Trailer talk: Gritty musical called both vulgar and charming
Rebecca Meyer-Larson had to go overseas to find the beauty in a Florida trailer park.
The Moorhead High School theater director was attending the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in Scotland with her 2008 cast of "High School Musical," but it was another slice of Americana that caught the attention of students' parents.
After hearing rave reviews for "The Great American Trailer Park Musical," Meyer-Larson decided to see it for herself.
"Fifteen minutes into it, when we weren't wiping tears away from laughing so hard, we said, 'We have to do this show,' " she says.
The problem was how to pull it off when her main venue, Moorhead High School, would likely frown on such an adult musical for students.
The answer was to step outside the school, enlist some tried and tested talent and do something completely different.
Meyer-Larson and producer/choreographer Ryan Domres' production of "Trailer Park" finishes a two-day preview in Detroit Lakes, Minn., tonight before pulling into the Fargo Theatre for a three-day run beginning Thursday. The production also trucks up to Grand Forks for a July 23 performance at the Empire Theatre.
"Trailer Park" first set up shop in 2004 in New York, where reviewers reveled in the twisted and tawdry characters of Armadillo Acres in Florida.
The play revolves around a group of women in the trailer park and the no-good men in their lives, like Norbert, who cheats on his agoraphobic wife, Jeannie, with the stripper Pippi, on the run from her marker-huffing ex-boyfriend Duke.
Did you follow all of that? If not, a Greek chorus of trashy ladies - Betty, Lin (short for Linoleum) and Pickles - will fill in the gaps.
The New York Sun called the show " 'South Park' meets 'Desperate Housewives.' " The New York Post countered with " 'The Honeymooners' meets 'The Best Little Whorehouse' in 'Urinetown.' " Even the usually high-brow New Yorker wallowed in the
low-brow humor, calling it "joyful and unashamedly vulgar ... more fun than a chair-throwing episode of 'Jerry Springer' set to music."
Meyer-Larson says the writers didn't totally take out the trash with the characters, calling them "irrelevant and charming" more so than offensive stereotypes.
And despite the Southern-fried setting, she says the themes of the show, love and rejection, are universal and should win over Midwestern fans.
"As trashy as this show is, the book is so clever," she said last week in an empty south Fargo office space that doubles as the troupe's practice space. "You can spend five minutes in Wal-Mart and all of these people will walk past you at some time."
That said, the crew is pretty insistent that the play is not a family outing.
"The first minutes of the show, you'll know if it's for you," Domres said.
The next stage
Considering Meyer-Larson wanted to produce the musical for a year, it seems like a bad time to stage a play downtown. Thursday is the first day of the annual Downtown Fargo Street Fair and also the public debut of the new Trollwood Performing Arts School in Moorhead and its production of "The Wiz."
Meyer-Larson sees both events as benefits rather than detriments for business.
The cast of "Trailer Park," which includes three former students from Moorhead High, will perform selections before lunch at the street fair. "Mey-Lar," as her students call her, hopes to attract some of the traffic from the street fair.
She also dismisses any notion of a rivalry with Trollwood or any other theatrical group in town, saying that Trollwood's principal players have been very supportive.
"Good art breeds more good art," says Sue Boyd, who is coordinating ads and promotions for the "Trailer Park."
Both Boyd and Meyer-Larson's children are Trollwood alums. In fact, the director's daughter, Sadie Langemo, plays Pickles.
"This show is nothing like Trollwood has," Langemo says.
Meyer-Larson sees the show as filling a niche by offering musical theater for adults.
"Fargo-Moorhead doesn't offer any gritty musical theater options for adults," she says. "I think people are craving this musical."
If you go: Holmes Theatre
* What: "The Great American Trailer Park Musical"
* When: 8 tonight
* Where: Historic Holmes Theatre, Detroit Lakes, Minn.
* Info: Though not rated, this play is recommended for mature teens and older. Tickets are $18. (218) 844-7469
If you go: Fargo Theatre
* When: 8 p.m. Thursday through Saturday
* Where: Fargo Theatre, 314 Broadway
* Info: Tickets are $18. (701) 235-4152