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Barn Theatre review: Belly laughs and chuckles heard as audience resumes attendance

Barn Theatre review; production runs through Saturday.

091521.F.WCT.EscanabaMoonlight.002.JPG
The Barn Theatre production of "Escanaba in da Moonlight" will be performed Sept. 16-26, 2021. The setting is interior of the Soady family deer camp in woods north of Escanaba in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. Around the table are, from left, brothers Jeffery Caperton as Reuben Soady, Matthew Onnen as Remnar Soady, Ace Bonnema as Jimmer Negamanee, and Gene Gatewood as Albert Soady, the brothers' father. Instead of the traditional pasties to eat, Reuben brought a beverage that would help him get his first buck at age 35. It was made by his Ojibwe wife, Wolf Moon Dance Soady. Contributed Dennis Benson

The best part of the evening of the play “Escanaba In Da Moonlight,” currently being performed at the Barn Theatre, is that the audience is once again in attendance, so the belly laughs and chuckles can be heard.

The Barn has a sign posted indicating that if a patron sees an open seat allowing more social distancing, the person can move. Some patrons were masked, and the plexiglass is up to protect the actors.

The play itself was directed by Thomas Rosengren, and he must have directed little motions, such as scratching, tumbling, hiding, and a dance with a gun and toilet paper, which added to the humor.

The father figure, Albert Soady, played by Gene Gatewood, proves to be an unreliable narrator, who even admits his story is too exaggerated to be believed. He has interplay with the audience, chiding people for having dirty minds at one point. His sons — Reuben Soady, played by Jeffery Caperton, and Remnar Soady, played by Matthew Onnen — take sibling rivalry to a humorous level with physical action as well as verbal conflict. Caperton’s frozen section looked difficult to perform, but he was believable in the context of the play.

The audience must check their sense of reality and sensitivity at the door as the plot involves aliens and Ojibwe potions. The dialogue pokes fun at people from the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, the lower part of Michigan, hunters, anglers, “crazy” people, Native Americans, aliens who abduct people and even Minnesotans, because the DNR Ranger Tami Treado, played by Jordan Taylor, comes from Bemidji, Minn.

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Being set in a hunting cabin/camp, the humor often relates to bodily functions. One character, Jimmer Negamanee, played by Ace Bonnema, has a persistent problem with gas. Although all the characters display fright with facial expressions, Bonnema’s eyes seemed to pop out with fright.

Although humorous, the play does have two themes. One is about truth and who defines it. To the Soadys, truth is written in the log book.

The other theme involves the conflict of culture. Upper Peninsula people, called Yoopers, have their own traditions, which include pasties, a meat pie. The characters use Yooper slang.

Reuben is married to an Ojibwe woman who furnishes a traditional Ojibwe drink to help Reuben bag a buck.

A vision Reuben has involves the Bear Walker, an evil being also part of the Ojibwe culture. Both cultures, from Reuben’s great-grandfather and his wife, help him succeed.

His wife, Wolf Moon Dance Soady, played by Claire Schiller, displays the reference of Native American culture in her slow, solemn movement.

A touching part of the play is that real photographs of Dean Madsen’s hunting trips were on the walls of the hunting cabin. The cast and crew are dedicating their performances to Dean, who has performed in many shows at The Barn over the years.

Showtimes are 7:30 p.m. Thursday through Saturday with a 2 p.m. matinee on Sunday. Tickets available online at www.thebarntheatre.com or at the box office 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesdays through Friday, 320-235-9500.

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