Movie star/playwright Jeff Daniels affectionately skewers the natives of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula (aka the Yoopers) in his hit comedy Escanaba In Da Moonlight, now making a return engagement at San Pedro’s Little Fish Theatre.  As an authentic Yooper might put it, “Dis is some funny show, and dat’s da trute.”

Daniels introduces us to Yooper humor (and dialect) from the get-go, our 60ish narrator Albert Soady informing us that “A man wit’out a drink in ‘is hand is a man on ‘is way to get a drink, an’ if he ain’t on ‘is way to get a drink den he must be from da DNR.  Dat’s Department o’ Natural Resources an’ don’t get me started on dem.”

It’s that time of the year again, the time when the Soady males (Albert and his pair of 30something sons Rueben and Remnar) meet in their family “home away from home” somewhere nort’ o’ Escanaba for some drinkin’ and some buck huntin’. “Dat year camp was as tense as a moose’s butt durin’ fly season,” Albert informs us, and the reason for this tension is as follows. Unless elder son Rueben’s luck changes, he’s about to become the oldest Soady never to have bagged a buck!

The Soadys are joined this year by a pair of visitors. First to arrive is one-time alien abductee Jimmer Negamanee, breathlessly announcing that “M’shevyshookashi!  M’shevyshookashi!” and then offering as clarification, “Boomadeeboom!” and “Burst inna shamesh.”  (Roughly translated, this means that his Chevy took a shit, went boomadeeboom, and then burst into flames.)  Then, it’s Ranger Tom T. Treado’s turn to show up, launch into a chorus of “Swing Low Sweet Chariot,” and strip down to his underwear. A series of unexplained phenomena gets Reuben t’ tinkin’. “What wit’ all dat’s happened. Y’know, wit’ da Jimmer’s Impala, da Sweet Sap goin’ sappy, da cards changin’ right in front of our eyes, dem voices in da night, it might be better fer everybody if we all jus’ jumped into our truck an’ drove back to Escanaba.”

Fortunately, the men stick around the deer camp for even more laughs in Act Two.

If all this sounds more than a tad confusing, fear not.  Under Gia Jordahl’s sparkling direction, a comedically gifted cast make Daniels’ quirky script come to life in surprisingly coherent (and hilarious) fashion.

Dan Adams (Albert), Rendon Ramsey (Reuben), Chris Mock (Remnar), and Geoffrey Varga (Ranger Tom) disappear so completely into their Yooper personas that it’s easy to forget these are trained actors and not a quartet of locals from the U.P. (That’s Upper Peninsula for you yokels who’ve never set foot in Big Bay, in Michigamme, or in Ontonagon. Mackinac Island doesn’t count.)  The same can be said for the wonderful John Charles Meyer as Jimmer, with an extra pat on the back for simply being able to say lines like “Shush shrivin’ m’shelf upsha shamp, swhen alla sha shudden, m’shevyshookashi” and sound as if it were the most natural, intelligible thing on earth.  Kevin Wisney-Leonard does well in his brief moments as Great-Grandpa Alphonse. Kalie Quinones makes a last-minute appearance as Wolf Moon Dance to save the day (or rather night).

Cary Jordahl and Anthony Inferrera, A.I.A. have designed a deer camp set that nicely combines the realistic and the fanciful, greatly abetted by Jordahl’s sound design (with extra snaps for Jimmer’s farts), Michael Aldapa’s lighting design (some great otherworldly effects), and Diana Mann’s appropriately scruffy costumes (complete with chooks, choppers, and swampers), none of which the cast will likely want to keep following the production’s three-week run.

There’s nothing playing around town quite like Escanaba In Da Moonlight, except perhaps for Daniels’ prequel, Escanaba In Love, running in rep with Da Moonlight revival. Once again, Little Fish has proven itself well worth a drive down the 110.  In Yooper dialect, this production gets a “WAH!” Does that mean WOW!?  Youbetcha!

Little Fish Theatre, 777 Centre St. San Pedro.

–Steven Stanley
March 3, 2010
                                                                   Photos: Mickey Elliot

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