Melodramatic Readers

Published in the Lakeland Times, September 25, 2009

(Presque  Isle, WI. Fall, 2009) Intrigued by a newspaper ad, announcing a performance by the Denim ‘n’ Dessert Readers’ Theatre in Presque Isle, I called to get information. The woman on the phone was enthusiastic and welcoming. The show was on Friday and after the performance, coffee, dessert and wine would be served. So, my husband and I drove from Eagle River to Presque Isle in search of some entertainment, a sense of small town community and dessert. We found everything we were looking for and more.

The program was billed as “a madcap farce in the finest and funniest tradition of the melodrama.” The plot synopsis included a blizzard, a nefarious scheme and the hapless bumbling of a string of colorful, well meaning characters. There was the obligatory fair maiden, the crusty but honorable lumberjack, the heroic Mountie, the villain you’ll love to loathe and a sawmill blade.

We arrived in town half an hour before curtain time and decided to follow the slow progression of cars going up the hill, in what we figured must be the way to the community building. Where else could all these people be going? The friendly woman handing out programs, the one I’d talked to on the phone, greeted us like old friends. Just as she had predicted, over a hundred and fifty people were there. I‘d been skeptical. How could there be that many people in such a small town who’d come to a play. But there they were.

She related that the theater group had started in someone’s garage but as the size of the audience kept growing, they had to find a more accommodating venue. The program said they were established in 2004 with the goal of “providing a non-competitive environment for actors of all ages to engage in theater…and to provide the surrounding communities with a source of free, family style entertainment.” Sometimes they’d have a dinner, sponsored by the local Lions club. For the dinner, there was a charge, but otherwise they survived on donations.

As the 7:00 hour approached, the room filed to capacity. Judging from the volume of noise and voices, everyone was well acquainted. Since this is a reader’s theater, the actors had not memorized their lines but held a small book from which they read their part. The book created a slight barrier when the lumberjack wanted to take a swing at the villain but couldn’t until he’d shifted the book to his other hand. The jokes were almost continuous, from the Mounties’ spangled underwear to the gender bender innuendos by and about the man/woman with no memory.

The program followed the melodrama format to a tee with most lines expressed in the most purple prose you can imagine. I expected Dudley Do-right (of Bullwinkle and Rocky the Squirrel fame) to swoop in to assist Roger Upright in capturing the romantic passion of the fair Nell. This community has some courageous people who aren’t shy about dressing up in outlandish costumes, saying and doing silly things and giving their community the gift of fun.

After the show, the crowd lined up for dessert, all homemade. The donation basket placed on the dessert table appeared to be overflowing. And that’s not the only thing overflowing. We left that night, full of warmth and appreciation.

Whenever we’re out of this area and I’m asked where I live, I describe our home in a small northern town. The ooh’s and aah’s commence. It seems everyone has, hidden in their brain, this imaginary and wonderful vision of life in a small town. That vision is something nearly everyone craves and so few think they will ever have. For us, that vision is real. As we drove home that night, not on a lighted and busy freeway but on a wooded and serene country road, we felt fortunate all over again. And that delicious brownie helped too!


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