Space Wars: A 2002 Space ‘Oddity’ of Olympic Proportions

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Donny Osmond’s gonna be President!

Enid Greene’s gonna be Vice President!

These are just a few of the more hilarious barbs to come out of the Desert Star Playhouse’s satirical stage show, “Space Wars: A 2002 Space ‘Oddity’ of Olympic Proportions.”

“Space Wars” is the kind of show that punches you in the face with its own wackiness. (Look at the title: The word “oddity” is in quotation marks, to make sure you catch that it’s supposed to be “odyssey,” as in “2001: A Space Odyssey.” You wouldn’t have caught that otherwise, right?) In their attempt to skewer Utah politics and culture, but in a nice, family-friendly way, the actors forgo all possible subtlety and instead throw lame “jokes” around like rocks. And because of the avalanche, you can’t help but laugh, even as you’re groaning.

This is not good satire. Good satire is pointed, clever and generally subtle. “Space Wars,” which tells the story of aliens from the future coming back to 1997 to stop some bad guys from spreading a deadly virus, is none of those things. The jokes are on the order of: “Space, the home of tiny parasites and the only place the Utah Department of Transportation hasn’t got torn apart.”

Or, when over-priced merchandise is referred to: “DeeDee could have paid some of her debts if she’d got in on this action.”

The jokes are generally supposed to be funny just because of the subject matter they refer to, and not because of their actual content. Just hearing references to DeeDee Corradini, Tom Welch, or the 2002 Olympics, is supposed to be funny enough on its own merits.

It may sound like I didn’t like the show, but that’s not entirely true. It all depends on what the show was trying to be. The Desert Star Playhouse is a family-oriented venue, where you sit at tables instead of in rows, and you can order ice cream or pizza from the passing waitresses. They sing to you if it’s your birthday, and there’s a sing-along before and after the show, and the whole thing is just a whole bunch of good ol’ fun. Audience participation is encouraged, and it’s fun for the kids to boo the bad guys, which is also encouraged. On that level — being entertaining for families and a pleasant way to spend an evening — the show succeeds remarkably.

Now, if the show is trying to be a good satire, or even a good comedy, it fails miserably.

It’s honestly very difficult to tell whether the show knows how dumb its jokes are. For a while it seems to think that’s it’s really stickin’ it to ’em with its obvious one-liners about Utah politicians –but then later, the actors openly acknowledge the rankness of a few particularly foul puns.

Most of the genuine laughs come from the fact that the eight cast members often don’t know their lines very well. At one point in Monday’s performance, one of the actors even brought the script onstage to help the others out. This sort of thing didn’t make them look unprofessional, it just made the show more fun.

In one scene where an audience member was used as an emergency back-up performer, the actors’ true improvisation skills shone through. It’s apparent that the performers are good at doing comedy; they’re just doing a show that doesn’t require much of them.

The only subtlety (and it’s so subtle that the audience I was in didn’t catch it) is in the pianist’s musical score. The cast sings a few songs over the course of the show, but mainly the piano just provides mood music. Occasionally, the choice of music is very funny. During a scene in which a character’s hand gets cut off, you hear the piano play the Primary song “I Have Two Little Hands.” A few Primary songs sneak in elsewhere, as do a couple of hymns, and it’s always amusing, though perhaps unappreciated.

So this is the show for you if one of the following conditions applies:

1) You have kids and want to spend a harmless, amusing evening together as a family; or,

2) Your idea of sharp, witty satire is, “Our spaceship has more glitches than TCI Cable and Utah Power put together!”

The choice is yours.

This was the first of many shows I saw at the Desert Star Playhouse, and I always went with approximately the same group of friends. At first we loved the sheer dorkiness of the shows, making fun of the wink-wink-nudge-nudge style of humor and being amazed at what they expected us to actually find funny. But after a while, the shows grew on us, and we came to love the place. We looked forward to each new show, believe it or not, and I think that comes out in the later reviews.

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