Review: A Don't Hug Me County Fair

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

By Melanie Nelson, Independent Reviewer
March 16, 2009

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. The two share a hilarious song "My Campfire is Burnin’" that leaves Kanute scared he won't be able to shake off the hairy woman. This is McKay's third shot playing Kanute, as he has perfected the role in all three Don't Hug Me’s at St. Croix Off Broadway Dinner Theatre in the last few years.

Also back for her third Don't Hug Me is Gunner's wife Clara, 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; but, as she belts out the lyrics to "Bunyan Bay," you almost wish you could go visit the mythological town.

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 the live on TV 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. I would recommend the oriental sampler to start things off. Then choose the homemade bleu cheese dressing on your fresh greens salad and sneak the poppy-seed roll out of the mixed bread basket before your neighbor does. For dinner I'd shake things up a bit and request the rib-eye with wild rice and grains. Finally for dessert during intermission forego the red velvet cake for a piece of the carrot cake.

Performances for A Don't Hug Me County Fair run until May 16 with matinees Saturdays April 18 and 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.

And our patrons said...

It was our first time at your theatre. WOW! What a great set up, play, performers, and show. I go to a lot of shows in the Cities - Ordway and Chanhassen - and I will not hesitate to come back here.

I was very impressed with the actors, especially the gentleman playing both Gunner and Trigger. The singing was good, the food excellent, and the staff couldn't have been more friendly and helpful.

We were especially drawn to the show because of the "butter head." You see the four of us all work for the Minnesota State Fair and see that butterhead every year. We also attend some of our county fairs, which seem to have some events like those in the play.

Thanks again to everyone for the wonderful afternoon. Can't wait to come again and to recommend this to others.

Bravo to the cast, crew and writers of “A Don’t Hug Me County Fair!” It was hard to imagine laughter sustaining for two hours, but there it was. Each character was wonderfully developed and understood by the audience quickly.

A kind of Ralph and Norton relationship between Gunner and Kanute. It was hard to not imagine Kanute on the Red Green show. Aarvid developed into a Norwegian Ed Sullivan with a hint of Zombie. Clara surprised everyone with her voice in “Bunyan Bay." Not bad for being ‘old.’ Bernice pulled off a bikini on stage performance nicely....mmmm. Trigger, you could see it in her eyes that she so wanted to be like the other girls.

The one touching scene amongst sooo much humor was quite believable. One elderly man next to me had tears well up in his eyes. All four singing different lines simultaneously was done perfectly a number of times. The often used inference that we will never see Gunner and Trigger together...duh.... was very funny to the audience. The comment regarding Trigger's ‘transvestitute’ received high approval. One of the ‘butter’ lines.

The food was good, though I’ll never eat walnuts again! The set excellent. The acting worthy of the Chanhassen or Guthrie. We will never miss another show and we will spread the word.

Alas...the audience so wanted to stand for an ovation. You could sense it in everyone, but the Scandinavian took control and so we stood in our hearts.

A karaoke drum roll..........Bravo!
—Todd Helland, River Falls, WI patron


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