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'The Full Monty': Final musical of the Paul Bunyan Playhouse season to hit the stage

The Paul Bunyan Playhouse will present the final play of the season with the humorous musical "The Full Monty" opening tonight and running through Aug 13. Cast members from left Paul R. Coate, Paul Reyburn, Dan Lundin, Ryan Parker Knox, Shaun Hamilton and Zach Curtis rehearse a dance routine. Pioneer Photo/Monte Draper

The Paul Bunyan Playhouse presents "The Full Monty," the final production of their 61st season, opening at 8 p.m. tonight in the historic Chief Theatre.

A play for mature audiences about survival and choices made during stressful times, "The Full Monty" is aptly named, and not for the reason one may think. According to an online phrase search, "the full monty" means "complete, the whole thing." Yet another source provides this explanation, "Full-monty, everything included ... a thorough display ... messing about." And that is what this play is all about.

This story is a complete and thorough look at the messing about in the lives of six unemployed men and the choices they make during difficult days (and nights) in a town where the main source of employment is shuttered and the local big box is offering minimum wage for a soul-selling security job. It is not just a musical featuring foot-tapping songs while men are stripping, or learning to do so. It is about the lengths to which people will go while enduring financial hardships, and the goal that these men are pursuing actually provides more humor and laughter than titillation. The real story here is about men and women and life, and the difficult choices it can sometimes force us to make.

This performance, as directed by Craig Johnson, choreographed by Joe Chvala and musically directed by Suzanne Reyburn, gives the audience a rare opportunity to peek in a window or, as the two main characters find themselves doing, hide in a bathroom stall for an unvarnished look at men and their insecurities about themselves, each other and the people they love. Emasculated by their unemployment situation, these six men explore their friendships, parenthood and commitments while learning a lot about leaning on each other. Their despair is palpable as they watch the world go on, seemingly without them. As an example of how they feel about themselves, their first song is entitled "Scrap." And while they search for work and try to make sense of their world being turned upside down, the women in their lives are struggling to support them, financially and/or emotionally. But these women are also indulging in evenings out, watching male strippers, and the irony in this situation is not lost on the audience as role reversals in the extreme plays out on stage.

But what a person does for a living and what they are inside is not always representative one of the other. Painfully discovering this early on in the performance is Jerry Lukowski, played by Ryan Parker Knox, as he and his best friend Dave, played by artistic director Zach Curtis, run into a professional stripper in the men's room. He is entertaining the women in the town for the evening, and he serves as the impetus for Jerry's idea about how to get himself and his fellow ex-co-workers back into the money.

As Jerry recruits four others to join them, the poignancy of their individual characters in their own distinct situations is revealed. Malcolm MacGregor, played by Paul R. Coate, is suicidal when he is literally rescued by Jerry and Dave, and Paul Reyburn as Harold Nichols is hiding the truth from his wife, allowing him to hide from it himself. Daniel Lundin as Ethan Girard is the baby of the group and surprises the group with his attributes, while Noah "Horse" Simmons, played by Shawn Hamilton, finds age to be simply a state of mind. In this endearing story of human endurance and the twists and turns that can be found in the journey we all share, the audience may not only find themselves silently supporting this group, but by the final moving number may find themselves on their feet, clapping along with the music and giving encouragement to the guys to complete their go the full monty.

"The Full Monty" is underwritten by First National Bank and Paul Bunyan Broadcasting. Tickets are available by calling the box office at 751-7270 or going online at Tickets for the performances are $25 for adults, $15 for students and $20 for groups of 10 or more. "The Full Monty" plays through Aug. 13.

This activity is funded in whole or in part by a Region 2 Arts Council grant through an appropriation by the Minnesota State Legislature Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund passed by Minnesota voters on November 4, 2008.