By Jenny Neyman
When writing a movie parody script, it’s helpful to choose a flick that’s already ridiculous, so the jokes don’t have as far to go to be funny. But as with wearing mirrored sunglasses indoors and nostalgic ’80s music flashbacks, it is possible to have too much of a good thing.
Like when an actor delivers a painfully cheesy line in a spoof of “Top Gun,” and the entire cast grinds rehearsal to a halt to consider whether the cringe-worthy line, as delivered, was part of the spoof script, or from the actual movie.
“Wait. No, that’s actually what she says in the movie. Wow,” said Carla Jenness, playing the widow of fighter pilot “Goose” in “Top Chum,” Triumvirate Theatre’s annual dinner theater fundraiser.
Of course, in this version of “Top Gun,” Goose doesn’t end up in a watery grave during a fighter jet battle. The hotshots in “Top Chum” are elite fishing guides training to combat tourists illegally snagging salmon on the Kenai River, rather than jet pilots in the Navy sent to protect against enemy aircraft. Goose does succumb to an unfortunate incident of choking on a fish bone. But, not to worry — as is pointed out in a running joke throughout the play, “Nobody dies in a Triumvirate show.”
Although there is usually eye-rolling and groaning and other pained expressions from the audience as the sillier jokes are delivered. Such as the lyrics to a reworking of the “Top Gun” theme song, “Highway to the danger zone”:
“Revvin’ up your outboard, listen to her howlin’ roar. Metal under tension, beggin’ you to snag and go. Highway to the fishing zone! Gonna take a ride into the fishing zone.”
Writing a parody from already corny source material gave the authors of “Top Chum” plenty with which to work, even if they didn’t realize the movie’s true cheesy gold when they first watched it in the 1980s.
“I saw it at the Kambe Theatre when I was in high school and we thought it was the coolest thing ever,” said Joe Rizzo, writer and director of “Top Chum. “Now to watch it, it’s so ridiculous and dumb. It is so obvious they were playing that movie to teenagers. It’s almost as if Maverick and Goose were in high school and had a crush on the hot teacher but they’re still smart alecks. I met a real fighter pilot and this guy was nothing like those guys in the movie. He was disciplined and completely serious. I can’t imagine how many kids joined the military because of that silly movie.”
For their previous fishing-themed movie-spoof fundraisers, Rizzo and co-author Jenness have chosen classic,
well-regarded films. For instance, “Citizen Kane” became “Citizen King,” “The Maltese Falcon” became “The Maltese Salmon” and “Casablanca” became “Cast-A-Blanca.”
Actually, just coming up with a title is one of the biggest hurdles to writing a spoof script.
“A lot of times for us the choice of what movie we can do is if we can make the title clever. We wanted to do ‘Citizen Kane’ for years but we couldn’t do it until we came up with ‘Citizen King,’” Rizzo said.
From there the authors figure out a way to morph the plot of the subject movie into their standard spoof framework — set on the central Kenai Peninsula, revolving around fishing and including plenty of room for local humor:
Stinger: “You wanted to know who the best is? That’s him. Iceman.”
Goose: “How’d he get that name?”
Stinger: “He used to work on the blast freezer crew at Columbia Wards.”
In this case, they took the premise of the “Top Gun” elite flight school and made it so their elite fishing guides were attending “Top Chum” fishing academy at Kenai Peninsula College.
“It writes itself as soon as you place it into the KPC fishing academy,” Rizzo said. “When you place it in one environment (as in the real movie), it’s very serious, and you take that attitude and place it in any other environment — like the fishing academy — and it’s so ridiculous.”
“The nice thing about ‘Top Gun’ is it’s a very simple story — not that story arc is all that import in these shows — but it certainly helps when writing it,” he said.
Not so with many of the classic films they’ve tackled before.
“Like the plot of ‘Maltese Falcon’ is so convoluted and difficult to follow. What I’ve found with these parody shows is the simpler the real show is, the easier to make a parody of it,” Rizzo said.
“Or ‘Gone With The Fish,’” said Jenness of the spoof based on “Gone With the Wind.” “When we were writing that one
I had painted myself into a corner, there was just so much going on in that script. I finally wrote this line, ‘And then a whole bunch of other stuff happens.’”
After the script is hammered out, actors need to be recruited to perform it. Joe and Paulene Rizzo and Carla and Chris Jenness, among the founders of Triumvirate Theatre, are in it as always, along with some veterans of previous movie spoof shows, including Jamie Nelson, Chris Pepper, Josh Ball and Randy Daly. But the regular crew needed to be expanded for this show to fill out the ranks of hotshot fishing guides.
“Looking at casting it, all of us are getting too old to play these young hip parts,” Rizzo said. “It was funny, when we cast it and started looking at the cast we were like, ‘Holy cow, we have all these funny guys who have been in theater for so long.’”
“The real gift in this show is the cast,” Jenness said.
Theater veterans save for one — Jake Douth, a teacher at Nikiski Middle-High School, playing Maverick.
“I feel like kind of a deer on ice skates as far as I don’t know what I’m doing. I’ve never been in a play before, not even as a kid in elementary school — never. I’m completely lost. This is definitely not my gig by any stretch of the imagination,” Douth said.
Jenness and Rizzo, also teachers at Nikiski, quibble with that assessment — “He’s amazing,” they said. But they were
drawn to him for a reason beyond experience or talent. He may never have been an actor before, but he sure looks like one.
“Jake appeared the first day of in-service back in the summer and it was like, ‘Oh my gosh, he looks just like Tom Cruise, we have to get him to do it,’” Jenness said. “And we knew his wife had this amazing voice so it was, ‘Oh my gosh, that’s even better!’”
Being told he’s a celebrity lookalike wasn’t enough to get Douth interested in performing.
“I don’t know about that. He’s (Cruise) got a lot more hair than I do,” Douth said.
But Douth said that he had known Rizzo when he taught at Nikiski from 2000-03. Triumvirate, which is the local arm of the Alaska Children’s Institute of the Performing Arts and was formed to give kids opportunities to grow through the performing arts, hadn’t been formed at that time. When he returned to teaching at Nikiski, Douth got filled in on the theater program’s inception and growth.
“I just was inspired. They’re doing such great things for kids. I thought it was awesome, and Joe said it would be great for me to be in this play. I just told him, ‘OK, but no singing and not a lot of lines.’ Well, I don’t sing, but I’ve got a million lines,” Douth said. “It’s definitely something out of my comfort zone. I’m nervous. I may be the guy hyperventilating and choking on a fish bone.”
Out of his comfort zone, but not completely foreign. He is actually a fishing guide in the summer on the west side of
Cook Inlet. And Douth said it has been fun spending time with the rest of the cast — including one of his former students, Josh Ball, who plays Goose, and his wife, Jessica, who plays Maverick’s love interest.
“They said, ‘Hey, you’ve got to get your beautiful wife in here, too.’ I pretty much volunteered her for the whole thing, since I got roped into it I felt I wasn’t going to go down alone,” Douth said. “It’s been great. It’s something we can do together. She’s been onstage a lot more than me. I tend to stay away from crowds as much as possible. It’s been fun to hang out with her and there’s great people involved.”
Douth said he and Jessica recently watched “Top Gun” as research for the show.
“We hadn’t seen it in over a decade, so we watched it just the other night to remind ourselves what it was, and it was hilariously cheesy. The 1980s cheese was so thick. I think I was kind of even more inspired to do it after that,” Douth said.
“Tom Chum” will be performed Friday and Saturday at Mykel’s in Soldotna. Prime rib dinner starts at 6 p.m., with the show at 7 p.m. Tickets are $50, available in advance at Mykel’s.
Following the show each night will be a live auction, with a variety of artwork, crafts, and gift certificates, a wood carving by Scott Hanson of Town of the Living Trees on Friday night, and a golf package with a set of clubs, a bag and a year pass at Kenai Golf Course up for auction Saturday night.
For more information, visit http://www.triumviratetheatre.org.