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Wednesday, August 7,2013

Odd 'Duck'

Performances shine through off-kilter Mitch Albom script

by Paul Wozniak
Over the Ledge Theatre Co.’s production of Mitch Albom’s “Duck Hunter Shoots Angel” is A.) a caricature of Southern stereotypes; B.) a multi-pronged tragic-comedy with pseudo-“Twilight Zone” plot twists; or C.) an oversimplified commentary on racial/cultural relations.  

Actually, it’s “D,” for “all of the above.” Thankfully, the cast of community theater all-stars, including Mark Boyd, Bruce Bennett and Michael Hays, make the better sections of Albom´s clumsy script shine. The rest is unavoidable collateral that stays on track thanks to Rick Dethlefsen´s broad but steady direction. 

Boyd plays Sandy, a burned-out journalist who sold his soul to write “crap” for a National Enquirer-esque tabloid. Sandy´s editor is Lester (Martin Underhill), a shrewd, cigar-chomping entrepreneur who smells money from miles away. When Lester catches wind of a too-good-to-be-true lead on Alabama duck hunting brothers Duane and Duwell (Bennett and Hays respectively) who allegedly shot a heavenly entity, he sends Sandy and photographer Lenny (Sidney Sauseda) on a road trip to find the hunters and buy the exclusive rights to their story. 

But all is not what it seems. A God-like voice frequently interrupts the play’s events to engage Sandy in dialogue. Meanwhile, Rachelle Garyett pops in during other seemingly unrelated flashbacks as the lover Sandy left behind. Albom´s eventual Hallmark resolution (a prodigal son returns to reunite with his family) feels like the literary equivalent to a careless driver cutting off five lanes of expressway traffic to make his exit. It´s a dramatic mess, but the cast keenly avoids turning it into a pile-up. 

At times, Sandy sounds like a fictionalized Albom avatar, a journalist struggling with existential issues whose atheistic cynicism stems from his own intellectual self-righteousness. Boyd makes the most of the role, grounding Sandy´s pessimism with authentic pathos. While Boyd gets to deliver a few laugh lines, he tends to play the straight man to the duck hunters. 

Pronounced with a two-syllable twang, “Du-ane” and “Du-well” are the epitome of the Southern stereotype: well-armed, homophobic redneck hillbillies who believe conspiracy stories at face value. Zingers from Duane like “He´s got a Yankee accent ... he must be from hell,” have a distinct vaudevillian crack to them, but Bennett and Hays are straight shooters. The show´s best scene is the initial meeting of Sandy, Duane and Duwell. The three actors milk genuine laughs from a misunderstanding drawn out by dry delivery and deadpan timing. If only their boisterous banter made up the bulk of the show. 

 “Duck Hunter” is ultimately like a trashy tabloid all its own, a story that doesn´t live up to the hype of the headline. Remarkably, its cast finds the comedic silver lining in Albom´s muddled clouds.

“Duck Hunter Shoots Angel”

Over the Ledge Theatre Co.

Through Sunday 

8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday; 2 p.m. Sunday

Ledges Playhouse

137 Fitzgerald Park Drive, Grand Ledge

$10 adult /$8 seniors/ $6 students

(517) 318-0579

overtheledge.org

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