PLAY REVIEW: Yoopers take over the stage in ‘Escanaba in Love’

“Escanaba in Love,” a prequel to Jeff Daniel’s “Escanaba in Da Moonlight,” will be performed at the Greenville Area Community Center at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Nov. 16 and 17, and at 2 p.m. on Sunday, Nov. 18.

When Flat River Community Players (FRCP) began talking about performing “Escanaba in Love,” which begins Friday, the show’s director, Ric Davenport, says he spoke right up. “I’ve got the wood!”

His collection of old barn wood makes up the walls of the Soady Deer Camp for this prequel to the FRCP’s popular performance of “Escanaba in da Moonlight.”

Walking into the theater transports you above the bridge and into Jeff Daniels’ stereotypical world of Michigan’s U.P. The “famous” Soady Ridge deer peers down from one wall, along with a big black bear skin, at least five mounted fish, many antlers (one holding a roll of toilet paper for the two-holer) and even a turtle. This set is a perfect backdrop for the interplay of the four Yooper men and Big Betty Balou.

Jim Beckman, playing Albert Soady Sr., and Becky Tower, playing Big Betty Balou, perform a scene from “Escanaba in Love.”

The U.P. dialect and unique phrases are fun. As old grandpa Alphonse Soady, played by Spencer Tower, relates for the hundredth time his one big deer story, he says, “Da moon was smilin’.” Later his son Albert Sr., played by Jim Beckman, talks about love. “Love is like catchin’ a trophy trout.” Beckman, born in Marquette, is the one true Yooper in the cast.

The meaning of love, after all the fun and joking, comes through as a serious theme for the play. Each actor at some point ponders what real love is.
Beckman, Adam Lindemier, who plays Albert Jr., and Davenport have all acted in “Escanaba in da Moonlight” and they have enjoyed being part of the next play.
Big Betty (Becky Tower) comes on as a tough, strong-willed, outdoors-type gal. First she overwhelms Alphonse, Albert Sr. and their friend, Salty with her bravado. She climbs up on a table and dances a jig. She easily downs a jar of the Soady’s “sweet sap” maple whiskey. But as the story unfolds, she artfully exposes her softer and more vulnerable side, playing well the role of a woman with a shady past. Tower had a similar role as Honey Raye in FRCP’s spring production of “Dearly Beloved.”

Salty Jim is played by Steven King. He limps onto the scene barefoot and, as Albert says, “your mind gone ‘cause of drink.” Straight faced, Salty Jim explains how, as anyone should know, to catch a fish. “When you see one you like, you shoot it.”

Jim Beckman, playing Albert Soady Sr., and Adam Lindemier, playing Albert Soady Jr., perform a scene from “Escanaba in Love.”

Off and on throughout the show, the cast, sometimes as a solo and sometimes together, sing a simple, catchy sea chantey, “As Lucky as Me.” I left the show humming the tune.

Two more characters appear and make a difference in the play. Albert’s wife, Coretta, who has died, still influences him. Then there is Emma, with her sad, brown eyes and wagging tail, who reacts in her own way to the unfolding action — especially in the presence of jerky and a fish.

There is one phrase in the play that seemed out of place. Albert Jr. is defending his hours-old status as a married man by saying, “It is what it is.” I think that phrase wasn’t around back in the 1940s when the story takes place.

This fun story concludes with some unexpected twists and a satisfying ending. Lasting just an hour and a half, there is a short intermission during which the audience gets to play a part. There will be a Yooper-clothes contest with tasty prizes for the winner. Audience applause will judge the best outfit.

Davenport also encourages playgoers to bring nonperishable food items to donate to Hands of Jesus food pantry.

What: “Escanaba in Love”

Where: Greenville Area Community Center

When: 8 p.m. on Friday and Saturday; 8 p.m. Nov. 16 and 17; 2 p.m. on Sunday

Ticket: $12 for adults, $10 for 60 and older or 18 and younger

More information: Call (616) 754-8207

Cast: Jim Beckman, Albert Soady Sr.; Spence Tower, Alphonce Soady; Adam Lindemier, Albert  Soady Jr; Becky Tower, Big Betty Balou; Steve King, “Salty” Jim Negamanee; Emma the hound, herself

Crew: Jake Day, producer; Ric Davenport, director; Marissa Wood, assistant director; Steve King, lighting design; Matt Lofts, sound design; Connor Davenport, Trevor Davenport, Spence Tower and Becky Tower, set construction; Julie Jakeway, box office manager; Ariana Davenport, artwork

Lynne Welder is a Sheridan-area resident who reviews plays for the Flat River Community Players.

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