Common Ground Theatre co-founder Rachel Klem has appropriately decided to stage, for the eighth year, her original one-act A Trailer Park Christmas, making it the last production before the 13-year-old theater’s imminent closing later this month. With the decades-long traditional winter productions of Raleigh Little Theatre’s Cinderella and Theatre in the Park’s A Christmas Carol, Klem and writing partner Jeffrey Moore decided that Common Ground needed its own cult classic.
With surprisingly family friendly antics (less the special “Blue” edition of the show performed on Dec. 11th), recognizable Southern archetypes, and a dedicated ensemble, Rachel Klem and Jeffrey Moore have managed to capture the wackiness and tackiness of the holiday season in a tightly knit package — complete with video clips, musical numbers, a tacky sweater contest, audience sing-alongs, and Christmas treats.
The show is — by design, perhaps — unpolished. The stitched-together feeling of the entire piece gives it a down-home warmth — a more relatable environment than most other Christmas shows. With a few appropriate local references, the show targets the Durham community specifically (with a Chapel Hill jab for good measure), but it is accessible to all. Even with its rough edges and tacky hijinks, the show’s spine lay in its theme of acceptance and finding the function in dysfunction.
The quirky cast — which mixes genders, ages, and races uniquely — includes Jeffrey Moore as a straight-laced but sassy Meemaw Hussey. Moore does not “do drag” for this part. Rather, he hones in on an honest representation of Grandmas all over the American Southeast. One immediately forgets that Moore is male. Rachel Klem is the show’s glue — her turn as the sweet, generous Loraine Dodson is the source of the show’s Christmas cheer.
Lindsey House is delightfully butch as postal worker Jolene Dodson and Drina Dunlap gives a grounded performance, with excellent vocals, as Dale Dodson, Jr. Steve Warnock’s Dale Dodson, Sr. is the key to the play’s focus on acceptance, allowing his good ole’ boy persona to melt away as he grows closer to his kids.
Nancy Pekar does the heavy lifting in this one, and really hits it out of the park playing no less than five characters on stage, plus more in the home movies segment. Each is distinct and well-developed. Other players tackling multiple roles are Shelby Hahn, whose vocal differentiation clearly defines his characters, and Rus Hames, whose body language sells the switch from character to character. Finally, Miranda Alguire has, perhaps, the single funniest line in the show — and her only line at that.
Even though Rachel Klem’s staging is a little disorganized and busy at times, the show has an excellent flow; and the staging of the characters is usually clear, smooth, and visually pleasing.
This is certainly a crowd-pleaser. A number of hardcore A Trailer Park Christmas fans showed up with handmade shirts and signs, a la The Price is Right, and had a terrific time (perhaps, a bit too much at times). The frequent interaction with the audience provides for an engaging evening of theater. I’d suggest catching this one — it may be your last chance.
The regular version of the show lands in PG territory for sexual innuendo.
SECOND OPINION: Nov. 30th Durham, NC Indy Week mini-preview by Byron Woods: http://www.indyweek.com/indyweek/a-trailer-park-christmas/Event?oid=5092364. (Note: To read Triangle Arts and Entertainment’s online version of the Dec. 10th Triangle Review review by Pamela Vesper and Kurt Benrud, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/2016/12/cgts-multimedia-trailer-park-christmas-features-song-dance-karaoke-and-snacks/.)
Common Ground Theatre presents A TRAILER PARK CHRISTMAS at 7:30 p.m. Dec. 15-17 and 2 p.m. Dec. 18 at 4815B Hillsborough Rd., Durham, North Carolina 27705.
TICKETS: $24.80 ($22.73 students and seniors), including service fee.
BOX OFFICE: 919-698-3870 or http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/2712654.
Rachel Klem (Durham, NC playwright/performer and NCSU acting coach and instructor): https://theatre.arts.ncsu.edu/our-team/ (N.C. State University Theatre bio).
Jeffrey Moore (Cary, NC playwright/performer): https://www.facebook.com/jeffrey.moore.146 (Facebook page).
Dustin K. Britt is a Triangle native, holds a master’s degree in special education from East Carolina University, and teaches locally. He can be spotted all over the Triangle area either painting scenery or chewing o n it. He has received local theater award nominations for doing both. He is a devoted cinephile and author of Hold the Popcorn, a movie blog on Facebook. Click here to read his reviews for Triangle Review and Triangle Arts and Entertainment He can also be found via his official Facebook page and on Twitter @dkbritt85.