In the tradition of great holiday fare comes a relatively new "must see" event rivaling A Christmas Carol, It's a Wonderful Life, and Miracle on 34th Street. NOT! What comes to mind is more along the lines of something like Ernest Saves Christmas as Manbites Dog Theater's Other Voices Series hosts the tenth anniversary showing of A Trailer Park Christmas. Created by Jeffrey Moore and Rachel Klem and produced by Klem, the title is indeed truth-in-advertising and pretty much tells you everything you need to know. It is set in Durham and contains plenty of references to the city and its surroundings, but the "story" can apply to any one of thousands of tornado magnets around the United States.
Like with most productions at Manbites, the configuration of the set and the space itself is always unique and an integral part of the experience. As you enter the main doors of the theater, you then meander around till you enter through a screen door (what else?), having been greeted by several residents of the trailer park. You are urged to ring the doorbell, with your reward being a very loud and very southern "C'MOWN AIN" (translation: "Come on in"). Funny the first three or four times, but wears out its welcome as it exceeds ten. The audience enters a wonderfully done set with plywood walls and ugly brown couches: cheap and tacky is their feng shui as we are now captive in trailer park heaven. A nice touch was a shabby twenty-something country boy sleeping on the couch or chair throughout the entire play. He did awake twice to play his "gi-tar" (accent on first syllable), and there was a surprise involving him at the very end.
We are in the mobile home of the Hussey family (pronounced "HuZZey," another one of dozens of ad nauseum repeated jokes/shtick). Nine actors play about seventeen different characters, but the star role, and matriarch of the Husseys, is Meemaw, played, in drag, by Jeffrey Moore. His perfect comic timing and believability as a woman is the center and cement of the show. Meemaw lives with her daughter Loraine Dodson (Rachel Klem) and her dysfunctional, redneck (their description) family in their tin can home. It is Christmas Eve day, and the background quasi-plot involves a letter just received that has them being evicted over a deed dispute that goes back more than forty years.
There are numerous characters, each with their own quirks and assigned catchphrases. Jolene (Amanda Hahn) is the postal employee daughter who is incapable of sitting down without her legs spread wide open, followed by Meemaw pushing them together. Drina Dunlap plays Dale Dodson, Jr., whom her father (David Berberian) is not sure is really his child, being vegan and not liking to hunt! This leads to a delightful take off on trashy daytime Jerry Springer-type shows that they called "Is You Is or Is You Ain't My Daddy's Baby?" Dunlap shows off her tremendous singing voice by singing two songs written by cast member Russ Hames.
Characters rapidly come in and out with fast-paced patter and jokes that make you either laugh uproariously, groan, or continue to sit impassively; in more ways than one, this is reminiscent of Hee Haw. However, in fairness, a person's sense of humor is a very personal thing and just because someone is rolling on the floor convulsed in laughter, while someone else barely cracks a smile, is not a reason for critique of a script. This is outsized farce and, for the most part, you need to roll with the silliness. The actors were all superb as they lived the parts (perhaps not a big stretch for some), the direction was crisp and confident, and they genuinely appeared to love their gig. Authentic trailer park snacks, like Doritos with Cheez Whiz, bags of popcorn, and "punch" with Sunny D as the main ingredient, were actually handed out on trays during the show, and the entire cast remained on set afterwards to "greet y'all."*
A Trailer Park Christmas continues through Saturday, December 16. For more details on this production, please view the sidebar.