Playwright Fred Alley and composer James Kaplan must have known the only way I'd agree to hole up in an ice shanty with two fellas and their thick Wisconsin accents would be if the whole experience was set to music. Their Guys on Ice, at Tipping Point Theatre with direction by Joseph Albright, is a delightful, climate-controlled, melodic escape to a sportsman's paradise in the frozen north.
This light production is home to perhaps a dozen playful ditties about catching and consuming fish, cold-weather wear, drinking beer, and more ethereal topics. The songs' various styles and tones are unified by their exhaustive lexicon of fishing euphemisms; some lyrical repetition is allayed by James R. Kuhl's goofy, exuberant choreography. In addition to main characters Lloyd (Brian Sage) and Marvin (Matthew Gwynn) whiling away a day on the lake together, regrettable acquaintance Ernie the Mooch (Andy Orscheln) keeps turning up like a bad penny, ukulele at the ready, to inflict his commendably terrible singing on the pair. Musically, this trio of accomplished performances is universally strong; the comedic moments invite rolling laughter.
The play's two acts generally follow a narrative style, although the audience is acknowledged occasionally and even encouraged to participate in a clever trivia-contest diversion. However, amid all the tomfoolery lies a sympathetic core relationship. Sage and Gwynn create an easy friendship that's pleasant to watch, shifting conversation from guy's-guy talk of the hallowed Green Bay Packers to frank discussion of the women in their lives or their own mortality, and neither feels labored or disingenuous. Gwynn, waiting for a television personality and crew to pay their promised visit to the shanty, is infectiously charming as he fantasizes about skyrocketing fame. But it's Sage's despondent husband, in trouble for wanting to spend his wedding anniversary at the football game, who wins hearts as he comes to terms with what's really important.
The physical exertion required of this show becomes more impressive with the added heft of heavy boots and sun-paled snowsuits — even music director and accompanist Jill Quagliata gets to show Packers pride from her post upstage. Albright's staging plays fast and loose inside and outside designer Sally Converse-Doucette's suggestion of the flimsy shanty, around which radiates a glass-smooth raised floor and a splendidly cheery tree line. Lighting by Rita Girardi keeps up with the changing moods, from a splashy rock 'n' roll number to a timid ballad of regret. Ample polka and muffled cheese-head local talk radio by sound designer Kuhl is a perfect supplement to the production, capturing the feel of one lousy, tinny radio as the only source of entertainment in an otherwise quiet ritual.
Fast-moving and deceptively frothy, this production feels far quicker than its two-hour running time. With snappy pacing and chuckle-worthy tunes, this agreeable comedy can hold appeal to viewers of all stripes, regardless of their interest in the subject matter. As for me, I may never be completely sold on the merits of voluntarily freezing my extremities off for the purpose of fishing, but these extremely likable Guys on Ice are awfully convincing.