Balls the size of Rose Bowl floats. Our heroines wear candy-colored skirts around their ship, each midway between a '60s stewardess uniform and a condom wrapper. The program lists seven costume designers, which isn't surprising. The show is a visual feast, and on that level it's consistently rewarding. Even the sets, with their tinselly, cardboard look, are great fun. As lasers dance and fog wafts around the blown-up cosmetics ads and Paul Klee death stars, the Late Night storefront looks like a strip joint designed as a learning-fair project. And a screen above the stage shows ambitious video: hilarious star fights, some inspired effects work and a hysterically dark riff on an Altoids commercial.
More than enough works to recommend Super Models, particularly to fans of Late Night's camp aesthetic. But Cupit and Reed are skirting too closely to the danger always jeopardizing this kind of pop pile-up. As always, the audience is asked to forgo plot and significance in exchange for parodic pomp and lunatic ideas. It's Late Night's prerogative to do this, but it's also Late Night's responsibility to ensure that the pleasures of what they give us outweigh the lack of what they don't.
Without Kincaid, Michalski and those costumes, the scales here would tip the wrong way.