Mayhem Reigns in Purple Rose Theatre’s “Escanaba in Da Moonlight”

Reviewed by Joseph Michael Mishler

Chelsea, MI.    The world famous Soady deer camp is facing a crisis.  Reuben Soady is about to become the oldest family member never to bag a buck.  In the UP that is trouble with a capital “T”.  As the male members of the family gather for the opening of deer season Escanaba in da Moonlight will never be the same.  The Purple Rose Theatre’s current production served up a raucously funny show for the theatre goers.

Jeff Daniels has a way of getting right to the essentials in his plays.  Escanaba in da Moonlight has that everyday touch with a few things thrown in for good measure.  As Albert Soady and his two sons, Rueben and Remnar, hit the deer camp strange things begin to happen.  Then the Jimmer arrives speaking wildly.  Everyone is aware of Reuben’s problem.  No one has a solution and no one wants to hunt with him.

The sweet Soady sap goes bad – they are in deer camp without whiskey, there’s a sighting, the Euchre cards change, and the DNR shows up.  Maybe Reuben IS cursed.    The director and the cast have made a few small changes in the published script.  Ranger Tom has a bigger part, and the changes only serve to enhance the script.

The set looks just like an old deer camp minus a little dirt and a few cobwebs.  The sound effects and lighting added to the mayhem, and the costumes and props lent themselves extremely well to the play.

The hunters are saved by Wolf Moon Dance (Rhiannon Ragland).  Her prints are all over the play.  She promises her husband that if he wants a buck, she will make it happen.  Moose testicle drinks, porcupine pee, and strange chants are part of the deal (She was not in charge of the flatulence).  She makes a dramatic entrance at the end of the play.

Albert Soady (Jim Porterfield) is a cranky old guy who has no use for us “trolls” and is a serious hunter.  Albert was very believable as the father, someone ya really didn’t want to mess with.  His opening monologue sets up the play.  If he would have slowed down just a bit, it would have been more effective.  He cut off the laughter a couple times and the audience was a little gun shy after that for a while.   This happened in the other monologues.  Some of the staging and movement in Act I was odd.  More could have been done with the toilet paper dance by Remnar (Mathew David).  He was also a tad bit too whiney, but otherwise gave a strong performance.

Reuben was very convincing as the long suffering buckless Yooper.  He never questioned his wife, but he was a little quiet on occasion.  Wayne David Parker gave a strong performance as the Jimmer.  However, more could have been done with the other actors during his first scene on stage.  The moment where they were trying to cure Reuben by sticking his head near the Jimmer’s behind was a gem.  Ranger Tom (Nate Mitchell) gave a good performance.  The pistol scene was a great addition.  When he gave himself up to the Bearswalk we didn’t want him to go.

Wolf Moon Dance’s entrance and exit was great.  When she and Reuben kissed, everything was made clear:  Sometimes it takes a woman to solve the big problems.  Hopefully Reuben involves her in future deer seasons.

Escanaba in da Moonlight was directed by Guy Sanville, artistic director of the Purple Rose Theatre.  I highly recommend this production.  You will definitely laugh a lot and get your money’s worth.  The play continues through December 17, 2011.  The Purple Rose Theatre is located in Chelsea, MI.

 

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