Escanaba is the best of the trilogy for the sheer, quiet beauty of the acting. Not to suggest that the present play is lacking the trademark Escanaba ingredients: magical realism U.P.-style and raunchiness inflicted on the audience with what feels almost like hostility on the part of the playwright. But Daniels has whittled the noisy, manic Soady kith and kin down to just its two primogenitors, Jim Negamanee (Wayne David Parker) and Alphonse Soady (Tom Whalen). Parker and Whalen are, you might say, two of the Purple Rose's primogenitors, and watching them knit together this loose, broad comedy with finely crafted actorly intelligence is a little like seeing the history of the Purple Rose flash before your eyes. Parker seems to infect the sometimes spacy, languid Whalen with a sharper edge than he usually possesses.
A major subplot involving a historical character, played by Julian Gant, also comes into it, but this is less successful than the interplay between Parker and Whalen. While I have no inside track on why or how Daniels came to write Escanaba, it pleases me to think it was a kind of tribute written to showcase two actors who have done so much to make him a playwright.
[Originally published in November, 2009.]