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Slow-Starting Journey 

Though it isn't as amusing as other Gaslight plays, 'Sinbad' amuses when things careen out of control

Sinbad, the merchant-sailor of Middle Eastern lore, made seven famous voyages recounted in the 1001 Nights. But even if Arabian storyweaver Sheherazade had persevered for a 1,002nd night, it's unlikely she would have described the voyage presented in Gaslight Theatre's new spoof, Sinbad.

Making sense of a Gaslight plot can be an exercise in futility, but this script by Nick Seivert (who doubles as director) is less of a workout than usual. The action is set somewhere in the vicinity of 16th-century Persia. The evil Emir of Dhaibul has kidnapped the Caliph of Baghdad and his daughter, Shalimar, beloved of Sinbad. By torturing secret information out of the Caliph and using Shalimar as bottled bait (she's been miniaturized and imprisoned in a lamp, shades of Barbara Eden), the Emir intends to lure Sinbad into his clutches and force the sailor to take him to a remote island, fight off a number of horrifying beasts and lead him to the legendary treasure of Alexander the Great.

The Emir is abetted in his dastardly scheme by the none-too-committed, another-day-another-dinar magician Golgo the Great, and the self-interested prize of his harem, the wily Delilah. On the side of good, Sinbad is aided by Abu and Bendar, two crewmen who seem to have proven their valor on the boards of the vaudeville circuit rather than on deck.

It takes a while for this high-seas adventure to get wind in its sails. Last Saturday night, the first scene was utterly becalmed; the humor as well as the acting seemed half-hearted. Things picked up as the evening progressed, but many previous shows have registered much higher on the company's spoofometer. Even most of the pop-song thefts and parodies seemed only tenuously related to the story.

As is so often the case at Gaslight, the show got much more interesting when things veered out of control. The utterly undisciplined interplay between Peter Van Slyke as Abu and Rob Lawson Jr. as Bendar made their old vaudeville routine much more amusing than it might otherwise have been. And it's always fun when an actor has a good reason to break the fourth wall and ad lib. Saturday night, Dave Orley was interrupted during his first line as the soon-to-be-tortured Caliph. "No matter what they do to me--" he began, only to be silenced by a crashing pizza tray in the audience. Without a beat, Orley said, "Cleanup on aisle three."

The principal players were generally good, although Robert Shaw couldn't bring himself to be fully vicious as the Emir; he was more a comic-relief villain than a palpable threat to our hero. That hero would be Armen Dirtadian, playing Sinbad with his usual manly panache, evoking as always Douglas Fairbanks Sr. in his balance of self-regard and self-mockery. As Delilah, Sarah Vanek proved that petite can be sultry, too; her focus seemed to drift a couple of times, but otherwise, Vanek was the performer most fully committed to her character and was, with Dirtadian, one of the finest singers in the cast. Dan Gunther was a suitably insouciant Golgo, sometimes trying an impersonation of wryly lackadaisical Gaslight regular Joe Cooper. Janet Engers didn't have much to do as Shalimar other than get popped into and out of the bottle; too bad the script didn't offer a stronger heroine.

Linda Ackermann provided her usual high-energy musical direction from the keyboard, this time assisted by son Adam Ackermann on drums. Tom Benson's sets didn't seem quite as inventive as usual, although the harem towel rack--His and Hers and Hers and Hers and Hers--was a nice touch.

As always, an olio follows the main show, and this time it's a takeoff on The Tonight Show during the Carson years. In his silvery wig, Gunther looked less like Johnny Carson than like John Kerry, but he did a pretty good Carson impersonation anyway, along with Van Slyke as Ed McMahon and others portraying such frequent 1970s guests as Dolly Parton, Rip Taylor, Elton John and Robert Goulet. The inclusion of a final "Salute to Hawaii" was a bit puzzling, and speaking of things remotely Hawaiian, why wasn't the ukulele-strumming Tiny Tim tiptoeing through the tulips?

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