Tuesday, May 12, 2009

EMPS: The Silliest Theatre in the West

It's Tuesday morning, which means that by my usual standards, I'm a little late posting my entry for Ellipsis Monday Photo Shoot #37: Theaters. I could almost have done it entirely from my photo archives, except I could not guarantee there would be no reruns; in the past I've photographed at least bits of the historic Fox Theatre downtown and the Gaslight Theatre on the East side, promo displays and a light saber-toting patron at the cineplex in Park Place Mall, and a derelict theater where we once saw an an advance screening of Star Trek IV, and which has since been torn down.

For this entry, though, I decided to photograph two theaters that were both handy to me and visually interesting. Typically, I ended up with too many photos for one entry, so this morning I'll present one venue, and come back in a day or so with shots of the other one. Now presenting: Tucson's wonkiest thespian showplace: the Gaslight Theatre!

Street view (more or less) of the Gaslight Theatre
From my Picasa abum EMPS

Here is how it looks as you pass the place on Broadway Boulevard. A large banner advertises the current production, in this case Harlie's Angels. The same banner and a trailer promote two related, attached eateries, Grandma Tony's Pizza and Little Anthony's Diner ("The Fifties Place to Eat" the jingle says of the latter). Notice that they have almost identical logos, reminiscent of (I think) a Pima Indian maze design.

Also on the Broadway side of the building is an oddly fragmentary, not-at-all-serious attempt at Trompe-l'œil, painted to resemble facades of the Old West - or possibly old fashioned stage backdrops.

From the front (west side) of the theater you get more of the fun, faux-Western flavor of the Gaslight Theatre, incongruously attached to the classic fifties diner-ness of Little Anthony's.

Up close you get an even clearer idea of the deeply silly nature of the entertainments inside. Aside from the joke title of the current offering, Harlie's Angels, or Clues But No Cigar!, one finds wooden heroic scenes representing different dramatic genres, with the requisite hole to stick your head through for photographic purposes. There is also a fake stagecoach shape.

So what's inside? I'm not allowed to show you. Can you guess from the theater name and the outside decor? It's fake melodrama, musical parodies with comedy versions of stock characters, deliberately low tech stagecraft, audience participation and lots and lots of puns. I imagine it's as close as American theater comes to the British panto tradition. I've been to two productions, a Sherlock Holmes parody and a show based on the Mounties, the same stock premise that spawned that other great parody, Dudley Do-Right. Rounding out each show is a musical interlude and singalong, called an "oleo" for some reason I either never know or have forgotten.

I expect that such a concentration of cardboard characters, topical humor and corny jokes is not for everyone, and I seem to recall that John and I had a bit of trouble relaxing into a full appreciation of their irreverent take on the Great Detective of Baker St. But it really is fun stuff, and it's been going on for quite a few years now, with no sign of the Gaslight running short of either comedic material or audience. Good for them!



Carly said...

Hi Karen

Cool, cool post and photos! I LOVE Regional/Community theater! There are so many here in the Bay Area, but I haven't heard of any parodies like this. FUN! Well done!


Jama said...

This is so interesting, I don't think I can find one as nice as yours. Most theaters here are so modern.

Peri in Gilbert said...

Hey there Karen! I have totally lost your "good" address so that is why I keep sending to the evil account.

Love your blog and try to read it every day! (Don't always succeed!!)