A Trailer Park Christmas
Common Ground Theatre
Through Dec. 21
Our host had just walked over carrying a tray filled with strange-looking hors d'oeuvres. Well, it was the holiday season, after all, and it would have been impolite to refuse. So I lifted the unlikely canapé—a single Dorito, upgraded by a generous thread of pungent, spray-on cheese—from the festive little aluminum cupcake holder which formed the culinary manger where it lay. I sniffed at it cautiously, since, if you ever saw it, you might even say it ... glowed.
Then I took a bite. And for a moment the surface of my tongue became, in the early words of Hunter S. Thompson, the place of definition.
Ultimately I had to acknowledge the fact that my reddish-orange, faintly luminescent appetizer was something of a metaphor for the Common Ground Theatre production of A Trailer Park Christmas in which it was served: a cheesy amalgam of artificial ingredients whose tangy taste almost justified the nutritional hit points we were taking as we took it in.
On a couple of levels, Rachel Klem and Jeffrey Moore's broad satire resembles a better night out than usual with Transactors Improv Company. Klem, who directs the show, and Moore, who plays Meemaw, the bitchy family matriarch, are Transactors company members, as is Dan Sipp, who gives the lean, laconic, brooding father figure of Dale a nice Sam Shepard turn before night's end. The rest of the gang eventually show up, in cameo appearances during risible video shorts that roast the Weather Channel, a meandering Maury Povich-inspired paternity talk show, wardrobe malfunctions and independent film.
It's clear that the playwrights intend to go at least a little deeper than cheap shots at social inferiors. A handful of carefully selected quirks tries to save this crew from drowning in stereotype and cliché. From a huntin' man's terrible secret and a postal employee's religious devotion to civic duty and improbable pets, to a mother's hidden wish to take the stage—if the characters' aspirations and dreams seem small to us, they aren't to them. That's why miniature souvenir spoons from tourist traps are lovingly enshrined here; because they represent something a lot bigger. So, for that matter, are fruitcakes dense enough to serve as ballast during a tornado.
They remind us that people do the strangest things, and not just in trailer parks, this time of year, in simple, absurd and flawed little ceremonies that try to commemorate, to show real hospitality and, possibly, even love.
Do the characters all go deep enough, on stage or in the script, to actually pull it off? Not quite—another telltale trait, I fear, from its creators' improv comedy pedigree. I should also note that friends of those hit by the Johnston County tornadoes, which struck three weeks before opening night, should probably steer clear given the particular plot points of the show.
For the rest, we have a comedy about people in reduced circumstances, one that—like so many relatives we all have—means better than it sometimes shows.