Shaking up a bastion

Posted 9/24/08

Sonya Ellingboe “Escanaba in Love” takes the audience back to the Yoopers’ log cabin in the Soady family’s Upper Michigan deer camp. It looks …

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Shaking up a bastion


Sonya Ellingboe

“Escanaba in Love” takes the audience back to the Yoopers’ log cabin in the Soady family’s Upper Michigan deer camp.

It looks the same in World War II days as it did when the Aurora Fox produced the very funny “Escanaba in Da Moonlight” (timed 50 years later) three years ago for laughing audiences: rustic, woodsy, a guy’s sanctuary, with trophy head of a big buck (the Soady Ridge Buck) on the back wall. “I shot him because I loved him” Alphonse Soady remembers.

That cabin and set, designed by Michael Duran, fills the stage at the Aurora Fox Theatre, 9900 E. Colfax Ave., which is host to the Soady saga through Oct. 12.

Actor/playwright/director Jeff Daniels said he never intended to write more about the wacky family he created, but the first show sold out wherever it played and after thinking it over, he decided to write a prequel.

“Escanaba in Love” is set during World War II and begins as the Soady clan waits for Albert Jr. (Jake Williamson) to show up for a last hunt before he leaves for Army service.

He arrives with a surprise: he won Big Betty Balou in a kissing contest at a local bar and married her on the spot. He brings her to the deer camp for his honeymoon.

“All I want to do is be in love. I may get killed.” Williamson is a young actor, majoring in theater at Metropolitan State and perfect for this part.

Jack Casperson is the senior family member, Alphonse Soady, fond of sweet sap whiskey served in glass jars and clueless about the brash young woman who takes over the scene.

“If God didn’t want women to hunt and fish, why did he make them?” he wonders.

Misha Johnson is a petite person, but one soon forgets that as her Big Betty carries a rifle, drinks like a man and catches a big fish with her bare hands, fulfilling tasks the men set for her — like someone in a fairy tale who seeks to win the prince.

As Albert Soady Sr., David Ambroson steps out of his usual musical leading man role into flannel shirt, fur hat and hunting boots, taking on the Yooper accent and manners as he tries to make his son rethink his marriage. He is reminded that the only other woman ever to set foot in the deer camp was his late wife on their honeymoon. Flashback time.

Salty Jim Negamenee (Eric Mather) arrives with jerky made from northern pike, a limp from a past accident and a fantasy that he’s a man of the sea.

His nonsensical chatter requires an experienced comedian and Mather brings real skill and perfect timing to the part.

It’s tough to be truly goofy.

It helps to have a director, Bob Wells, who brings a comedy background. The material is a cut below its predecessor, but an evening with the Soadys sends one out smiling and remembering the rhythm of the Yooper’s speech, coached by Lisa Mumpton.


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