The first American Folklore Theatre production at Overture Center, the musical comedy Guys & Does, is exactly what you expect. There are guys -- specifically, blue-collar Wisconsinite and lifelong hunter Fritz Dingleheimer, and his daughter's dweeby beau, Duane. There are deer. And there are dad jokes and goofy songs.
All in all, the two-hour show's opening performance Tuesday night was pretty good. Bo Johnson doesn't just embody the taciturn, flannel-wearing, middle-aged everyman Fritz -- he basically is him. And Lee Becker has the timing, dance steps and on-point comic expressiveness to do justice to Duane (an avid knitter and Oprah watcher, who totes around a book titled Feeling Freely for Fellas, by Dr. Manley Weeper).
The pairing of two such different types for comic effect is a pretty well-worn device, but hey -- this is a show aimed at vacationing families who visit AFT's home base up in Door County, not a Pulitzer contender. Anyway, the script (by Becker and Frederick Heide) doesn't try to wring too much out of the premise. Fritz accepts Duane's loopiness with a plausible stolidity, and the two quickly become allies when another hunter -- smarmy Joe Jimmy Ray Bob Johnson III, the scion of a wealthy Texas family, bearing an automatic rifle and more than a passing resemblance to a recent American president -- disrupts their weekend while tracking a noble, golden-antlered white buck.
Doing double duty as both Joe Jimmy and his quarry, Doug Mancheski is the highlight of the show, which runs through Sunday, January 23. His spot-on hoof-stomping, tail-shaking and silly grandiloquence are a unique treat.
As for the songs, the lyrics (also by Heide and Becker, set to music by Paul Libman) are clever: You have to appreciate rhyming "pester us" with "estrus." The numbers don't showcase any of the three cast members' voices (they are adequate, which is, for this play, sufficient), and a few hours after the performance, I couldn't remember a single one of the tunes, rendered energetically by Kyle Nelson on piano -- but they are appropriately jaunty. Flourishes like accompaniment by a deer call are fun.
The set looks becomingly rustic, and is highly functional: Simple trees, hung with camouflage-fabric leaves, are lifted into or out of the way in seconds to switch between the woods and Fritz's cabin. And whoever built Fritz's truck deserves kudos for imbuing such a bare-bones artifact with subtle but palpable verisimilitude.
Guys & Does does feel a little out of place in the Overture's snazzy Playhouse, and its repeated references to Christmas would resonate better even in midsummer. (By then, we'll be ready for the holiday again; right now, we're over it.)
And the show just sags at times, especially in the first act. Duane's diction ("youse" for "you") sounds too forced, and a whole plotline about his previous hunting experience goes nowhere. Overall, the dialogue could stand a trim, and at minimum, two songs ("Ain't Dat a Kick in Da Pants?" and "Battle of Bobcat Hollow") should be cut.
Still, like I said, it's pretty good. Certainly the audience at the premiere -- mostly hunting types about Fritz's age, and their brides and kids -- chortled and chuckled plenty. I did too.