By Chris Lane
By Olivia Flores Alvarez
By Angelica Leicht
By Jef Rouner
By Jef With One F
By Jef With One F
By Marco Torres
With the Houston heat index rising well above a hundred degrees, now is no time for serious, head-scratching theater. That sort of artistic experience takes too much darned work in this kind of weather. Thankfully, the folks at Stages Repertory Theatre seem to know this. They've come up with a frothy bubble of silliness called The Great American Trailer Park Musical that requires absolutely zero brain power. Cobbled together out of stereotypes and a sitcom-like plot, this featherweight bit of camp by David Nehls and Betsy Kelso celebrates white-trash ladies and the men they love in a funky little tale about a phobic housewife and her lonely-heart man.
Setting the stage and guiding us through the story is a chorus of three women, all denizens of the Armadillo Acres Housing Community in North Florida. Front and center is Betty, the sturdy mother hen with a heart of gold who runs the whole shebang. Played by Susan O. Koozin, this good ol' gal is an awful lot like all the other good ol' gals Koozin has cooked up for productions at Stages, including the waitress in Nickel and Dimed, the starstruck housewife in Always...Patsy Cline and the cowgirl singer in Late: A Cowboy Song.All of these ladies hitch up their waistbands, stick out their chins and get to work while sounding wise and full of homespun common sense. But audiences clearly love this lady no matter where she shows up. They aren't thinking about how nice it might be to see Koozin and all her considerable charisma appear in a role that might stretch her abilities.
The other members of Trailer Park's girl chorus include Pickles (Mikah Horn) a young dumb-as-dirt, sweet-as-sugar blond who shows all the signs of suffering from a hysterical pregnancy. Her belly is as big as a watermelon, but she claims she's not having any sex at all. Rounding out the trio is Lin (Carolyn Johnson), strutting around with her cleavage out to there and worrying all the while about her man on death row, who's waiting for the proud state of Florida to go ahead and fry him. Jokes abound about pregnancy, sex and the famously fickle Florida electric chair, which sometimes stops working at the most inopportune times. The humor's easy and predictable, just like the opening number, "This Side of the Tracks," an anthem to white trash and all that phrase implies.
This cartoon strip of a story focuses on Norbert and Jeannie Garstecki, a long-married couple who love each other despite the fact that Jeannie (Melodie Smith) suffers from agoraphobia and hasn't set foot out of her little trailer home in years. When their baby was kidnapped almost 20 years back, Jeannie went inside and never came out again. Norbert (David George) wants nothing more than to take his loving wife to the Ice Capades to celebrate their anniversary, but Jeannie's got to get out of that trailer first.
Along comes Pippi (Brooke Wilson), a stripper on the run from a possessive boyfriend who's all strung out on Magik Marker -- yes, Magik Marker. Pippi catches Norbert's eye one night when he ends up in her bar looking for his brother. They start up an affair just as Jeannie's working hard to get herself out the door.
Nothing in the story that follows is surprising, not even the intended surprise at the end of Act II. But the music is entertaining, and Stages has put together a cast of solid singers who capture their characters in bold, broad and colorful strokes. Numbers like "Flushed Down the Pipes" and "The Great American TV Show" are amusing. Wilson's Pippi is strong and attractive in her belly-showing costumes, while George's Norbert is a sweet lug of a guy with a warm, huggy voice. Smith is an especially strong singer, and her angry, brokenhearted Jeannie fills the stage with energy.
All this comes together under Brad Dalton's zippy direction, which keeps the action speeding along. And Jodi Bobrovsky's colorful, clever trailer-park set adds visual fun to the whipped-up sweetness of the show. While none of this takes one minute of work from the audience, it is summer, after all. And frankly, it's just too damn hot to think.