Underwater farce is mildly ‘redonkulous’
Chico, CA 95928
Downtown Chico was offering plenty of weird and warm refuge from the cold last Saturday night. The freaks of RayRay Gallery were letting it fly during the opening of The Jesus Show, and a few blocks up Broadway, at the 1078 Gallery, the audience was all wine-cheeked and cozy as Greek gods frolicked with dolphins and jellyfish at an underwater hotel in Rogue Theatre’s production of Salty Towers.
Alternating between the contrasting stark chill of the late fall evening and the lively shenanigans of two of Chico’s most creative venues was an invigorating way to spend a Saturday night, even if not all of the farcical hijinks going on at 1078 ended up being as “redonkulous” as advertised.
Salty Towers was originally produced by the Thunderbird Theatre Company, the San Francicso-based collective started by a group of Chico ex-pats (and named after our downtown hotel with the landmark sign) in 1998. Written by Thunderbird troupe members Dana C. Constance, Bryce Allemann and Kathy Hicks, the play’s title is a riff on Fawlty Towers, the mid-’70s British TV farce written by Monty Python’s John Cleese, who starred in the show as the bumbling proprietor of a seaside hotel. Salty Towers is also set in a hotel, though this one is located under the sea and is owned by Greek sea god Poseidon (played by Quentin Colgan).
The story is that Zeus (Andy Hafer) is planning on staging the first Olympics, and he sets up a competition of sorts for the host city. The finalists are his brother Poseidon’s underwater Atlantis and his daughter Athena’s above-ground Athens. As Poseidon runs around trying to put a positive spin on his two-star digs, a situation comedy of errors ensues as the insatiable Zeus and other Greek gods and goddesses check into the hotel populated by undersea creatures (and one singing, plastic, mounted fish) and pun their way through a barrage of pop-culture and Greek-mythology references.
The always cooky Colgan was the perfect choice for goofy Poseidon, and the role players were mostly enjoyable, especially Delisa Freistadt’s Dolly Dolphin, who punctuated many of her lines with hilariously spot-on, and adorable, dolphin clicks.
But my favorite characters were Medusa and Dionysus. Natalie Valencia was so much fun as she hissed her way through a throaty rendition of the snake-haired one. Her electro-orgasmic encounter with Man-o the oversized jellyfish (played by a “blurping” Nikki Schlaishunt) was a riot, and probably the best bit of the night. And Murri Lazaroff-Babin—playing the Dionysus part as a soft-spoken Jim Morrison—was a perfect combo of lusty Lizard King and pouty airhead, landing his stony lines with impeccable, halted timing.
As the story wore on, however, and the broadly drawn puns and telegraphed sexual innuendos piled up, for this audience member at least, things became a bit stale. While I didn’t go in expecting any Python/Fawlty-level hijinks, the predictable jokes and casual pacing landed more in the vicinity of Two and a Half Men. However, it must be said that, judging by the audience’s very boisterous approval and the nearly unanimous gushing reviews from many respected friends and acquaintances, my opinion is easily a minority one.
In general, I love silly farce, and Rogue Theatre, and just about everything in which director Betty Burns has ever been involved (and, full disclosure, two of the playwrights are two of my best friends). Despite all that, this kind of crazy fun just didn’t strike a chord for me.
More to my taste was an energetic dream sequence that came late in the second half of the play. To the tune of “Don’t Worry, Be Happy,” Poseidon goes off the deep end as the cast of characters rotates through as somewhat-bizarro versions of themselves in a brisk surreal break from the proceedings. And it wasn’t just the note of weirdness that tickled me; the players bounced off one another in a seamless way in this vignette that was very satisfying and a noticeable contrast to the sometimes stilted pacing of the previous scenes.
In the end, Rogue’s Salty Towers is intended to be a light evening of farce, and it is. You’ll just have to go see for yourself if it’s your bag of fun. Buy a glass of wine, snuggle up with the warm intimate audience and (maybe) laugh away the season’s stress.