Local mating rituals during the ‘80s are revisited during Blue Room’s comedy Top Flight
If you were around Chico at all during the 1980s and happened to go out once in a while, then you more than likely recollect that near-legendary dance-party disco palace once situated on Main Street, upstairs where the Crazy Horse Saloon now is—the Top Flight Ballroom. Nowhere else were the fundamental differences between the sexes made more manifest than during those rhythm-crazed rituals enacted by men and women clustered separately with their drinks and their shouted whispers on the precipice of the dance floor—the men hoping they would get lucky that night, the women generally happy just to get or give a phone number … for now.
It is back to that dizzy and literally intoxicating reality that Bryon Burruss’ latest play takes us.
It’s a Saturday night in Chico. Or a Friday. Or a Wednesday or Thursday. It doesn’t matter, it’s night, and young men and women are looking to connect over drinks and dance at the local “meat market.” Initially, we follow the guys—Fat Boy, Jimmy, Will, Doug and Tommy (played by Slim Barkowska, Jeremy Votava, Callen Reece, Matt Brown and Ian Hallsmith, respectively). Some of them are still recovering from the previous evening’s debaucheries. Jimmy, for instance, is missing until finally found passed out in a garbage can! Naturally, within minutes, he’s raring to go again. These characters are veritable archetypes—the slick guy, the stutterer, the ignored guy, the college guy who can’t handle his booze, and the long-haired loner. An edge of vulnerability beneath their facades keeps the men from devolving into simple caricatures.
Anyway, the guys drink, make a lot of noise, try to score points with the girls (also played by the men), get drunk, and generally stagger home empty-handed by evening’s end.
In the second act, we meet the ladies—Megan, Amanda, Shannon, Beth and Nicki (played by Jocelyn Stringer, Samantha Perry, Michelle L. Smith, Amber Miller and Betty Burns, respectively). And they are in pursuit of coupling with as much ardor as the guys, only they go about things somewhat differently. Mostly. This time around, the women also play the guys, and we get basically the same “story” told from the female perspective, and with equally hilarious results.
Burruss was also responsible for penning Wranglers, another locally set comedy that followed the hilarious incidents in the lives of bull-busting cowboys on the rodeo circuit, the duration of the story set during Red Bluff’s annual Round-Up. In that play, the male actors also portrayed the female characters.
In Top Flight, the same thing happens, only this time the women get to portray the males as well. What is suggested is a certain degree of benign narcissism (brought home at one point by the females preening themselves before “mirrors” while the men—in drag, of course—reflect their actions), that the characters are perhaps erroneously searching for literal gender counterparts to themselves. And it is that suggestion that lays a subtle thread of sadness, rendering Top Flight more than just a nostalgic laugh at the past.
I witnessed a tech rehearsal last Monday evening. Apart from the expected stops while bugs got ironed out, the show was shaping up great. The lighting was almost a character all its own, the venue’s steep stairs suggested through bands of light and the requisite strobes and disco ball. Costumes were evocative of that period, and the music that director Joe Hilsee has chosen underscores the action perfectly—Stray Cats, Billy Idol, Eurythmics … all your ‘80s faves turn up sooner or later.