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The Great American Trailer Park Musical; Sordid Lives
DOUBLE REVIEW
2012-08-08

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The Great American Trailer Park Musical

Score: David Nehls; Script: Betsy Kelso

At: Kokandy Productions at

Theater Wit, 1229 W. Belmont Ave.

Tickets: 773-975-8150 or

www.kokandyproductions.com; $30

Runs through: Aug. 26

Sordid Lives

Playwright: Del Shores

At: Ludicrous Theatre Company at Boho

Theatre Heartland Studio,

7016 N. Glenwood Ave.

Tickets: www.brownpapertickets.com

or www.ludicroustheatre.com; $15

Runs through: Aug. 11

BY SCOTT C. MORGAN

Chicago audiences are in luck if they have a hankering for campy shows about Southerners derisively labeled as "white trash." Not only is Kokandy Productions staging the Chicago premiere of the 2005 off-Broadway show The Great American Trailer Park Musical, but Ludicrous Theatre Company is dishing up a revival of Del Shores' 1996 comedy Sordid Lives.

Now from a critical standpoint, let's just say up front that neither of these shows would be held up as examples of great writing.

Trailer Park composer/lyricist David Nehls and playwright Betsy Kelso fill their musical with self-aware Southern camp stereotypes, derivative songs that ape preexisting pop hits (like "Proud Mary" and "It's Raining Men") and a melodramatic plot twist resolution that feels tacked on.

As for Sordid Lives, it may be beloved by the gay community as a starry camp classic film and a Logo sitcom series, but the original play is structurally disjointed and not all of the characters' motivations are believably justified or fleshed out. Its message of gay acceptance is still vitally needed in certain parts of the country, but the preachy nature of Sordid Lives may date itself in the future.

Yet on the plus side, both shows offer guilty pleasure chances for actors to come up with outrageous characterizations to deliver line after line of quotable campy dialogue. On this level, Kokandy's Trailer Park offers a more assured and vocally strong cast that play their stereotypical characters with a degree of grounded reality while also pushing things to the hilt.

Trailer Park leads off with a great Greek Chorus-like trio of Betty (Danni Smith), Donna (Jennifer Wisegarver) and Linoleum (Ashley Braxton) who know all the ins and outs of the Armadillo Acres trailer park in Starke, Fla. These three comment on and play many other roles to help tell the love-quadrangle of toll collector Norbert Garstecki (Jonathan Hickerson); his agoraphobic wife, Jeanie (Christina Hall); his stripper mistress, Pippi (Bri Schumacher); and her murderous ex-boyfriend, Duke (Alex Grelle).

Trailer Park director John D. Glover keeps the show moving at a clip pace with plenty of flash when called for, and he guides his cast to win plenty of laughs.

As for Ludicrous' Sordid Lives, there are many times that you feel that director Wayne Shaw and his ensemble aren't garnering as many laughs as Shores' humorous lines would suggest. And only a few actors believably inhabit their wacky Texas characters (in particular: Caitlin Jackson as the homophobic mother Latrelle; Suzanne Bracken as Latrelle's plus-size sister, LaVonda; and Michelle McKenzie-Voigt as their trying-to-quit-smoking aunt, Sissy).

So if laughing at Southern white trash stereotypes is a favorite comedy brew for you, both Trailer Park and Sordid Lives offer up refreshing cold ones this August.


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