It’s been a really weird year for me, theatrically speaking.
I’ve seen about a million performances of Into the Woods pop up – everyone is trying to cash in on the movie mania. Thanks, Meryl (that wig though!). UND did a stellar production; unfortunately, I wasn’t able to catch it until the end of the run and I didn’t have time to put together a proper review, but if you missed it you really did miss out. The costumes were student designed by UND Theatre regular Jacqueline DeGraff and were thoughtful and surprising: the charming princes were retro-tinged emo boys, Red Riding Hood was a sex kitten truly befitting the sexual connotations of her original tale, and Cinderella’s “ballgown” was a military-inspired jumpsuit with a gold overskirt and other subtly feminine touches. All of the performances were really top notch, and that Big Bad Wolf had me looking to buy a one way ticket on the express train to Cougar Town. It was truly delightful and I’m hoping to have time to pay more attention to the performances coming out of UND in the future.
I also did something a little out of character for me, and reviewed the Greater Grand Forks Community Theatre’s children’s shows (if you missed it, you can catch up with that review HERE). Children and I don’t generally mix but there were some entertaining elements, and the fabulous Amy Driscoll was assisting with one of the productions. Note to self: 30-something dudes who show up to children’s theatre who don’t have children will sometimes get strange looks. Believe me lady, I’m right there with you – it was the last place I expected to see myself as well! I also went to Armadillo Acres for the ETC’s production of the Great American Trailer Park Musical; after children, the next thing on my list of dislikes is probably Christmas, but I stowed my bah humbug for the evening enjoyed the trashy antics.
To continue my very strange theatrical adventure, I attended Thursday’s opening night performance of Guys On Ice at the Fire Hall Theatre. Just so we’re all on the same page, this is a musical about ice fishing. Yeah, for real. Directors David Kary and Marcus Woodard got some local men together, put them in snowsuits under hot stage lights (I’m glad I wasn’t in that dressing room post show!), and got them to sing songs about fish. My description of the show is purposefully plain and simple because the show itself is very simple, from concept to execution. The stage is a an abstract winter scene with a large box that opens on hinges, allowing the scenes to play out either inside or outside of a small ice house. There are no vocal acrobatics or complex, layered melodies; the songs would not be out of place in an elementary school music class. The actors do a fine job with them, and they are under the music direction of the always delightful Karen Braaten, but there is only so much emotional depth that can be explored in a song with the lyrics:
“Fish is the miracle food.
Fish is the miracle food.
Fish is the miracle, fish is the miracle,
fish is the miracle food.”
It’s no Sondheim, that’s for sure. But theatre speaks to all kinds of audiences and this show isn’t for the “nose in the air” snobby theatre crowd; it’s a type of theatre that privileges accessibility over depth or range, opening up the theatrical space to new audiences who might not otherwise attempt to break into the sometimes insular “theatre community.” It chooses the language of Packer fans over the language of Pinter fans, a tactic that might not be a misstep: on opening night with an outside temperature more than a couple of digits below zero, the house was close to 3/4 full, and people were engaged and having fun with the show.
And there is certainly fun to be had: the two main characters Marvin (Zak Skaro) and Lloyd (Jeff McMahon) are loveable everyman characters who spend the day ice fishing to avoid their troubles: Marvin’s job at the plant (which he hates) and Lloyd’s rocky marriage. These issues, which could add some welcome poignancy to the light-hearted material, are only superficially addressed; if things start to get too close to “the feels” then bumbling Ernie the Moocher (David Whitcomb) shows up to weasel his way into their provisions or sing a little ditty about Leinenkugel’s beer. Whitcomb’s performance with local celeb journalist Terry Dullum during the intermission “game show” is probably my favorite part of the whole show. I co-hosted a charity fundraiser with Dullum a few years ago and I’ve had a slight man-crush ever since; when he made a sly crack about needing to get home so he could catch the local news…out of Fargo, I was reminded why. For a straight white guy, he throws some fierce shade!
The last few years, the Fire Hall has made a point of selecting shows for their seasons that forego pretension in an effort to open up their programming to a wider audience. Shows like Don’t Hug Me and Escanaba in Da Moonlight feature rustic, local settings, plots that feature rural delights like hunting and fishing or small town karaoke bars, and other regional fare to attract unlikely theatre patrons; this show is definitely this season’s effort in that direction. Go to it to appreciate it for what it is: it won’t move you, it won’t give you big life questions to ponder, but it will give you some silly characters in a familiar setting taking part in fluffy antics that will make you smile and brighten your day.
Unless you’re a Vikings fan; then you’re on your own.
Guys On Ice runs February 12-14, 19-21, and 26-28 at 7:30 pm at the Fire Hall Theatre downtown. There will also be Sunday matinees on February 15 and 22 at 2 pm. Tickets are $18, $15 for students/seniors/military.
Tags: community theater, community theatre, David Kary, David Whitcomb, Fire Hall Theater, Fire Hall Theatre, Great Grand Forks Community Theatre, Greater Grand Forks Community Theater, Guys On Ice, Ice Fishing, Janessa, Janessa J, Janessa J Champagne, Janessa Jaye, Janessa Jaye Champagne, Jeff McMahon, Karen Braaten, Marcus Woodard, Miss Jaye, Packers, Terry Dullum, Vikings, Wisconsin, World of Champagne, Zak Skaro