It is a thrill to watch writer/director Melanie Maria Goodreaux in her element, shining in a theater, flitting about a stage, cackling, making her universe. In Enough VO5 for the Universe you get to see her giant, hilarious brain in action. Her main characters, three black women who run the world in 2097, wear huge brown domed caps that stand in for bald heads but make me think of big brained aliens like the Coneheads in Saturday Night Live or the ones in Mars Attacks or Goodreaux herself. They are amazing creations, smooth and shiny like leather ’fros, perfectly fitted to the actresses’ heads. The ingenuous caps were made last minute by Lytza Colon from volleyballs, inspired by Goodreaux’s vision. The actresses seem at home in them and energized by them. They commit to the ridiculous and we commit to them in this brilliant, surrealist, women-driven, Afro-futurist farce.
Mona Machine (Aixa Kendrick) is the leader of the pack in a barren, dusty world in which just a handful of humans dwell. She is rather batshit and especially so as it is her 130th birthday and her man is not there. He is Charles ((Anthony Harper), the last black man on earth, missing, Mona’s fixation, her trigger, driving her and her ladies-in-waiting crazy. The women are both over it as we are often over our girlfriends’ dick obsessions. That has not changed in 2097, sadly. Dr. Dorinda (Tiffany Terrell) and Ann Tenna McCloud (Linda Greene) must tolerate and entertain Mona’s endless questions and madness around her man.
Dorinda has “not missed a day of shea butter” ever so that black continues not to crack, a major factor contributing to the women’s near-immortality in this dry-ass future. Moisturizing essential to survival, a small hope for the future. Dorinda is also focused on a penis out in the extra harsh world, “white pink historical dick,” forbidden of course by dictator Mona who besides white people has also banned shopping and meats of all kinds. White Man Daniel (Sean Labbé) wanders the wilderness outside the headquarters of the ladies in charge. He gets some great lines as he is the outcast in a world where god is known as Oprah Obama Omama but I don’t know if I need to be that sympathetic for him. He is right, there is a bunch of “racist malarkey” to deal with and perhaps this is a “bad cult of black people,” but I figure he must have done something wrong too, he can’t be blameless and a survivor in 2097.
Tenna completes the trio of women running things and seems slower as she does lapse into mooing at times. She is a comic relief in that she knows she is comic. Mona and Dorinda blow harder, are more hardline. All the actor women are riveting in their intensity and matching tan outfits and black boots. They speculate and stride across the stage imagining ethereal Charles out on a bridge over the Great Expanse, carrying a book in the rain, on the verge of falling. Goodreaux’s poetry reveals itself in the settings and lines. There is an ominous mesmerizing flying weave wandering the world willy-nilly, a blue pregnant man mentioned. Good shit is being smoked in this world.
A “multisexual” God appears on a screen played by Malik Yoba. They come to impart wisdom between pedicures at Spacastle. This is a very believable development, that water dictatorship could easily endure through the end of this century. Yoba has a ball and looks just lovely all made up and preaching to his followers, his children, house of Oprah Obama Omama, prescient in this time when the people clamor for Oprah to run. You can’t make plays surrealist or Afro-futurist or comical enough these days, got to compete with reality. This 2097 world is born from the absurd world we currently inhabit, Dorinda reminding us of regimes past, “The opposition tried to replace the word ‘slave’ with ‘volunteers.’”
Another survivor appears towards the end of the play, a Hispanic-looking man named Manny St. Nicholas (Jonathan Duran) who crashes the party with the Precious, fried chicken. He is actually an ambiguous black man who gives a long speech about all the ways he can pass and names many nationalities except any Latinx ones. Here, this play obsessed with race and dick triggers my obsession with Latino invisibility, invisible spic observer that I am. I know it is the “multiracial” “race”, the still for some reason way too confusing non-race but we know what Spanish is and what Spanish colonized. Could he name check Puerto Rican or Dominican or Puerto Dominican? He is already named after a building super basically and a most Spanish uptown avenue, St. Nick a.k.a. Juan Pablo Duarte. Shout out Latin America somewhere please. There, I got my Mona on. She wasn’t always wrong though.
I will reserve my final shout-outs to the designers of the set and the video components of VO5 as well as the sound people (Lytza Colon, Sarah Jane Munford, Boston Fielder) that lent the play its kitschy B sci-fi movie feel. The throne, the control panel, the transporter-looking thing that is some kind of obliterator, those all looked cool AF. The video and illustration by Tim Fielder drew us deeper into this comic world, both animated and solidly funny. There were more dramatic moments towards the end that were a little more earnest that necessary perhaps. It could do with some trimming to fix the audience better in this absurd world. We’re here anyway, let’s just get comfortable. Outrageous black joy defines this show, staying there would be fine refuge from current grim reality.
Enough VO5 for the Universe
written and directed by Melanie Maria Goodreaux
at Theater for the New City
155 1st Ave @ E. 10th Cabaret Theater
Jan 18-21, 25-28, 2018