CMN reviving radio show for its fall production

Leader Photo by Lee Pulaski Tom King, played by Joseph Waukechon, fights to keep the adorable Cuddles away from Gracie Heavyhand, played by Dolly Potts, who plans to cook the puppy in a stew in a scene from “The Dead Dog Café Comedy Hour.” The show will be performed Wednesday at Menominee Indian High School.

The Dead Dog Cafe might sound like the last place anyone would want to go, but when the words “Comedy Hour” are attached, it’s a different story.

The College of Menominee Nation is performing “The Dead Dog Cafe Comedy Hour” next week, three individual episodes from a popular radio show penned by Cherokee author Thomas King. The show will be performed at 7 p.m. Wednesday at Menominee Indian High School, N501 State Highway 47-55, Keshena, while the other show takes place at 7 p.m. Thursday at the Norbert Hill Center, N7210 Seminary Road, Oneida.

Besides the community shows, CMN is also performing two shows for MIHS students.

Ryan Winn, CMN theater professor and director of the show, said he knows King professionally and was interested in doing a live action staging of the show that was popular on Canadian radio for four years. Winn contacted King by email to see how amenable he would be to his work, set for a radio studio, gracing a theatrical stage.

“He wrote back that it was fine with him and to have fun,” Winn said.

The three individual episodes are titled “Aboriginal Decorating Tips,” “Ask Tonto” and “Blackout Bingo.” They are all from the show’s first season, Winn said, adding that the “Comedy Hour” title is slightly misleading, as each episode is about 15 minutes in length.

“They acknowledge that in one of the comedy of errors, if you will, or the farce,” Winn said. “Tom King is the one sane guy, and then everyone else who comes on is a little bit crazy, and hopefully it makes everyone laugh.”

The three episodes are interspersed with live music and some sound effects, similar to what went into radio performances. Winn noted that a lot of the humor is vocal in nature, but the students have been adding action to bring out even more humor to a visual audience.

“We added a backdrop, and we’re adding some visual gags to go along with what they’re saying to make it more of a live-action event,” Winn said. “It’s been fun transforming a radio comedy into a live-action comedy.”

Many theatrical productions tend to be frenzied and hectic, with some actors struggling to remember dialogue or blocking, or something else going awry. Winn said this fall’s theater class has been very good about coming to rehearsals prepared and remembering lines, an anomaly for a beginning theater class.

“I’m waiting for the other shoe to drop,” Winn said. “Everyone’s learning their lines and rehearsing and they’re being committed.”

Indigenous humor is what made “The Dead Dog Cafe Comedy Hour” a popular radio show, in Winn’s view. Some of the jokes are almost taken a step too far, he said, but they’re done in a clean way.

“There’s one skit that teaches, don’t be wasteful,” Winn said. “The idea is a lot of hunters only mount the head of a moose or some other animal. They’re suggesting you mount the entire body. You can mount the hind quarters in the bathroom and the tummy in the kitchen.”

The show stayed strong, Winn said, because it used traditional native values and humorized them so that a situation “seems pretty ridiculous, but in the best possible way.”

This is the 13th year that CMN has partnered with the Oneida Nation Arts Program to produce theatrical performances, which is why the show is being performed in two locations. Winn noted that past experience has shown doing more than one show in each community tends to bring out low attendance at each performance.

“At this time of year, if we do multiple shows during finals week, we get about 20 each night,” Winn said. “That play was done a few years ago, so now we do one night in Keshena and one night in Oneida.”


WHAT: “The Dead Dog Cafe Comedy Hour”

WHEN: 7 p.m. Wednesday

WHERE: Auditorium, Menominee Indian High School, N501 State Highway 47-55, Keshena