“It’s like Christmas with guns!” That’s how Remnar Soady
(Matt Udall) describes the opening of hunting season in Michigan’s Upper
Peninsula (U. P.) in Jeff Daniels’ Escanoba in da Moonlight.
The play opens with Mike Jimena as the father of the
Soady clan of Yoopers, natives of the U.P., speaking directly to the
audience as he will throughout the play. He is relating the events that
occurred in November 1989, but he doesn’t expect us to believe him. “I
didn’t either, and I was there,” he says, but immediately we are back in
that year as his two sons Remnar and Reubin (Eric Olson) arrive at the
“world famous Soady Deer Camp” where the men of the Soady family have
been coming for over a century.
This year’s hunt has special meaning for the younger
son Reuben. At age 35 he has yet to bag himself a buck. If he doesn’t
get one this year, he will be the oldest Soady on record to have failed
to achieve that milestone.
This deer season is to be like no other. The UFOs,
which pass overhead frequently with blinding lights, are a factor, and
the party is soon joined by Jimmer Negamanee, played way over the top by
Jerold McFatter. Jimmer was once abducted by aliens for a weekend. When
he returned he was changed; he could drink like a fish, and he speaks in
a kind of gibberish which the other characters seem to understand and
translate for each other.
Then strange things happen. Albert’s famous Sweet Sap
Whiskey turns to maple syrup, and the numbers on the deck of cards
change right in the middle of a game. Then the company is joined by an
agent of the Department of Natural Resources (Steve Reed) who reports
that he has just seen God.
Reuben’s Indian wife has sent along some aids to help
insure Reuben’s success. Instead of the pasties (meat pies) he always
brings, they are to subsist on a diet of a potion made from, among other
ingredients, moose testicles. And they are to anoint themselves with
porcupine urine, which acts as an “afro-diesel-act” to attract bucks.
At the end of the first act, when all have gone to
sleep, Reuben is awakened by lights and noises and falls into a trance.
The measures taken to snap him out of it must be seen, but they bring
down the house.
The script of this play is whacky beyond belief, and
the ensemble acting is perfection. With the overlapping dialogue and
always unpredictable actions, all within the confines of the tiny cabin,
this play is one of the funniest you will see all year. Credit must be
given for its total hilarity to the brilliant direction of Connie
Mockenhaupt in what must have been a huge challenge.
For lovers of totally off-the-wall comedy, you won’t
find a more delightful evening of theatre than Escanaba in da
Moonlight, at the Sutter Street Theatre through March 20.