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October 20, 1995 - Image 76

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1995-10-20

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'Moonlight' lights Up
Purple Rose Stage

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t's the cabin. We are in the
famous Soady family deer
camp in the Upper Penin-
sula designed by Daniel
Walker, and it seems absolute-
ly genuine. A place never touched
by the hand of woman, including
Albert's wife and the boys' moth-
er, Big Betty Ballou — "da only
girl in town who owned a
toot'brush," Albert tells us. 'Trou-
ble is she used it to comb her eye-
brows, but ..." Well, don't get him
started on dat.
And so, depending on who you
are and what you like, one of the
season's most politically incor-
rect, but funny and sometimes
generous new plays, Escanaba
in da Moonlight by Jeff Daniels,
is off to a running start.
To begin, Albert Soady, crusty
and sure of what's right, talks to
us about deer season 1989 and
the wondrous thing that hap-
pened — and it's right here
where sides get chosen up. For
some, this evening will
be a scream; others
may hate it — it takes
on sex, isolation, rein-
carnation, love, male bonding
and bodily functions not usually
discussed in the theater. It is a
two-hour-long Yooper joke (deb-
it) filled with genuine affection
The play moves easily between da best," Remnar says. "It's like
past and present as oldest son Christmas wit guns!") is off on
Reuben and then younger son the adventure of a lifetime. Be-
Remnar (great name, eh?) Soady fore they are finished, they will
join Albert. ("So," Dad tells us, have called up the spirits of In-
"they're not the two sharpest dians, talked with a reincarna-
tools in the shed.") They haul in tion of Grandfather Alphonse,
the Leinenkugel by the pickup doused themselves with porcu-
truck, load and drink it as fast as pine pee; and, just when you
they get it in the house. There's thought nothing could get worse,
suffered through a vis-
promised home-brewed
it from the DNR in the
whiskey, too, of course,
person of Ranger Ted,
and pasties. Everything
who has just seen God
seems OK.
on the ridge.
Then the fourth
The production val-
member of the party
ues are good. Costumes,
joins everyone. He is
from Remnar's shirt
"the Jimmer" and he
speaks as if ... well ... to DAVID MAGIDSON held together with duct
tape, right down to the
be honest, as if he's been
long johns, are perfect-
returned from being ab-
ly designed by Edith
ducted in a spaceship by
Leavis Bookstein. The
aliens, which it turns
are full of energy
out is exactly what happened a
few years earlier. Holy wa! — and good enough to cover up
things are about to start popping! some minor — and a few major
You see, Reuben, well-played — writing flaws. Everyone is do-
with real desperation by veteran ing convincing work, including
actor John Siebert, is on the edge Dai-Parker Gwilliam as Albert
of being the oldest Soady to nev- and Joseph Albright as brother
er bag a buck. (And dey're out Remnar. Particular kudos go to
dere, big as Buicks! He's just a Wayne David Parker as 'the Jim-
lousy shot, eh? A buckless Yoop- mer." You gotta love him; heck,
he saves the day in ways I can't
er. Da bottom of da barrel.)
The story is complicated, but even tell you about in a family
this merry crew ("Deer season is newspaper.

As Ranger Tom, Randall Good-
win turns in an interesting per-
formance, too. The role, however,
points up the play's major weak-
ness: Jeff Daniels' unwillingness
to have faith in his own stuff. I
don't know if he's nervous, but
the play is strong enough that the
show business wisecracks de-
signed to shore it up don't play;
and we feel it most with the
This is a crackling-good deep-
woods yarn, though; wild and un-
expectedly tender. Finally,
despite the rough language and
the suspicion that you shouldn't
be having quite so much fun
watching people being made fun
of, everyone wants Reuben to get
his buck. On stage, they're all
working as hard as they can to-
ward this goal, including Wolf
Moon Dance, Reuben's Indian
wife, who conjures up this whole
thing out of great love and then
shows up briefly, played by Jen-
nifer Hunter, who seems perfect.
So, a hearty welcome to
Daniels, new artistic director Guy
Sanville and all the designers —
particularly sound designer Joe
Jenkins, who actually made the
theater shake during the deer
stampede. Wow! Dat's some show
d e re!

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