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Tuesday, January 27, 2015 |  Madison, WI: 25.0° F  Fog/Mist
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Pretty-good Guys & Does sets deer hunting to music
The show was devised for vacationing families who visit American Folklore Theatre's home base in Door County.
The show was devised for vacationing families who visit American Folklore Theatre's home base in Door County.
Credit:American Folklore Theatre

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.

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