The Purple Rose Theatre opened its 21st season on September 22, with a revival of one of their most successful plays, founder Jeff Daniels’ “Escanaba in da Moonlight.” The Purple Rose premiered the play in 1995, and the movie version came out in 2001. The play will run through December 17th.
I recently spoke with Artistic Director, Guy Sanville, and with actors Jim Porterfield and Wayne David Parker, who were in the original production.
How will you re-imagine the play this time?
Sanville: We don’t do karaoke here. There’s been a lot of people who have wanted to see this play again. We have three new cast members and we’re bringing back the two old warhorses here, reprising their roles. We’re sixteen years better, I hope. The interesting thing is that we’ve done the two other plays in the trilogy since then, Escanaba, and Escanaba in Love, so they can’t help but inform this production.
Jim and Wayne, you created these roles. A lot happens in sixteen years. What will you be bringing now that you might not have brought before?
Porterfield: You get a different perspective on life when you get over fifty, I think. So I bring some of that with me, the good things and the bad. You start to lose people, and there is definitely loss in this play.
Porterfield: Sure, a month doesn’t go by that somebody, a friend, or a friend of a friend, a relative…
Sanville: Life looks very different when there are fewer years ahead of you than behind you.
Parker: For me there’s more a sense of keeping things as real as possible. We’re doing a farce here and the whole thing with farce is committing to it. If you commit to that, then it’s believable. I think that’s one of the things I’ve learned over the years, the difference between blatantly trying to get a bit in a show, or making it real. Sometimes, when you know a script as well as Jim and I know it, you kind of play towards what you know is going to happen next. We have to fight against that. It becomes more and more important to stay in the moment and just tell the truth.
Porterfield: This production is high stakes. This is the real deal, deer camp in the UP. All this stuff that happens in deer camps, the traditions, the families, we have an obligation to get it right.
There are no women in the play, until the very end, but some of the most poignant moments revolve around the men’s memories of the women in their lives.
Jim: The women are a very important aspect of the play. There’s a lot of reverence shown to them.
Sanville: This is a very special play for me. I have twelve great tragedies on my desk, but to find a really great, well-crafted comedy is… you know, “dying is easy, comedy is hard.” It’s true. There’s lots to chew on in this play, underneath all the laughs.