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Civic stages Jeff Daniels-written comedy ‘Escanaba’

Fri., April 9, 2010

Play promises jokes ranging from over-drinking and bodily functions to Bambi

The Spokane Civic Theatre’s upcoming comedy is set in a Michigan deer-hunting camp, has a character whose first name is “Jimmers” and is full of jokes about whiskey and Bambi.

One more thing: “Escanaba in da Moonlight” was written by Jeff Daniels, the dumber half of the movie, “Dumb and Dumber.”

So, we’re in store for lines like this: “She was de only girl in Escanaba who owned a toot’brush. Unfortunately, she only used it to comb her eyebrows, an’ don’t get me started on dat.”

All in all, audiences should be prepared for a Pat McManus-style huntin’ comedy, except with more bodily function jokes.

You should also be ready for a set filled with critters in various stages of taxidermy and characters speaking in broad “Yooper” accents (Yooper being slang for “U.P.-er,” i.e., resident of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan).

When it comes to upper-Midwest accents, Frances McDormand in “Fargo” was practically a BBC announcer compared to dese characters.

Yet we should also remember that Daniels is an exceptionally accomplished actor with Tony, Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild nominations to his credit. You can’t play that dumb without being pretty smart.

He’s a writer and theater entrepreneur as well as actor. Daniels presides over his own theater company, the Purple Rose Theatre Company (named after his movie “The Purple Rose of Cairo”) in his hometown of Chelsea, Mich.

That’s where “Escanaba in da Moonlight” premiered in 1995. It was a hit at the Purple Rose and then went on to a sellout run in nearby Detroit.

In 2001, Daniels adapted the script for the screen. He directed and starred in the movie, which was filmed, fittingly, in Escanaba in the Upper Peninsula. This low-budget production didn’t make much of a splash in theaters, but it lives on as a DVD among lowbrow outdoor humor aficionados.

The story centers around a family named Soady, who have their own hunting camp and bizarre camp traditions.

The main character is Reuben Soady, better known as Buckless Soady, because he is the only member of the family never to bag some venison. He’ll be played by Scott Miller.

The rest of the Soady clan will be played by Wes Deitrick, David Gigler and Lynn Komarek. Todd Kehne will play Jimmers Negamanee and Thomas Heppler plays Ranger Tom T. Treado.

The Civic’s production is directed by Troy Nickerson, a past master of broad physical comedy.

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