Wilma and I have done a few versions of DON’T HUG ME, so we are quite familiar with the show — the script, the songs, the intended humor – and in fact we’ve met the playwright (Phil Olson) and his brother, so we feel quite qualified to make some comments on the performance of DON’T HUG ME that we saw in St. Cloud this past Thursday.

So this is my first review of a show that wasn’t all it could be…. and let’s deal with the upside first. For those not familiar with the DON’T HUG ME series of plays, they center on a married couple named Gunner and Clara Johnson (the parts that Wilma and I played) who run a bar in Bunyan Bay, Minnesota. The songs are short, the humor ranging from mildly funny to some real slapstick stuff, some bordering on adult type humor, but never getting beyond the edge of ‘family show’. Four of the five cast members have done DON’T HUG ME before – some have done it a great deal. ROSS YOUNG as GUNNER gives us a good look at a crusty older Minnesotan who dreams of the warmer winters of Florida. MEGAN HUBBELL plays his wife Clara with a bit of wifery similar to Alice on THE HONEYMOONERS. She is the only cast member with no DON’T HUG ME experience. EMILY MOORE plays Bernice, the bar employee, who is looking to get out-of-town in some constructive way. MICHAEL LEE plays Karaoke salesman Arvide, who manages to put a positive spin on any situation. DOUG ANDERSON plays the slightly dim Kanute, who runs a chain of sports stores. They have their characters down — the lines, the songs, the moves, the dances — and that is what you would expect, what with their experience in professional theatre including such sites as The Guthrie, Chanhassen Dinner Theatre, Bloomington Civic Theatre, Theatre de la Jeune Lune, and more.

Which brings me to an annoyance in the performance. In one of the scenes, Kanute leaves the bar in the dead of winter without his coat, hat and mittens. AS he hits the outside, the script has him saying, “Holy Crap.” in reaction to the cold. Well, accidentally or not, that word CRAP gets changed to another four letter word for crap, starting with an S and ending with HIT … in just moments the rest of the cast on stage were giggling at the unexpected utterance… not a real big deal, but it went on … and on… and on…. Is it just me, or is it annoying to see such a seasoned cast crack up so much… to be unable to retain control and stay in character? We just found it annoying. That’s what we’ll remember about the performance.

Otherwise, the characters were fine — some good slapstick humor with Arvide’s cellphone, some good bickering between Gunner and Clara — nice job from all of them really. Bernice and Arvide provided that fun tentative relationship that so often exists with young couples. All of them did a fine job with the songs – singing within their character in good, strong voices.

And some technical observations…

The cast seemed comfortable in a set that was maybe too large — the Paramount offers a wide proscenium, so the set ran from left to right to a point that made it tough for the audience to watch something happening on one side while actors reacted on the other.

The cast was miked — and often the mikes were too hot, bringing a level of distortion to some of the lines and music…. the accompaniment was recorded – it was the same music Wilma and I used 8 years ago — I would encourage a reworking of the recording – with the leaps and bounds in technology, it would be quite easy to put the soundtrack in a computer and revoice the thing, making it sound a bit less ‘electronic’.

I know the Paramount Theatre is constantly working on itself — remodel this, redo that… just a heads up … seat 11 in row J has a loose cushion on it. Not that big a deal — just a heads up.

We did enjoy the show — we laughed, even when we knew what was coming. We fondly recalled the songs from the time we did the show …. The show only ran two nights — I hope it was as full on Friday as it was on our Thursday night… and I’m sure the audience enjoyed it both nights … I just wish the annoyance hadn’t been there.

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