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Kudos to Michelle Raymond for her array of accoutrements splashing across Bart Bauer’s two-story hunting shack, allegedly in the cold Review north woods of Minnesota.
Deer antlers, whisky jugs, a stuffed fish, fur that looks like fox or otters, handrails made of tree branches — it even smells like a hunting shack. But wait. Hold the phone.
We soon discover that this is a play largely about farts and fart jokes. No warm and fuzzy Christmas “Gift of the Magi” story. Rather, yet another “If a deer shits in the forest,” “Dumb and Dumber” play in the genre of Jeff Daniels' “Escanaba in da Moonlight.” I don’t know who should feel more insulted — men, women, Norwegians, or Minnesotan-style Yoopers.
About a third of the audience laughed uncomfortably at the crudeness of the characters portrayed. There’s an eclectic mix of nutzoid over-exaggerative acting. Aral Gribble is Ham (appropriately named), who vies for attention with the extremist Minnesota accent of his mother, June, played to the hambone max by Sandra Birch. June toots a duck call to cover curse words shouted by Big Paul, a questionably lovable quasi-white nationalist portrayed by John Lepard.
The plot is meant to be simple. The two main characters, Patrick Loos as Charlie and Sharon Combs as Jennifer, open the play. Charlie suggests he needs to get away from the hustle and bustle of the crowd to the family hunting shack the weekend before Christmas.
Loos and Combs play this opening scene with restraint and believability, but when Charlie arrives at the cottage it believability goes straight to vaudeville hell, as the story line yields to stereotypical characterizations. Charlie discovers that an uncle, an aunt, and a cousin have been squatting — pun intended — in the hunting shack for a very long time.
Cousin Ham makes quirky jerky out of any animals he can get, adding enough cayenne pepper to give Charlie, well, the shits.
When Charlie asks if there are any other clothes he might wear, Big Paul responds with — wait for it — “depends.”
Yes, that brought out the biggest laugh of the play.
A fight between Charlie and Ham includes nipple pinching and “wet willies” — the sticking of a wet finger into the ear canal of the other combatant. Ham notes that his unwashed T-shirt smells like stale tater tots, and Sharon is encouraged to be a real north woods Minnesotan by growing out her armpit hair.
Near the end of the play, a plot emerges. Charlie, who has lost his job, reveals that his reason for going up to the hunting shack is to meet a realtor and sell the shack to get money to continue paying the mortgage on his house in town. Vulnerabilities emerge. Big Paul uses saved up curse word monies stored in Mason jars to buy back the shack from realtors who would cut down the maple trees. Charlie is encouraged by Jennifer to follow his dream — starting up a maple syrup business — and, of course, everyone lives happily ever after in a home of perpetual fart smells.
“A Hunting Shack Christmas” Through Dec. 23
Williamston Theatre 122 S. Putnam St., Williamston www.williamstontheatre.org (517) 655-7469