Apart from once covering then-Gov. Tommy Thompson at Wisconsin’s fishing opener — where we shot pictures of him casting in the icy waters before posing with a fish caught by a real angler — I don’t have much experience with the sport.
Still, someone who doesn’t know an ice auger from a fishing “stick” will have plenty of fun at Yellow Tree Theatre’s “A Gone Fishin’ Christmas.” Jessica Lind Peterson mixes broad comedy and heartfelt emotions in her original script, while a game cast expertly plays an exaggerated mix of North Shore and city types thrust together on the near-frozen surface of Lake Superior.
It’s nearly Christmas in Duluth, and an annual holiday ice fishing contest is about to begin. The prize is a cool 10 grand. Native Cassie (Sandra Struthers) has returned home for one reason: to cover the event for a Twin Cities news station. Apart from that, she has little interest in her hometown. She has dragged along station intern Mischa (Blake Hogue), who wants to be a weather forecaster and has an intense fear of water.
Cassie left Duluth years ago for college and has seldom returned since. One thing she left behind was an old flame, Eric (Zachary Stofer). Her plan is to go to Duluth, hang out at her father’s ice fishing shack, and get the story.
Her father, however, has gone south for the holidays, leaving the shack in the care of Cassie’s earthy, Inuit-obsessed sister Katie (Mary Fox). The two siblings don’t really get along, in part because Cassie has shown little interest in the happenings of her hometown or family.
So how can our characters bond in time for Christmas? A little — OK, large — crisis fits the bill. The ice breaks and sends the four of them, as well as Katie’s sort-of flame Anders (Matt Wall), adrift on Gitchi Gumi with few supplies and no cell signal.
This gives all of the characters a chance to face fears and make important life decisions. The company, directed by Jason Peterson, does a fine job of playing both the comedy and the occasional moments of drama in the script. Fox and Hogue especially relish the chance to push their performances deep into slapstick.
Though Struthers and Stofer have their comedic moments, it’s their quiet chemistry that makes their performances — and the show — ride high. Since you can believe they are old flames trying to rekindle a long-cold relationship, you have someone to root for amid the chaos. That makes for a heartwarming Christmas tale.
Ed Huyck is a Twin Cities theater critic.