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Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Sunset Playhouse’s Fun ‘Escanaba in Love’

Theater Review

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A couple of years ago actor/playwright Jeff Daniels wrote a follow-up to his 1993 hit Escanaba in Da Moonlight, a comedy about hunting in the Upper Peninsula. That follow-up (which is actually a prequel to the original), Escanaba in Love,makes it to the Sunset Playhouse in a production directed by Artistic Director Mark Salentine.

J. Michael Desper’s sparse set firmly establishes a north woods deer camp in 1944. A distinct north woods stillness fills the space quite effectively amid a mounted deer head and a few old license plates. The ensemble slowly filters onto the stage and into the story. It’s a relaxed, slow-paced comedy, and Salentine and company have done an excellent job of keeping a steady comic rhythm throughout the show.

The cast is entertaining and humorous, despite Yooper accents that are far from authentic. (At times members of the cast slip into a vague, hazy kind of Irish brogue.) The attempted accents can be a bit annoying, particularly for anyone in the audience who actually lived in northeastern Wisconsin, but the rest of the comedy is a lot of fun.

Andy Lien has a very down-to-earth charisma in the role of Albert Soady Sr., the father of a promising young man (Zach Zembrowski) who will soon be off to fight for his country in Europe. Soady Jr. arrives at the camp to announce that he has married. This comes as a surprise, as Soady Sr. has never even heard of the woman (somewhat disconcertingly named “Big Betty”). Katie Gardner musters a great deal of charm in the role of the north woods woman trying to prove herself to the rest of the Soady clan. And Matthew J. Patten puts in a remarkably funny performance around the edges as a limp-necked boatman named Salty Jim.

Sunset Playhouse’s Escanaba in Love runs through March 20.

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