What do an ulu, sombreros, plastic light sabers, cowboy boots and a stuffed salmon called Whappy have in common?
They're all props in "The Magnificent Salmon," a farce on the movie "The Magnificent Seven," written by local teacher Carla Jenness and being performed this Friday and Saturday at Mykel's in Soldotna.
The show is a modern twist on the old western, with a big-time television producer replacing the bandit as the bad guy. It opens with two characters catching up over shots of Jose Cuervo and talking about reality show ideas for the central Kenai Peninsula area. Their pitches revolve around the natural world that Peninsula residents rely on -- from mollusks to salmon -- and are peppered with jokes about some of the absurd reality shows that really do make it to prime-time. The score is a mix of old and new, with both the original magnificent seven theme and a tune from pop star Justin Bieber. But ultimately, it has the same basic plot: a group of heros band together to save their community.
Jenness wrote the show specifically for the annual dinner theater fundraiser, so Friday is the play's world premiere.
This is Triumvirate Theatre's sixth annual fundraiser production. Jenness has worked with director Joe Rizzo on past shows for the dinner theater event, and said they chose a western because they haven't done one before -- and because she has gotten stuck playing Sarah Palin in the past few shows and was ready for a break from that high-maintenance role.
Not playing the former governor wasn't the only perk of writing a western, Jenness said. She's from El Paso, Texas, so the play allowed her to intertwine her roots with her Alaskan home.
"It's a lot of fun to write a western," she said.
And it turns out, it's not so hard to make it apply to Alaska. In one scene, Jenness wove together lines from the original play and lines of her own creation to talk about Alaskans' devotion to their guns.
The fictional part of the scene talks about Don Young encouraging residents of the concealed carry state to exercise their Second Amendment rights.
What did "The Magnificent Seven" writer have a hero say about residents having guns?
"Sure -- same as they wear pants. That's expected."
Other scenes make easy leaps from the wild west to the last frontier: two cowboys have a salmon cutting battle, and two play patty-cake. There really is a hand clapping scene in the original, Jenness said.
Alaska's former governor doesn't make an appearance in this year's production, although there is a joke at her expense and one about rising rogue Joe Miller. In fact, there's a joke about most things happening on the Peninsula today. The play was written this year, so the jokes are current -- but Jenness said that a few seem to get repeated every year, like one about having nowhere to bury a body because Soldotna doesn't have a cemetery.
And a few of the new ones are almost outdated already, she said.
"My Libya joke is already out of date," she said, referencing a quip about a no-fly zone in Africa.
Jenness said that she enjoys writing comedy, and the annual show is a chance to write something fun. She also enjoys that the actors involved have worked together on the last two or three dinner theater shows Triumvarate has produced and know that the show is about having fun, not perfection.
"I think the audience really responds to that too," she said.
The cast still has seats available for an audience that wants to laugh with them. Tickets are $65 dollars for the evening, which includes dinner and the performance. Only about 50 will be sold each for each night. Dinner starts at 6 p.m. on Friday and Saturday nights, with the show at 7 p.m. An art auction will follow the roughly hour-long play.
Molly Dischner can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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