'Escanaba' Begins The Barn's Return PDF Print E-mail
Written by Marcia Fulmer   
Thursday, 16 June 2011 20:26

After a summer without a season, The Barn Theatre in Augusta, Mich., opened its 2011 season Tuesday with a production of Jeff Daniels’ “Escanaba in Love,” a prequel to his “Escanaba in Da Moonlight,” and reportedly the first in an "Escanaba" trilogy.

“Escanaba in Love” has the same setting — the Soady family deer camp in Michigan’s upper peninsula on the opening day of deer season — and some of the same characters, although the youngster of “Love” is the patriarch of “Moonlight.” It’s kind of like I’m my own grandpa.

The Barn Theatre in Augusta, Mich.“Escanaba in Da Moonlight” has been produced three times at The Barn since 2003 and, having seen it each time, I have to say that it is one of those comedies that is just as funny with each subsequent production as it is at the first viewing.

“Escanaba in Love” is much lower on the comic scale and heads into more serious aspects of Soady life and love with the laughs generated primarily by below-the-belt humor which the opening night audience found hilarious. The first “Escanaba” cast was 99 percent male, which made the earthy situations more palatable. Not so much here where they are generated by a new wife who trims her toenails with her teeth, combs her eyebrows with a toothbrush, drinks more than the men and can’t resist any opportunity to jump on her new hubby.

The arrival of Big (so-called because she wants to love the whole world) Betty Balou (Erin Oechsel), new bride of 18-year-old Albert Soady Jr. (Patrick Hunter), throws a monkey wrench into the opening day plans of her new father-in-law Albert Soady Sr. (Eric Parker), his father Alphonse Soady (Charlie King), and their friend “Salty” Jim Negamanee (Roy Brown). The older men, ready for Jr. to bag his first buck, are astounded that he has not brought his gun, an oversight he explains by saying that he is going into the army the next day. He then toasts his new wife, waiting outside in the truck. It was love at first sight, he declares, then reveals he won her in a kissing contest at the Porcelain Bar and doesn’t want to go off to war without ever being with a woman.

Enter Big Betty, garbed in animal pelts, boots and many pair of socks, scratching and swearing, just like one of the boys. To say that Sr. is shocked is putting it mildly. He then attempts to convince his son that this love will never last, recounting the ways in which he wooed his late wife whose fishing prowess was shadowed only by her refusal to ever take the fish off the hook.

Throughout this, the boys are drinking the traditional Sweet Sap Whiskey (which Betty proceeds to down in great quantities), feeding the “gas” jar with pennies and trying to convince Jr. that his hasty marriage is a big mistake. They fail, even when her decidedly shady past is revealed. Her final big catch, however, saves her marriage and wins her father-in-law’s approval.

The ensemble cast works well under the direction of Hans Friedrichs and establishes solidly individual characters, but the humor sometimes tends to be mean-spirited and frequently to be coarse. It is not intended for children.

“ESCANABA IN LOVE” plays at 8:30 p.m. today and Saturday and Tuesday through June 25 and 5 p.m. Saturday, Sunday and June 26 at The Barn Theatre on M-96 between Augusta and Galesburg, Mich. For information and reservations: (269) 731-4121 or visit

Last Updated on Friday, 17 June 2011 16:07
Disney's 'Tarzan' Wagon Wheel Opener PDF Print E-mail
Written by Marcia Fulmer   
Sunday, 12 June 2011 13:56

In 1912, British author Edgar Rice Burroughs wrote "Tarzan The Ape Man," the first of his 24 books about an orphaned English baby brought up by a tribe of apes.

Six years later, silent film star Elmo Lincoln swung through the southern California trees in the first of more than 100 movies about the redoubtable jungle man. If Lincoln was the original, the most famous film Tarzan was Olympic swimming star Johnny Weissmuller, who donned the loincloth in a dozen of the increasingly implausible films. Finally, the jungle man became the star of Walt Disney's 1999 animated feature. From there it was a short swing of seven years to bring it to the musical theater stage.

Wagon Wheel Playhouse presents Disney's TarzanUndoubtedly the hope was to follow other long-lasting Disney stage successes such as "Beauty and the Beast," "Mary Poppins" and "The Lion King." It's theatrical life, however, more closely resembled that of the less successful "Aida" and "The Little Mermaid." Never one to give up, Disney Theatrical Productions has reworked and revamped the Phil Collins/Henry Hwang musical with an eye to tours and regional productions. The first performance with the revised script is the 2011 season opener at Warsaw's Wagon Wheel Theatre.

Unfortunately, even the excellence of the WW production can't do much to save this book (uncredited except for a "based on" reference to Burroughs) which brings nothing to the too-familiar tale and this score which, except for the Act II opener "Trashin' the Camp," can only be described as repetitive and boring. Production excellence was wasted on this material. Conversely, production excellence is the only thing that makes it worth seeing.

The set design by David Lepor instantly said "jungle," with bungee cords, climb-able "trees" and plenty of ropes for swinging all around the arena stage. Greg Griffin's lighting design did more than set the proper mood, although the 100 degree heat of Wednesday's opening night played havoc with the lights and the air conditioning, creating kind of an on-again/off-again jungle atmosphere.

Once again, Stephen R. Hollenbeck's costumes hit the hairy apes right on their shaggy heads, with the English explorers properly attired in period outfits. Thomas N. Stirling leads the fine eight-piece orchestra. Director/choreographer Scott Michaels gives the production every lift he can and, as usual, the talented young company delivers the goods physically and vocally, with only one familiar Tarzan call. 

Heading the excellent cast are Brian Martin as the young man caught between two worlds; Alex Finke as Jane, the British anthropologist who discovers more than a new species of plant life; Michael Yocum as her scientist father; and David Schlumpf as their expedition's shady guide. On the jungle side are Brittany Coleman as Tarzan's loving gorilla mom; Ben Matters as his less-than-loving dad; Noah James Ricketts as his wild and wacky sidekick; and Brian O'Donnell as the title character as a young boy. The eight hard-working tribe members create one of the most athletic ensembles on the WW stage to date. 

If the material had lived up to the performers and production values here, this "Tarzan the Stage Musical" might have been rewarding all the way around. Unfortunately it seems that — original or revised edition — "Tarzan" is best on the screen or the printed page.

DISNEY'S "TARZAN — A Stage Musical Based on the Disney Film" plays at 7 p.m. Tuesday, 8 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday and 2 p.m. Thursday in the theater at 2517 E. Center Street in Warsaw. For reservations and information call (574) 267-8041 or visit

Last Updated on Tuesday, 14 June 2011 21:53
'Dearly Beloved' Aims at Funnybone PDF Print E-mail
Written by Marcia Fulmer   
Tuesday, 03 May 2011 20:02

The focus is on happily-ever-after in “Dearly Beloved,” the wild and wooly comedy on stage at the Bristol Opera House through Sunday.

The Elkhart Civic Theatre production, the first in a trilogy by Jessie Jones, Nicholas Hope and Jamie Woolen, looks at a very special day in the life of the Futrelle sisters deep in the heart of Fayro, Texas.

Dearly Beloved Elkhart Civic TheatreIn and around the anticipated nuptials of Tina Jo Dubberly (Karen Hoover) and her never-seen fiancé Parker Price, swirl a parade of slightly off-center characters. The bride’s mother, Frankie Futrelle Dubberly (Amy Pawlosky), is determined that the “Gone With the Wind” wedding theme will be strictly enforced. Her husband, Dub (Tom Doughty), does his best to keep out of the way. Her sisters Twink (Susan Curtis) and Honey Raye (Valerie Ong) are attempting to help but their efforts only result in increasing the chaos in and around The Tabernacle of the Lamb Church, site of the wedding and reception.

The bride’s twin sister, Gina Jo (also Hoover), has found her calling as Fayro’s chief cow inseminator but is struggling with a hidden crush on Justin Waverly (Ricky Fields), a UPS man working his way through the seminary.

Completing this definitely unusual set of individuals are Miss Geneva Musgrove (Karen Johnston) who runs the local flower shop/bus depot in addition to her duties as wedding planner; Sheriff John Curtis Buntner (Anthony Venable), who practices his quick draw at any opportunity “just in case”; Nelda Lightfoot (Lorri Krull), the town medium; Patsy Price (Pati Banik), the groom’s mother whose main object is to derail the wedding; and Wiley Hicks (Kevin Ong), the town drunk and Twink’s boyfriend of 15-plus years.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 03 May 2011 21:17
'Auntie Mame' a timeless character PDF Print E-mail
Written by Marcia Fulmer   
Tuesday, 10 May 2011 19:50

Few authors have gotten so much mileage from a relative as Patrick Dennis, author of the 1955 novel "Auntie Mame." The endearingly eccentric Mame Dennis (based on his real aunt) has enjoyed a very long life in her travels from the printed page to the theatrical stage (without music in 1958 and with in 1966) and finally to a big screen technicolor extravaganza in 1974, unfortunately the weakest of its incarnations.

South Bend Civic Theatre  Auntie MameThe original comedy is on stage through May 22 in South Bend Civic Theatre's Wilson Mainstage Theatre and the ebullient lifestyle of the title character is just as refreshing — if much less off-beat — more than a half-century later. 

Mame (Pat Berardi) is lady who lives life to the fullest, surrounded by a coterie of wild and wacky individuals, not the least of which is her best friend Vera Charles (Mary Ann Moran), a theatrical star who views life through a martini glass. At the center of her world is her young nephew Patrick (Dillon Slagle/Justin Williams), who arrives at her Beekman Place apartment with Norah Muldoon (Dawn Marie Hagerty) during one of his aunt's "small" soirees. Patrick's father is recently deceased and he has come to live with Mame, his only relative, under the restrictively puritanical eye of Dwight Babcock (Roy Bronkema) of the Knickerbocker Bank.

The background for Mame's shifting lifestyle is reflected in her large and elegant apartment which goes from prohibition through the Depression to a literary period and turn at Swedish modern. The SBCT set, designed by Phil Patnaude, takes over the entire stage, with large, gilt-topped columns at each side and a proscenium-wide second floor hallway. Two large areas in the main level wall are used — although not nearly enough — as a background for Mame's ever-changing decor but the sweeping staircase which can allow the colorful lady to make her initial appearance is, sadly, missing. Instead, the flamboyant character walks on through her guests in a less-than-spectacular introduction to what follows.

Last Updated on Thursday, 09 June 2011 17:01
‘boom’ An Entertaining Experience PDF Print E-mail
Written by Marcia Fulmer   
Friday, 15 April 2011 23:21

It begins with the sound of drums and the crashing of cymbals and the resulting cacophony is a clue to what is to follow in the New World Arts production of “boom” (no caps!) a new play by Peter Sinn Nachtrieb .

"boom" opened Friday evening in the space upstairs at 211 S. Main Street in Goshen (entrance/parking off Third Street) and will receive its final performances tonight and Saturday.

I have to admit, I’m not exactly sure of what it’s all about but it is a highly entertaining experience. Director Scott Jackson has a way of putting together some of the best actors in the area — Melissa Gard, Sheryl Turski and Aaron Nichols — and turning them loose on off-beat, dialogue-heavy situations. As always, they are perfectly up to the challenge.

The detailed set, which holds more than meets the eye, is the best since “Who’s Afraid of Virginian Woolf?” It covers the entire playing area and extends onto the stage left audience seats. Every inch is put to good use and there is tremendous attention to detail. Here, it’s the little things that make a big difference.

new world arts Goshen boomThe “plot” goes from quirkey to strange to wildly weird. The setting is the apartment of marine biologist Jules (no last names)(Nichols) in the basement of a building designed to be a bomb shelter. Answering his online ad for “sex to change the course of the world,” 22-year-old journalist Jo (Turski) is understandably disconcerted when Jules announces, after one highly disappointing kiss, that he is gay and has never had sex. Neither, it turns out, has Jo.

His aim is to repopulate the world after the catastrophe. To prepare for the years it will take the dust to settle, he has stocked the apartment with wildly diverse “necessities” including diapers, plastic cups, tampons, bourbon, Disney DVDs and toilet paper. Unfortunately, Jo makes no bones of the fact that she hates babies and would prefer “to start a new line of homo sapiens.”

A focal point of the room is a fish tank in which swim two fish, John-John and Dorothy. By was of explanation, Jules notes that he spent many years on an island studying the effects of sun, etc., on fish and has detected strange patterns which lead him to believe that the fish can sense the passage of a comet and, now, a globally catastrophic event.

When the catastrophe occurs (boom!) it unhappily caves in the roof of the storage room, and the couple is forced to seek a way to find something better and exit the apartment in a blaze of light (and, of course, a big boom).

Sounds rather clear cut if a bit off center, right? Add to this Barbara (Gard), percussionist extraordinaire. Backed by a curtain of stars, she is initially silent and then intrudes more and more frequently to “explain” what’s going on, which only adds to the confusion.

OK. So is this a microcosm of planet earth and the universe and is Barbara God’s right hand person or is she a docent in a “Museum of Epic and Internet Events”?

I am sure there are any number of interpretations but Jackson & Co. just let you choose your own. Whatever works. And in the hands of the excellent trio of performers, many options seem logical. Bottom line, even if you can’t figure it out, you’ll have a great time trying.

NOTE: Very special praise for Angelique Birky-Hartmann who is in charge of the “catch of the day.” Good thing she not claustrophobic.

“boom” will be presented at 8 p.m. today and Saturday in the theater at 211 S. Main Street in Goshen. Tickets at the door.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 26 April 2011 18:36
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