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'Nice People' bring the bar to stage

Actors Brady Paggen, lying down, threatened by Pete Simmons, and, from left, Erin Mae Johnson, Adam Rausar and Heidi Berg rehearse a scene from the play "Nice People Dancing to Good Country Music," the third play of the summer at the Paul Bunyan Playhouse. The play opens tonight and runs through July 14. Monte Draper | Bemidji Pioneer

BEMIDJI - Maybe it's the full size pickup parked on the stage of the Chief Theater or maybe it's the Texas twangs emanating from the same place. Whatever it is, this well-written and well-done play will grab you by your boots and won't let go.

"Nice People Dancing to Good Country Music" is the name of the bar owned by Jim, played in all of his crusty bad-to-the-bone bikerness by Peter Simmons. Jim starts the audience on their journey, banging and cussing at the aforementioned pickup, and it's hard to say what he is more upset about: the pickup that won't start or Jason/Jay Bob, the teenage son of his live-in girlfriend, who will not start either.

Being a bachelor all of his life did nothing to prepare Jim for the changes that naturally followed girlfriend Eva June's move to the apartment above the bar after their chance meeting on a concourse in Dallas International Airport. Eva June, portrayed by Heidi Berg, previously married to a professor of Latvia, is a woman so bored with her man and her life she literally took a jet plane to another. While Eva June takes credit for many of these changes in Jim's life, we aren't sure if credit would be the term Jim would apply.

From the asphalt that replaced the bar's hard-packed dirt lot to the fitting yet untimely release off a steep cliff of his beloved Harley Davidson, Jim struggles with his love from and for Eva June and what it has done to his life. As he tells Roy, his naïve patron and friend, "Love don't fix your life, it wrecks it."

Innocent Roy, played by Adam Rousar, with all of his sweet trust in the goodness of life and love, refuses to share in Jim's bitterness. He believes in these things and in himself, even if others do not. He also believes he has found his destiny in Catherine, Eva June's recently arrived niece who harbors her own secrets, including an unplanned "retreat" from her chosen vocation as a novice nun. Pushed from the safe and comfortable confines of her convent due to questionable language from her own mouth, seemingly beyond her control, Catherine is terrified of love - something Roy is convinced he can help her with. Even Jason/Jay Bob, portrayed by returning local actor Brody Paggen, is struggling with love's passion and the arrival of lovely Catherine, played by Erin Mae Johnson, seems to ignite the burning ring of fire in his young heart, too.

"Don't you just hate love? Don't you just hate it?" While there are times most of us could agree with this sentiment shouted by an angry Jim at an upset Roy, we also know that without it, we are doomed.

And the characters in this play have one thing in common with their audience and that is the desire to improve - in life and love. So as the jukebox finds another melody to spin in the Nice People Dancing to Good Country Music bar, we are reminded of the famous words of another playwright, "If music be the food of love, play on."

Performances of "Nice People Dancing to Good Country Music" are underwritten by Ron Cuperus and Mary Patton and begin at 8 tonight, continuing through July 14. Ticket prices for the 8 p.m. performances are $22 for adults, $15 for students and $20 for groups of 10 or more. The 2 p.m. Sunday matinee performance tickets are $15 for all ages. All tickets may be purchased through the Playhouse Box Office at 218-751-7270 or online at