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Tinsel Town



Different strokes for different folks. Some people celebrate the winter solstice by calling old friends -- some by flirting with a DUI citation. Grenadine McGunkle brightens up the shortest days by hosting a talent show.

Grenadine McGunkle's Double-Wide Christmas has become the Big Easy's most unlikely year-end tradition. And in this city, getting a nod for "most unlikely" anything is no easy feat.

For those of you who've had it up to the eyeballs with snowmen and reindeer and such, relax. The show has Christmas in the title, but the spirit is more anti-Christmas -- as far as syrupy sentimental enlightenments go. The gang at the Everlasting Arms Trailer Park is hysterical in both the entertainment and medical sense of the term. The inhabitants were --Êand continue to be -- spawned by Running With Scissors and they radiate the paradoxical mixture of nuttiness, outrage and camaraderie that makes this campy company such good company.

Running With Scissors almost always takes a low-budget approach to production values. Somehow it makes that tininess part of the fun. This set by Brad Caldwell is no exception. There's a cutout of a trailer, a couple of Santa Claus figures that might have been pilfered from Wal-mart (after all, Grenadine's son is back in jail again). The deeper meaning of the season is not altogether neglected, however, for we also see some plastic figures of saints, not to mention the holy family. That's about it. If you were hoping for a Disney-type spectacular, you came to the wrong place, darling.

Into this tacky little enclave marches Grenadine (Dorian Rush) with her hair wrapped in curlers the size of trash cans. She's soon joined by Punkin (Brad Caldwell), a hairdresser in denim short-shorts, who is identified in the program as "a confirmed bachelor" (wink, wink, nudge, nudge, say no more).

Anyway, he's styling an extravagant wig for the talent show -- or should I say "The Interfaith Tailgate Extravaganza." These two friends launch into holiday songs about breaking out the chinette, spraying a can of pine scent, getting drunk and generally drumming up seasonal spirit.

The songs in the show are catchy and fun, and Dorian Rush's lyrics sparkle with wit. Sometimes, they're downright hilarious. Elizabeth Pearce plays excellent accompaniment on an electric piano in a sort of one-woman orchestra pit off to one side of the stage.

In the first part of Grenadine, we get to meet her friends and neighbors, who will later perform their acts. These include "The Jewess from Saint Louis," Gladys Finkelstein (Brian Peterson). You would think a yiddishe-mama character would slip easily into broad clichŽ, but Peterson brings a fine touch to this stout-hearted matriarch, and her song about the joys of Hanukkah is laugh-out-loud funny. Gladys is just returning from her latest cruise and has in tow her long-lost son, Jesus (Donald Lewis). There is a surprise visit from Grenadine's cousins/stepsisters Crystal and China (Lisa Picone and Ashley Ricord) who are lithe dim-bulbs determined to make it in Dollywood. Also on board, contributing some delightful pandemonium, are the rebellious, punk-inspired Helen Highwater (Jack Long) and her mother Estelle (Liz Zibilich).

Throughout this chaotic preparation for the talent show, a mystery slowly takes shape -- for, during brief moments when the stage is empty, a disguised intruder rushes in and steals a coveted prop or costume accessory.

After a short intermission, we get the contest itself. The charm of each song is increased by our familiarity with the character who sings it -- much in the same way that "Pigs in Space" was more enjoyable because we were already fans of Miss Piggy, who starred in each episode.

Before the evening is over, we even get a solution to the mystery -- not to mention some uplifting news about free tickets to "the prison rodeo and beauty contest." Wow. Made my day.

Well, that's the show, folks. The summary doesn't really capture the delight this trivial nonsense generates -- perhaps because it's trivial nonsense and doesn't pretend to be anything more. I suppose you could call it a satire of lowbrow consumer holidays. But, for that matter, you could say the Marx Brothers' use of Margaret Dumont is a satire of social status. What keeps us coming back, however, is not satire, but the freedom of fun. The same is true of Grenadine and her trailer park.

Richard Read and Dorian Rush penned the script. Brian Peterson and the cast put together the costumes and wigs.

If your spirits are a little down as 2006 slips away, head over to One Eyed Jacks. You won't regret it.

Grenadine (Dorian Rush) and Punkin (Brad Caldwell) are - always in high spirits during the holidays.
  • Grenadine (Dorian Rush) and Punkin (Brad Caldwell) are always in high spirits during the holidays.

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