As you may know, we are heavily involved in our local community theater. For each play in which we were involved, part of the fun was to see what the newspaper critic would publish about it. Well, the newspaper reviewer has been canned, and so my husband was asked to take over. Not wanting the responsibility of the fallout that one might incur when writing about specific individuals in a small town (not to mention his extremely busy work schedule), he agreed to only do the review about the most recent play because he and I produced it. The following is my husband’s review debut that was (supposed to be) published in the newspaper, and I’ll go ahead and give myself a secondary byline for editing. I must note however, that those of you who have seen this particular edition of the paper might notice more than a few differences between the two reviews. And my husband did not write the paragraph about his credentials that appears at the end of the print version – the newspaper wrote it with info my husband supplied when asked how he was qualified to do the review. It’s just funny that for the past few years, we’ve been assuming the quirks of our play reviews were the fault of the reviewer when in actuality, the newspaper changes much and does lots of editing!
Don’t Hug Me is a Winter Treat
This past Wednesday evening my wife and I had the privilege of attending a preview of Don’t Hug Me, a comedy by Paul Olson.
As we took our seats, my eyes were immediately drawn to the brilliantly detailed set. Just a quick glance at the rustic wood paneling, Paul Bunyan style restroom sign, and moose head beer tap and I was instantly transported to a northern Minnesota bar.
The show opens with owners of “The Bunyan” bar Gunner Johnson (played to near perfection by Mike Roberts) and his wife and co-owner Clara (played by stage veteran Mary Beth Snider) caught outside in the cold. We see Clara fumbling through her purse for the keys as a freezing Gunner becomes increasingly impatient, declaring he will break down the door if they cannot get in soon. This first little scene sets the stage for the show perfectly. Minnesota gets cold in the winter, and Gunner is tired of it. He wants to escape the frigid temperatures and move to Florida, but Clara’s heart is in Minnesota . This conflict is the basic central plot throughout Don’t Hug Me and Roberts and Snider deliver it with a very nice chemistry together. Their bantering back-and-forth comes across as genuine and is also very funny.
Ms. Snider does an excellent job portraying Clara with a wonderful balance between loving wife and strong-willed independent woman while Roberts is very effective in making the audience feel Gunner’s frustration, as well as the cold outside air. In fact, even under the heat of the stage lights, the entire cast of Don’t Hug Me does a great job of selling the cold wintery theme. Whenever one of Don’t Hug Me‘s colorful characters enters or exits the bar, you can almost feel the chilly Minnesota draft coming in from outside.
Shelley Scantlen portrays Bernice Lundstrom, a waitress at “The Bunyan” and fiancé of Kanute Gunderson, played by Keith Robinson. Anyone who has seen Scantlen on stage before expects an outstanding performance, and she delivers. Her accent is pure northern Minnesota, and she brings a naivety to Bernice that is delightful. The sincerity in which she sings “I Wanna go to the Mall of America” is downright hilarious. Shelley’s voice is amazing as always, and her duets with Clara and Aarvid are a riot. Opposite Scantlen, Robinson is very strong as Kanute, a man whose world unravels with astonishing speed, although he’s quick to remind everyone “I played Nathan Detroit in Guys and Dolls”. Robinson takes us through Kanute’s transformation from, egotistical jerk who has it all, to loveable loser who lost it all (give or take five stores) masterfully. When he teamed up with Roberts (Gunner) for the duet “You Dirty Piece of…” it was difficult to hear parts of the song over the sound of my own laughter.
Enter Denver Henderson as traveling karaoke, err, “Life Style System” salesman Aarvid Gisselsen and trouble starts to brew (pardon the pun). Aarvid wants to sell the LSS-562, a state-of-the-art karaoke system, to the Johnsons and claims it will save their bar which has been suffering in the customer department. From the moment he enters, Henderson takes command of the stage. He does an exceptional job, playing the role of a modern day “Music Man” with charm and panache. Henderson is able to make Aarvid very likeable without compromising the character’s door-to-door salesman savvy. He also gives a tenderness to the character that makes you root for him to get the girl; the girl being Bernice. The moment Aarvid first meets Bernice is very well staged. One look at each other and the ice begins to melt and the sparks start to fly. Like Roberts and Snider, Scantlen and Henderson have great chemistry, and their duet, the Sven Yorgensen classic “Take a Chance”, is a hoot thanks in part to some hilarious choreography by co-director Crystal Bowers.
Complete with witty one-liners like “Oh, for spankin’ the neighbor’s baby”, hilarious songs like “Victim of My Y Chromosome”, and even a love triangle, Don’t Hug Me is fun from start to finish. My wife and I had a great time, and so will you. Bravo to directors Zach McAfee and Crystal Bowers along with the cast and crew of Don’t Hug Me for putting together a real gem. They take to you to Minnesota in the dead of winter and warm your heart.
Don’t Hug Me is performing at the Little Theatre December 5 – 14. Tickets are $12 for adults with a discount for students and seniors. Reservations are recommended.