Soadys Are Hunting Again In Escanaba PDF Print E-mail
Written by Marcia Fulmer   
Wednesday, 03 June 2015 20:14

There are certain shows that can guarantee a positive audience response. One of these, as The Barn Theatre has found out, is Jeff Daniels’ comedy “Escanaba in da Moonlight.”

Escanaba in da Moonlight The Barn Theatre Augusta MIThe Barn opened its fourth production of the Yooper laughfest Tuesday evening. Since 2003, The Barn has found a visit with the Soady family to be a sure shot in the right direction.

Having seen all four productions, I agree with producer Brendan Ragotzy (who also served as director) that there are certain scenes when laughter is inevitable, even when you know what’s coming.

And the return of Barn veterans Eric Parker and Roy Brown doesn’t hurt either.

Joining them in the Soady deer camp to await the dawn of opening day — hunting-wise — are Jamey Grisham, Nicholas Barakos, Robin Nuyen and (briefly) Samantha Rickard.

Parker is Reuben Soady, oldest of the two Soady brothers, hoping to break what he considers his buck-less “curse” and avoid being “the oldest Soady in recorded history never to have shot a buck.”

Escanaba in da Moonlight  The Barn Theatre Augusta MITo this end, he interrupts time-honored Soady traditions including pasties as the evening meal. Instead he serves a liquid concoction made by his wife, Ojibwa native Wolf Moon Dance, to drink for good luck and advises his fellow hunters to sprinkle themselves with porcupine urine to attract the deer.

Into this gathering rushes Jimmer Negamanee from Menomanee (Brown), famous locally for being a returned alien abductee — UFOs visit frequently in the UP, according to dad Albert Soady (Nuyen). Jimmer declares his Chevy has …. exploded and warns of supernatural events to come.

Brother Remnar (Gresham) is against change until events — the traditional home-brewed Sweet Sap Whskey is more syrup than whiskey and the euchre cards are all 2s, 3s and 4s — convince him, reluctantly, to try Reuben’s remedies.

Further proof of other-worldly doings arrives in the person of DNR agent Tom T. Treado (Barakos) whose behavior is more than extreme.

Will Reuben get his buck? Is God really on the ridge or is it the Bearwalk? Things always turn out well but it is always much fun getting there.

The brothers Soady and Jimmer ease into their familiar roles with hilarious authenticity. The more ridiculous the situation, the more they take us right along for the ride. As the DNR man, Barakas is in properly straight-laced underwear.

This is a first time for Nuyen, who serves as narrator of the events as well as participant. He begins the action with a long-winded introduction of terms and details of life “above the bridge.” In his hands, the pacing suffers, getting the action off to a too-slow start and bringing it to a halt when injected mid-scene. Hopefully, this will pick up as the one-week-only run proceeds.

The familiar set is faithfully recreated with the especially effective silhouette of trees surrounding the rustic cabin providing a “middle of the woods” effect.

“ESCANABA IN DA MOONLIGHT” plays through Sunday in the theater on M96 between Augusta and Galesburg. For show times and reservations, call (269) 731-4121 or visit

Baseball Comedy As A Life Lesson PDF Print E-mail
Written by Marcia Fulmer   
Monday, 01 June 2015 19:31

Back in the 1940s (and I do remember them), many of the popular plays were comedies with few characters — excepting, of course, those by Kauffman and Hart who crammed as many people on stage as possible.

Home Games Elkhart Civic Theatre Bristol INThe comedy which Elkhart Civic Theatre opened Friday evening at the Bristol Opera House is definitely among the former. “Home Games” is a warm-hearted look at families, relationships and the little things in life that count.

It was written by Tom Ziegler, a professor at Washington and Lee University who describes himself as “a teacher who writes” rather than “a writer who teaches.”  Whatever that difference may be, Ziegler has turned out a number of low-keyed plays, several of which (including “Home Games”) have found their ways to off-Broadway houses and unanimous if not thunderous praise.

The action, such as it is, centers around Mertie Mae (Mert) Tucker (played with ingenuous charm by Amie Kron),  an unmarried lady of 37, who lives in an apartment in New York’s Washington Heights and is the sole support for P.K., a blind cat, and P.B., a rescued bird, and her father, Anton (“Tony”) Tucker (David Robey).

It is 1985 and Mert is a dispatcher with the trucking company for which her father drove until an accident left him in a coma.

Homne Games Elkhart Civic Theatre Bristol INA former professional ballplayer, he now lives in a baseball world, specifically amid the New York Yankees in 1955, the one season when he played for the team, primarily from the bench. About to be traded to Cleveland, he opted to retire but, in his head, is still  a Yankee catcher.

At home now, he spends much of his time in one-sided conversations with manager Casey Stengel as well as cheering on his team mates, including Whitey Ford, Yogi Berra and Mickey Mantle, suited in a Yankees shirt and his “lucky” BVDs.

He assigns Yankee personas to everyone in his life including Mert, who is his Casey Stengel. When a young man follows Mert home from her night school class in English lit, he becomes Mickey Mantle.

Initially, Frank Whitfield (Joseph Schroeder) seems to be fairly well-adjusted and “normal” by society’s standards. He describes himself as “a conservative capitalist,” complete with fiancé and parents who find a college degree important. It gradually becomes clear, however, that he is indeed a candidate for “Mert’s home for the helpless.”

Watching these three square pegs searching for the right fit in a world of round holes makes for a gently entertaining evening.

Opening night the pace was slow and an electronic glitch left the actors shouting from the hall rather than speaking through the non-working intercom, but anyone familiar with a sports addict will relate to Tony’s emotional rise and fall as the Yanks face their longtime pennant enemies, the Brooklyn Dodgers. And anyone who cares for a damaged relative or friend will applaud Mert’s unswerving devotion to her dad and her undeniable resilience in the face of a “will he/won’t he” relationship.

Home Games  Elkhart Civic Theatre  Bristol  INThe rest will cheer for Frank to make the “right” decision, whatever that may be. I didn’t see it coming but, upon reflection, agreed with Ziegler that it was the best for all.

As always, the set designed by John Shoup is undeniably livable if a little “country” in color.

Calling the plays, director Tony Venable was assisted by Josh Padgett. If not a home run, ‘Home Games” is a sure three bagger.

“HOME GAMES” will be at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday and3 p.m. Sunday in the Bristol Opera House. For reservations, call 848-4116 or visit


Williams' Classic Still A Long Haul PDF Print E-mail
Written by Marcia Fulmer   
Tuesday, 12 May 2015 16:23

There is no doubt that Thomas Lanier Williams III (aka Tennessee) is one of the greatest American playwrights of the 20th century, a designation he shares with Eugene O’Neill and Arthur Miller.

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof South Bend (IN) CivicThe question then is why are his plays (and theirs) regularly ignored by America’s community theaters?

There are answers, several of which are apparent in the South Bend Civic Theatre production of Williams’ Pulitzer Prize-winning drama “Cat On A Hot Tin Roof,” which opened Friday evening in the Wilson Theatre.

The most obvious answer is the length of his plays, two hours and 45 minutes (including two intermissions). This, plus the playwright’s love of single character dialogues, which become monologues and can drone on and on, defeating their purpose of creating back story/character depth.

The other answers include unpleasant characters who take delight in ravaging each other to the point of extinction. Nonetheless, watching the adversarial attacks and retreats, victories and defeats, is like watching a train wreck. It’s difficult to look away.

Cat On a Hot Tin Roof  South Bend (IN) Civic TheatreThe Pollitt family would seem to have several reasons to celebrate. It is the 65th birthday of the pater familias, Big Daddy Pollitt (Max Sala), just returned from a medical clinic which gave him a clean bill of health. He and Big Mama (Lucinda Gary Moriarty) are the only ones who don’t know he really is dying of cancer.

Son Gooper (Steven Matthew Cole) and Gooper’s ever-pregnant wife Mae (Alice Nagy) have brought their four little “no-neck monsters” to celebrate and secure their position in Big Daddy’s will. It is obvious, however, that he prefers son Brick (Bill Svelmoe), a former college football star and TV sports reporter favoring an injured ankle and sinking quickly and deliberately into alcoholism.

Determined to prevent her in-laws from taking the inheritance is Brick’s wife, Margaret (Patty Bird), aka Maggie the Cat. Her uphill battle is exacerbated by the fact that her husband will have nothing to do with her, the reason for which gradually is revealed.

In all fairness to Ms. Bird, Maggie’s first entrance opens the play and, for what seems like more than a half hour, she talks —to herself, to Brick and, via shouts, to other family members — without much interruption. It is a daunting assignment. No lines were dropped on opening night but, for the most part, it was difficult to hear or understand, allowing attention to wander early on.

The same assignment falls to Big Daddy who goes from haranguing Brick about his lack of interest in Maggie and his possible inheritance to thundering epithets when a drunken Brick lets slip the real diagnosis. Sala has more success with his diatribes, shifting the emotion without losing the words and relishing his ownership of “28 acres of the richest land this side of the Valley Nile.”

Car On a Hot Tin Roof  South Bend (IN) Civic TheatreExcept for his provoked outburst to Big Daddy, Svelmoe primarily lay on the lounge with his drink (or hopped on his crutch for a refill) and took little notice of the anger swirling around him, brooding over the death (and sexuality) of his long-time buddy Skipper.

The “no-neck monsters” are appropriately bratty, Cole and Nagy whine, cajole and berate depending on the object of their conversation. Moriarty clings and cries and refuses to let go of her husband or son.

Costuming is nondescript, with Maggie’s dress evoking ladies-of-the-evening couture while the rest of the family seemed to feel the party was “come as you are.”

All this is played out, according to the concept of director Chuck Gessert, on a circular round stage, raked to an extreme degree that must guarantee all the players really toned calf muscles and does not help with the theater’s on-going acoustical problem. The furniture, while securely fastened, always seemed about to tip over. According to a program note, this is to “reflect the inner struggles of the characters.”

It more seemed to reflect the line delivered by Dr. Baugh (Richard Pfeil) when about to tell Big Mama the fatal news, “This is gonna be painful.”

“CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF” plays through May 24 in the Wilson Theatre, 215 W.Madison, South Bend. For performance times and reservations, call (574) 234-1112 or visit

Strong Performances, Unsettling Play PDF Print E-mail
Written by Marcia Fulmer   
Wednesday, 15 April 2015 18:43

How do you describe a play about sexual role playing and domination as “A sexy comedy”?

Venus in Fur South Bend (IN) Civic TheatreObviously, director and cast must make sure that every humorous moment is played out — obviously. Which is just what the cast of two — Anthony Panzica and Libby Unruh — and directors Rick Ellis (primary) and Steve Gergacz (assistant) have done with “Venus in Fur,” the current production of South Bend Civic Theatre.

It is based on the 1870 novel of the same name by Leopold von Sacher-Masoch. No surprise that the term “masochism” came from the author’s name. No surprise that masochism is a major plot line in “Venus.” So, if being hurt and humiliated by a sex partner is appealing, no surprise that this is the play for you.

Material aside, the performances by Panzica and Unruh are solid, with both handling the double sides of each role distinctly and believably, however uncomfortable that might be.

It is not everyone’s material.

The tendency to shift in your seat is a reaction to watching a growing relationship that is increasingly intimate and certainly not what is generally considered “normal,” but given the success of the “Fifty Shades” books and movie, that “normal” might be changing.

As the auditioning actress and the demanding director gradually reverse roles, the accompanying dialogue and actions are, for wont of a better comparison, like watching a small train wreck or the approach of a deadly viper.

Venus in Fur  South Bend (IN) Civic TheatreIt’s definitely difficult to look away.

Never mind trying to figure out just who this actress really is — her name, Vanda , is too close to that of the play’s leading character, Wanda — and she comes prepared with an entire script memorized and appropriate costumes for both characters, which she pulls from her large bag a la Mary Poppins.

As thunder and lightning rage outside the audition room, the man and woman circle, advance and retreat, with control of the situation moving from one to the other and, inevitably, to Vanda.

Who likes what and where will the power eventually reside? The answers to those questions become increasingly apparent with only the origin of the mysterious Vanda left to the individual imagination.

In addition to her multi-level performance, Unruh deserves applause for the ease with which she handles her costumes (from all-enclosing to hardly there) and the killer heels on which she stakes her claim to the role and the director.

Panzica has an even more difficult task. To make the eventual submission of the initially commanding director believable and even understandable. It is a task he handles well.

There is no intermission in the play and actually I could not think of a spot where a division would be doable without instantly destroying the intense atmosphere the actors create.

Jill Flora Hillman’s scenic design sets the right atmosphere, augmented by the lighting and sound designs.

“Venus in Fur” is not, in the long run, an easy play to watch. Like other modern scripts, however, it allows a look at a side of human nature that may be more familiar than most would like to admit.

“VENUS IN FUR” plays today through Sunday and April 24-26 in the SBCT Warner Theatre, 4303 N. Main St., South Bend. For performance times and reservations, call (574) 234-1112 or visit

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