Jeff Daniels, Hollywood actor and Michigan playwright, mixes a shot of the supernatural with male hunting rituals in a new comedy that is an interesting combination of profundity and potty humor. “Escanaba in da Moonlight” is lightweight but occasionally laugh-out-loud stuff, thanks to the playwright’s knack for one-liners and a good ensemble cast.
Daniels’ previous outing, “Thy Kingdom’s Coming,” took place in the high-testosterone milieu of Hollywood action films; this time, Michigan’s Upper Peninsula is the featured wild frontier.
Old-timer Albert Soady (Dai Parker-Gwilliam) is glumly awaiting the arrival of his doltish sons Reuben (John Seibert) and Remnar (Joseph Albright) in the family deer camp.
At 38, son Reuben is on the verge of becoming the oldest Soady on record not to have bagged a buck; it seems he’s the butt of jokes all over the Upper Peninsula.
As the men appear, it becomes clear how concerned they are with Reuben’s problem. Reuben, hoping to end his streak, starts breaking traditions that Albert and Remnar stick to.
All kinds of strange, and even mystical, things begin to happen.
Local backwoodsman Jimmer Negamanee (Wayne David Parker), who had been kidnapped for a weekend by space aliens, arrives and begins babbling about how his car has mysteriously caught fire.
Reuben is not only “without venison,” he also has never seen a vision. However, his wife, a Pottawatomie Indian woman, has given him potions to bring him luck on the hunt.
The boys reluctantly decide an incantation or two couldn’t hurt. Reuben’s “ceremony” (played hilariously by Seibert) is interrupted by the arrival of DNR officer Ranger Tom (Randall Godwin), who is blissful; he’s just seen God up on the ridge, and he wants everybody to know it.
Thus, the story continues, with the fivesome trying to help Reuben and resolve the question of what is causing the forces to act up.
“Escanaba,” as directed by Guy Sanville, proceeds at a fast clip, with all acting excellent (as usual at the Purple Rose).
Parker is a wacko asked to speak in tongues, swill porcupine urine and pass gas with astonishing gusto — Daniels relies somewhat heavily on gross-out jokes for humor.
Joe Jenkins’ sound design, which lets the theater throb with the force of otherworldly voices and deer stampedes, deserves special mention. Jennifer Hunter makes a brief but memorable appearance as Wolf Moon Dance Soady.