In its 13th and final edition, the COIL Festival returns to its East Village home, Performance Space 122. Baptizing this new, old space is Dane Terry’s exciting, magical, musical piece: Jupiter’s Lifeless Moons, 100 minutes of an eccentric and tempting performance that leaves you full of wonder, like a kid after her first big roller coaster.
Dane is occupying a friend’s guest bedroom in Cleveland, OH. He’s having a recurring wet dream about a mysterious giant fish. We meet him as he wakes to a puddle of cum on his belly — a “milky way” that leads us into the wondrous, futuristic Odyssey of his autumn in Ohio.
After making a poor impression at his retail job interview, Dane gets hired as a Representative of the Zenark Corporation, working at an indoor roller coaster ride at the Pepper Heights zoo. His job is to debrief the young riders, whose task is to confirm or deny the presence of Helium on Jupiter’s moons, which they’ve just zoomed past.
The roller coaster ride serves beautifully as the spine of the show, with the various tangents and adventures Dane experiences jutting out as its giant ribs. The task given to riders turns out to be somewhat of a social psychology experiment, determining the general morality of humankind. Dane, too, is confronted with serious Darwinian dilemmas throughout the play. Is there an inherent kinship of the species? A brotherhood of man that makes no room for, say, a zebra?
The zoo — Dane calls it a “nursing home for old money” — is going through a P.R. crisis. The fate of blood-thirsty Zoe the Zebra is the talk of the town. We learn that she murdered a 12 year-old. Will she be euthanized? Should she live? It reminded me of another monochromatic creature that caught the attention of the world a few years ago: Tilikum, the colossal, captive orca of SeaWorld infamy.
For Dane, what could have been a Grindr one-night stand turns into a fantastical one-night saga. He is the keeper of the keys to Zoe’s pen and therefore wields — unbeknownst to him — enormous power. His young, hot and Insta-famous neighbor, Luke, enlists him into a scheme to prove that the zoo owners have been dishonest with the public about Zoe’s fate.
Dane and Luke are guided into the fateful night of the Pepper Heights zoo coup by a trio of young teenage girls. You’d think Girls Scouts if their motto was “Be Prepared;” instead, it’s “Be Conniving”. The girls are portrayed by Avery Leigh Draut, Saretta Wesley and Morgan Meadows. These gifted and stunning backup singers serve as the chorus for the entire play and redefine the limits of vocal range, from Drag show to opera aria.
Ellie Heyman directed and helped develop the piece. Heyman trusts audiences to catch up with Terry’s whimsy and rejects clean, spoon-fed transitions. The result is a mesmerizing effect, wherein Terry almost becomes the voice in our heads, bouncing from thought to thought, memory to memory. Unsurprisingly, the piece is part of a much larger story being developed as a podcast series for Night Vale Presents.
Dane Terry — the 2016 recipient of the Ethyl Eichelberger Award — is a dextrous storyteller in every sense of the term. His fingers serve as conducting batons and we are part of the symphony, filling the space between his words with our oohs, aahs, awws and hahas. His singing voice (a blend of Jeff Buckley and Freddy Mercury) is transportive, and his comedic timing a surprise.
Jupiter’s Lifeless Moons is a tug-of-war between past and future, where small town nostalgia is told through funky futuristic tunes. Terry shows us the breadth of fantasy: sexual, magical, cautionary, escapist and yet, familiar. If this is what we’re to expect from the new PS122, I’m thrilled.