Channeling the Upper Peninsula stereotype centered on beer, guns, and lots of flannel, the Sauk Theatre’s most recent production “Escanaba in Da Moonlight” features Hillsdale College’s own admissions counselor, Matt Sauer ’16.
“I had heard of the play before being a part of the production, when I had accidentally rented the movie during middle school, one time,” Sauer said. “I knew it was a comedy, and knew people in town would appreciate it.”
The play opens with narrator Albert Soady, played by Timothy Brayman, asking the audience whether they have ever visited the Upper Peninsula, or even know what the true UP is. (Contrary to public opinion, Mackinac Island, according to the Soady-character, does not count.)
The play then explores the hunting ventures and special “deer camp,” of the Soady father and brothers, and their friend Jimmer Negamanee. In an attempt to end Reuben Soady’s hunting curse as a “buckless yooper,” the crew embarks on a series of strange events with a glorious light, Native American mysticism, and even one another.
The audience in the front row were told by Director Trinity Bird, they were in the “splash zone,” as several scenes required the tossing of beverages as props, to portray Soady Sweet Sap Whiskey, “moose testicle” potion, and porcupine pee.
One scene in particular encapsulates the UP-redneck-atmosphere attempted in the play, as Reuben Soady says in defense of his hunting skills, “No flapjacks, no macaroni and cheese, and no spam.”
Matt Sauer’s character, Ranger Tom T. Treado from Detroit, makes a spontaneous debut halfway through the play, and Sauer’s character begins singing almost immediately, in an attempt to ease his anxiety and sudden existential crises.
Sauer had been in seven shows during high school, as well as one show per semester while attending Hillsdale College. This training and background was evident in Sauer’s stage presence and refinement.
“This was one of the smaller casts I’ve been a part of,” Sauer said. “Since this was my first show in a while, it was helpful to have a smaller cast where we could grow together.”
Fellow performer Nathan Johnson, who played Remnar Soady, agreed.
“It was great having such a small cast because the small group allowed me to develop relationships with fellow actors,” Johnson said. “I really got to know each person.”
The cast — made up of only six actors — allowed the audience to quickly understand the personalities of each character in the play.
“We make comedy believable, but let the craziness unfold,” Sauer said. “I like how aloof Ranger Tom is. He’s a lovable character, although he is completely unaware of his surroundings, and can be easily taken advantage of.”
Although each character had a unique personality, the audience could naturally recognize the common thread found in the rural, UP-local personae of nearly all the characters.
Freshman Johannes Olson, who was raised in northern Michigan, recognized these stereotypes, and found them to be accurate of actual UP natives.
“You have to be from Michigan to understand some jokes. You would not think the stereotypes in the play are accurate, but they are. I’m from northern Michigan, and know some people just like that,” says Olson. “Deer Camp is basically guy-time, booze, hunting, and no girls allowed.”
The play does not limit itself to locals of the UP, though. Students from other parts of the country also appreciated the Michigan humor.
Fellow freshman Dan Grifferty says, “I’m from New York, so this was my ‘crash course’ to understanding UP culture, but I thought it was pretty funny. It also doesn’t hurt that Jeff Daniels wrote it.”
The play does in fact contain adult language and numerous innuendos, which some families may find inappropriate for younger children.
But “Escanaba in Da Moonlight” provides Michiganders with a relatable account of UP culture and leisure, a small cast with trained actors, and humor that will leave the audience belly-laughing.
The play concludes with a recurring image throughout the play: Albert Soady, leaning back in his recliner, a lift of his flask, a drink, and an exaggerated wipe of the mouth.
“‘Escanaba in Da Moonlight’ is very fun and a must-see,” Sauer said. “I think it is important that the community is shown some support from the college.”