Theater maven Michael Wanzie knows how to make people laugh. He's wildly clever at weaving socially forbidden subject matter and slurs of every stripe into his scripts, including the one he wrote for the just-debuted A Trailer Trash Christmas. (Like it or not, 'tis the season.) But the big kill of this one-hour comedy comes in watching Wanzie and his stage partner, Tommy Wooten, embody a seamy cast of trailer-park residents. Between them, the two actors play multiple over-the-top characters mostly Southern women living hard-luck lives on the fringe of a gay nightclub.
The physical comedy goes right for the gut. Never, ever will I forget Wanzie dolled up as a 300-pound mentally challenged young girl in an oversized tutu. She lisps through lips smudged with red lipstick and exuberantly skips across the stage, singing a medley that veers from "Do You Hear What I Hear" to "I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas" to "Respect." It's more twisted than watching the "Hippo Ballet" in Fantasia on acid.
As a visual spectacle, Trailer Trash Christmas is naughty and contagious fun. But if you can follow the plot and the insider banter, there are other creative layers to be appreciated. As alluded to in the extended title The Holiday Prequel to Carolina Moon Wanzie based his previous Carolina Moon (which opened August 2003 at the Parliament House) on the real rise-and-fall-and-rise history of this gay institution and its odd lots of surrounding acreage on South Orange Blossom Trail. What was once the Carolina Moon trailer park is now Don Granatstein and Susan Unger's growing gay time-share enterprise. However that history is exaggerated here, evictions and other confrontations between the owners and oddball trailer-park residents did occur when Granatstein and Unger took over in 1999.
So as a country-singing troubadour (wearing a press hat) tells us in his introductory song, just hang on and enjoy, even if you're not familiar with the returning characters. They include frustrated homemaker and Melmac collector Mellie Tupper; stuffed-animal humper Chicken Boy; and a taxidermist who wants to use the latter for assault-weapon target practice for defiling his moose. You don't have to know the real-life backstory and a good thing it is, too. Unless you're a P-House regular, there's almost no way to follow the inside jokes anyway.
Granatstein and Unger are mentioned more than several times in the script, usually in reference to their Jewishness (as is Moira from Real Radio 104.1, whom Wanzie impersonates) and their intention to "faggotize Florida." At the performance we attended, having the ruling couple seated at a key table and laughing along with everyone else made the pervading "We Are Family" style even more obvious. There were countless other encoded skewers that passed over my head; after the show, Unger noted that the script hadn't left anyone out.
The prequel begins with the delivery of a Christmas card carrying a notice of eviction, and the announcement of a series of take-no-prisoners festivities. There's the Carolina Moon Holiday Parade of Lots Christmas Display & Tree Trimming Competition, along with the Drive-by Nativity Shooting Gallery and the Miss Very Merry Christmas Pageant (judged by Moira, who agrees to "Take the girls … go … see how the boys celebrate"). From there, Wanzie and Wooten roll out their eccentric personalities in a series of cozy vignettes presented on a craftily designed set. Strings of lights are wrapped around the outline of trailer homes and just about everything else on the site, including an overbearing crucifix.
Catching a play in the Parliament House's Footlights Theatre is … well, it is what it is. Like most of the audience and the servers (who efficiently deliver drinks throughout the performance), the overall atmosphere is irreverent and gay and not in the yuletide sense. As a bonus, wristbands are issued instead of ticket stubs, and waive the $10 cover charge otherwise required to get into the club after the show.
Before the seriousness and self-righteousness of the season overwhelm you, go … see … laugh … and don't bring anyone who couldn't handle a few blow-job jokes at the baby Jesus' expense.