Tender Trash

From L to R: Millicent Hunnicutt, Lisa DeChristofaro, Andy Harvey, Sandia Ahlers, Julia Rocchio, Noah Berry, Alexis Reda star in “The Great American Trailer Park Musical”

A love quadrangle breaks out at Armadillo Acres Trailer Park between a toll collector, his agoraphobic wife, an exotic dancer, and her crazed, fume huffing ex-boyfriend.  It may sound like an episode of Jerry Springer, but it’s The Great American Trailer Park Musical and it’s currently playing at Maples Repertory Theatre.

Betsy Kelso seems to have been heavily influenced by both Little Shop of Horrors and The Rocky Horror Show.  Like Shop, the story is narrated by a trio of women who serve as the Greek chorus and the weird characters definitely hearken back to Rocky.  Two big differences are that this show lacks the darkness of the others and the songs of David Nehls are much deeper and add some character depth that the dialogue does not.  The end result is a truly fun show.

Deep this show is not, nor is it intended to be.  What sells it is that the characters are such, well, characters.  It’s an actor’s delight as they can throw caution to the wind, chew the scenery, and blow the lid off as they go over the top.

Brandon McShaffrey understands that and his actors are sterling with their larger than life, stereotyped performances.  Any cliché that pops into your mind when you hear “trailer park” is found in this show and then some.  McShaffrey gets his actors to lean into it with everything they’ve got and mixes it with their golden voices to serve up a rib-tickling good time.  McShaffrey also throws in suitable choreography.  Nothing fancy or flashy.  Just fun and catchy.

Millicent Hunnicutt, Lisa DeChristofaro, and Alexis Reda kill it as the Greek chorus.  Unlike other choruses, each actress has actually molded a well-defined character which adds a vital bit of pep to the production.  Hunnicutt is the group’s leader as Betty, the trailer park manager with an Ethel Merman type presence, but a more powerful and developed singing voice.  DeChristofaro is hilarious as Linoleum who moons over her death row husband and constantly seeks to prolong his life by keeping the power on to prevent the electric chair from working.  Reda is a riot as Pickles, a dumb as a post ditz suffering from a hysterical pregnancy.

All three ladies have beautiful singing voices and maintain perfect harmony and shine in “This Side of the Tracks”, “That’s Why I Love My Man”, and “Storm’s A-Brewin’”.

Noah Berry excels in the role of Duke, the fume huffing, loose cannon ex-boyfriend.  Berry knows how to be big and just eats the role with shining teeth.  What I like best about Berry’s interpretation is that he makes Duke unpredictable, but not excessively dangerous.  Rest assured, he’s got a screw loose, but wouldn’t really hurt another person.  Small animals, on the other hand, need to be wary, lest they become the “Road Kill” he seems likely to create when driving and sniffing.

Julia Rocchio brings a new take to the stereotypical “bad girl with a heart of gold” role.  Rocchio’s Pippi does not have a heart of gold.  To be honest, she’s downright selfish as she gladly fools around with a married man, but she manages to be sympathetic at the same time.  Pippi has been wounded a lot in her life and is constantly on the run from her ex so one can understand that she would grab happiness wherever and whenever she could find it.  Rocchio does a fantastic job of showing that woundedness in her best number “But He’s Mine”.

Andy Harvey gets the deepest character with Norbert Garstecki.  Harvey’s Garstecki seems like a pretty decent and likable guy at the top of the show.  He’s deeply in love with his wife and has been trying to help her through her agoraphobia for the entirety of their marriage.  He only gives up when an anniversary outing to the Ice Capades fails to entice his wife out of their trailer and it is then that his eye starts to rove.  Harvey actually does a good job of making Norbert’s behavior understandable, if not acceptable.  Harvey also has an amazing bass voice and gets some of the show’s more emotional numbers including brilliant renditions of “One Step Closer” and “It’s Never Easy”.

Sandia Ahlers is very sweet as Jeannie Garstecki and she makes Jeannie’s struggle with agoraphobia a very real battle.  It’s almost as if her phobia is a physical enemy as she painfully (and humorously) works her way down the patio stairs by any means necessary (think ropes and flotation devices) in an attempt to conquer her fears.  Ahlers can also belt out a tune like nobody’s business and has mighty turns in “Owner of My Heart” “Panic” and “Flushed Down the Pipes”.

Justin P. Cowan and his band (Chris Fritschie, Kate Hutton, and Nick Ferruci) rock out with the show’s score.  Denise Warner’s costumes fit the trashiness of the characters from cheap dresses to jean shorts and T-shirts to tight leather pants and tops to cowboy hats and cut-offs.  Dana Weintraub’s set is perfect with the dilapidated trailers of Armadillo Acres and the cheap furniture inside the Garstecki trailer.  Dominic DeSalvio’s use of spotlights bring the right focus on characters during musical numbers and the malevolent red and shade used for the nightmare sequence really sells it.  Mike Ekelburg’s sounds help to enhance the show from radio static and stations at the top to the gunshot in the final confrontation.

There were some moments when the microphones went soft and I lost pieces of dialogue and songs, but that did little to detract from the entertainment.  It’s truly fun theatre and definitely an escape from life for a while.  If you want to feel better about yourself, go immerse yourself in the plight of these characters.

The Great American Trailer Park Musical continues at Maples Repertory Theatre through July 10.  Showtimes are 2pm on June 28-29, July 3, 8, and 10 and 7:30pm on July 2, 6, and 9.  Tickets cost $33 for the Main Floor and $26 for the balcony and can be obtained by visiting www.maplesrep.com or calling 660-385-2924.  Parental caution is suggested due to some language and themes.  Maples Repertory Theatre is located at 102 N Rubey St in Macon, MO.

Photo by Kelly Lewis