Troy Civic Theatre presents Jeff Daniels’ “Escanaba in Da Moonlight”


Jeff Bryant (seated), Paul Robinson (center) and Scott Atkinson (right) yoop it up in “Escanaba.”

By Gary McBride

Judging from the title, the Troy Civic Theatre’s new production “Escanaba in Da Moonlight” may sound romantic or exotic, however, the play is definitely not. Rather, it hilariously explores flannel, UFOs, magic milk shakes, and the revivifying powers of extreme flatulence.

Escanaba is a small city located in Michigan’s upper peninsula (the UP) inhabited by folks known as “Yoopers,” many of whom have that distinctive, infectious accent which serves to draw the audience into the play and the characters. Set in a hunting cabin deep in the woods, “Escanaba” is a wild ride.

“I play a hunter (Ruben Soady) who’s never gotten a buck his whole life,” says Todd Bryant. “He thinks he’s cursed and so does the whole family. He’s married to a Native American woman, and she gives him these ‘magical milk shakes’ and teaches him a dance to do that’s supposed to bring him good luck.”

“Her nickname for him is ‘Bear with Three Legs,’” adds Kathy Bryant with a laugh. “I play Wolf Moon Dance Soady, married to Ruben. I’m actually married to Todd in real life, too. The play starts out weird and it just gets weirder.”

Bryant continues “it’s about the Soady family—father Albert and two sons, Ruben and Remnar, and family friend Jimmer Negamanee. Jimmer’s been abducted by a UFO at some point and ever since that time he’s talked funny and he can drink like there’s no tomorrow. And then they’re invaded by Ranger Tom from the DNR (Department of Natural Resources) the day before the start of hunting season. At first they think it’s just normal—the DNR coming in to check up on things, but then he tells them all he saw a light and saw the face of God. He just starts going crazier and crazier the longer he’s there, to the point where he strips down to his skivvies for no apparent reason. It’s freaking everybody out, but they go along with it because he’s from the DNR.”

“We’re not the sharpest tools in the shed,” adds Paul Robinson who plays Remnar Soady. “My favorite scene in the play would be when Jimmer (Scott Atkinson) comes in after being abducted by the UFO —it just gets crazy. You get the feeling we’ve been around him long enough that we understand what he’s saying, but we’re not quite understanding everything.”

Director Chuck Fox adds “This play was written by (film actor) Jeff Daniels—he’s written four plays and they’re all based in Michigan. This play premiered at his theatre up there, The Purple Rose. There was also a movie version that he starred in. It’s a really funny play, and the way Daniels wrote it, it’s just non-stop laughs.”

“It’s a good release from work, or whatever you’re doing all day,” notes Atkinson. “You come up here, you’re with people who like the same things you do, and you’re just away from everything else. You just concentrate on the play, you don’t think about work or anything else like that. For me it’s a great release. And you get to be this whole other person.”

The City of Troy enjoys a reputation as a close-knit community, and the Troy Civic Theater is no exception.

“The Theatre and the city sponsor a youth program,” adds Atkinson. “That’s how I got involved—my daughter did the youth theater camp, and then I ended up auditioning for a show.”

Atkinson responds “I was born and raised in Englewood, and I’d go weeks without seeing anyone that I knew. I moved up to Troy about two and a half years ago, and now I can’t go anywhere without running into someone I know.”

“You can’t go anywhere without running into the Mayor!” Robinson jokes.

Fox notes “He (Mayor Michael Beamish) has season tickets and has even appeared in a few of our productions.”

“The Theatre does four shows a year,” Fox adds. “We’re a non-profit, and we’ve been here 52 years—over 40 years in The Barn (the current location).”

“As you can see, it’s a ‘thrust’ stage so the audience is very close to what’s happening onstage. Since we only have about 112 seats, it’s suggested that people reserve seats in advance to make sure we’re not sold out.”

“Escanaba in Da Moonlight” runs March 2-4 and 9-11, with Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. for two weekends. The Troy Civic Theatre is located in Troy City Park on Adams Street across from Hobart Arena. The show is underwritten by Patty Rose Allstate. Advance tickets are available by calling 937-339-7700, or online at TroyCivicTheatre.com.

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Reach DCP freelance writer Gary McBride at GaryMcBride@DaytonCityPaper.com

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