'Trailer Park Musical' goes off course at The Theater Barn
NEW LEBANON, N.Y. — There's an art to doing silly, especially with David Nehls and Betsy Kelso's "The Great American Trailer Park Musical," a let's-not-take-ourselves-too-seriously musical which The Theater Barn first presented in 2012 in a spot-on buoyantly smart production directed by Bert Bernardi.
Where are those silly-making smarts when you need them, especially in a Berkshires summer theater season as weighty as this one has been? Certainly not in this far-too-hard-working revival directed this time by Alyssa Meyers that falls short of the show's promise and accomplishment.
That accomplishment exists chiefly in David Nehls' bouncy, often tongue-in-cheek, nudge-nudge-wink-wink songs that score off a number of musical styles and genres. But even the show's best moments, especially a first-act closer, "Storm's A-Brewin'," feel far more exhausting than soaring.
Set primarily in and around a trailer park, Armadillo Acres, in Starke, Fla., "The Great American Trailer Park" revolves around a married couple — a toll collector named Norbert (an amiable and engaging Nicholas D. Grevera); his agoraphobic wife, Jeannie (Andrea Schmidt in a performance that is equally well-sung and played), who has promised her husband she will make it all the way out of their modest trailer in time for their approaching 20th wedding anniversary. She traces her condition to a bad hair perm and the abduction of their newborn baby boy 20 years earlier. Meanwhile, Norbert, who is increasingly impatient with Jeanine's withdrawal, takes up with a stripper named Pippi (Jill Engstrom in an effortful, albeit earnest, performance that falls short of the role's modest, not out-of-reach possibilities.
Pippi, it turns out, is on the run from a motorcycle riding, marker-sniffing ex-boyfriend named Duke (Levi Squier), who does not take rejection kindly and is making his way from Oklahoma City to Florida to reclaim her.
Shepherding this tale through its characters' ups and downs is a three-member Florida chorus comprising Betty (Amy Fiebke), the trailer park's manager; Pickles (Apryl Higgins), a 17-year-old Kewpie doll who is given to hysterical pregnancies; and Lin (an appealing, sassy Nicole Weitzman), whose husband Earl has been on Death Row in the town's major employer, a state penitentiary, for eight years.
There is, if you stop and think about it, some dark stuff, hard issues, in the sediment of this show. There is a way of turning that around and finding a genuine human element in a show that asks very little of its audience except to sit back and have a good time at the hands of a cast that should be having a good time as well. To be sure, there are a few in this cast who just give in, let go and have at it with a little pizzazz, style and insight. In those moments "The Great American Trailer Park Musical" revels in its unassuming charm and conviction. The rest simply doesn't rise to that occasion.