MURRAY — One of the benefits with working for UTBA is visiting theaters that normally I wouldn’t purchase a ticket for, such as Desert Star Theatre. Given my tastes in theatre, none of the ads for the Desert Star’s parodies ever caught my attention. But I’m willing to give almost any venue a try, so I volunteered to be the reviewer for Desert Star’s latest production, CSI Provo: Decaffeinated DNA.
CSI Provo: Decaffeinated DNA tells the story of a murder that is discovered on the BYU campus. Gil Grimace (played by Jeff Jensen), a crime scene investigator who also teaches biology classes at UVU, is called upon to use his expertise to investigate the murder. Joining him in investigating the homicide are Darlene Small (Corinne Adair), who has little spare time because of her duties as a Relief Society president and a mother of many children; and Horatio Caruso (Matt Kohler), a non-Mormon detective for the city of Provo. Gil also wishes to marry the daughter of legendary BYU football coach LaVell Edwards (Matthew Mullaney), who is also named LaVell (the daughter LaVell is played by Kelley Knight). After Gil forgets about the wedding because of the distraction of the murder investigation, Gil’s professional and personal life are in crisis.
The cast’s job actually isn’t that difficult. All of the characters in the play are caricatures and the goal isn’t to portray realistic, multidimensional people. Instead, they’re supposed to squeeze as much humor out of the script as possible. Although this isn’t hard, it takes commitment, and the slightest lack of commitment would make the show suffer greatly. With this in mind, I was most impressed by Adair and Jensen, both of whom gave all the energy they could muster to their performances. I especially enjoyed their camaraderie and their command of the humor in the crime lab scene in the second act. Although most of the actors were impressive, I did feel slightly disappointed by Mullaney’s performance. His performance wasn’t bad, but he never appeared to belong in such a silly piece of theatre. Instead, he often seemed a little awkward and rarely connected with his fellow actors. This was most apparent in the scenes in the Edwards home where he was supposed to be angry at his daughter, but never really showed it. However, Mullaney was much more comfortable when portraying the BYU president at a country club. Finally, it’s worth mentioning that Richie T. Steadman was hilarious in his many different roles; he definitely stole the scene where he played an exaggerated version of LDS musician Kurt Bestor.
Visually, I thought that this show was delightful. The backdrops were beautifully drawn (although the crime lab backdrop was obviously a reused backdrop that was probably supposed to originally be a mad scientist’s lab) and I loved the set piece that represented the BYU campus bell tower. The costumes (designed by Lynn Funk) were simple and had a low-budget feel that worked excellently with the tongue-in-cheek attitude of the show.
The story is extremely simple and Ben E. Millet—who wrote the script—shoehorned every joke possible into the 60-minute show. The story and the humor is clearly aimed at an LDS population; anyone who hasn’t spent time in Utah County would probably be perplexed at a few of the jokes. But all the old standbys are there: church basketball, scrapbooking, caffeine, the BYU honor code, etc. (It’s all done affectionately and nothing sacred is ridiculed.) If you’ve been an LDS Church member your entire life, you’ve probably heard many of these. But there is quite a bit of original humor, and I found myself laughing pretty hard, especially in the second act.
The night was capped off with the olio, a music and comedy performance that is a tradition at Desert Star. I found the olio to be the highlight of the evening and more enjoyable than the actual show itself. Knight and David Martin especially were impressive in the olio, and both actors took advantage of the format to showcase their talents. Knight was wonderful in the opening medley and in her performance of “One Fine Day.” Martin naturally mingled with the audience as he told jokes, sang, and even danced with people.
In conclusion, Millet’s script isn’t poetry. It’s not complex or thought provoking. But it’s not supposed to be. Millet’s goal was clearly to do nothing more than make people laugh for an hour. On its own terms, CSI Provo: Decaffeinated DNA was a success. Desert Star has clearly mastered their formula for an evening’s entertainment. If you’re looking for a life-changing evening of theatre, you won’t find it. But if you want to laugh and forget your worries for an hour and a half, Desert Star is the place to be.