Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Dis ain’t yer basic buddy story, no sirree!
Riverside delivers buddy play with heart and humor
Theatre review by John Busbee - Art Scene

The formula is tried and true: begin with an easy-going script with all the charming appeal of a Currier & Ives snowfall, blend in some jokes, an instinctive trio of actors, and serve with well-crafted production elements. Serve on ice. Let the fun begin.

Riverside Theatre’s “Guys on Ice: An Ice Fishing Musical Comedy” reaches well beyond the guffaws and chortles its humor and jokes elicit, and delivers a harmonious buddy story that evokes as much warmth as a soothing cup of mid-winter hot cocoa – with an occasional shot of fortification. Achieving the same standards of excellence that any Riverside production achieves, “Guys on Ice” will surprise many, successfully straying from their more traditional fare of serious, classic and edgy material.

Longtime pals Lloyd and Marvin convene in their ice fishing shanty, keeping the northern chill at bay through their mutual appreciation for good bait, cold beer, and the Green Bay Packers. While Marvin awaits his fifteen minutes of fame in an on-location interview on a cable TV fishing show, both attempt to divert Ernie the Moocher from their beer stash and bait. Numbers like “Ode to a Snowmobile Suit” and “Fish Is de Miracle Food” add a charming musical zest to the show.

Director Sean Paul Bryan takes a deeper route than this show’s humor and jokes may tempt with other directors, drawing upon the natural stage chemistry of veteran actors Ron Clark and Christopher Merrill. The results are a delicious blend of belly laughs and richly intimate human insights. Tony Zabka provides a scenic palette upon which the action unfolds, with the centerpiece ice shanty interior that would make any ice fishermen burst with pride.

John Watkins as Ernie the Moocher – with a dead-on dialect straight out of the movie, “Fargo” – crafts one of the most original pre-show speeches ever seen. He continues his audience interactive shtick during the special intermission show. During the play, his delightful interludes pepper the script with outrageous behaviors, town gossip revelations and a gasp-producing “cold one” chug-a-lug.

The heart and soul of this show are entrusted to the masterful talents of Ron Clark (Marvin) and Christopher Merrill (Lloyd). Their lines are submersed in the dialectic lilt of the northern states. Their on-stage bond (this is their fourth Riverside show together) is rich, textured and sublime. In one scene, their reciprocal gifts of fish sandwiches (one walleye, the other trout) reflect their deep friendship. The long waiting for that big fish to bite is often punctuated by their love of the Green Bay Packers and their jokes, leading one to the correct conclusion that catching fish is perhaps not the greatest reward, or even goal, of ice fishing.

For a great escape, take time to experience the charismatic and comic “Guys on Ice.” You’re sure to catch your limit of laughs and rewarding storytelling, leaving you in a warm, feel-good comforter of time well spent.
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