Theatre Review: Mee’sa needs’a see Mesa, mista

By Chris Courtice

Imagine travelling from Calgary to Arizona. Non-stop for five days. With your grandfather. Doesn’t sound like a lot of fun, does it? But what about a play about just that, performed by two men sitting on lawn chairs for 80 minutes with an imaginary steering wheel. Don’t worry, while Mesa may be based on this premise, it will not be nearly as dismal to watch. 34 year-old Paul and his wife’s 93 year old grandpa Bud, travel through the American west to Mesa, Arizona in the play. Bud needs to get to his retirement home in Arizona, while Paul feels he needs to experience life more profoundly via the open road. Despite the lack of fancy special effects and technology, the play will not disappoint, put on by the groundbreaking Ghost River Theatre and having run a few times before.

“We ran it at the High Performance Rodeo in 2000,” explains Doug Curtis, the jack of all trades of Ghost River. Doug is the theatre company’s artistic director for Mesa and plays the part of Paul. Though the play was well received during its initial run, changes were due for the production. After the debut at the Rodeo, Curtis did some substantial rewrites on the script.

“Like 20 pages of plot, I just ripped it out and started over,” Curtis says about the rewrites. The new and improved Mesa was then put on in southern Ontario in 2001, followed by performances in March 2003 back in Calgary. Doug’s revisions were done to create a stronger focus on the relationship between Paul and Bud.

“We work predominantly with live music as part of our show,” exclaims Curtis, referring to his live sound team of Peter Moller and Marshall Hopkins. Sitting in lawn chairs may seem incredibly hard for the imagination to do its job, but the sound and other traditional effects aid in painting a wonderful picture of the road. “We recreated a highway, with yellow lines running down the center of the stage. We created a forced perspective.

“Anybody who has a grandfather [will enjoy Mesa],” states Curtis. Much of the conflict between Paul and Bud are universal issues. Anyone encountering an age difference is bound to run into these problems as well. Paul and Bud have differing opinions on where they should go, where they should stay and even on musical taste.

“He [Paul] jumps at the chance to drive through the American west. He imagines heading out on a great adventure. But Bud says no, it’s going to be Dennys and Motel 6,” Curtis details. The conflict does not end there, as the majority of the trip is a big disagreement. However, by the end of the play, the two characters do warm up and begin to understand one another.

“They end up taking care of each other,” Curtis says.

The happy ending may be revealed, but does not take away from the production. The importance of the production is in the journey, not the destination.

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