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Review: "Off Broadway" play has Midwest flavor

Appearing in "A Don't Hug Me County Fair" at St. Croix Off Broadway Dinner Theatre are from left Michael McKay (Minneapolis), Jason Decheine (River Falls), Lindsey Dumire (Minneapolis), Stephanie Briggs (Cottage Grove) and Jameson Baxter (Minneapolis). Submitted photo

Northern Minnesota is great for fishing, boating, and the stereotyped Minnesotan that America has fallen in love with in such films as "Fargo" and "Grumpier Old Men" and in plays like the Don't Hug Me series.

St. Croix Off Broadway Dinner Theatre has launched the Midwest premiere of the third installation of the Don't Hug Me musicals: "A Don't Hug Me County Fair." After the two previous editions were set in the cold Minnesota winter, this production tosses out the flannels and embraces the cut off jeans and bathing suits or, as avid outdoors merchandise store owner Kanute calls them, pontoon wear.

As the show opens, the lovable young waitress Bernice, played by Lindsey Dumire of Minneapolis, returns from the Twin Cities where she's been singing six nights a week. She's come back to win the Miss Walleye Queen crown at the Bunyan Bay County Fair, her favorite fair in the whole county! Before you know it the county fishing contest will decide the fate of the Bunyan Bar and two more women have joined the race for the Walleye Queen crown.

We laugh along swimmingly with quick witted one liners and songs that pop out of the karaoke machine until Trigger emerges on the stage. Trigger, played by Jason Decheine of River Falls, is a doe-eyed, outwardly innocent girl stuck in the body of a hefty 40 year-old man. Trigger is not only a forest ranger, but she is the identical twin sister to Gunner, the owner of the Bunyan Bar. Not that his performance as Gunner isn't equally fantastic, but when Decheine emerges squished into a paisley cotton dress, complete with hiking boots and red awkward pigtails, we know that this is going to be a great performance. Throughout the remainder of the show, Trigger and Gunner just miss each other on stage as Decheine handles quick changes in costume, but also character, flawlessly.

Trigger quickly falls in love with Kanute, played by Michael McKay of

Burnsville, who is judging and sponsoring the Miss Walleye Queen competition.

Gunner's wife Clara is played by Stephanie Briggs of Cottage Grove. Briggs' character is the level headed one, keeping a sense of normalcy intact on this stage of Minnesotan Eccentrics.

Completing the Bunyan cast, the karaoke machine salesmen Aarvid returns. Played by newcomer to the St. Croix Off Broadway stage, Jameson Baxter of Minneapolis, Aarvid's geek-like qualities turn him into a fantastic host for beauty pageant.

True to his perfectionism, director Jim Zimmerman weaves extra doses of laughs in between the lines with subtext, quick moments, and ambiance.

Of course before the lights even come up, servers at the dinner theatre bring smiles and food.

Performances for A Don't Hug Me County Fair run every Thursday, Friday and Saturday night until May 16 with a matinee Saturday, May 2. St. Croix Off Broadway Dinner Theatre is located at the Best Western Hudson House Inn in Hudson, WI. More information can be found at or by calling 715/386-2394 ext. 333.