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[Theater reviews]

Trunk show
The Logger is a cut above


The Logger
Written and performed by Rusty DeWees. At the Institute of Contemporary Arts Theater Thursday through Sunday through December 2.

The cracker-barrel storyteller has a lengthy pedigree in New England, though Vermonters are underrepresented in the pantheon. Rusty DeWees aims to change those stats, and chances are he will. Some years ago, DeWees, a New York–based actor with plentiful TV and film credits, returned home to Vermont to ponder what an anthropologist might call the native folkways. The result is a hilarious one-man show, The Logger, that’s currently visiting the big city at the ICA Theater.

DeWees shambles on stage, a lanky figure clad in weathered jeans and a translucently threadbare T-shirt. Atop this there’s a red flannel shirt with the sleeves hacked off, revealing high-definition biceps and triceps. A pair of muklaks with flapping tongues and a faded kerchief in his back pocket complete the ensemble. To judge just by the boots alone, authenticity is never in doubt. DeWees’s red hair curls out from under his cap (a modified " mullet " ), and his expression ranges from bemusement to befuddlement. No podium for him, just a humble pile of props that include a bag of leaves, various begrimed " gimme " caps, Logger swag that he sells after the show, and a gallon jug of maple syrup.

The first piece is a glorious pantomime involving a chainsaw, a resistant tree, and mouth noises for motor revving (his other passion is car racing). Yet the comedy is subtle, mostly because DeWees has the limberness of a dancer and is able to match words to action in unexpected ways. He’s a limber writer as well, and for the most part his anecdotes are delightful. Two themes prevail: the foibles of the folks back home, and the cultural collisions that occur when they’re not back home. Never has a five-dollar cup of steamed milk at " Starbuckses " seemed so wicked (in the traditional rather than the vernacular meaning of that word). DeWees’s overstated but accurate Vermont accent may surprise Bay Colony dwellers — he has a British Isles way with certain vowels, " wife " becoming " woif, " for example, though the dropped post-vocalic " r " should be familiar in these parts.

Unfortunately, he rushes through his material, most of which deserves to be savored. The exceptions involve those inevitable downsides of country humor, cruelty and fart jokes. Okay, Shakespeare had fart jokes, but they weren’t the point of their scenes, were they? Take DeWees’s story about his buddy " Little " (who of course is not). Little is an expert on " creting, " laying concrete, which is " bone-marrow aching work. " A bunch of Vermont buddies are trucked east to cast foundation, and DeWees tells the tale with his body as much as his mouth. Swinging a leg over a concrete " barrier, " he sinks into a grand plié. Then, alas, his yarning impulses lead to the questionable fare at the " grub cart " and the predictably disastrous effect on Little’s bowels.

DeWees intersperses brief set-ups — a talking-frog story, a water-skiing joke, a preposterously giddy drum solo — with his longer vignettes. Although all have merit, after a time the short bits begin to seem out of synch with the deeper, more sustained narrative that emerges in the second part of the show. He has characters aplenty: Sheriff Marshall Buker and his teen squeeze; Little’s one-legged dog and auctioneering dad. Repeated mentions of these build the laughs, yet one rich and crucial theme is underexplored, at least in this incarnation of The Logger: marital difficulties.

That’s what prompts the Logger’s trip to Manhattan. This elaborate opus could stand alone, especially the character’s discoursing on the all-purpose superlative " beauty. " Unfortunately, the only previous mention of wife Sharon amounts to a sexist joke. One winter, she runs off her treadmill, crashes through the wall, and freezes in the wind. Should the Logger thaw her out? Sharon’s voice is absent in the show, and we need to hear it. After all, silly old Sheriff Marshall gets his own prop glasses and cap. The Logger cries out for a director willing to smile at the boffo stuff and wield a big red pen on material that doesn’t advance the story.

Still, it’s hard not to have high hopes for DeWees. He’s been a hit in Vermont for years (at the show’s close, he tells the audience, not entirely abashedly, that The Logger provides " a livin’  " back home). Yet here he is, making a godawful drive every week to make us flatlanders laugh, truly, madly, deeply. Now that’s beauty.

Chris Wright’s interview with Rusty DeWees is in the News & Features section.

Issue Date: November 15 - 22, 2001

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