Striking a Cord, Theater review: The Logger | Theater | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

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Striking a Cord, Theater review: The Logger


Published September 16, 1998 at 4:00 a.m.

Actor Rusty Dewees should be pleased as punch about Fred Tuttle's recent primary victory. The “Real Vermont” values Tuttle represents have played well in the rest of the country, and now we know the “Fred factor” works in Vermont as well. Of course, 37-year-old Dewees is no Fred Tuttle, but the Vermontier-than-thou persona he has created for his one-man show, The Logger, is proving to be no less charming to audiences on his current statewide campaign, er, tour.

To say those charms are subtle would be inaccurate. The eponymous principal character of this “Vermont play in two ax” is understandably rough around the edges. Dressed in worn blue jeans, shitkicker boots that have earned the name and a sleeveless red work shirt, Dewees crackles with the nervy energy of a young man who finds more work than wisdom in country living but is serving his time in the woods as joyfully as he can.

The between-act musical interludes by fiddler Don Commo create a light mood in the house, but Dewees’ logger finds joy mainly in tales of other people's woes. The anecdotes ramble in form and content, beginning with stand-up-comedy- style yarns in a self-deprecating vein — like dramatic readings from The Vermont Joke Book. The one about getting caught deer-jacking leads into the one about the wife caught in the ice storm leads into the one about the sheriff who catches the flatlander running a stop sign...

Although this material is hilarious in parts — particularly the woodchuck variations on Jeff Foxworthy's “You Know You’re a Redneck When...” routine and, naturally, the flatlander bits — the work grows stronger as it moves beyond shtick. Ruminations that appear to be drawn from Dewees’ experiences growing up in Stowe, where he says he was stigmatized for being a Gold Towner but never reaped the benefits, add detail to a portrait of Vermont life that gets laughs for comic insight, not just in-jokes.

Genuinely reflective moments, such as the Logger’s recollections on his friend Little’s relationship to his bizarrely disabled dog, Craig, extend the show’s emotional range while challenging the all-is-sugar-on-snow Vermont ideal. At last, this “Real Vermont” routine becomes like real Vermont — a remarkable achievement given that most of the second act finds the Logger and Little on vacation in New York City.

While The Logger is essentially a monologue with a few props, it remains a highly physical production, powered by the springlike tension that made Dewees’ prizefighter in the film Where the Rivers Flow North, and his equally ready-to-rumble Harlen Kittredge in Stranger in the Kingdom, so arresting. Think Ethan Allen meets Robert DeNiro. In The Logger, Dewees introduces some segments with pantomime, but his sheer physical presence — piercing stare, tall, muscular stature, the swagger of someone who’s walked a lot of unpaved roads — constitutes dramatic action in its own right.

This may explain Dewees’ success in landing TV commercial and daytime drama roles — where first impressions mean rent money — since moving to New York City roughly a decade ago. Then again, the man who once knew “nuthin’ from nuthin’” about acting now lists the prestigious Lee Strasberg Institute and the Actors Theatre School on his résumé — right below 12 plays, seven TV appearances and 11 films. The Logger may look, sound and feel local, but its overall effect is definitely a professional job.

The weakest link in The Logger's chain is Dewees’ accent, which wandered a piece during a recent performance at Peoples Academy in Morrisville. Dewees speaks fluent Vermont vernacular English, respecting the silent “t” at the end of “Vermont.” But at times he seemed to be channeling a distant cousin in Maine, as when he spoke admiringly of supermodel “Cindy Crafford,” which sounds disturbingly like “Bob Stafford,” and when he described the ideal temperature for an ice storm as “thatty, thatty-five.” At the briefest moments, he spoke with what sounded like a Scottish brogue.

Dewees was four years writing The Logger, much of that work taking place en route to and from his Vermont home in Elmore and his pad in New York. While that route found him on the same path as flatlanders seeking the rarefied Vermont of ski slopes and foliage “changing early,” The Logger evinces a keen eye for the light and darkness along the way — the quaint country stores as well as the trailers and tumbledown shacks. It’s a fairly bold statement to make as leaf-peepers are cresting the heath.

This might not make the Logger an ideal candidate for office, but you can still appreciate his forthrighdiness.