Snug’s ‘Escanaba’ shows funny Yooper life
MARINE CITY, Mich.–Inside jokes are often only humorous for the group to which they pertain. Other times, the general population may find them funny while the insiders understand them at a deeper level of humor. And sometimes, insiders use them to make fun of themselves, or to entertain those outside their group. Escanaba In Da Moonlight, with a script by Michigan favorite son Jeff Daniels relies to some degree on all three brands of inside humor, in addition to traditional, situational and physical comedy, and takes advantage of the friendly rivalry between residents of Michigan lower and upper peninsulas.
The Snug Theatre in Marine City probably had the correct inkling that some members of the audience would be insiders, in this case proud “Yoopers,” while other Michiganders–“Flatlanders” and those from outside the state would still enjoy da Yooper humor. Director Aaron Dennis Smith uses the script by Daniels to push just the right buttons to elicit laughs from the audience throughout the show. Interestingly, different parts of the audience could be heard reacting more strongly to certain parts of the show, indicating that even among a group of “locals,” there are more sub-groups than one might imagine.
The story takes place entirely in the “world famous Soady hunting camp” in Escanaba, which appears to be a ramshackle cabin patched up over multiple generations with plywood, outfitted with 2×4 bunk beds, a stained cooler, a card table, and a stove that looks like it was salvaged from an RV decades ago. The small couch covered with coarse, gold and rust colored floral fabric is about as high class as this cabin gets, unless you count the mounted and stuffed trophies—deer, beaver, and a coyote that holds the roll of paper they take outside to “da two-holer.”
The story is narrated in flashbacks by Albert Soady (Steve Simmons), father of Remnar Soady (Casey S. Hibbert) and Reuben Soady (Brian Wyzgowski). The father and sons have arrived at the hunting camp for the opening of another deer season, just as the Soadys have done for generations. They are joined by family friend Jimmer Negamanee—from Menominee—(Tom Emmott), who is locally famous for having been abducted by a UFO some years before and spending a weekend in space, leaving him with a speech impediment that is somewhat improved by shotgunning beer and gulping homemade sap whiskey.
We learn that 35-year-old Reuben is in danger of becoming the oldest Soady in the history of Soadys to never have bagged a buck, and is being whispered about in town as “The Buckless Yooper.” All three Soadys believe there is some kind of curse at work, but Remnar—who believes so strongly in tradition and superstition that he has been wearing the same hunting shirt for over twenty years—and Albert are reluctant to try anything different to help change Reuben’s luck. However, when a series of unexplained events occurs, they all agree that something must be done to break the curse. Fortunately, Reuben is married to an Ojibwa woman named Wolf Moon Dance (Luciana Piazza) who has prescribed just the potion and ceremony to do the trick.
It’s hard to summarize in a straight line what happens next, or without giving away the ending. Let’s just say it involves a hand of Euchre including an argument about whether being two-suited with Ace high was enough to go alone in a tournament several years ago, several UFO sightings, the appearance of discombobulated DNR Agent Tom Treado (Bryan Sawyer) who has had a vision of God in one of the aforementioned UFO sightings, slow-motion flatulence as a home remedy, and a mythical creature the Ojibwa call “Bearwalk.” Wolf Moon Dance is the character who finally appears with an explanation for all that has happened.
Act I is a bit funnier overall than Act II, probably because Act I relies more heavily on the humor of character appearance, backstory and setting up the situation. Act II, while leaning slightly more on developing the plot, does contain some of the funniest physical gags, though. And honestly, seeing the cast perform Act II entirely in one-piece button-down long johns is rather unforgettable. Simmons, Wyzgowski and Hibbert as the three Soadys deliver their lines in a broad Yooper accent peppered with phrases such as “hairy eyeballs” and “Holy wha!” It’s difficult to tell what Jimmer’s accent would be in the absence of his crazy speech impediment, but that is likely what makes Emmott’s comedic performance the strongest of the show. He delivers lines like “Iba inna shace pip” and “Boomedy boom!” as if that was how he talked even before his close encounter.
Lighting, sound and costumes are not huge elements of this production, but neither are they ignored. Low-tech Lighting and sound effects are used sparingly but effectively, associated with specific plot points. Costumes are both realistic and a bit funny.
This show is fairly clean in regards to language and humor, a couple instances on “What the h***” and flatulence notwithstanding; although some adolescents may enjoy this show, the humor is probably best appreciated by mid-teens through adults. As with real life, some of Escanaba is funny because it is so fantastical, but most of it is funny because it is so true. Anyone who has been a Yooper or known a Yooper can attest to that.
Escanaba In Da Moonlight is playing at The Snug Theatre in Marine City through November 11, 2018.