A Trailer Park Pulls into the South End

by Bryce Lambert on May 12, 2010

We tend to think of The Theatre, almost any theater, as a progressive form that, because it’s artsy or “elite,” is going to be somehow ahead of the curve of mass media. But, I’m always amazed how slow on the uptake Broadway, or at least its regional exports, can be. SpeakEasy’s current show, The Great American Trailer Park Musical, despite its genre- and self-aware title, revels in the Blue Collar Comedy Tour humor that most theater goers would roll their eyes at, if it didn’t happen to be set to music at the BCA. As far as comic explorations into these ubiquitous semi-mobile suburban ghettos, the Canadian television mockumentary Trailer Park Boys is much more interesting, compelling, human, and, a lot funnier.

This white trash comi-drama sports a few clever production and plot elements, but never uses them to their full potential. A Greek chorus trio of Armadillo Acres’ leading ladies (Kerry A. Dowling, Santina Umbach, and Mary Callanan) lead us through the marriage crisis of Norbert and Jeannie Garstecki (David Benoit and Leigh Barrett), but the narrative device is used more for comic deviations and asides than anything else. Jenna McFarland Lord’s set of propane tanks, satellite TV dishes, pink flamingos, and lattice work includes a few massive plastic palms that frame the entire stage in lawn ornament kitsch, signaling that the lowbrow extends beyond the limits of Armadillo Acres (the show’s trailer park setting) and back into the musical itself, with disco numbers, set piece gags, and a protracted joke on flan. A very Shakespearean storm sets the plot’s resolution in motion (unfortunately the plot doesn’t rise to the metaphor), and a trailer’s wall rises to reveal its interior–kind of like the set-based anthropological study in Godard’s Tout va Bien. But, I’m probably pushing it there.

Jokes about husbands on death row, Mazola suntans, ditsy blondes, strippers, and tall boys come off lukewarm, as you squint to read the writing on Mary Callanan’s t-shirts. Duke (Grant MacDermont), a marker-sniffing psycho (though he proves to be relatively harmless) after his on-the-run stripper girlfriend (Caitlin Crosbie Doonan) makes light of real addiction. Take the music out of this musical, and it just might work with the same Jeff Foxworthy crowd it admonishes, as much as it tries to humor its liberal audience that’s used to living a world away from the likes of Armadillo Acres. We do get some solid local vocal talent pushing some catchy well choreographed routines, just not the social satire or drama I could see coming out of the subject matter. Dowling, Umbach, and Callanan all developed their characters well (even if they are cartoonish) and Umbach (just a Junior at Boston Conservatory) holds her own with the show’s more established talent.

The SpeakEasy Stage’s The Great American Trailer Park Musical @ the BCA through May 30th. Tickets: $30-$54.

Mary Callanan, Santina Umbach, and Kerry A. Dowling (Mark L. Saperstein)

Caitlin Crosbie Doonan and David Benoit (Mark L. Saperstein)

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