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This Side of the Tracks

All the trailer park’s a stage in ACE’s latest musical
Laura Holden (left), Sophie Mitchell and Megan Hammon in ACE’s Trailer Park

Raunchy, underdeveloped, oversexed and aesthetically topsy-turvy, The Great American Trailer Park Musical is a piece of sideshow freakery on the order of John Waters’ Desperate Living. It’s a prankish mish-mash of attitudes, styles and music, and — peopled by potty mouths, crotch scratchers, dick grabbers and slut buckets — it’s certainly not for the prudes of political correctness. This show is as off-color as it is off Broadway.

If your yardstick of tolerance was defined when Divine noshed on a freshly shat dog turd in Pink Flamingos, you should have no problem with Actors Cabaret of Eugene’s The Great American Trailer Park Musical. This uneven but ultimately infectious production is at once defiantly crass and completely harmless: a comedy of bad manners that errs just this hitch of mean-spiritedness, while never quite achieving the zing of class satire or the emotional ranginess of romantic comedy. Trailer Park, in other words, is more Winter’s Boner than Winter’s Bone, more Poop Floats than Hope Floats.

Set amid the out-and-proudly poor denizens of Armadillo Acres, a white-trash hood of double-wides in Stark, Florida, this nasty little musical — ably directed by ACE stalwart Mark Van Beever (Spring Awakening), from a book by Betsy Kelso and music/lyrics by David Nehls — is as loose and baggy as a pair of size-XXL overalls. 

In its own hillbilly fashion, Trailer Park does fulfill the Shakespearean dictates of comedy, but the thin narrative of betrayal, awakening and love’s labor lost-and-found is simply a device for mounting a series of sketch comedy routines. These episodes are strung together by music that taps the vein of second-wave country, from foot-stomping honky-tonk to the outlaw styles of Waylon and Willie, with a bit of ‘70s Motown thrown into the mix. 

The songs are uniformly strong and often hilariously clever. The only quirk is the volume on stage, which is set far too low, creating a double-edge sonic snag by 1) being, well, too quiet and, 2) causing the occasional flat notes during vocal solos. Turn it up, ACE!

Trailer Park, as it exists on the page, is an unholy mess. From scene to scene, and sometimes even within a single scene, the show seems uncertain about its intentions: Parody one moment, social commentary the next; sexual farce, slapstick, straight-up (as opposed to half-mast) romance; a satire on lipstick (or perhaps “tube-top”) feminism, class bigotry or — as when Jeannie (Shannon Coltrane) winks at the forth wall by announcing, “I think I feel a dream sequence coming on” — a hoi-polloi postmodern deconstruction of cultural clichés and the stereotypes of poverty.

None of which matters, really, because ACE, with its cozy, dinner-show setting, has cornered the local market on creating intimate, engaging productions that — even when the subject is heavy — take the community in community theater seriously. The goal is to have fun.

And Trailer Park’s strong, dedicated cast of young actors certainly makes fun look fun. There’s not the space to note them all, but a special nod goes out to the same actor who damn near stole Spring Awakening, Sophie Mitchell (Pickles) as well as Coltrane, who plays the agoraphobic wife of philandering Norbert (Andrew Gutoski). These two charismatic performers prove themselves masters of that dying art called physical comedy. Lucille Ball didn’t live in a trailer park, but if she had, I bet she’d have given her “left tit for a dip in the pool” with these two cut-ups.

The Great American Trailer Park Musical runs through Feb. 18 at Actors Cabaret, 996 Willamette St.; actorscabaret.org