News Column

Grand Forks Herald Brad Dokken column

September 22, 2013

YellowBrix

Sept. 22--Theater and the outdoors don't often merge in my world, especially when the subjects are hunting and fishing.

I've seen it happen twice this year, though, with great results both times.

The first was this past spring, when I attended a show at the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis called "Nice Fish." Set on a frozen lake, the show focused on the exploits of two ice fishermen on the last day of fishing season ruminating about life and its complexities.

The show provided laughs aplenty, and you could almost feel the chill of the icy-looking stage.

The most recent example is happening at the Fire Hall Theatre, where the Greater Grand Forks Community Theatre is staging its production of "Escanaba in Da Moonlight," an offbeat, funny and more-than-a-little-bit crass look at the traditions and superstitions of a deer hunting camp in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.

Jeff Daniels, he of "Dumb and Dumber" fame, wrote the play and starred in the 2001 movie version of the production. With the archery deer season now underway in Minnesota and North Dakota and the firearm deer seasons right around the corner -- it's "like Christmas with guns," as they say in the play -- the timing for the Fire Hall production is perfect.

(And yes, I'm told, wearing blaze orange to the show is encouraged. That's not something you'll often hear for a theatrical production in Grand Forks or anywhere else.)

A co-worker and I -- she's not a hunter, and I had to explain the difference between a rifle and a shotgun -- attended a preview of the play Wednesday night at the Fire Hall.

It had both of us in stitches on several occasions.

I'd been warned ahead of time about the show's crass leanings. It wasn't any worse -- not much, anyway -- than your average northern Minnesota deer camp. But "Da Yoopers," as Upper Michigan types call themselves, are definitely more superstitious in this play than any deer hunters I've encountered.

You'll have to go see the play for yourself to understand what I mean.

Deer hunting, as everyone knows, is an event steeped in tradition, and the Soady family deer camp, "somewhere deep in the woods north of Escanaba in Michigan's Upper Peninsula," is no different.

Albert Soady (played by CJ Leigh, who has Da Yooper accent down pat) is family patriarch and narrator of the play. He explains at the start of the production that his sons, Reuben (Hyrum Patterson) and Remnar (Gabe Figueroa), aren't "the sharpest tools in the shed."

He hates the Department of Natural Resources -- "don't get me started about the DNR" -- and says a man without a drink in his hand "is a man on his way to get a drink."

The play is set in the Soady deer shack on the night before hunting season. In keeping with tradition, Remnar is supposed to bring the beer, while older brother Reuben's job is to provide the food.

That, of course, means "pasties" -- meat pies consisting of dough, meat and lard.

Deer camp hasn't been good to Reuben, and at the age of 35, he's the only member of the Soady crew not to have bagged a buck.

He is, as Da Yoopers say, "without venison." And if Reuben's luck doesn't change this year, "the Mother Teresa of Deer Hunting" will be the oldest Soady never to bag a buck.

Reuben figures, in his not-too-sharp way of thinking, that the only way to change his luck is to break with tradition. So, instead of pasties, Reuben brings several jars of a grayish-colored potion his Ojibwe wife, "Wolf Moon Dance" (Brooke Pesch, in a brief appearance), says will change his luck.

Rounding out the show's fine ensemble cast are the bumbling Jimmer Neganamee (from Menomonie), who once was abducted by aliens (Jared Kinney), and DNR Ranger Tom T. Treado (Jed Hendrickson), whose sighting of a bright light he believes to be God sets the stage for what transpires in the Soady cabin during the night.

I'll leave it at that.

For anyone who's never been to a deer camp, "Escanaba in Da Moonlight" is a funny, well-performed crash course on the traditions, superstitions and occasional flatulence that go with the territory (fear not, the noises are recorded, not live).

If you haven't seen a play in a while, "Escanaba in Da Moonlight" is worth a look. Besides, it's the only way you'll find out if Reuben's luck changes.

"Escanaba in Da Moonlight" opened Friday at the Fire Hall, and there's a 2 p.m. matinee today with additional shows at 7:30 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, 2 p.m. Sept. 29 and 7:30 p.m. Oct. 3-5.

For more information, check out the Greater Grand Forks Community Theater website at ggfct.com or call (701) 777-4090.

Dokken reports on outdoors. Reach him at (701) 780-1148; (800) 477-6572, ext. 1148; or send e-mail to bdokken@gfherald.com.

___

(c)2013 the Grand Forks Herald (Grand Forks, N.D.)

Visit the Grand Forks Herald (Grand Forks, N.D.) at www.grandforksherald.com

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