Guys On Ice
Presented by the Headwaters Council for the
February 13, 2009
By Barb Wilkinson
As the sell-out crowd awaited the opening of “Guys on Ice,” Steve Kolling, President of the Headwaters Council for the Performing Arts, appeared in ice-fishing gear carrying a pail of bait, bobbers and a six-pack of Lienenkugel’s to prepare us for the fun which lay ahead.
The audience was in a festive mood, ready for the 5 a.m. radio wake-up call that informed it that the wind-chill was minus 36 degrees with 17 inches of ice on the bay.
A telephone call from Lloyd (Steven Koehler) to Marvin (Doug Mancheski), both with heavy Scandinavian accents, verified their time and destination for another day of ice fishing and the audience’s opportunity to join them in a day of angling rapture.
The play opens in a wooden shanty sitting somewhere in the middle of Green Bay. After sharing a few jokes about their love of the sport, they entertain us with a musical number entitled “De Wishing Hole,” a heartfelt ode about the amenities of their favorite sport; the coffee is awful, the frozen waffles are not much better and the perch are slow to bite.
Of course, nothing is perfect. Every relationship seems to have an annoying “Ernie the Moocher” character (Lee Becker). When the Moocher arrives, the six-packs are hidden away.
As the audience continues to intrude upon Marvin and Lloyd’s pastime, we hear apt stories and jokes about flathead minnows, six-packs, and bait pails, but the raucous belches tell us that those early morning “Leinies,” in addition to the fishing, are what draw our companions together. While dropping three customary lines into the augured ice holes, they share their innermost secrets: Lloyd’s wife has left because she does not want to spend their anniversary at Lambeau Field and Marvin is in love with Bonnie, the Check-Out Girl at the Pick ‘n Save who sports a “tattoo on her . . . well, you know.” This scene, as well as the play itself, is a mini-world, a place of life amid discomfort, joy and hope.
The comrades agree that their trusty snowmobile suits keep them from being frozen out of their favorite pastime. They sing “Ode To A Snowmobile Suit” while working their multiple zippers in perfect time with the music. Both Koehler and Mancheski have fine voices that skillfully blend together, and the lyrics, written by James Kaplan, appropriately fit the ambiance of the day. Marvin begins discussing Cubbie the TV guy who interviews the locals about their lives. Since our hero has been told that Cubbie wants to interview him, he dubs himself the “Ice Fishing King” and proceeds to parrot a very convincing Elvis Presley complete with body gyrations. Lloyd accompanies him with a fine harmonica and the Moocher, pulling out a trombone from the inside of his coat, adds more laughs to the accompaniment.
The audience has not yet seen much of Ernie the Moocher. However, at the end of Act I he arrives looking for flatworms, beer, venison jerky or anything he can get away with, then steals the show at the beginning of Act II. By choosing volunteers from the audience, he entertains us by giving away prizes (beef stick, pickled eggs or water in beer cans) for correctly answering carefully contrived questions. Becker is a natural off the cuff host whose quick responses keep the audience amused.
By using fishing as a metaphor for their lives, the actors create their own world that replicates the bigger picture and makes fun of it in the process. Yet behind the laughter is the profound knowledge that the world is not all fun. Indeed, by mimicking Samuel Beckett’s “Waiting for Godot,” the buddies look forward to their 30 seconds of fame in their interview with Cubbie the TV man. Through the Moocher they hear that Cubbie has died in a snow blower accident and there will be no interview. Alas, they have waited for naught. But life must go on, so Lloyd gives his Packer’s tickets to Marvin who musters his courage to invite Bonnie the Check-Out Girl to go with him to the next game. And Lloyd vows to reconcile with his wife. In the final analysis, they decide that there must be ice fishing in heaven, so all is not lost.
This was an evening of sheer entertainment, a perfect solution to the February doldrums. Congratulations to the Headwaters Council for the Performing Arts for their fine presentation! Who ever said there was no culture in the North Woods?