A trailer park musical? I have to admit I went grudgingly. It sounded like a barrel of clichés. Well, I was in for a surprise. The Great American Trailer Park Musical (recently on the boards at Teatro Wego under the auspices of Jefferson Performing Arts Society) was a flat-out delight.
A rocking four-piece band under the direction of keyboardist Jefferson Turner was housed in a trailer at the back of the stage. Two other trailers toward the front of the stage set the scene for a love triangle that went several steps beyond verisimilitude into the kind of complications you might expect from Gilbert and Sullivan.
Armadillo Arms Trailer Park in Stark, Fla., boasts some of the most enjoyable eccentrics you'd expect to find on the wrong side of the tracks. Three singing women introduce us to the trailer park and its inhabitants. They are not quite a chorus and not quite narrators, but they often carry and dominate the scene. Betty (Meredith Long) has inherited the park from her deceased husband. Lin (Morla Gorrondona) risks being widowed because her spouse is on death row. A slim beauty with a racy streak, she wallows in vulgarity for the fun of it. Her description of a hot summer day is, 'You could fry an egg on my ass!" Her name is short for Linoleum, since her mother gave birth to her on the kitchen floor. Meanwhile, pert, pink-clad, ribbon-bedecked Pickles (Carrie Black) is in the grips of a hysterical pregnancy.
This high-octane trio never disappoints with its singing, dancing and general horseplay. But the real story centers around Norbert (Ford Dieth) and his wife Jeannie (Cammie West). Norbert, a tollbooth attendant, stomps out of the trailer where they live. He's fed up with her because she hasn't left the trailer for decades " not even on this, their anniversary, even though he's bought them tickets to Ice Capades.
In a flashback, we learn how Norbert and Jeannie met in high school, where she tutored him unsuccessfully in geometry. They married. They had a baby boy. But the child was kidnapped. That trauma, rather than a more abstract agoraphobia, is why Jeannie can't leave the trailer.
While there are jokes and references aplenty to the low-class tastes and customs of the denizens of mobile home parks, a more concrete narrative begins to emerge. Norbert throws the Ice Capades tickets to the ground and stomps off to console himself. He ends up at a strip joint called the Litter Box Show Palace. There he meets and is attracted to Pippi (Jessie Terrebonne), a scantily clad cowgirl who kicks up her white boots and wiggles gracefully around a pole. Pippi is on the run from past unhappiness in the Midwest, including a boyfriend she would like to forget. Inevitably, the new girl in town and the lonely, frustrated man fall in love. To complicate life, Pippi moves into the trailer next door to Norbert and Jeannie.
The missing piece to this puzzle arrives in the form of Duke (Richard Arnold), Pippi's ex. He's a wild young man who sniffs permanent markers and packs a gun. He is determined to find Pippi, and when he finally tracks her down at the Armadillo Arms, he threatens all the violence and mayhem of a tornado. When he lets slip that he has a favorite lullaby, however, Jeannie flashes back to her long-missing child. Duke is that child. A tearful family reunion takes place, but things get awkward when father and son realize they are pursuing the same woman. But what's a little awkwardness after decades of tragedy?
Not all the loose ends are tied up. We don't know, for instance, what's in Pippi's future, but then, she sings, 'There's nothing to do but make like a nail and press on."
Under Sean Patterson's direction, the talented cast gave inspired performances. Turner's musical direction was excellent, as was Lynne Lawrence's choreography and Cecile Casey Covert's costumes.
The Great American Trailer Park Musical transcended the clichés of white-trash humor. Playwright David Nehls and composer/lyricist Betsy Kelso pushed their show into a realm more amusing than social satire.
- Pickles (Carrie Black), Betty (Meredith Long) and Lin (Morla Gorrondona) keep watchful eyes over the Armadillo Arms Trailer Park.