Starting this weekend, Sauk Theater in Jonesville is putting on a production of Jeff Daniels’ “Escanaba in da Moonlight,” which will run through Feb. 18.
“The last time we did this show was ten years ago,” Trinity Bird, the executive director of the Sauk, said. “Now, it’s back by popular demand. Deer hunting is huge around here, the play is set in Michigan, and it’s just really funny. It was a no-brainer to do this season.”
“Escanaba in da Moonlight” is the story of a Michigander named Reuben Soady, who is trying to bag his first buck and avoid a family jinx.
Productions at the Sauk — including this play — are entirely volunteer productions, with members of the community stepping in to help with everything from set design to acting.
“The best thing about community theater is that everyone wants to be here,” Bird said.
Hillsdale College admissions counselor Matt Sauer ’16 is performing a park ranger in his first production with the Sauk, and said that it has been an eye-opening experience.
“It feels great to be back in acting,” he said. “I’ve really enjoyed working with the people. It’s close to home for me, but most of my castmates are driving a lot further than me to be here. I appreciate everyone’s commitment, and I feel very welcomed and grateful.”
Sauer said that during this production, he’s learned that theater really can be a lifelong pursuit, even outside of hubs like New York or Chicago.
He also said that community theater is very different from the collegiate productions he’s been in, such as the Tower Players’ 2015 musical “The Drowsy Chaperone.”
“For example, you’re acting with people who are playing characters their own age — you certainly don’t do that in high school, and you mostly don’t in college,” Sauer said. “Here, we have actual grown adults who fit the description of the character and have a very healthy dose of real-world experience.”
Others involved in the production said they reciprocated Sauer’s warm feelings.
“The thing that’s great about Matt in this show is that he’s so earnest,” Bird said. “He plays his ridiculous character who thinks he’s seen God. When Matt’s on the stage, you just believe him — and if the actor wasn’t good, Matt’s part could just bomb.”
In addition to Sauer, four of the six actors in “Escanaba in da Moonlight” are new to the Sauk Theater. One such castmate is Nathan Drumhiller, the proprietor of the Grate Haus fireplace and stove store in Jackson. He plays the lead character, Reuben Soady, and this is his first time acting on stage.
“I guess you could call it my adult theatrical debut,” he said. “I always wanted to do a play, but between owning my farm and my business I’ve never really had the time. My fiancé really encouraged me to come down here and do this, because we sometimes watch the movie version of ‘Escanaba in da Moonlight’ before deer season starts.”
Both Sauer and Drumhiller said they have enjoyed their experience so far with “Escanaba in da Moonlight” and the Sauk. Despite some of the challenges associated with the limited resources of community theater, the cast and crew said they are very proud of the production they are staging.
“We’re not a professional theater spending millions of dollars on a show, but we like to see that as an opportunity to do big shows on our stage,” Bird said. “Shows that people will see and ask themselves ‘How on earth did they do that?’”
Sauer said that Hillsdale College students should come see “Escanaba in da Moonlight” because their attendance would be a witness to the integration of the college with the larger community.
“Plus, it gets you off campus for a couple hours for a good study break,” he said. “It’s not very highbrow, but the pure comedy and escapism is a great part of theater — which should be fun!”
The show is sponsored by the Hillsdale County Board of Realtors, and tickets are available online at TheSauk.org.