Feb 9, 2014

The best $16 you can legally spend in Mesa

Friday night, mom got us tickets to see Top Gun as enacted by a Mesa Encore Community Theater Puppet troupe and apparently produced on a budget of $100. Now, I don't believe they only spent $100 on it. They spent at least $130 or even as much as $150 on this show, including beer.

Mom had a hard time getting tickets. Not because they were in high demand, but because they were just difficult to buy from the third party ticket sellers. The venue is a 'black box' theater, which is in an unmarked tenant in a Mesa strip mall. It was actually easy to find the strip mall and general area because of all the people driving and walking around hopelessly lost and obviously looking for it.

The hastily constructed interior has the bare minimum for a black box theater, namely a floor and black paint. None of the walls reached the ceiling and the vast majority of spatial delineation was via draped fabric. This is community theater at its most stripped down and underfunded. Actually, "Underfunded" was part of the full show title "Top Gun: Live, Abridged &. Completely Underfunded." 

We guessed that the turnout was going to be light when mom came to pick up the tickets and they guessed correctly who she was. Including me, there were 12 people in the audience. There were more people performing in the show. Oh well, it was the matinee. At one point, SPOILER ALERT, Maverick and Goose sit down in the back row and crack a few jokes about empty seats and how they should tell their friends to see the show.

The show is a lot of fun. It is an original adaptation with lots of editing, additions (were there Transformers in the original movie?), and a short running time. But it all works, surprisingly. It's a manic show which gets a lot of entertainment value from the nature of puppetry, and I worried at first whether or not the campiness of it all would get old. It stayed clever and inventive enough that it did not. Terrible puns (Iceman is a snow cone, Goose is a goose). There was a lot of ad-libbing, which is probably a reflection both on this being the second performance and the small audience. Actually, it made the whole thing feel more like improv sketch comedy, and quite enjoyable. 

The puppets were well made and well-acted. There are two full sized prop F-14 Tomcats out of cardboard, wire, and thin sheets of plywood which the puppets kind of zoom around in in a shuffling way, so you do get nearly a sense of those high-octane scenes of aerial combat. The big finale felt a bit rushed, but you can't afford to dramatically destroy those planes every show. After all, they must have cost at least $19 to make.

Overall, it is the best entertainment that $16 will buy you in Mesa, or really, most of Phoenix. Best with a beer beforehand.

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