Escapism is a big part of the entertainment value of any theatre experience. With the New Depot Players’ summer production, you’ll find yourself wanting run off to the unlikely destination of Armadillo Acres, site of the “The Great American Trailer Park Musical.” This fast-paced, satirical saga is loaded with dynamic musical numbers ranging from rockabilly to blues to disco, deftly performed by a cast whose finely tuned comic timing is a close second to their outrageously good voices.
The play centers on Jeannie and Norbert Garstecki (played by Josie Burgin Lawson and Joe Cloer), a couple approaching their 20th anniversary, and their quirky neighbors in a north Florida trailer park. Agoraphobic Jeannie hasn’t left their trailer since the early days of her marriage after being scarred by the simultaneous disappearance of their baby and a horrific perm. Difficulties mount when Norbert takes up with trailer park newcomer, Pippi (portrayed by pint-sized actress with plus-sized pipes Kaylee Bugg), a stripper on the run from Duke, her crazed ex-boyfriend.
Norbert and Pippi bond after one of her sets at the Litter Box, the local strip club. Pippi asks Norbert, “Do you have any idea what it’s like to make your living by collecting dollar bill after dollar bill?” To which Norbert replies, “Yes, I’m a toll collector.” Cloer handles Norbert’s torn loyalties between his wife and mistress with goofy earnestness.
Narrating the events is the tremendous trio, Betty, Lin and Pickles, Jeannie’s Greek chorus-like neighbors. These roles are owned by Patty McGuire, Kristel Wunderlin and Courtney Bozaich, who all inject the witty tunes and dialogue with sassy aplomb. In a side plot, Lin’s husband Earl is on death row. A staunch objector of the death penalty, Lin informs, “Enforcing cruel and unusual punishment on a man for wrong doing is not the job of the government. It is the job of the wife.”
Ironically, when Norbert is off cavorting with Pippi, Jeannie begins venturing outside the trailer one house-slipper step at a time finally making it off the porch. Her progress is thwarted when she finds out about Norbert’s affair. Cue the dream sequence talk show smack down. As the comparative straight woman amongst the other over-the-top characters, Josie Burgin Lawson skillfully portrays Jeannie’s neurosis and desperation.
Jeannie’s discovery, a storm and the arrival of Duke herald the play’s climax with a surprise twist. Hopped up on magic marker fumes, Duke (played by Charles Swartout), Pippi’s ex who believes “Happiness is buying your drugs at Wal-Mart,” lands in town to recover Pippi. His plan takes a vengeful turn when he learns of her involvement with Norbert. Swartout shines as the misguided, redneck thug.
Rounding out the leads is a talented ensemble including Connie Davis and Solita Johnson. The remarkable keyboard stylings of Jonathan Sparks keep the varied genres of tunes flowing.
The musical’s director and New Depot Players veteran Jay Tryall said, “This production has been tricky, due to the satire nature of the show. We wanted to be sensitive to the characters and not make them complete jokes. We had to make sure they were reality based so that our audience can find qualities within themselves in these characters...but still amp up the humor and fun of the show.” Mission accomplished.
The play runs July 16, 17, 22-24, and 29-31 at 8 p.m. and July 18 at 3 p.m. at Center Street Arts. General admission rate is $20 and $16 for seniors and students. For more information or to purchase tickets go to www.thenewdepotplayers.com or call 678-374-3224.