Encore Michigan

Dio’s ‘Great American Trailer Park’ is thought provoking and funny

Review August 27, 2017 David Kiley

PINCKNEY, Mich.–Watching The Great American Trailer Park Musical these days, one might wonder if some of the jokes are still cool. Some are certainly cringe-worthy. But luckily, the excellent cast at The Dio manages to elevate this show above the level of dumpster where some of the writing seems to live.

Okay. That may sound harsh. While funny and superbly sung and played, the whole premise of lighting up the stereotypes of those who live in trailer parks when there is a clear conversation going on in the country about the 99% and the 1%, presents an interesting discussion as to whether some shows have seen their time. Not to be too sanctimonious here (I’m trying), nor too clingy to my progressive Ann Arbor sensibilities (I’m trying), but when there is a sight gag of a ditzy blonde dropping to the ground and giving birth to an African American baby (that’s the  joke), one has to question whether this is a show that should be done.

What is surprising is that the show, written by David Nehls and Betsy Kelso as recently as 2004, is as new as it is. It has the odor of something written in the 1970s. The show explores the lives of the residents of Armadillo Acres Trailer Park in Florida: There is Pippi (Alaina Kerr), a stripper on the run; agoraphobic Jeannie (Carrie Jay Sayer); Jeannie’s toll-booth worker husband Norbert (Andrew Gorney, who is sleeping with Tippi across the alley in her trailer; tough-girl Lin (Natalie Rose Sevick); ditzy Pickles (Tori Rogers); and brassy Betty (Sonja Marquis). And then there is Duke (Mike Suchyta), a marauding somewhat violent and obsessed delinquent who is searching for Pippi, with a gun stuck in his pants and a fetish with smelling his own armpit.

The songs are pretty good in the context of this show, and music director Brian Rose does a superb job of making them come to life with three-piece band behind his keyboards. One of the strongest aspects of the show is that director Steve DeBruyne cast the show so well. In lesser hands and voices, this material could sink fast. It requires strong actors to act as floatation devices for the script. Matt Tomich captured the zeitgeist of a trailer park nicely in his set design, especially Tippi’s trailer.

Kerr, as Pippi, is sexy and spot-on as the stripper you can root for despite her predilection for getting involved with married men. Sonja Marquis not only plays Betty wonderfully, but a handful of other characters that come on during dream sequences. I especially liked her as a Jerry-Springer type TV host in “The Great American TV show.” Natalie Rose Sevick has gorgeous pipes, especially in “That’s Why I Love My Man,” and sports great comedic timing, especially when she is talking about the husband who was just executed despite her best efforts to sway the Governor with sexual favors. Gorney nails the hapless Norbert, so much so that one can’t hardly believe both Pippi and Jeannie would not see themselves as happier without him. Suchyta does everything asked of him and delivers, but one has to wonder in the writing just how funny it is to press a pistol to the cheek of a woman to get your point across. Squirm. Rogers handles her ditzy blonde and ensemble characters like a pro without a lot of range in the writing. Carrie Jay Sayer is terrific as the manic, option-limited but lovable Jeannie.

The writers of this show, and maybe even the producers of this production, would (and maybe rightly so) say I was being too serious and too mindful in wondering about the people who this show is sending up in satire. Maybe it’s because I had a grandfather and uncle who finished up their lives in trailer parks. On the other hand, both of THEM were nutty as bedbugs–come to think of it.

While I was pondering whether this show, just 12 or 13 years old, is relevant in 2017, even in comedic terms, I could not help noticing a lot of laughing and guffawing going on all around me.

Sidenote: I have seen the sequel to this show, the Christmas version of the show featuring the same characters, and found it a bit funnier in the writing and less squirmy in some of the bawdy and politically/socially incorrect sight gags.

Whether the lives of trailer park folk is up your street or not, this Great American Trailer Park is an evening that will be flat-out entertaining for some, and should be interesting to ponder at minimum for others. Either way, it’s a win to see it, and the fried chicken that is part of the pre-show dinner is always good.

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Week of 6/18/2018

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