Review – Escanaba in Da Moonlight by Left Edge Theatre - by Jeanie Smith
An ensemble of excellent actresses are having the time of their life on stage, landing all the laughs in the wild and wacky comedy from actor-turned-playwright
Alberta Soady (Sandra Ish) provides opening narrative filling us in on the character of U.P. (Upper Peninsula), Michigan— and the people known as Yoopers who inhabit the region alongside Native Americans. They have a particular reputation for eccentricity, and their own dialect, and definite opinions of all the “Flat-landers” who know nothing about the abundant forests and fauna. And, hunting.
The tradition of hunting goes back many generations for the Soady clan, and stories of epic hunting adventures are recorded in a small journal kept in the Soady’s cabin located deep in the woods of Escanaba forest, especially noting when someone bags their first buck. Daughter Ruby Soady (Paige Picard) arrives as Alberta tells us that Ruby is the only one of the family who has yet to get her buck, and, at her age, that’s not good. Tomorrow’s opening day of deer-hunting season, and Ruby is determined to make this her “buck” season.
They’re joined by sister Remy (Chandler Parrott-Thomas), a determined hunter who can’t wait to get on the ridge and bag another buck or two. Her success generates competition with Ruby, in typical friendly/savage sibling rivalry.
To say any more about the plot is spoiler territory, and that would be criminal with this play, filled with humorous twists and surprises galore. Comical missteps follow one after another: Ruby has brought strange provisions rather than the traditional “pasties,” space aliens may be real, and Remy’s having visions of a huge buck. The Jimmer (Kimberly Kalember), a local woman given to strange speech, forest ranger Tanya (Rosie Frater), and Ruby’s wife Wolf Moon Dance (Anabel Pimentel) round out the cast of eccentric characters and add to the hilarity. They’re all lovable and a little nutty, and therein lies the gift of the script. There are priceless moments of zany comic action, and a resolution that utterly fits the circumstances. That "funniest scene” I mentioned simply can’t be described— you just have to see it for yourself.
An outstanding cast makes this loony script work and worth seeing— Picard, Ish, and Parrott-Thomas possess wonderful comic skills, and the three have chemistry together for miles. When they’re joined by Kalember, the comic ante doubles and the action goes even wackier. Frater doesn’t have as much to do but has the requisite tone to keep the comedy percolating. Pimentel is a lovely, ephemeral breath of fresh air in all the chaos.
Thanks to director Argo Thompson for his atmospheric set and for brilliant casting and inspired staging. April George does a fantastic job with lighting, including aliens, and Joe Winkler supplies the enhancing sound. Sandra Ish also does costume design, and clearly enjoys bringing these characters to life. Kat Motley deserves kudos for the mountain of strange props.
Holiday play? Maybe your holiday plan includes a riotous comedy with nonstop laughs, terrific comic acting, and a total escape from the mundane. Mine does now —my holidays just got a whole lot better for seeing this one.
Escanaba in Da Moonlight
By Jeff Daniels, Presented by Left Edge Theatre through Dec. 15, 2019
Thu/Fri/Sat at 8:00pm, Sun at 2:00pm
Tickets: $15-42; Thursday discount
Left Edge Theatre
Studio Theatre, Luther Burbank CFA
Photos by Katie Kelley