"Mesa" brings the question "are we there yet?" to life.
The Canadian play, which made its U.S. debut Wednesday at Invisible Theatre, is based on a five-day, 1998 road trip that playwright Doug Curtis took, driving his wife's 93-year-old grandfather from his Calgary home to his snowbird home, a trailer in Citrus Gardens in Mesa.
Two actors, Kevin Black, as 35-year-old chauffeur Paul, and Jay Hornbacher, as Grandpa Bud, hit the metaphorical highway lined with bittersweet moments and humor.
For Bud it's a journey to the past. He has been driving the exact same route - down the Interstate - with the exact same stops to the same location since 1967, when he retired from a 30-year career as a banker in a small farming town.
Hornbacher's engaging Bud is eager to get to his friends, the familiarity and the Saturday night dances of his Mesa retreat. He relishes the routines and rituals that give his waning years definition. His monologues are filled with reminiscences about life with his beloved wife, Molly, who died five years before the play's setting.
Bud has led a disciplined life, making tough choices for the greater good rather than personal satisfaction. Hornbacher has bursts of brilliance when his character is jolted out of his regimen, such as when the duo stops at Wendy's rather than Denny's. He ably switches roles to a handful of characters met along the road.
Paul, a self-absorbed wannabe writer/artist, creates plenty of intergenerational conflict. He wants to veer onto the side roads for adventure, to discover and reflect upon the American West and to have an amazing moment. But his self-involvement doesn't let him recognize the amazing moments when they happen.
Black adds charm and likability to Paul, who fancies himself an observer of life and has visions of grandeur. Black delivers monologues packed with over-the-top, flowery language with a wink. Lines that include images such as "the ice age seeping out the rocks" evoke the "eeeewwww" factor - and Black lets it flow.
"Mesa" is a sweet, sentimental journey. In the hands of a less-capable director it could easily become tedious and mawkish, but Harold Dixon keeps the interchange between the two and their intertwined monologues moving quickly so no one gets stuck in the sap. He keeps the tension and the mood light.
With only two lawn chairs and a few black boxes on the small stage, the action, at times, was too snappy. More exacting movements - especially for a 93-year-old getting in and out of the "car" - would have emphasized the intergenerational differences and conflict.
Scenes from a St. Patrick's Day senior dance, a map tracing the journey, and photos of sights and signs from along the road projected behind the actors to set the scenes were unnecessary - save the last family-albumlike photograph - and were a distraction at times.
The relatively flat story arc in "Mesa" doesn't answer "are we there yet?" Rather, it's wrapped around the quote by self-help guru Greg Anderson: "Focus on the journey, not the destination. Joy is found not in finishing an activity but in doing it."
• What: Invisible Theatre's production of "Mesa."
• Playwright: Doug Curtis.
• Director: Harold Dixon.
• Cast: Kevin Black and Jay Hornbacher.
• When: 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays and Thursdays; 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays; and 3 p.m. Sundays through Dec. 2. No show on Thanksgiving.
• Where: 1400 N. First Ave.
• Tickets: $28. Tickets are half price 30 minutes before curtain, subject to availability.
• Reservations/ information: 882-9721, invisibletheatre.com
• Running time: 90 minutes with no intermission.
• Et cetera: There are a few off-color jokes. IT says the material is appropriate for ages 13 and up.
Contact Ann Brown at email@example.com