By Jenny Neyman
With “The Maltese Salmon” successfully spoofed, “Casta-blanca” parodied, “Gone with the Fish” fictionalized and “Citizen King” caricatured, Triumvirate Theatre leaves the black-and-white genre behind in casting its sights for a new movie classic to lampoon in its annual dinner theater fundraiser this year.
Enter “Forrest Guppy.”
He may not be a smart man (“intellectually challenged is as intellectually challenged does”) but he knows a good pair of Helly Hansen waders when he sees them.
“We were running out of old classic films to do and we were batting around some ideas one night and came up with the idea of doing something a little more contemporary,” said Triumvirate director Joe Rizzo, who co-wrote the script with Carla Jenness. “We stumbled upon ‘Forrest Gump,’ and started saying lines like Forrest would say them and realized it doesn’t matter what you say, everything is funny when you say it like Forrest Gump.”
Chris Pepper stars as Forrest, selected for his comedic timing, his deft — daft? — handling of the slow Southern drawl and skill at holding a vacant look on his face.
“Chris is brilliant. He’s so hammy and that’s perfect of this type of event, because that’s really what it is, more of an event than a performance,” Rizzo said. “We knew he did a great Forrest Gump impression. Last year he was in our ‘Gone With the Fish’ show and when we’d be at break or something he would do some of the lines like Forrest Gump and we’d all laugh.”
Just as in the movie, Forrest Guppy reminisces about his life, in which he happens to stumble into some of the most momentous events of his time. Except in this version, he’s on scene for events of central Kenai Peninsula infamy.
“The movie is pretty well-known and the parody with the Kenai River theme was pretty evident, like the Vietnam War scenes became combat fishing on the Russian River, and where Forrest Gump meets all these famous people, Forrest Guppy meets their Alaska counterparts, like Sarah Palin instead of President Kennedy,” Rizzo said.
Forrest Guppy’s travels bring him in contact with Hobo Jim, to whom he offers inspiration for a new hit song. As a kid playing down by the Kenai River, he happens by Les Anderson and teaches him a maneuver that helps him hook into the biggest fish of his life. Later in life, he stumbles upon political rallies, with firebrands hollering about Pebble Mine and borough tax dollars, and a governor destined to hit the New York Times best-seller list with a book about “lipstick and bulldogs and hockey or somethin’.”
But none of that mattered to Forrest as much as his one true love, his salmon buddy, Jenny.
“I had never seen anything so beautiful in my life. She was like a scaly angel,” Forrest says.
“For a while there we wondered who we would get to play Jenny, because it’s a pivotal part. Then Carla had the idea, ‘Why not make Jenny the fish?’ From there it practically wrote itself,” Rizzo said.
Through the high seas as a crab boat captain on “The Deadliest Catch” to rescuing buddies from flying hooks in the combat-fishing zone of the Russian River, Forrest carries his devotion to Jenny, who floats in and out of his life on the tides.
“I taught Jenny how to gulp for air, and she taught me how to escape from predators. She said if I ever got in trouble, to just run. Course, she said it in this kinda watery, bubbly voice, but I understood her. I always understood my best fry, Jenny,” he said.
Forrest takes all of Jenny’s wisdom to heart, and tries to protect her from the fillet knives and sushi rolling mats always on her tail.
The story is not without its sorrow, and Forrest takes up long-distance jogging to escape from his pain. Of course, on the Kenai, he ends up having to backtrack quite a bit, what with only one main road and all. But he attracts a crowd of fellow runners along the way, mainly former Gov. Sarah Palin staffers, bored with working for the much-less-exciting Parnell administration.
Eventually, after coining a bumper-sticker-worthy moniker for Homer, Forrest finds peace and heads home to Soldotna, where he goes back to sportfishing. In a tackle shop one day, he finds himself face to gill with a spunky little fry and falls in love all over again.
The show is true to Forrest’s line, “Mama always said life was like a box of tackle.” Even knowing the movie plot, audiences never know what they’re going to get from a Triumvirate movie parody show, especially since the cast is given to fits of improv and embellishment when it gets in front of an audience.
“What we always call it is the Triumvirate prom — once a year we all get to dress up in these silly costumes and do this silly show that the community loves so much. Most of the members of our board direct something during the year, so it’s a fun opportunity for us to get together and actually be actors in a show, although it’s really more schmaltzy than it is acting,” Rizzo said.
This incarnation has fishing shticks galore, local humor, pop culture riffs, intentionally low-rent special effects, and fight scenes — of the fish and human variety.
Joe Rizzo, Chris Jenness, Carla Jenness, Jamie Nelson, Angie Nelson, Trina Uvaas, Shannon Sorensen, Nicki VanRaden, Dan Adair, Dave Brown, Jayton Rizzo, Paulene Rizzo and Ari Sorensen play an extensive cast, including Mama, Bubba, Lt. Dan and a string of fishermen, hippies, chefs and political activists, with special guest appearances by Randy Daly, retired Kenai Peninsula Borough School District Superintendent Donna Peterson and Kanye West.
“Forrest Guppy” will be performed at 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday at Mykel’s in Soldotna, with a three-course prime rib dinner starting at 6 p.m. and an art auction to raise money for the theater organization. Tickets are $48 and seating is limited, so advanced purchase is recommended. Tickets are available at Mykel’s.