Review: Mesa too long, falls short of potential

Con­sidering that Mesa is the last show playing in the 2007-08 season at Theatre Orangeville, I expected a lot more.
One would have thought the brass at the Opera House would want to go out “with a bang,” as they say, and leave audiences impatiently craving the arrival of next season in September.
But Mesa fell far short of that distinction, and it was a noticeable step backwards from the theatre’s previous production, Rope’s End.
Playing now until April 27, Mesa tells the story of Bud, a 93-year-old widower, driven from Alberta to his retirement home in Arizona by his “grandson-in-law” Paul, an out-of- work writer.
Paul envisions an adventurous journey off the beaten path, while Bud stubbornly prefers the familiarity of the main highways. The pair butt heads regularly during the course of the trip in true “odd couple” fashion, but by the end they understand one another.
Promotional materials for the play incorporate the familiar mantra that “life isn’t about the destination, it’s about the journey,” but the lesson learned here is that the journey can be tediously long and the destination somewhat overrated.
Thomas Hauff (Bud) and Andy Pogson (Paul) are great in their respective roles, delivering an overwhelming amount of lines with excellent tone, poise, and timing. The acting in Mesa is great – but the talents of Hauff and Pogson are not enough to overcome a less than stellar script by Doug Curtis.
The play drags in several spots and a few scenes serve no obvious purpose except to lengthen the production. The play would be remarkably im­proved if it was shortened by about ten to 12 minutes.
A strong point in Mesa is the explanation of the death of Bud’s wife, but the play never capitalizes on the potential of that revelation, instead moving on several times to conversations about Bud’s new “girlfriend,” whose inclusion in the play, while understandable, is dealt with in a rather cavalier  fashion.
And the reasons behind Paul’s seemingly troubled relationship with his wife are never truly explained or resolved. Early on the audience is given the impression the pair may be destined for a divorce the minute Paul returns home, but by the end, it seems that all is miraculously well again.
Granted, the play is about the personal changes made by Paul and Bud during the trip, but the relationships between the men and the women in their lives seem a contrived inclusion to the play.
And the supposed life-changing qualities of the trip seem a little insincere. The main theme one would expect to be thoroughly explored during the play – mortality and aging – is just glossed over in favour of a few short lines here and there and one ill-advised “accident” scene.
However, Mesa is not without it’s strong points. The set decoration and costume design are excellent, and the players have obviously received great direction from David Nairn’s team.
As well, there are several laugh-out-loud moments in the play, including a few jokes delivered perfectly by Hauff. But the main source of humour is the culture clash between the young and old characters, with which most audience members will certainly sympathize.
A real treat in Mesa is the live music by Bruce Ley. Whether on the piano or the guitar, Ley expertly guides the production along from beginning to end, providing a score to highlight the emotions of the characters and tone of the scenes (not to mention creating the music on the car radio).
Overall, Mesa is a decent play with great acting, but it falls short of fulfilling the potential that existed at the outset for this type of story.
Mesa is playing now until April 27. For tickets, call the box office at 519-942-3423 or 1-800-424-1295.