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‘A Don’t Hug Me County Fair’ ~ Lonny Chapman Repertory Theatre


Now playing, with an extended run thru March 29th at the Lonny Chapman Group Repertory Theatre, “A Don’t Hug Me County Fair”, written by Phil and Paul Olson, is an authentic and entertaining depiction of small town life set in Bunyan County, Minnesota. Think King of the Hill meets Fargo, but without the body in the wood chip machine part.


The story takes place at the local bar, The Bunyan, owned by suburban married couple Gunner, Tom Gibis, and Clara, Judy Heneghan. It’s the “Cheers” of the North Midwest. When Bernice (Katherine Brunk) a local friend, returns to town to compete in the Miss Walleye Queen Competition; her former fiancé Kanut, understudied that night by Luke Adams, and her new beau Aarvid, played by Brad MacDonald, ensue in a fight for her affections. Sparks really fly when Trigger, Gunner’s distant sister (or is she?), also returns to town to compete in the pageant while sending the men on a run for their fox hats.


Clara hoping to intensify her husband’s less than lukewarm affections, competes as well, which instigates a territorial bet between the men, and let’s just say that the ladies end up saving the day while making the men think they did it themselves. You bet-cha!


The cast is well suited and Doug Engalla’s direction is fluid and clear; allowing the actors, mostly natives of Minnesota, to play off each other with a liveliness that appreciates the story and the nature of the musical. It is two hours of elementary, thigh-slapping fun.


Olson’s lyrics and music move the story along. In the number “Who’s Better at Catching Fish”, where the men sing about the size of their baits, Olson cleverly has the women respond in chorus, with “whatever”.


The set design, Chris Winfield, is authentic and detailed, with real beer on tap; yes, I said, real beer. The characters are prompted by a magical karaoke machine before breaking out into song; which means the actors are accompanied by pre-recorded music; and they don’t miss a beat. The choreography is simple and animated, but could be a bit more inhabited with intent in some numbers. dont-hug-me2


And speaking of inhabiting; Gibis, who plays both Gunner and Trigger, sparkles as the ‘transvetute’ sister, ironically playing her with more conviction and specificity than Gunner.


Act I could use some trimming, but the pageant events in Act II, such as best taxidermy display, pay off with laughter. ‘A Don’t Hug Me County Fair’ isn’t some mind-blowing musical spectacular; nor is it politically provocative. It’s a basic battle of the sex’s story where the men are afraid to show their feelings and the women demand that they do, sound familiar?


This emotional dilemma is depicted best in Heneghans’ solo in Act II, “Bunyan Bay”. Her bell-toned voice sings a sweet vulnerability of a land she loves and the love she longs for; I mean, ‘Llurv’s’ for. Go see it, you’ll get it. And you might ‘Lurv’ it too.

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