Reviewed by Kathleen Kirby
Stories about Michigan are always intriguing just because they’re close to home. And, if the story is funny, slightly wacky, and also heartwarming then all the better. Actually that’s a pretty good description of Michigan playwright James R. Kuhl’s The Kings of Unionville, which opened Friday at Clio Cast & Crew.
Remember the tale about those ditsy deer hunters in Escanaba in the Moonlight that we all loved? Well, after seeing Kings, you may start to believe there’s something in the Michigan air that encourages that certain wackiness to emerge when guys get together. This is a very funny show populated by six terrific actors.
It all takes place in a slightly dated, wood paneled basement where five members of a generations-old fraternal society – the Kings – meet to drink beer, play six-handed euchre, trade corny jokes and generally just be guys. The monkey wrench in the current works is the recent death of one member. His passing leaves a hole in the card game and an opening for a new member.
The comedy begins with the opening song sung by the five to launch the meeting. Let’s just say it isn’t a typically fervent pledge of loyalty and fraternity, but led by Hoagie (Dave Turner) it is impressive. Leroy (Duane Dunckel) makes sure everyone has a beer and the hijinks begin. He and his brother Guvy (Bill Fagerstrom) are a comic duo that had Friday night’s audience laughing early and long.
The basement belongs to Ed (Pat Blondin), and it is where much of the important 150-year history of the Kings is kept in a bound scrapbook. After paying tribute to their lost brother, the issue of the missing euchre player takes center stage.
Just then, Ed’s son Will (Shane Wachowicz) walks in and is asked to play the sixth hand. Soon the idea to invite him to join the group as a bone-fide member has everyone agreeing except Ed who demands that Will be subject to a long abandoned initiation ceremony.
Not sure of what this entails since none of them ever went through one, it falls to the eldest member, Lloyd (Jim Waner), to transport the dusty trunk full of rituals and robes to the meeting room where even more hysterical interaction then ensues.
Although there is a ripe amount, the script isn’t all slapstick and silliness. There is also conflict here between father and son, and it isn’t just their difference in age and technological expertise. (Will is a computer geek and constantly on his phone). Playwright Kuhl has woven an interesting web of generational confusion as this issue reaches back all the way to Will’s great grandfather and ahead to his own newborn son. Not to worry – the outcome is heartwarming.
Finally, kudos line up for director Dawn Sabourin. She has assembled a strong ensemble that plays well with no real weak links. Even their corniest jokes sparked laughter Friday. The set is detailed and typically appointed. It will look familiar to you – it did to me.
We’d encourage anyone in need of a good laugh, or several, to head to Clio for this endearingly comical show about tradition, friendship and loyalty.
The Kings of Unionville continues at Theatre 57, 2220 W Vienna Rd, Clio, MI, March 4, 10 & 11 at 7:30 pm and March 5 & 12 at 2:30 pm. For tickets contact the box office at 810-687-2588 or online at www.cliocastandcrew.com