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Tuesday, March 5

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Theater Fri Aug 17 2012

The Great American Trailer Park Musical @ Theater Wit

It's official: Po' White Trash is The New Black. There. I said it.

TGATPM.jpgThis is the second lower-caste-white-folks-as-jovial-cultural-fodder production that I've reviewed this summer. Then there is "Here Comes Honey Boo Boo" -- the 6-year-old recently "retired" plus-szed beauty queen and spawn of this year's Redneck Games burping champ, and of course all of those "Real Housewives" who are indeed "white trash," but they live above the Mason-Dixon line and they've got credit cards and de-plasticized furniture, so we give 'em a pass and categorize them as "eccentric." But I digress.

The Great American White Trash Musical's story opens with Miss Betty (Danni Smith), job-for-life manager of Armadillo Acres (until the inevitable tornado or hurricane hits the trailer park) deftly singing out the sweet nobility and complexities of trailer park life. Betty introduces to the park's Greek Chorus Linoleum (her mama gave birth to her on the kitchen floor, everyone calls her Lin (Ashley Braxton), and by the way Lin's in the middle of a hysterical pregnancy), and Donna, AKA "Pickles" (Jennifer Wisegarver), who for eight years has convinced the whole town and trailer park to burn their lights in perpetuity because her man is on death row and there's not enough electricity running through the country grid to service the customers and also allow the prison to fire up "Old Smoky."

They're a resilient bunch, replete with redneck ingenuity. Add in toll booth operator Norbert (Jonathan Hickerson) and his stay-at-trailer agoraphobic-suffering wife Jeannie (Christina Hall), and we can see the Jerry Springer lift-off from the NASA pad up the road.

Norbert and Jeannie meet in high school, get knocked, get married, have a baby boy and then the baby boy is stolen right from in front of their single-wide. Jeannie gives up on leaving their trailer, and also gives up on housework, too depressed to make much of the rest of her life with Norbert, her neighbors and herself. Norbert is a patient husband, and stands by Jeannie and her life-crushing depression until... runaway Pippi makes her way from her crazed, aerosol can-huffing ex-boyfriend Duke (Alex Grelle) and takes up residence at the last Airstream on the left at Armadillo Acres.

The heat between Norbert and Pippi is intense and passionate, yet doomed from jumpstart; for what else could happen when an illicit couple has relations with the curtains tacked back under the eternal light bulbs that is Armadillo Acres? It all comes to a screeching halt (the "screeching" is Jeannie painfully working her way from sofa to courtyard and witnessing her Norbert and Pippi gettin' it on; the halt is deranged ex-boyfriend Duke crash landing his Pontiac Trans Am (the official car of trailer park residents and mountain folk everywhere) dead into the courtway.

It all comes down to confrontations, confessions, girl fights, drawn pistols, long-lost family reunions, power failures, state executions, and the not-so hysterical birth of the trailer park's first biracial baby. In other words, seasons 1-20 of the Springer Show, set to a winning soundtrack.

Speaking of music, the cast tells its tale in song and soft shoe admirably. Bri Schumacker (Pippi) has an amazing set of pipes -- her part of the duet "He's Mine" and "Make Like a Nail" could hold more than one candle to Reba McIntyre or Gretchen Wilson. Ms. Schumacker should seriously consider buying a ticket to Music Row or Motown.

TGATPM is definitely worth the price of admission: it's funny, it's rousing, albeit not so original -- not anymore, there's too much "Here Comes Mr. & Ms. White Trash America!" currently in our entertainment pipeline. American art has always derived from our cultural, social and economic divisions, yet we never seem to properly synchronize the "gone too far/much too soon/much to much" good taste modulators. It's as if the one group of folks left to mock/laugh at/chastise/make reality TV cannon fodder are white people who happen to be poor -- generation upon generation. There also seems to be the lingering aftertaste that "there's fun" in being impoverished and disenfranchised -- reminds me of one of my white elementary teachers telling me that slavery was "not so bad" and that some of the masters were "quite benevolent" to their slaves. Perhaps it was all of those nineteenth century lithographs featuring slaves dancing and singing. Trust me: the jovialness was under duress and suicide was not an option. And growing up in Oklahoma, I befriended kids from families that were literally "po'er than the dirt (they) slept in." (Now there's an analogy you don't hear over Sunday brunch in Lakeview!) Over the years, some of them I've stayed in close contact with, and I can feel the bristle of their "OMG" disapproving whispers on the back of my neck, visualize the humiliation on their faces, much like when my "'po white friend" Natalie was told not to come back to our school until her parents could afford to buy her shoes. Natalie's family resided at a trailer park, too. 'Cause see, if you don't have a reality TV show deal, or an invitation to Nashville's Music Row, then the label of "po white" and "trailer trash" become your debilitating caste system, in perpetuity, just as President Andrew Jackson visualized the chattel slavery system. But why solve poverty and social misery when we can laugh at and tap our toes to it?

TGATPM is fun, quick-witted and filled-to-the brim with talent. "Good Times" for Middle-Class White Folks!

The Great American Trailer Park Musical plays through Aug. 26 at Theater Wit, 1229 W. Belmont. For tickets visit or call the box office at 773-975-8150.

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Architecture Tue Nov 03 2015

Paul Goldberger Describes the "Pragmatism and Poetry" of Frank Gehry's Architecture in His New Book

By Nancy Bishop

Architecture critic Paul Goldberger talks about Frank Gehry's life and work in a new book.
Read this feature »

Steve at the Movies Fri Jan 01 2016

Best Feature Films & Documentaries of 2015

By Steve Prokopy

Read this column »


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