Reviewed by Kathleen Kirby
With September here what could be better than a trip back in time to the famous Soady deer camp made memorable in Jeff Daniels’ hit play/movie, Escanaba in the Moonlight. Fenton Village Players’ production of Daniels’ Escanaba in Love will definitely strike a chord with native Michiganders and hunters in particular.
Set in 1944, this show is a prequel giving insight into the history of the Soady hunters and their quirky traditions. First on the scene was the patriarch of the clan, Alphonse Soady (Bill Thompson). As he relived his memories of the day he shot the legendary Soady ridge buck (it’s hanging right there on the wall), it was clear this was the high point of his life. Thompson brought a touch of tender madness to the role that kept everyone on their toes and the audience in chuckles.
He was soon joined by his son Albert Sr. (Michael Powell), a Soady man fer sure, looking forward to the arrival of his sharpshooter son. However, the next to arrive was the wild and wooly “Salty” Jim Negamanee (Steven Shelton). Shelton brought no small amount of physical gymnastics to this role in order to portray Jim as the injured ex-sailor he claimed to be.
As the three of them swigged the Soady home brew, they were at last delighted to hear the oogah horn sound as Albert Jr. (Patrick Powell) arrived. Fresh from an army enlistment physical, he threw an immediate damper on the party with news that he would be leaving in the morning for boot camp down state. But that’s not all the news, Junior brought – he also brought a wife!
Indeed, when Big Betty Balou (Carla Feamster) crashed the all male camp, the sky threatened to fall! Not only had there never been a woman in the camp, but also Junior admitted to marrying her just that night after winning her in a tavern contest!
Feamster’s Betty is loud, often crass and yet cute and appealing – not an easy combination to pull off. And when Junior asked the others to leave and allow he and his bride some privacy, the fellows began to test her mettle. Can she drink? Check. Can she dance? Check. Can she catch a trout barehanded in the middle of the night? Hmmmmm – that you’ll have to see for yourself.
Director/Set Designer Dale Radford’s cast started out a bit slow Thursday but they soon picked up the pace. We’ll credit the “newlyweds” with charging up the tempo and keeping the laughs on target. Radford’s set for this show is impressive. We’d swear we were inside a large log cabin in the U.P. – and a fancy one at that.
Laughter, intriguing characters and a touch of the mystic make this a show worth seeing. If you’ve ever been hunting or know someone who has and loves to talk about it, you’ll identify with the Soadys and their deer camp tales.
Escanaba in Love continues at Fenton Village Playhouse, 14197 Torrey Road, Fenton, MI 48430 through September 16. For tickets call 810-750-7700 or visit them online at www.fentonvillageplayers.org