The concept behind “Citrus Valley Playhouse” is entirely retro: It’s a staged variety show presented at the Mesa Arts Center like an old-time radio program. Think “A Prairie Home Companion,” only drawing on Arizona history for its material.
Funny, then, that writer/creator Brian Nissen goes about whipping up his scripts in a decidedly modern way. Most days, you’ll find him working away at what he calls his home office: The Wildflower Bread Company in Gilbert.
Hey, the price is right: He mooches off their free wireless Internet access. Not that the employees mind.
“Part of how I pay my rent,” says Nissen, 45, “is I give them all tickets to see the show.”
Oh, the visions of Garrison Keillor hunched over a laptop in the corner of a Lake Wobegon Starbucks.
That’s not the only modern twist for “Citrus Valley,” which this weekend stages its third and final episode of the season, dubbed “Arpaio-palooza.”
Yup, the show that normally dabbles in characters like Camel Corps leader Hadji “Hi Jolly” Ali and the Mesa Journal-Tribune editor who killed Santa Claus (which is the greatest Christmas story of all time, we contend) is this time sticking it to controversial but popular Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio.
In Nissen’s sketch, Arpaio nods off while watching reruns of “The Andy Griffith Show,” and dreams he’s the sheriff of Mayberry.
“He has the trains all running on time,” Nissen says.
Pink boxers in a black-and-white sitcom? OK. Barney Fife, Nissen says, ends up getting a Taser instead of a bullet for his gun. The ribbing’s all good-natured fun, Nissen says, and he even got the thumbs up from Sheriff Joe. The writer’s still in a kind of awe after meeting Arpaio, a tireless self-promoter.
“We got done talking,” Nissen says, “and he pulled out a couple of posters and said, ‘All right, who should I make these out to?’ ”
Arpaio’s joined in “Citrus Valley” by the show’s usual cast of characters, including the Blind Ranger, who blindfolds himself to (misguidedly) heighten his other senses, and Dwayne, the redneck host of a talk radio show called “Mullets Over America.” Performers include Nissen, producer/sound guy Mark Arnett, and actors Ben Tyler and Leah Long.
Meanwhile, “Citrus Valley” continues its quest to go from an unaired radio show to a bona fide one. Several edited shows have made their way to Valley public radio station KJZZ (91.5 FM), and Nissen is in talks to create short segments to air during the local broadcast of National Public Radio’s popular “Morning Edition.”
“We’re thrilled,” Nissen says. “The Holy Grail for us is to be on the radio every week.”