The Full Monty Drops Trou with Well-Endowed Laughs and Local Talent By: Dennis Kempton for Oeuvre Magazine Times are tough. Money's short. Jobs are scarce. In D-town, it's a part of everyday life, but never once have I thought of turning to dropping my pants and ripping off my shirt to put food on my table. I'm sure there are scores of people thankful for my natural reserve. Fortunately, though, the men of the cast of The Full Monty, on stage at the Duluth Playhouse through April 5, aren't so modest. And they shouldn't be. With many local theatre productions, sometimes you have to give allowances to this or that. Either the vocal performances in musicals are spot on and the dancing isn't all it could be with the comfort level of the actors, or we have great dancers and the vocals are not all they could be with the skill level of the actors. It's quite a treat to sit in the house and have both come together in sublime union. You're familiar with the story so we won't go into painstaking detail. Suffice it to say that the action of the play is built around out of work steel plant employees, in this production, set in Buffalo, New York. The industrial, raw feel of the set design by Dean Tschider, sets the stage with a backdrop that Duluth will find familiar. The accents may be from the East, but the story fits well here, too. Jerry Lukowski (Abe Curran) and Dave Bokatinsky (Nick Elias) are best friends, out of work. Jerry is the more outrageous and adventurous of the duo with Dave being the slouch-shouldered, self-esteem depressed responsible one. Curran's energetic, comedic performance is well done, executing vocals and dance equally well early on in the show with “Man.” Elias, cast to play a man probably double his physical weight, compensates for the lack of girth with a gloomy lack of self-confidence, saving the role from being unbelievable, since he shares the stage with other men who carry more girth than he does. As director Andy Langenfeld stated, the production is more about what it means to be a man than the actual men's appearances themselves. Elias' timing, delivery, and expressions are quick, witty, and touching every time he is required to deliver His shining moments come in the number “Big Ass Rock” resulting in slapstick knee- slapping vocal delivery. In the midst of struggling with how to come up with a full monty dance performance for the wickedly derisive women of Buffalo, the men struggle with masculinity, sexual prowess, parenthood, identity, and the nuts and bolts of society's expectations of what it means to essentially be a man. Underlying the comedy are real moments given to the audience to confront stereotypes. And any good show worth its presence on stage entertains as well as teaches us something. Lukowsi's son Nathan (Braxton Baker) is surprisingly dexterous in his role as supportive, even idolizing son, while being a part of the backbone of his father. The on-stage chemistry (always crucial to these relationships) between Curran and Baker is good even if the vibe between Curran and his estranged wife, Pam (Jen Bergum) seems steely at best. Bergum, notable for her comedic roles, does an admirable job of portraying the worried mother and disappointed wife amid the zany antics on-stage. For having to, often, be the killjoy of dreams, she remains likable. In this, Bergum breaks free of being stereotyped in her local roles. The choreography by Elyse Snider is spot-on, a testament to her ability to get the actors comfortable with the dance numbers, especially when one is working with guys. The syncopated maneuvering of “Scrap” and the frivolity of “Michael Jordan's Ball” do not show any sign of difficulty with the guys and their natural comfort with occupying the stage and moving within each other's space. They rough- house with each other and feed off each other's talents and energies on stage to deliver believable characters. Not to be left out are the ladies, giving provocative and needly justice to “The Goods.” Curran gives a poignant nod to “Breeze off the River” showing depth to the hypermasculinity of his character. Of course, there are always the moments where the house is brought down, or, in this case, lifted up, from its seats. When “Horse” Simmons (Gabriel Mayfield) takes the stage with “Big Black Man” the audience roars with delight. Mayfield is a heavy hitter in this performance, garnering his fair share of laughs with an over-the-top delivery that only he could get away with. Every actor, from Greg Anderson's Malcolm to Drew Autio's Ethan balances the other on stage and in character. It's an exceptionally well done show with local color in the roles of erstwhile weatherman Pat “Ocken” Kelly as part of the ensemble and with the injection of a few notable notables making cameos during the run. The live band adds great sound to the show, under the direction of Blake Peterson. The performances at the Duluth Playhouse continue to surprise audiences. The dedication of the local actors to their performances, when they are coupled with effective directors and strong choreographers, turn out great shows, setting the bar higher with each year. In The Full Monty, the guys (and the girls too) show their humanity, their talent, and their sheer audacity as they “Let it Go” into the final moments of the production. You'll laugh, you'll snicker, you might even grimace in pain at the girls telling you that you have pimples on your ass, but you will, ultimately, realize that the actors on stage go miles to give a high quality performance that shows the real struggle of what it means to be a man, a father, a husband, while still retaining the joy of life when the times are bad. The actors drop more than their drawers and shirts, here. They drop major talent on the stage, making it worth the money and time to see it ALL unfold before your eyes.