June 27 2006 12:00 AM
Breaking the curse: Joseph Dickson, Ben Holzhausen and John Minsky fight for the honor of the Soady family in “Escanaba in da Moonlight.” (Courtesy Ledges Playhouse)

“Escanaba,” set in the “world famous Soady Deer Camp” in the Upper Peninsula, tells a larger-than-life hunting story that the characters swear is true. Actor Jeff Daniels, who wrote the aptly titled play and subsequent film, blends “yooper” humor with some Native American superstitions, making 'Escanaba' a uniquely Michigan show. 


For those trolls in the audience who are unfamiliar with many U.P. cultural anomalies, the patriarchal figure Albert Soady (John Minsky) explains their importance. From homemade whisky to UFOs, the U.P. is not Mackinaw Island, and people from the Upper Peninsula do not take kindly to “fudge-suckers” (anyone from below the bridge). Like the story-telling grandfather from childhood, Minsky begins to narrate one of the greatest buck stories ever from the “Superior” state. 

Rueben Soady (Doug Achlin), Albert's oldest son, has never bagged a buck. If he does not kill a deer this year, by the official legend book of the North, he will be the oldest buckless yooper. In an attempt to change his luck, he exchanges the hunting staple pasti for Native American spirit brew. His younger brother Remnar (Ben Holzhausen) and eccentric friend Jimmer (Joseph Dickson) are fearful he is trying to jinx their entire season. Their predictions develop as other strange events visit them.

The highlights of the show revolve around the alien-induced speech impediments of Dickson's Jimmer and the enthusiastic performances by Holzhausen and Achlin. All of the actors excel with the regional yooper accent, bringing authenticity to their roles. These three men fill the show with the literal hysteria of being in the wilderness with native spirits and UFOs and the very real possibility, God forbid, of not bagging a buck. While the humor is derived from the cruder side, it is never done for crudeness' sake. Disgusting as some of it may be, one cannot help breaking into a full gut laugh halfway through the second act. All of the actors play their roles with sincerity and genuine affection for their characters, allowing the audience to soak in the silliness onstage. Even if you have seen this show before, the slapstick antics still feel fresh. 

Some flaws do exist, namely forgetting or mixing up lines. These flaws are easy to forgive, considering that this is the inaugural show for the Ledges Playhouse Theater Co. Overall, this show bodes well for the Ledges. Hopefully, it will manage to maintain this level of theater production and performance.


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