SHERIDAN — When Dan Cole was asked to direct a Civic Theatre Guild performance this year, he knew pretty quickly what play to choose: “Escanaba in da Moonlight.”
Cole had acted in the performance as a theater student at the University of Wyoming and enjoyed the camaraderie on set. As a first-time director, he hoped to bring that joyful energy to Sheridan and try something a little different.
“It’s pretty much unlike anything they’ve seen here,” Cole said. “It’s not very traditional. It’s kind of a cult classic.”
Written by Jeff Daniels, the comedic play centers on three members of the Soady family — Albert and his two sons, Reuben and Remnar — and one of their friends, Jimmer Negamanee, as they prepare for deer hunting season. Rated PG-13 for some crude humor, “Escanaba” is the second of five performances in the CTG 2018-19 season.
The cast will perform seven times at the Carriage House Theater over the next week-and-a half. Thursday at 7:30 p.m. marks opening night, followed by Saturday night and Sunday matinee shows. It will also run Dec. 6-9 and lasts about 100 minutes with intermission.
The four-person play means the actors — Jordan Davis, Aaron Linden, Chris Thomas and Carsten Wills — are onstage for nearly the entirety of the performance. The set is minimal, involving only a card table, some chairs, coolers, guns and various animals mounted on the wall.
As director, Cole felt comfortable working with actors but said he encountered a learning curve regarding technical and lighting aspects.
All of the actors were familiar with the Jeff Daniels movie, which was released in 2001, but they didn’t have much history together until rehearsals began about seven weeks ago.
Cole went to school with Thomas, who said he volunteered to be in the play as soon as Cole asked him.
Thomas hadn’t performed in several years, nor had Davis or Wills, but they seem to have picked up where they left off.
“These guys know what they’re doing, and that has been the best part for me,” Cole said. “A lot of Sheridan has never seen these people onstage before, so it’s going to be super cool. They’re going to be like, ‘Wow, who’s that guy?’”
Cole said the actors clicked with one another shortly into rehearsals and the past few weeks have mainly involved fine-tuning the show. They practiced three or four times per week for two hours each time.
“The amount of dedication has been pretty unreal,” Cole said. “… They had their characters day one.”
Davis plays Albert Soady. He has acted in a few CTG plays before, but this is his first time onstage in several years.
To prepare, Davis said he watched the “Escanaba in da Moonlight” movie several times and also viewed episodes of “That ‘70s Show” to base his character’s attitude on Red, the show’s grouchy father with a big heart.
Davis called Cole a fun, encouraging director.
“He comes out of left field sometimes,’ Davis said. “… He has a good feel for what works and what doesn’t. He’s been super good with just getting the rust off and letting us have room to breath.”
Thomas, who plays Remnar Soady, agreed.
“(Cole has) given us the ability to really build on stuff,” Thomas said. “It’s been awesome to try things.”
Linden has the role of Negamanee and said Cole asked him to audition. They met last year but have quickly built a rapport.
“It seems like we’ve known each other for about 50 years,” Linden said.
Linden said rehearsals have gone great so far.
“You get up here and you start doing it and it’s very addictive,” Linden said. “…Every time I get done with a show, I’m like, ‘OK, that’s it. No more. I’m not doing it anymore.’ Then something (else) comes along and you’re like, ‘Yeah OK.’”
Despite not knowing each other very well before auditions, the actors hope to work together again in the future.
“I hope it’s not the last time,” Linden said. “… This is by far the funnest experience I’ve ever had.”
Preparation for the unique show has gone well so far, and soon the actors will perform for all to see.