December 8, 2006
White trash heaven…or hell
by David Ollington
In an age when stereotyping can easily ruffle feathers, the Unicorn Theatre plunges wholeheartedly into a stereotyping smorgasbord. The Great American Trailer Park Musical opened Dec. 1.
As the title declares, the show pokes fun at your typical resident of a trailer park: lower-to working-class Caucasian people. The Unicorn’s usual fare includes vanguard, politically correct, liberal material, often promoting an acceptance of diversity. Poking fun at a racial, economic class stereotype fails to fit the Unicorn’s standards. Apparently, this Southern, proletariat, American, white socio-economic class is fair game.
Or maybe the authors of the work, David Nehls and Betsy Kelso, meant not to make fun of blue-collared men and big-haired women, but to celebrate them, similar to comedian Joe Foxworthy’s long list of “You may be a redneck” jokes. Regardless of intention, Nehls and Kelso crafted a cohesive story, told it in a refreshing manner and created dozens of charming quips fitting the theme.
Three women on lawn chairs, Betty (Cathy Barnett), Lin (Teri Adams) and Pickles (Julie Taylor) introduce themselves. Barnett as Betty sports the largest hair, a trailer wife, subscribing to “Mobile Homes and Gardens.” Adams as Lin makes references to the conjugal visits she makes to the prison. She explains that “Lin” stands for “Linoleum” — her parents named her after the surface upon which she was conceived. Taylor plays the youngest, Pickles, suffering from chronic hysterical pregnancy.
Nehls and Kelso used these three characters in a unique way for a contemporary musical play; they act as a Greek chorus, narrating the action and taking on necessary character personas in the story. Rather than offering an insubstantial plot, which serves only to introduce musical numbers, a common contemporary convention in regional, professional musical theatre, The Great American Trailer Park Musical tells a story, complete with character arcs and surprise revelations.
Jeannie (Karen Errington), married to Norbert (James Wright), suffers from an extreme fear of the outdoors. She has not left their trailer in years. Norbert has purchased tickets to the Ice Capades (clearly an extraordinary event for all characters onstage) to celebrate their anniversary. Jeannie makes a commitment to get herself out of the trailer, a few steps at a time.
Enter Pippi, played by the stunning Jessalyn Kincaid. A stripper on the run, she moves in next door to the couple. The attraction between her and Norbert quickly builds, and they hook up. Jeannie makes her most successful venture into the open air, wearing a helmet, fearfully holding onto the trailer, and catches the cheating husband with the home-wrecking Pippi.
Meanwhile, Pippi’s ex, Duke, hopelessly addicted to getting high from sniffing magic markers, leaves Oklahoma seeking to reunite with Pippi. He carries a gun, exhibits violent jealousy, and wears a mullet. (Barnett describes a mullet as hair that says, “business up front, party in the back.”)
The three lawn-chair muses dance and sing in and out of the plotline. They comment without slowing down the plot, and Nehls’ lyrics find a charmingly rural humor. The characters sing repeatedly “I’m gonna make like a nail and press on” for the brave finale.
Director Cynthia Levin cast the show perfectly. Each actor fits each part, and they have an absolute blast doing this work, making the event enjoyable for all.
Steven Eubanks choreographed the show and demonstrated some creativity. For “Flushed Down the Pipes,” Jeannie’s lamentation about her husband’s betrayal, he created a circling wave of toilet brushes. For “Doesn’t Take a Genius,” Nehls evoked Tina Turner with the melody, and Eubank craftily stole Turner’s moves for the staging.
Much of Eubank’s work stays contained and often gets predictable. You start seeing the actors doing a new move and you can count it four times before it transforms. Eubanks could work on making the dancing more surprising.
Humor’s potential to offend changes with the times; what audiences will accept depends on political climate. Slapstick humor employs physical pain and often violence to elicit laughter. We live in a time when a man striking a woman onstage carries great weight — humor is inappropriate with it.
Is it acceptable for women to engage in violence against men onstage in a humorous manner? This occurs twice in The Great American Trailer Park Musical. At the end of the song “Great American TV Show,” a satire of The Jerry Springer Show, Teri Adams kicks James Wright in the groin. After Jeannie learns of Norbert’s infidelity, we hear, from behind closed doors, objects thrown. “You almost hit me!” cries Wright as Norbert.
“Almost ain’t good enough,” Errington as Jeannie retorts.
He exits the trailer holding his head as if recently struck. Both of these events garner chuckles.
Should domestic violence be a source of comedy?
Set Designer Jon Young created a brightly colored trailer park with Christmas lights that turn on and off when an actor claps twice. A pole center stage depicts alternately a stripper’s pole and a trailer-park flagpole. Kincaid executes delightful pole dancing.
Potential to offend aside, the Unicorn has mounted a hilarious work.
The Great American Trailer Park Musical runs until Dec. 31 at the Unicorn Theatre 3828 Main St. There will be no performance Dec. 24 and 25. On New Year’s Eve, doors will open at 7:30 p.m. for “light chow and drinks” with an 8:30 curtain for the show. The New Year’s Eve event is $50 per person. Tickets can be purchased by calling 816-531-PLAY or visit www.unicorntheatre.org.
David Ollington can be contacted at Ollington@aol.com.
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