LEAVE BIG-NAME AND BIGGER-BUDGET theaters to polish their real-world, situational comedies to split-second perfection--and trust more intimate venues to help us guffaw.

Writing/directing team John Moe and Andy Jensen (last paired for Theater Schmeater's self-described "zany hit," Zombie Temps from Outer Space) have collaborated again to churn out a fable that starts slowly but rapidly picks up speed, blowing the little things of life grossly out of proportion and into full-bore surrealism.

Married writers Ray and Jeanne, recently located to Missoula, Montana, are in a rough patch. She's sick of Lonnie, Ray's live-in, loafing, ex-professional-wrestler brother. Ray is struggling as the new sports editor of the local paper, which features an archetypal paranoid conspiracy-theorist senior writer. All is comfortably weird (and, despite the unusual side characters, pretty dull) until brothers Lonnie and Ray go moose hunting in The Woods, where the story and the performance spin out of control.

Theater audiences expect a contract of reasonable suspended disbelief: Don't push us too far, and we'll blink at small errors. Montana Moose heats up just as it violates that contract. First we're presented with the Moose Spirit (the brilliantly understated Stan Shields), a glib, nearly eight-foot-tall biped in an absurd moose suit, complete with Styrofoam antlers. When Lonnie interrupts Moose Spirit's sneaking, vampiric assault on Ray, the phantasmic mammal galumphs away with a muttered "fuck," and things get really weird: Ray careens into a near-diabolical love of the mystery woods, discovers he's becoming a moose, and leads his co-worker, his family, and a dumb-ass hippie through a Midsummer Night's Dream-inspired wrangle in the Montana underbrush.

Montana Moose does have obvious and avoidable blemishes. Some actors bumbled lines, others insisted on standing where the stage lights don't shine, and Peggy Gannon's Jeanne should stop waving her hands every other line--but none of this really matters. When Moose stops vying for real-worldliness and stock comedic theater, its bloopers become as legitimate as the scripted lines, and the accidents seem downright charming.

Some Aesopian social commentary probably lurks between playwright Moe's nutty jokes and the Moose Spirit's unperturbed, deadpan expression, but I'm not even gonna try to decipher it. Suffice it to say, Montana Moose is a keen comedy, an ultra-silly, small-time success.

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