You can’t go wrong making fun of hillbillies. Those moonshine-swillin’, sibling-screwin’, dumber-than-a-box-of-Krispy Kreme-donuts, good old boys who ride around in their rusty pickups blasting their shotguns at any varmint they take a dislikin’ to … yep, they sure are funny, ain’t they? You’re not going to get protesters and letter-writing campaigns defending the honor of the podunks, crackers and banjo-strummers. Anyone who would even entertain the idea is too busy watching NASCAR on the teevee, beating their wife and sticking roman candles up their hound dog’s ass, right? Yee haw! Got that right!
And what about those newspapers you see in the grocery store checkout lanes? How ridiculous are they? With all those crazy stories about Elvis being alive and working at an Arizona 7-11 or aliens landing on the White House and smoking a fatty with Laura Bush? Don’t those tabloids just take the cake? Don’t you wish someone went out on a limb and mined that for all it’s worth?
Duck Hunter Shoots Angel, a new play by the one-man media machine known as Mitch Albom, is a kind of three-for-one sale. You get all the hillbilly-bashing and a satire on the muckrakers and muckreaders, with a swiping blow at all those fast-talking, high-falutin’ business types you find in places above the Mason-Dixon line. A guaranteed laugh riot, right? And penned with such populist zeal by one of America’s beloved literary treasures (Tuesdays with Morrie has sold its 7 bazillionth copy) — how the hell can you go wrong?
Well, you can’t. It’s shooting catfish in a barrel; a comedy that goes down as smooth as a hush puppy slathered in sausage gravy. And it has a heart too. You can’t have a cliché-fest without the requisite heart, can you? Without a heart, it would just be a bunch of tired stereotypes acting like soulless morons, right?
So, how does this smorgasbord of safe targets and easy laughs play out? A guy named Sandy (James Krag), a crusty, cynical reporter for the Weekly World and Globe (jokes abound about the silly name for his paper) is assigned to investigate a couple of yahoos down in Alabama who think they shot an angel. Sandy, along with his photographer Lenny (Lynch R. Travis) head down South, wisecracking and working out race relations (Lenny is conveniently African-American). Sandy is cynical, hardened by the pressure to succeed in the writing game; plus, he left his one true love down in the state he is about to revisit. Throughout the play, he meets up with this woman, who appears in gossamer white, barefoot and full of cutie-pie love for the man who wants to escape all this country charm for Big Time Journalism.
Meanwhile, down in the bayou, brothers Duane (Wayne David Parker) and Duwell (Joseph Allbright) are freaking out because they think they bagged an angel while shooting for ducks. Duwell, dumber and fatter than Duane, is tortured by their unholy act. He works himself and his brother into a fine dither over the whole gosh-danged episode. They are refusing to leave the swamp, fearful that a vengeful God will strike them down. Those silly hillbillies. Throw a cute, naive but smart (for a hillbilly, that is) Gas Mart clerk by the name of Kansas (Molly Thomas) into the mix, as well as a vulgar and hard-as-nails publisher Lester (a very funny and dead-on perfect Ryan Carlson), and you got yourself one hell of a screwy situation. And gawd durn, with heart to boot.
Real-life movie star and Chelsea’s most famous dude, Jeff Daniels, and his Purple Rose Theatre Company commissioned Duck Hunter Shoots Angel. It is now playing in Detroit after a successful run over there. Tightly directed by Purple Rose regular Guy Sanville, Duck Hunter Shoots Angel is an innocent night at the theater with a lot of obvious, easy laughs, but acted with high energy and earnest charm by an ensemble who really own their character roles, however cardboard-thin those characters may be. And heart. Did I mention heart?
Playing until Jan. 2 at the City Theatre (formerly Second City, next to the Hockeytown Cafe ), 2301 Woodward Ave., Detroit; 313-965-9500. Tickets can be purchased at the Fisher Theatre and City Theatre box offices, or through Ticketmaster, 248-645-6666 or ticketmaster.com. Dan DeMaggio is a freelance writer for Metro Times. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org