There may not be a galaxy full of laughs provided by the Gaslight Theatre's Space Wars, a blast-off spoof of the Star Wars saga, but thanks to help from Linda Ackermann's constant keyboard accompaniment, there are just enough laughs to add up to a couple of hours of decent entertainment.
The Gaslight formula is pretty much set in stone, and consequently, the theater can be counted on to provide predictable entertainment fit for the whole family. There's seating at small tables anchored by bottomless baskets of popcorn. There's pizza and beer, milkshakes and sundaes—and even a salad or two—on a menu designed without a care for trendy tastes. (The bendy straws are a classy touch, though.) There's a pre-show with Ackermann, bassist Blake Matthies and drummer Jon Westfall, and the words to the songs are printed in the newsprint program/menu, so you can sing along, if you so desire.
Then there's the centerpiece: the musical play, full of puns, familiar songs rewritten to suit the story at hand, and visual/sound effects that are sometimes cheesy, and sometimes really cool. Oh, and there's a very energetic group of actors willing to sacrifice everything they learned at Juilliard for an audience craving cheap laughs.
But don't stand up to leave just yet: After the play, a cast member emerges and, reading from a list which seems to have no end, acknowledges attendees celebrating birthdays and anniversaries, while servers scurry around delivering ice cream to the honorees.
But wait, there's more: The whole cast then returns to the stage to sing and dance (sort of) to a selection of songs with a theme. For this show, it's an olio of Disney-fied fairy tales and beyond: Mary Poppins, Beauty and the Beast, The Lion King and more.
Whew. If you're worried about the harmful of effects of over-stimulation, be warned. But for the Gaslight, this is the formula which has worked for more than 30 years.
Space Wars, Or May the Farce Be With You pretty much follows the proven Gaslight approach. Peter Van Slyke writes and directs prolifically for the Gaslight these days, although he did have help from Mike Yarema for Space Wars. The particulars vary from show, but it's always a story—usually loosely put together—about the good guys vs. the bad guys. There are never subtleties to grasp about which is which and who is who; the heroes and villains are always discernable, and the audience is encouraged to vocalize support of the good and disdain of the bad. Good always ends up defeating the evil (but never totally eradicates it—not so much because that's the way the world works, but because evil will be useful for the next show).
Gaslight shows lean more toward the silly than the comic, and Space Wars registers on the extreme end of the silly scale. Here we find characters and situations eerily similar to those in Star Wars, but without any of the deep or mysterious undertones that die-hard Star Wars crazies claim are there.
A unified Cosmos is threatened by the leader of the Quasar Confederation, Dark Visor (David Orley). (Roles are double-cast, so actors vary depending on the performance; the actors listed here were in the show I attended.) Princess Layla (Tarreyn Van Slyke), complete with over-sized earmuffs of braided hair, is in danger and needs someone like, oh, Han Solo. In our story, he's Lance Jericho (David Fanning). Duke Starfighter (Jake Chapman) is on a mission of self-discovery, trying to "follow the course!" with the help of Sobe Kalidoscopee (Todd Thompson) and the oddly eared Yoga (Nick Seivert).
Are you still with me?
There are other clever Star Wars equivalents: Mp3-PO (Charlie Hall) and WD-40, a 2 1/2-foot-tall, honest-to-gosh robot complete with blinking lights and the ability to emit what sounds like birdcalls when its services are needed.
Yeah, yeah. It's probably pretty close to copyright infringement. But you've got to admit it definitely contributes to a sky-rocketing score on that silly scale.
Tom Benson's multiple sets are always a treat, incorporating "special effects" which are also worked into the action. There's the running-in-place-chase where it's the background that moves. There's the "small object" (the specifics of which change with each show's requirements) with motor-driven flight up and over the heads of the audience to the light booth. And you can pretty much count on the mirror ball and fog machine along with some other low-tech effects, which in this Space Wars high-tech setting gives rise to many chuckles.
Frankly, this is not one of Van Slyke's better efforts. The story line is thin and mostly serves to introduce caricatures of the Star Wars population. It feels like the action is on a repeating loop, and it results in a pace that tends to grind, and a show that seems over-long. A good 15 minutes could easily be zapped off with a light saber—or "laser blade," in this case—and we'd be none the worse.
Then again, the wit—which finds a place for gems like, "If at first you don't succeed, skydiving is not for you," and, "I feel like I'm diagonally parked in a parallel universe"—certainly does nothing to contribute to the world's agony.
Space Wars doesn't break any new galactic ground, and one could argue that by recycling familiar components, Gaslight is contributing responsibly by going "green." So hooray for the gang that comes up with infinite variations of the tried-and-true. Gaslight may not give us enduring theater, but it sure seems to have found the formula for fun.