Oh Dixie. You with your Peggy Bundy, high-as-heaven ginger hair, drawly Southern accent, red gingham Little Bo Peep-ish dress and killer red suede stiletto pumps, hawking Tupperware at us with all your heart, soul and more than a smattering of four-letter words and sexual innuendo. Among your dick jokes and swigs of wine, you boast that in the world of food storage, only Tupperware comes with a lifetime guarantee.
But don’t you see, Dixie, that while the plastic products you sell may be good forever, after nine seasons doing your shtick on national stages, your show has spoiled. Not all of it, mind you. As with a container of raspberries with only a few fuzzy culprits, it’s totally possible to throw out the moldy bits and enjoy the ripeness of the rest of it. Instead, what you give us is a fresh (albeit familiar) performance mixed in with the rotten, too often leaving a bad taste in our mouths.
Let’s start with the container half full and give credit where it’s due. Dixie’s Tupperware Party, directed by Patrick Harwood and written and performed by Kris Andersson as his alter ego, Dixie Longate, a trailer-trash, sweet but saucy, single mom, who's also a Tupperware Party saleswoman extraordinaire, is often a hoot of a performance. Part drag show, part interactive experience, part improv exercise, mostly stand-up comedy act, the production is unlike most of the traditional shows one usually goes to see at the Hobby Center.
The whole thing starts upon arrival in the lobby as patrons are given an honest-to-goodness Tupperware catalogue, ordering form and name tag. You’re at a Tupperware party, the ushers tell us, so mingle with other guests and peruse what you might want to buy. Enter the theater and there you’ll find Dixie, all dolled up, six-foot something of her, working the crowd, offering mints to her guests and chatting. One woman remarks that she’s wearing an apron covered in cherries and without a beat, in a sweet-as-pie/wink-of-the-eye retort, Dixie replies, “Well, honey, I lost mine so long ago I wore this to remind myself of what it was like.”
Yeah – it’s gonna be that kind of evening.
But even with the sex-laden jokes that rely on well-mined innuendo, we giggle. Not necessarily at the punchlines we can’t help but see coming (no pun intended as Dixie would say), but because Andersson delivers them so well. Absent is any bitchy overtone. Lacking is an over-the-top, Ru Paul-esque sashay kind of delivery. Instead, we get spunk with a good dollop of sweetness and it goes a long way in making us like Dixie and finding her delivery breezy and fun in a naughty but never too nasty kind of fashion.
So what actually happens in the show? Apart from the Tupperware products Dixie introduces us to in unique fashion (an easy-to-use wine opener is introduced as a device for your car), she delivers often outrageous and amusing tales of her shady past, her successful career, the feminist history of the Tupperware brand and her belief that every woman can make something of herself.
All of this is done with the help of her audience. Dixie spends about as much time offstage, ribbing and cajoling audience members, as she does performing solo in front of her wares. And then even onstage, she has two couches of audience members (VIP tickets) to play off of. There’s contests, and volunteering and demos and lightly embarrassing those who seem game for the teasing.
Sure, at an intermissionless hour and a half, the show goes on way too long. Regardless, many audience members cackle through it like they’re laying an egg. Men and women seem enthralled with her mix of sexual gags, low-brow humor and audience interaction. Even those of us who are generally tired of this kind of thing (having seen this type of comedy many times before in so many iterations) can’t help but smile at Dixie’s lovable, scampy manner.
Plus, she really is selling the damn stuff. Comedy aside, all the products Dixie mentions in the show, plus all the items in the catalogue, are actually for sale. Just fill out the form, drop it off to Dixie in the lobby after the show and in a few weeks, ding-dong…Tupperware delivery to your front door. Shopping AND theater….it just might be the heaven some of us have been looking for. Add on the lovely gesture that all proceeds from sales of this leg of the tour are going to the Houston Food Bank to help out with Harvey relief, and who could have a complaint to lodge?
And yet there are issues we must take umbrage with.
It’s one thing for Dixie to call out a white male audience member for being an “asshole” when he tells her he’s only ever been to a Pampered Chef event but never a Tupperware party. First of all, how dare you insult the queen of Tupperware that way. And second, any man coming to this show knows, he’s gonna be prime bait for Dixie’s jabs.
But why decide that the two women who paid VIP prices to sit onstage together are lesbians? And why then use that as an uncomfortable punchline for the entire show? Cucumber-as-dildo jests and suggestions that the gals worked at lumber yards were bad enough, but when it came to jokes about dogs licking peanut butter off their genitals, it felt like the whole thing was tipping into inexcusable offense. And honestly, why, of all the segments of society, would a drag queen choose gay women to pick on? Simple: Because the audience that sees this show thinks it’s funny. But just because they do doesn’t mean Dixie needed to feed into or encourage it.
Same goes with different religions and cultures. In describing how Tupperware is good for Christmas holidays, Dixie attempts to assert that the products are also good for other religions’ celebrations. The “joke” here is that as a not-so-bright Southern woman, she can’t pronounce the names of these non-Christian holidays. Chaka Khan stands in for Chanukah, Kanye or Kiwanis or something of the sort stands in for Kwanzaa and Ramadan just ends up as “Ramma……ramma….ramma…oh, whatever it is.” There is no learning or teaching moment; it’s simply jokes made at expenses.
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But perhaps worst of all is what Dixie does with the word "guacamole" and the Asian woman sitting onstage. Selling a party platter, Dixie endeavors to say that the product is good for chips and guacamole. But, guacamole being apparently too exotic for her tongue, instead she says…“Guac…Guam…Guan…Oh, yes…Guantanamo – Mexican is so hard." When the Asian woman sitting onstage (already branded a lesbian for derisive effect) asks if Tupperware’s food storage instructions work for foreign foods, Dixie talks about storing dog meat, brands the woman Cambodian for no discernible reason and then goes on about Asian cucumber because — remember…she’s a lesbian so she must love (hint hint) cucumber.
All of this may have been given an uncomfortable pass a decade ago, but in 2017, Andersson knows better. He knows that not only are these slurs, but that these communities, like his own, are presently under attack in America. Dixie’s Tupperware Party is not a pointedly zinging, make-fun-of-everyone-equally-in-politically-incorrect-fashion kind of show. It’s a tee-hee, naughty kind of affair where the audience can come out and have a good old ribald laugh. So why get nasty with the lesbians and the Asians and be offhanded with a couple of non-Christian religions? It’s not necessary for the comedy or the story. It seems the only plausible answer is that Dixie has forgotten to check the best before-date on her stored and sealed show content.
So please, Dixie, dump those tainted bits in the trash. Run your dishwasher-safe containers through a cycle and come back streak-free and ready to entertain without any trace of the leftovers that you exposed us to here in Houston.
Dixie’s Tupperware Party continues through October 22 at The Hobby Center, 800 Bagby. For information, call 713-315-2525 or visit thehobbycenter.org. $34-$86.