Presentation House Theatre

by Doug Curtis

Dates 26 October - 11 November, 2006 Venue Presentation House Theatre
Reviewers Ed Farolan & John Jane

Haig Sutherland (l.) and Steven Hill
Mesa was inspired by a true-life episode in playwright Doug Curtis’s life when he volunteered to drive his wife’s nonagenarian grandfather from Calgary to the senior’s trailer park home in Mesa, Arizona.

The play recounts a dichotomous journey, of a couple of travellers, two generations apart as they embark on a five day road trip that is only to be interrupted by rest stops at Motel 6 and occasional meals at ‘Dennies’ restaurants.

Bud, a curmudgeon of 93 years and his grandson-in-law, Paul couldn’t be more at odds in their opinions on just about everything. Bud’s philosophy is uncomplicated. He hates cold weather and surprises and enjoys a Saturday night dance with his fellow seniors and prunes for breakfast. Paul on the other hand is a cynical idealist attempting to forge a career as a writer.

The story is delivered partly in direct narrative by the two performers and partly in their conversation with each other on the road, interspersed with telephone calls to their respective loved ones that never totally connect.

The set is minimal: a pair of lawn chairs that serve as car seats and a scrolling highway map projected onto a rear wall.

Steven Hill and Haig Sutherland are superb in the roles of Bud and Paul as they convey visible tensions disagreeing with musical tastes and detours, intended and otherwise. Predictably they develop an understanding for each others problems. Paul even finds wisdom in Bud’s pragmatic guidance. There is a particularly poignant moment when Paul helps Bud after he struggles to fix his adult diaper.

Mesa is evenly paced under Brenda Leadlay’s direction and helped in no small measure by the ‘third performer’ on stage, Steve Charles, who provides a road-wise musical score on the Fender Stratocaster electric guitar and banjo.

Doug Curtis’s grandfather-in-law (the real Bud) passed away a few years ago. I’m sure that he is affectionately remembered. After all, the writer owes him a huge debt.--JJ

The script of Doug Curtis wasn't bad. There were a few bad jokes, green jokes that old people would say to each other which for some would appear corny. I like Director Leadlay's staging--music in the background which served as car radio music and background music/sound effects from Sound designer and performer Steven Charles who had an electric guitar, a banjo, and a makeshift drum in his space. The backdrop of a map and the car moving through the highways from Canada to Arizona was also interesting, giving that multimedia effect.

The acting wasn't bad either. I just felt that Steven Hill playing Bud, a 92-year old man, shouldn't be too energetic. This should be Haig Sutherland's role as Paul, his granddaughter's husband. He should have been more energetic instead of playing the role of a 30-year old so complacently, as though he were playing an old man. I also think there should be an intermission, instead of going through the whole 90-minute play without a break. This kind of play was meant for seniors, and seniors don't have very good bladders and would need a bathroom break in-between. The play ends with the Saturday night senior dance, and all three male performers go to the first row and pick up three senior female audience members to dance a boogie-woogie (it's called "swing" these days). --EF

© 2006 Ed Farolan & John Jane