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Ancient Antics


Arizona Daily Wildcat

Courtesy of Gaslight Theater Zeena battles evil at the Gaslight Theater in "Zeena! Warrior Princess" or "The Battle for the Blue Crystal." Shows run Tuesday through Sunday until Oct. 30.

By Kevin Dicus
Arizona Daily Wildcat,
September 8, 1999

During the past few years there has been a distinct resurgence of interest in classical myth. Archetypal heroes battling evil creatures of the seen and unseen world: minotaurs, chimera, Medusa, pygmies and malevolent gods; scenes of primitive villages and ornate temples; divine intervention; these phenomena have risen to the pinnacle of man's psyche. Has today's culture suddenly become reacquainted with the works of Homer? Vergil? Not quite. This culture has become unified in the worship of "Xena: Warrior Princess." Xena, the heroine of ancient times, battles the forces of evil in superhuman ways, always coming out victorious. To show the proper respect for one who has aided humanity so selflessly, it only seems appropriate that we honor her memory by reproducing her daring exploits on stage for all to admire. Fortunately, this is exactly what has been done here in Tucson.

"The Gaslight Theater," Tucson's premier dinner theater venue, has realized this dream with the musical production of "Zeena! Warrior Princess" or "The Battle for the Blue Crystal." It's a farcical handling of this new genre of television, and it works well, employing slapstick humor, intentionally cheesy special effects, melodrama and some killer disco grooves. Among all the antics, there is a plot.

The Blue Crystal, known to give immense powers to anyone wielding it, has been tucked away in the cave of the Lost Souls for centuries. It is up to the good Prince Roanoke and his new friend Zeena to recover it before the evil sorcerer Draconian gets it in his clutches and destroys the world. Like any epic story, Roanoke and Zeena, along with her companion Danielle and the somewhat bumbling dog-eared mercenary Joculus, go through many journeys on their quest. Out on the high seas, their boat is attacked by a giant squid and another hideous monster, almost destroying them. Zeena also must ride on her devoted wooden horse through a forest, in a scene which contains especially rich sight gags. Here, they cross over an enormous chasm on a weak rope bridge. Throughout, Draconian and his three cronies who resemble the Three Stooges are close behind, trying to foil their attempts.

Perhaps the high points of this production are the musical numbers. It's a medieval flashback to the 1970s as hits such as "Macho Man," "I Will Survive" and "Brickhouse" are incorporated into their songs, giving a slightly odd twist to the classical theme. David Orley, playing Draconian, does an especially noteworthy job making the transition between nefarious bad-guy and swinging minstrel at each of his numbers. In fact, watching all the actors in their heroic outfits, dancing as if they've just watched "Saturday Night Fever" is so oddly pleasing that one can't help but think this is truly "old school."

For what it is, this is wonderfully funny. Written by Peter Van Slyke, also the director and one of the actors, the play was created for simple fun. It makes no attempts to be deep or serious, and the actors are clearly enjoying themselves on stage, momentarily pausing to acknowledge the audience and turning occasional slips of the tongue into comedy. At times, they even had to hold back their own laughter from the shear absurdity of it all. But absurd is what it was meant to be, for it is, after all, a story about Zeena.

"Zeena! Warrior Princess" is not a bad way to spend your night. Dinner consists primarily of pizza or the standard deep-fried appetizer, but this just contributes to the relaxed atmosphere of this attractive theater. Grab a beer and a slice, sit back at your table and let Zeena entertain you.

"Zeena! Warrior Princess" or "The Battle for the Blue Crystal" runs Tuesday through Sunday with two shows on Sunday until Oct. 30. Call 886-9428 for reservations.

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