Thursday, January 22, 2009

Escanaba at B Street Rivals Earlier Productions

Having seen and reviewed two previous productions of “Escanaba in da Moonlight,” we expected the current offering at Folsom's more modest Stage Nine Theatre to be something less, especially when this outrageously goofy comedy is the maiden effort by Director Sean Mitchell.

Yet we were surprised and delighted that Stage Nine more than held its own. Not that we can say one company's work is better than the other's. Like any inspired and well-written play, “Escanaba” is subject to interpretation, and the Stage Nine version, on its intimate stage, holds its own among the many successful productions of Jeff Daniels' singular and gut-busting comedy.

What distinguishes the current effort is a pervasive innocence in the face of its numerous and grossly scatological jokes, delivered by a polished cast who seem to revel like schoolboys exchanging toilet jokes.

Though it’s hard to believe, Escanaba represents a real place, located in “Yooperland,” the upper peninsula of Michigan. The setting is the Soady Deer Camp on a November weekend in 1989. From the beginning we know that our story is going to be a tall tale–indeed a very tall tale–by Albert Soady (Mike Jimena), the family’s patriarch. He reminds us that the love of his life was “the only girl in Escanaba to own a toothbrush,” though she used it only to brush her eyebrows.

The men of the family are about to embark on their ritualistic deer hunt, which includes drinking whiskey distilled out of syrup and eating lard-laced pasties. The opening day of deer season is “like Christmas with guns,” when men set out to prove their manhood by their ability to put meat on the table. Albert keeps a journal, almost like a family Bible, and our story starts as Reuben (Ron Randolph), his son, is about to set the family record for failure to bring down a buck.

Reuben upsets his brother Remnar (Jim Rollans) by demanding a break in custom. Instead of pasties he brings a magic potion from his Indian wife, Wolf Moon Dance (Elise SummersBair). It consists of milk laced with ground worms and bugs, plus a moose testicle.

Joining the Soadies in this repast is The Jimmer (Stan Bautista), who has returned from captivity in outer space, where he was conditioned to bellow doubletalk. When the action can’t possibly get more absurd, it does. Enter Ranger Tom (Steven Read), in full uniform. Gazing transfixed he announces that he has seen God and then performs a clumsy strip tease before passing out.

Topping even that, Reuben falls into a trance that’s cured by plunging his nose into the slumbering Jimmer’s buttocks. When Reuben wakes up, after some dousing with magical porcupine urine, we learn that he has encountered a being even higher than God, an entity known as E Yah Ee, who takes possession of Jimmer’s body to help Reuben break his curse. Wolf Moon Dance appears briefly to certify Reuben’s worthiness.

Mike Jimena provides a rough-hewn set, the cabin's interior, decorated with deer skulls, where the action continues smoothly. Transitions between Albert's narrative and the events he narrates are marked by Albert moving forward as the background light dims slightly. The colorful costumes are provided by the cast.

“Escanaba in da Moonlight” continues through February 22 at The Stage Nine Theatre, 717 Sutter Street in Historic Folsom. Performances are Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m., Sunday at 4 p.m. Tickets are $15 to $22. Call (916) 353-1001 for tickets and reservations.
Click the title for more information.

(This see the review in Village Life of El Dorado Hills on January 21, go to )

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