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Warren Gerds/Critic at Large: Review: ‘Escanaba in Da Moonlight’ shines, don’t cha know, in Abrams

Critic At Large

Abrams Spotlight Productions/After Dark Productions

A luckless deer hunter (Bobby Buffington) chants an incantation to the amazement of his fellow hunters (Jim Klein, William Church and Tyler Otto) in a rehearsal for “Escanaba in Da Moonlight” presented by Abrams Spotlight Productions/After Dark Productions. (Troupe photo)

ABRAMS, Wis. (WFRV)

Sometimes it’s fashionable to wear huntin’ clothes to the theater.

You know, blaze orange or camo. The hats, caps, jackets, sweatshirts, pants and boots should be a bit lived in, like you’ve walked the walk.

The look was part of the scene Thursday night as “Escanaba in Da Moonlight” started an eight-performance run by Abrams Spotlight Productions/After Dark Productions in Nancy Byng Community Theatre.

The dress-up was/is encouraged to be in keeping with the show. The troupe adds touches in the theater with mounted deer antlers on the side walls.

The stage is a kind of spectacular. It is made to look like a deer hunters’ cabin with wooden beams side and top, huntin’ trophies all around and last-gasp furnishings. The “kind of spectacular” comes with the creation of perspective in the angling of the walls, like in a painting, to create the feeling of depth. This is an effect not often done in theater.

The visuals help set the plate for the players, who add the final touches for a goofy story of the year at a family’s deer camp in the “state of Superior” (Upper Michigan) when…

Remnar envisioned a 50-point buck…

The DNR ranger saw God…

Jimmer’s car pooped and burst into flames…

Reuben saw “HOLY WAH!”…

Albert’s maple-sweetened hooch went ka-flooey…

And Wolf Moon Dance’s porcupine pee bad-spirit warder-offer was desperately called to action.

Director Tim Rutten-Kempees and his frisky cast eat up all the goodies from a bunch of wild-eyed characters and deliver zany laughs.

This is not lofty thee-a-TA but fun – a lip-smackin’ good production overall.

After Dark Productions is the adult-themed arm of Abrams Spotlight Productions. Multitalented playwright Jeff Daniels’ “Escanaba in Da Moonlight” includes saucy sight gags, loose-tongue words, double-entendre phrases and bits about passing gas loudly that are, well, a gas.

Jim Klein plays the guy telling the story, Albert Soady, the booze-nipping head of the family who holds the holy grail, the family’s bible of accounts of adventures/misadventures at deer camp going back forever. Jim Klein speaks Yooper talk, like, “Holy wah, what was I thinkin’?” Albert tells Yooper truisms about such stuff as putting his money on something that’s free. And he tells of Yooper-ish folk like the only girl in Escanaba to own a toothbrush; she used it to comb her eyebrows. A theater technique is employed for Albert. When he is speaking to the audience, only he is lighted. When a scene that Albert is remembering is taking place, the action is lighted.

Bobby Buffington plays Reuben Soady, a son around much turns because this was the year (1989) that Reuben, age 35, had to shoot his first buck or his name would go down in the family bible as the oldest Soady who never bagged a buck. Oh, the ignomy!

William Church plays Reuben’s brother, Remnar, a fringe-y kind of guy from wood-tick land who laughs off a court order by saying, “I’m not in court.” Remnar’s ga-ga vision of the 50-point buck is the first sign that this huntin’ season is whoo-whoo crazy.

Tyler Otto plays Jimmer Negamanee, who is whoo-whoo from the get-go. Heading in, Jimmer was, legend has it, abducted by a UFO, and his Chevy had way-bad things happen to it. Jimmer now speaks in tongues, barely translatable.

Chris Weis plays Ranger Tom T. Treado, who could be officious but that meeting with God has thrown him off his game and into la-la land. Ranger Tom is the butt of one of the better jokes: Things get so bad that a sacrifice is needed, and the guys first think of you-know-who as the candidate.

Hope Reines plays Wolf Moon Dance, Reuben’s wife, who is mostly referred to in story but makes a key appearance.

In short, this production is a delight. It has the right flavor and the right atmosphere to be a sassy hoot for folks familiar with legends that grow out of escapades at hunting camps. The players have so much down about their characters that it doesn’t seem like they’re acting.

***

Creative: Playwright – Jeff Daniels; director – Tim Rutten-Kempees; assistant director/stage manager – Bethany Rutten-Kempees; set designers – Bill Koehne, David Jolly; costume designer/coordinator – Katie Jackson; sound designer – Josh Blau; production coordinator – Ali Carlson

Cast:

Albert Soady – Jim Klein

Reuben Soady – Bobby Buffington

Remnar Soady – William Church

Jimmer Negamanee – Tyler Otto

Ranger Tom T. Treado – Chris Weis

Wolf Moon Dance – Hope Reines

Running time: One hour, 45 minutes

Remaining performances: 7 p.m. Sept. 13, 2 and 7 p.m. Sept. 14, 2 p.m. Sept. 15, 7 p.m. Sept. 19-20, 2 and 7 p.m. Sept. 21, 2 p.m. Sept. 22

Info: abramspotlightproductions.com

***

Side note: Jeff Daniels, who wrote “Escanaba in the Moonlight,” is known for acting in such movies as “Dumb and Dumber” and “The Purple Rose of Cairo.” At present, he is acting on Broadway in “To Kill a Mockingbird” in the pivotal role of Atticus Finch. 

NEXT: “Elf: The Musical Jr.,” Dec. 6-8, 13-15.

VENUE: The Nancy Byng Community Theater is located at 5852 Maple St. in Abrams. The 161-seat theater is the former St. Louis Catholic Church, built in 1927. Seating is in (recently updated) individual padded chairs (replacing wooden pews). Roman arched windows from the former church are have been uncovered, revealing eight stained-glass windows. Wooden walls and the ceiling panels made of compressed cardboard are painted black (a recent change, replacing geometric decorations and, on the walls, displays of cast-signed Abrams Spotlight Productions show posters). Another recent update is removal of carpeting to reveal wooden flooring that is refinished, or in some places, replaced with new flooring. Recently added in the center of the center aisle flooring is the image of the classic comedy/drama theater masks. Just new outside is a patio, with patio blocks, etc. donated and the area built by volunteer labor. In the back of the theater is a concession area that serves pop, popcorn, candy and light alcoholic beverages that may be consumed in the theater.

THE PERSON: Nancy Byng was involved in many facets of creativity, from painting to costume designing to directing to writing scripts. She co-founded the theater company on 2003 with her great-nephew, Brandon Byng, who continues his involvement in directing and acting in Clintonville and elsewhere. Nancy Byng died in 2011.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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