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Review: Aurora Fox Brings the Yoopers to You in Escanaba 1922

Escanaba: 1922 is a prequel to the other two plays in the Escanaba series: Escanaba in da Moonlight, and Escanaba in Love. Also set in a hunting cabin in the Upper Peninsula, Escanaba: 1922 tells the extended story of the chance encounter of a particularly odd couple. Like the other Escanaba stories, the conversation veers toward topics of utmost import for most north midwestern men: hunting, how to set up a hunting camp, and the appropriate times to consume animal urine. But cutting through this rather pungent humor is the story of a man in search of a story, and so this prequel appropriately explores his personal and family history.

Odd Pair Makes For Odd Evening in the U.P.

HE SAID: I imagine people who have seen the first two shows in this trilogy will probably have different connection to this piece than I did, but I still had a heap load of fun. In order to really dive into the piece though, I really had to just give into the initial premise, which is really sort of implausible. In what world does a really strange man barge into your cabin, behave in the same manner as James Negamanee (from Menominee), and still be allowed to stay for an hour? Sure, Alphonse “tried” to get him out, but in reality there wasn’t much effort. I mention this because I know a lot of people have issues moving past that kind of faulty initial premise. I, however, just let it slide, went with it, and the piece became very funny.

SHE SAID:  I must also start by confessing that I haven’t seen any of the others before, so I didn’t have any expectations at all. The entire play was definitely enjoyable even without any background, but I have a feeling that those who know and love the other two will be really over the moon about this new one. I definitely see HIS point about the feasibility — when someone as nosy and obnoxious as James Negamanee (from Menominee) shows up, you usually don’t let him stay for long. But after mulling it over, I think that the environment (a remote hunting area on a cold night) as well as the different place and time make it just a little more realistic. It’s hard to turn someone out into the cold, and I think that about 90 years ago, people were less suspicious, and more likely to extend a kindness even to the most irritating member of their community. So if you’re able to suspend your disbelief, you’ll enjoy the touching humor even more.

Nantz and Hahn Give Brilliantly Quirky Performances

HE SAID: I still think it’s a bit iffy even considering a different time and place. But the biggest reason I was able to let go of that was because of the wonderful performances. Bill Hahn as the lost woodsman was unexpectedly quirky and a joy to watch as his distinct voice and physicality were executed so naturally creating an oddly charming individual.  James Nantz as Alphonse, the owner of the cabin brought terrific depth to the character with a grumpiness that so clearly veiled a pain deep inside. 

SHE SAID: We’ve seen Bill Hahn play some weirdos, but this role might be my favorite of the lot. His dialect was so authentic that at several times I could hardly understand ten percent of what he was saying. I just kept laughing through it and picked up his meaning on the other side. I also found Nantz to be wonderfully genuine as Alphonse, and I was especially impressed with multiple physical comedy bits that he nailed on the head (or perhaps hammered home)? Noah Lee Jordan is also featured in a somewhat surreal sequence that could be interpreted as a combination of a memory and a vision. He does a simple, fine job portraying a runaway slave during the Civil War. This slice of history gives the entire play enough weight to make it a worthwhile piece of theater instead of just an amusing situational comedy.

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Escanaba: 1922 a Wonderful Walk in the Woods

THEY SAID: It’s an odd show for sure, but one that brings with it a great deal of laughter and helping of heart to go along with it. Hahn and Nantz are the oddest of couples, but over a pair of pasties, that they bond, and they play really gets going. If you’ve already been in love and in da moonlight, you’ll definitely enjoy your visit to 1922. And if you haven’t been, get ready for a few fart jokes and some very touching moments. It is a fast-paced, short show, making it a delight of a piece, so make a late dinner reservation and start off your evening on an enjoyable note!

Denver Theatre Theater Escanaba: 1922  plays through December 18 at the Aurora Fox.  Click the banner above for tickets and more information.


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