Epic Proportions at Fountain Hills Theater: Fun, Fun, Fun

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The setup: Let us thank whatever weird show-biz quirk has kept the 1986 script Epic Proportions from being as popular in community and regional theater as it seems it should be. Because it's really, really funny, and I bet you've never seen it before!

See also: Alfred Hitchcock's The 39 Steps Is Refreshingly Intimate, Yet Hugely Silly, in Fountain Hills

It can't be a matter of unknown writers, since one of them, David Crane, is the co-creator of Friends. (I earlier confused Crane's co-author, Larry Coen, with screenwriter Larry Cohen, who wrote Phone Booth and Cellular, and I regret the error, regardless how the Larrys feel about it.) But the play ran only briefly off-Broadway, and then, years later, briefly on Broadway. And as of 2005, John Landis reportedly had a film version in the works. Oh, well. More for us.

The execution: So it's a pretty straightforward story of two small-town brothers who run off to a super-isolated Arizona film location in the 1930s to be extras in a huge, epic film that seems to span random bits of the Roman Empire, the book of Exodus, and some other opulent Egyptian stuff that has little to do with Moses. Murphy's Law prevails, people's fortunes rise and fall, love blooms, everyone wants to go home -- stuff like that.

The eight cast members play everybody. Louise Goldman (played by Melissa Powers) is in charge of the approximately 3,000 extras and their two bathrooms. (Until they're done with the Red Sea set -- then things free up a bit.) Phil is a reluctant actor and former drum major whose keen crowd-management skills lead him to become Louise's assistant and boyfriend and, eventually, the film's director. Pretty but goofy Louise therefore becomes a star, and Phil's brother, Benny, whose luck as an extra was unusually bad, becomes her co-star. Rewrites. Delays. Costume fittings. It's all here.

If you thought Fountain Hills Theater's Mainstage wasn't tiny enough, they now have a second venue, Mainstage Too!, in the lobby. (I have no idea how they got it in there.) The stage appears only slightly smaller, but there are fewer seats, and the ushers are still working on a traffic pattern that appears impossible. Once you're seated, though, it's all good, though our spot under an A/C return was frosty. Just bring more clothes.

The undeniable upside of Mainstage Too! is that it means FHT can do more shows. Peter J. Hill, who's a great director of farce, has the cast cavorting about like -- well, like a bunch of overwhelmed people making a weird, gargantuan movie. It's hard to tell the wild high jinks of the script from the crazy little things that tend to happen on stage anyway, and that's a good thing.

The set, also by Hill, is quite functional, especially in light of there barely being room for it. I especially like the painted backdrop that looks like an old film set even though it's the real part (Arizona). Noël Irick's tunic-and-sandal-based costuming, which branches out into cute desert-friendly frocks for Louise, followed by sensational, flesh-baring, hysterically inaccurate Nilewear (see photo above, which is only the tip of that iceberg), doesn't try to hide how many different characters-within-the-movie-within-the-play each actor must assay, and it's a lot of fun on its own.

The whole ensemble's ridiculous and earnest all at once, and Michael Le Sueur as Benny is a massive cutie-pie, but two of the funniest cast members are Dyana Carroll, who often has to play a man and does so with resigned, unselfconscious gusto, and Diane Senffner (who I must disclose is a friend of mine), who mugs, gesticulates, and shimmies like the fading silent film queen she's supposed to be.

The verdict: Unless Fountain Hills is a short drive for you, buy a ticket in advance (to make sure you get in) and get your booty out to Epic Proportions. I don't want to give away any more jokes or plot twists, but you will laugh yourself nearly sick. And it's fairly clean, too, in terms of family-friendliness. More than Friends, at least. Epic Proportions continues through Sunday, October 20, at 11445 North Saguaro Boulevard in Fountain Hills. Drive carefully out there at night; it's dark. Order tickets, $14 to $20, here or call 480-837-9661 x3.

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