SLAC’s 2004 “Saturday’s Voyeur” struggles to find its comedic footing

A tale is told around bottles of Chardonnay by longtime Salt Lake City theatergoers of a little play that could.

Much like the little engine that shares a similar fable, this little play started as a fledgling and unsure production that few expected to succeed.

As the story goes, the little play-named “Saturday’s Voyeur,” as a wry allusion to a Mormon film-paid no mind to its naysayers. With a determined head full of steam and a subscription to The Salt Lake Tribune and Deseret News, it climbed the hill of controversial theater until it reached the summit and reigned over other local productions as the king of political comedy.

But, there’s another well-known narrative to which “Saturday’s Voyeur” bears striking similarities: The Little Boy Who Lost His Way.

Although “Saturday’s Voyeur” began-and long stood-as a beacon of solid, smart, unpretentious criticism, it has strayed from this path in recent years.

Although it does less than last year’s show to congratulate itself, 2004’s play still fails to be either extraordinarily funny or uniquely insightful.

The story follows Daniel Darker, the law-savvy proprietor of the former Dead Goat Saloon, forced to adopt strange business practices and a new bar name as he endures the slings and arrows of ridiculous liquor laws and drunk Baptist street preachers.

With the help of his aged-but-eager cabaret “performers,” Pussy, Pixie and Trixie, Darker sets out to fight the proverbial man (who, in this year’s incarnation, bears a striking resemblance to a four-man midget Nazi chorus line…really) every step of the way. But it isn’t until Darker’s intrepid bartender gets the girls to play dressup and head to Capitol Hill that anything resembling a resolution begins to take shape.

Pussy, Pixie and Trixie trade garter belts for pantsuits and head with a queer eye for the straight Utah State Legislature on the last day of its session. The trio falls headfirst into a circus of propaganda, ineptitude, cowboy representatives and corporate coercion.

“Voyeur” stumbles until intermission, with its first act-taking place entirely within the Crazy Goat Saloon-having a hard time finding its comedic footing. Intelligent jabs at zoning restrictions and licensing go largely unnoticed, eclipsed by gaudy, ill-fitting musical numbers.

At times, “Voyeur” feels as though it were conceived this year as the love child of an MTV-equipped cable package and a local newspaper subscription.

Subtle, acute jokes that were prevalent in older “Voyeurs” are few and far between. In their stead are ham-handed pop references that don’t pack the same punch as their clever predecessors.

The second act of “Saturday’s Voyeur” is markedly better than the first, though, with the Goat’s strippers attending to a cornucopia of Legislative hazards.

Barbs directed at lawmakers and their outrageously close-minded habits do well to strike a resonant chord with average Utahns, who care more about our state’s cultural folkways than whether or not pasties will be present on the bosoms of downtown dancers.

Overall, 2004’s “Saturday’s Voyeur” is better than last year’s, but not as good as it could have been. There’s even a cool OutKast dance number and a Christina Aguilera song thrown in there somewhere-which is emblematic of the entire production: confounding and unnecessary but still somehow mildly entertaining.

It’s also worth realizing that some of the non-Utah-based pop jokes don’t register with the predominantly older audience attracted to “Voyeur,” and that’s an oversight.

“Voyeur” is still a better production than most Salt Lake independent theater, but it’d be wise to return to the proven ways of its subtle, socially relevant past.

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