Laughter is genuine in 'The Wild Guys' at the Craterian

Doug Warner likens "The Wild Guys" to Vaudeville, but what it really plays like is a sit-com. The characters are slightly but deftly drawn, and the humor comes from the situations.

There's the uptight lawyer, Randall (Brandon Manley), the Canadian-style good ol' boy, Stewart (Warner), the flaky, self-obsessed New Ager, Robin (Casey Faubion), and the repressed executive, Andy (Michael Meyers). Take them out of the city and plunk them down in the woods in search of their inner selves and crank up the laugh track.

Actually, no canned laughter was needed as Next Stage Repertory Company's revival of Andrew Wreggitt and Rebecca Shaw's '90s comedy about the men's movement opened Friday night at the Craterian Ginger Rogers Theater in Medford. An audience of several hundred provided plenty of the real thing, cracking up at every joke and pratfall.

And a lot of the jokes you either see coming or feel like you've heard before. One guy stops, the others b-b-b-bump-ump-ump into each other, Moe, Larry and Curly-style. The guys promise sensitive, psycho-babbling Robin that they won't laugh if he'll tell them his secret, so finally, OK, he tells — and they howl. And no city slickers-in-the-woods caper would be complete without the guys freaking out around the campfire to the off-stage sounds of (gasp!) a bear.

Warner, who directed, has been frank about putting on a show calculated to draw men to the theater, an art/entertainment the audience for which skews disproportionately to educated, older, affluent white women. Something must be working, as there were a lot of guys in the Friday night crowd.

The season is something of an experiment to bring professional theater back to Medford. Warner teamed up with Peter Alzado and Kate Sullivan, who have since withdrawn, and GRT head Stephen McCandless, who acts as producing director, to put plays on the stage when the Craterian's schedule permits. That game plan requires productions with small casts that can be mounted without elaborate sets to set up and tear down. The Craterian's big stage, great lights and sound and comfortable amenities are to die for in the world of small theater, and all tickets are priced at a ridiculous $10.

The set for "The Wild Guys" is minimal but effective, four rocks downstage and a screen for projections of forest scenery. Brad Nelson's lights make those elements work for the long trail to the lake the guys never find (of course they get lost) and the camp they set up.

There are jokes about beer, about women, about feelings, which is to say about the difficulties men have in talking about their feelings. There is an extended joke about not asking for directions (proof of a woman's hand in the writing). Each guy is a wack job in his own way, with the exception of the bumpkin, Stewart.

There are a couple of surprises. One is in the sinew of the script. It has to do with Andy, who in contrast to the over-the-top foibles of the other guys has tightly controlled throughout the adventure. To say much more would be to play the spoiler. Let's just say that each of the other guys has opened up a bit, and Andy will ultimately deepen things and lend a note of irony, because as we respond to Andy we find ourselves indulging in exactly the kind of sentiments that have been the target of the satire.

The other surprise was the ending, which was so abrupt it was disconcerting. You mean that's it? Maybe something went wrong. I don't remember such a dizzying sense of disorientation at the end of a play.

Bill Varble is a freelance writer who reports on arts and entertainment. Reach him at

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