Photo courtesy of Michele Anliker photography
There’s a joke a minute in The Dio’s production of “The Great American Trailer Park Christmas Musical” a show that bares countless stereotypes, jokes that overstay their welcome, and one terrific ensemble that’s able to rise above a script that struggles to maintain a balanced rhythm.
“Christmas Musical” - the follow-up to the original musical of the same name (minus the yuletide setting, of course) - tackles white trash head-on, with lyrics that punctuate the lifestyle of the tenants of Armadillo Acres - a Florida mobile home park currently up for “Mobile Homes and Gardens” trailer park of the year.
Matt Tomich's set design is primed with creative knick knacks accustomed for mobile home livin'. He reflects the parks quirky inhabitants with crafty style; specifically, tire wheels being used as tree stands and red solos cups dubbed as holiday decorations. Armadillo Acres wears its tacky holiday spirit with pride, and rightfully so.
The cast of inhabitants fit their surroundings to a T- a testament to Steve DeBruyne’s casting and Norma Polk’s costume design, but especially to the performers. From the start, Lin (Natalie Rose Sevick), Pickles (Tori Rogers), and Betty (Sonja Maquis) - tanning in dollar store lawn chairs - set the precedent with the tongue and cheek “Christmas in my My Mobile Home” which mentions all the necessities required for the perfect Christmas extravaganza (including White Castle sliders and cooking ham instead of meth).
Aside from busting out decently tuned vocals, the three females narrate and interact throughout the story. In one scene they could be waitresses at Stacks - a hybrid between IHop and Hooters - or unraveling flashbacks regarding Armadillo Acres. Maquis brings vivid life to Betty, the unofficial leader of the brigade, and is matched in comedic timing by Servick’s Lin, a death row widow that keeps her husband’s ashes in a holiday tin can next to the caramel corn. But the real show stealer is Roger’s sweet-natured Pickles, whose new-born daughter was the cause of some controversy (on account of the baby had a different skin tone compared to her boyfriend). Whoops.
They all live next door to the mullet wielding Rufus (DeBruyne continuing to be the jack of all trades). A blue collar worker with Christmas on the brain because it’s the only day of the year he gets off, and so when he begins decorating the Christmas tree 12 days before the holiday, it sparks an all out turf war from his uptight, Grinch-like neighbor Darlene (Kimberly Ally - tinging her sassy character with a hint of charm). Lin tries to undo all the festivities and electrocutes herself in the process, prompting a random spurt of amnesia that puts the Christmas-hating curmudgeon in the holiday spirit, bringing forth the tune “Twelve Days of Amnesia” in which the characters are determined to keep her memory from returning.
Following Darlene’s regression is enough narrative fodder to keep the show moving. This is her story, and it’s fun watching Sevick make the character work, despite some personality traits which aren’t appealing.
If that wasn't enough, Betsy Kelso’s book and David Nehls lyrics beef up the background with a sleazeball named Jack (played with the right touch by the solid Jared Hoffert) who steps in as a potential land developer threatening to demolish Armadillo Acres, and doubles as Darlene’s snarky boyfriend. (He’s also the aforementioned owner of the restaurant Stacks and spells Christmas with a “capitalist C”).
Furthermore, a whimsical romance sneaks up between Rufus and Darlene as the result of her amnesia. Is this true trailer park love? I dunno, but Brian Rose’s sleek music direction gives some of the more redundant moments sparks of inspiration. Even though “Beer is the gift that keeps on giving,” Kelso’s script, by the middle of act two, starts to run on fumes. It’s easy to poke fun at the archetypes, but sooner or later jokes about sexually transmitted diseases and white trash need to get laid to rest. The script even borrows elements from a Christmas Carol when time needs to filled.
Still, DeBruyne uses the space well and the dinner served before the show is deliciously crafted. Looking around at the sold out performance, I gauged the audience was invested and laughing at each zinger like a laugh track on cue. If you can take your humor with a grain of salt, perhaps you’ll chuckle against your better judgement.
IF YOU GO:
The Great American Trailer Park Christmas Musical continues through December 31st. I'm told that most performances are sold out, so best to call (517) 672-6009 or visit DioTheatre.com for ticket availability