Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Talkin' trash

Mary Callanan, Kerry A. Dowling, and Santina Umbach, the ladies of the Great American Trailer Park. Photo by Mark L. Saperstein.

I don't have too much new to say about SpeakEasy Stage's shiny production of The Great American Trailer Park Musical. But then neither does it, so we're even. After the challenges of Adding Machine, you can't really blame SpeakEasy for just kicking back with this amusing little show, which is just as much a prefab vehicle as the "manufactured homes" parked around Jenna McFarland Lord's day-glo set (yes, there are plastic palm trees and pink flamingos, too). There is, I think, a kind of dark underside to the fact that director Paul Daigneault has assembled a top-notch cast to put this piffle over; I really wish all these people were out doing better things. But hey, you know? Whatever.

And I can't deny that the crowd I saw it with last weekend loved it, in the same way that rock nerds love Amanda Palmer and Catholics love Nunsense: the product has been designed to match their needs exactly, and so they clutch it to their chests. Many in the press saw beneath the plastic surface of Trailer nuggets of character and "real warmth," as well as genuine insights. Yeah, right. To me, this valentine to white trash rings a little false in its patronizing affection; its trailer park denizens aren't organizing tea parties or packing heat in public - instead they seem harmlessly marooned in the Clinton era, with their Budweisers and black babies and strippers-with-hearts-of-gold (tellingly, when they turn on the tube, Sally Jessy Raphael's still on it). These folks are, in short, the antithesis of the gay, urban, Obama-supportin' SpeakEasy crowd, and you could see the whole production as a kind of whiteface minstrel show designed to compliment its audience and dissolve their anxieties about, you know, "The Other."

That is, if you were feeling critical, you might feel that way.

But I'm not, so I'll only note that there should be at least a few new twists or cutting-edge jokes in this Soho-by-way-of-Park-Slope pastiche, and there really aren't. Maybe the software program that wrote it didn't have that capability. Nor are the songs exactly fresh (a clone of "It's Raining Men" actually makes an appearance). But you don't really mind, because the cast is so winning. Director Daigneault has hitched the great Leigh Barrett, Mary Callanan, and Kerry A. Dowling (who's in particularly fine form) to the show, and has also discovered delightfully ditzy newcomer Santina Umbach (above, with Callanan and Dowling) who just about steals every scene out from under her high-powered co-stars. There are equally strong turns from David Benoit, Caitlin Crosbie Doonan and Grant MacDermott - in fact, the whole cast. Everyone knows exactly what they're doing, and they do it very well. That I happen to think it wasn't worth doing, at least not by Boston's premier mid-size theatre, I'm sure many will feel is beside the point. Then again, in cases like this one, criticism itself is beside the point.