Jerry Prince, Eric Sharp, Ellen Kluesing, and Fred Krenke; Sitting is Michael Gaither. Photo- Michael Drury
Escanaba in da Moonlight
Written by Jeff Daniels
Directed by Michael Drury
Review by Keith Waits
Entire contents copyright 2014 by Keith Waits, all rights reserved.
Director Michael Drury has once again stepped outside his duties as Artistic Director of Pandora Productions to direct for another local company, and the material is once again something of a pastoral concerning family history and male bonding. The difference is, with Escanaba in da Moonlight, the themes are played for laughs. The script comes from actor Jeff Daniels, originally produced by his Purple Rose Theatre Company and later made into a film with Mr. Daniels starring and directing.
The Soady men of Escanaba, Michigan (located in the Upper Peninsula), meet each year to hunt at the beginning of the deer season, nestled in the cozy confines of their own cabin, stocked with beer, homemade sweet sap whiskey, and “pasties” (the “A” is long) a regional meat pie. One particular year is related in flashback by patriarch Albert (Michael Gaither), a night in which his youngest son, Reuben (Gary White), confronts the possibility of becoming, at age 35, the oldest Soady male to have never bagged a buck.
Reuben embraces superstition as a means of turning his luck around, and the evening becomes stranger and stranger, with each new character introduced seemingly more eccentric than the last. Even when the expected stabilizing presence of a Department of Natural Resources Ranger arrives on the scene, he enters fresh from an unsettling otherworldly encounter that has shaken him so profoundly that he can do little else but sing “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot”. This is indeed one loony bunch.
The action also includes a series of flatulence-related jokes that climax in the most epic fart joke I have ever witnessed onstage. It must be seen to be believed. Kudos to Laura Ellis’ sound design for its many assured effects, but the cacophony of flatulence is what it will be remembered for.
Mr. Drury elicits measured work from his well-chosen cast, finding restraint for material that invites ham-handedness. Michael Gaither is a fine for Albert, bringing a folksy and natural charm to the telling of the story. Gary White is suitably lunkheaded but innocent as the hapless Reuben, while Jerry Prince is nicely addled as his older brother, Remnar. Some of the funniest moments come from Fred Krenke’s Jimmer Negamanee, whose nearly comically indecipherable speech is adeptly handled. Eric Sharp is a good as Ranger Tom, and Ellen Fluesing makes the most of her brief, enigmatic appearance as Wolf Moon Dance, Reuben’s Native American wife.
The design team, Lisa Cutts, Margie Wilcoxson, Dennis Basham, Russell Spencer and Mr. Drury himself, manage a fine sense of place and setting. This is nonsense comedy leavened by expressive details of region and character that seem played at just the right pitch. The opportunity to overplay is amply supplied by the script but the performances, except for a few moments here and there, pull back from that precipice.
Escanaba in da Moonlight
January 17-25, 2014
Clarksville Little Theatre
301 E. Montgomery Avenue
Clarksville, IN 47129