By Jonas Leijonhufuvd
Arizona Daily Wildcat May 1, 1997
If you're like most students, the end of the school year will mean spending time with relatives, some of whom you may not know that well. Finding common ground is not always easy. So when Auntie Dot and Unkie Roy fly in from Florida after a five-year absence, don't panic, take them to the Gaslight Theater!
"Treasure Island," the theater's current production (loosely adapted from the classic novel by Robert Louis Stevenson) is truly fun for the whole family € and I mean that in a good way. Campy sets, hammed-up acting and live, silent-movie style piano accompaniment all come together around an adventure story familiar to all. The audience boos and hisses at the villains, whose stage entrances are accompanied by a flash of light and the sound of thunder. The humor, although high-brow at times, is largely based on physical slapstick and repetition of comical character traits.
Despite the occasional sexual innuendo, "Treasure Island" is pretty family-safe. Sometimes the show gets a little corny, but the actors balance that out by improvising jokes, gags and asides. David R. Fanning, who plays Long John Silver, personifies this style. The night I saw the play a plastic campfire prop, left over from the previous scene, was suddenly pulled off the stage by some invisible string. "Looks like the fire's going out," Fanning ad-libbed.
Funny mishaps like this are common enough to make you wonder if they aren't intentional. They certainly add to the by-the-seat-of-their-pants feel of the show.
The rest of the cast is able to roll with the punches as well. Peter Van Slyke does a good Captain Smollet and William F. Hubbard provides a particularly flamboyant portrayal of Ben Gunn (the crazy old man who's been stranded on Treasure Island long enough to think he's a tree).
Everything about the production is a caricature. The sets are reminiscent of the ones used in old "Saturday Night Live" skits € their two-dimensionality is a joke in and of itself. At one point a fake cannonball, attached to a string, flies over the heads of the audience. The cast sings pirate songs and the piano, played by Linda Ackerman, adds comedic flair with silent-film fill music and familiar tunes like "Popeye the Sailor Man" throughout the performance.
This easy-going atmosphere is heightened by the theater being connected to Little Anthony's Diner. The audience is seated at tables, and can order malts, pizza and even beer during the show. The place itself is pretty neat as well: it's done up like a Western saloon.
But that's not all folks! After the play, ice cream cones are handed out to people celebrating a birthday, and a Johnny Carson parody, complete with musical acts and a flashing applause sign, follows the performance. Zachary Miller gets down as Donnie from the Osmond Brothers and Betsy Kruse plays "Charro," a sassy nightclub type who weaves her way through the audience. It's not a wicked parody for the most part, but it's pretty funny.
This hodgepodge bonus act is typical of the Gaslight's drive to give its audience a full evening of fun. After 20 years in town, the theater has got its formula down pat. It sounds cheesy (it is a little cheesy) but "Treasure Island" has something for everyone € it's fun for the whole family!
"Treasure Island" will be showing through May 31. Ticket prices are $12.95 for adults, $10.95 for students, those over sixty, and active military, and $6 for children 12 and under. Call 886-9428 for reservations.