Deck the halls with cat fights, kegnog and badly wired Christmas displays. “The Great American Trailer Park Christmas Musical” is rolling into Venice Theatre this month. The folks from Armadillo Acres mobile home park are back in a plot that’s two parts Charles Dickens, one part Jerry Springer.
Somewhere in lovely Starke, Armadillo Acres glistens with tacky Christmas decorations and a gnarly tree topped with a mud-flap angel on a star. Christmas is 12 days away, and Lin (Laura Priscilla Hoffman), Pickles (Liz Pascoe) and Betty (Cara Herman) are hoping that Mobile Homes and Gardens will make the season merrier with a hefty cash prize for their holiday bling. Darlene (Kaitlyn Terpstra, as the designated Scrooge) hopes the baubles wind up in the Dumpster. They’re all hoping the Armadillo Acres “Christmas curse” doesn’t kick in. Then Darlene catches her good-hearted redneck neighbor Rufus (James Bock) stealing her cable, and she gets shocked into amnesia and a giddy Christmas spirit when she tries to pull the badly spliced plug. Chaos, a love story, a visit from assorted Christmas spirits (and one angry Native American tree spirit) ensue.
It’s easily the most original musical I’ve seen in an age — and the funniest. Nothing feels recycled; Betsy Kelso’s R-rated dialogue is side-splitting; David Nehls’ catchy songs are a laugh-out-loud hit list (and not overworked, like so many musical numbers are). Brevity is the soul of wit, as the Bard himself observed. Kelso and Nehls get it. They make their point, make you laugh, then move on.
Director Kelly Wynn Woodland gets it, too. She’s starting with great material, to be sure. She keeps it moving at a snappy pace but slows down for the occasional “What the hell was that?” take. She has a fine comic instinct, and has the audience howling at her introduction of the play alone.
The actors (mostly veterans of Venice Theatre’s original “The Great American Trailer Park Musical”) know what they’re doing, too. Hoffman’s Lin (bedecked in an amulet containing the electrocuted ashes of her late husband Earl) is saucy and sassy; Pascoe’s Pickles is not the brightest bulb on the tree — only proving that stupidity is comedy (attributable to “Beavis and Butt-head” creator Mike Judge, not the Bard). Her wide-eyed reaction takes telegraph her every hilarious thought. Cara’s bad Betty slays the audience repeatedly with her machine gun fire one-liners. Three great performers — they click as a great comic trio.
Depending on the application of voltage, Terpstra’s sexy Darlene goes from naughty to nice at the drop of the hat. Bock’s Jeter is also no Rhodes scholar, but he’s a decent guy and suitable romantic magnet for the bipolar Darlene. Travis Rogers Jackson “Jackie” Bourdreaux is no Mr. Nice Guy, but he’s extremely funny as an Elvis wannabe running a Hooters-style pancake joint named (what else?) Stax.
All that and wicked funny music direction by Peter Madpack and choreography by Laura Priscilla Hoffman. They made all that comedy move, groove and sing. On top of that, you get a hilariously tacky trailer park by John Michael Andzulis (including a crèche populated by "Star Wars" action figures) and mega-gaudy Christmas costumes by Stephanie Gift. They brilliantly create the funny world where this fractured fairy tale unfolds.
It’s an unbelievably funny night of theater. Why?
Hard to say, folks. Comedy’s a slippery thing. I could explain until I’m blue in the face — but that’d just be boring — and still fall short. You can’t boil comedy down to a formula. If you could, a robot could make you laugh. Maybe I missed it in the last MIT Technology Review, but, as far as I know, the robots are still bombing on the stand-up circuit.
So, forget the Turing test. A sense of humor is the most human trait, and knowing how to make other people laugh is the rarest of traits. Whatever that deeply human magic is, Woodland and friends have it.
If the robots ever put on a play this funny, they’re welcome to the planet.
IF YOU GO
“The Great American Trailer Park Christmas Musical” runs through Dec. 21, at Venice Theatre, 140 W. Tampa Ave. Call 488-1115 or visit venicestage.com for more information.