Christmas at the Trailer Park – Eugene Weekly
Welcome to Armadillo Acres Trailer Park, where blowup flamingos wear Santa hats, old beer cans make perfectly festive wreaths and a good margarita is always within reach, served in a plastic flamingo cup complete with a tiny pink umbrella.
The Great American Trailer Park Christmas Musical is a holiday-themed sequel, but not to worry — if you haven’t seen the original, the residents of Armadillo Acres are happy to summarize it during the opening number. In Actors Cabaret of Eugene’s winter production, a year has passed since the drama of the original show — The Great American Trailer Park Musical — and Christmas is fast approaching. Every trailer park needs a Scrooge, and Darlene Seward (pronounced “Sewer,” played by Erica Jean) tears down her neighbors’ Christmas decorations any chance she gets, much to the dismay of the Armadillo Acres’ biggest Christmas fan and garbage ornament crafter, Rufus Jeter (Cody Mendonca).
But after an electrical accident involving an exorbitant number of Christmas lights, Darlene comes down with amnesia and turns into a Christmas enthusiast. Her neighbors — Rufus, the unforgettable Linoleum (Hillary Humphreys) and comedic Betty (Rene Ragan) — begin decorating her trailer, giving Armadillo Acres a chance at winning the coveted title of Mobile Homes & Gardens best-decorated trailer park in North Florida and a $10,000 cash prize. Will Darlene get her memory back? Or will her boyfriend, the sleazy restaurant owner Jackson Boudreaux (Donovan Seitzinger), ruin everyone’s Christmas?
The Great American Trailer Park Christmas Musical was written by Betsy Kelso and the script is equal parts funny and poignant. The jokes inspire regular laughter from the audience, the sound ringing through the intimate Actors Cabaret theater, where a themed drinks and desserts menu can be found at every table. You can’t help but root for the characters Kelso has created, charismatic yet unlucky as they are. Their unique backstories, revealed through song and the occasional spoiled eggnog hallucination, only add to their charm. The script is self aware, the humor witty and unpretentious.
Trailer Park’s music and lyrics, composed by David Nehls, had audience members singing along. An R-rated Christmas song titled “Fuck It, It’s Christmas!” featured as one of the most joyful numbers. Belted out in earnest by the entire cast, the song is an ode to letting go of all your problems and heartaches to celebrate the holidays.
The musical wouldn’t be nearly as charming without director and designer Joe Zingo. The actors maintain sharp comedic timing, and the pauses for laughter worked into the script prove necessary. But the design is what makes this musical one of a kind, each element adding character and heart, from Rufus’s detergent box ornament to the excessive amount of flamingo paraphernalia. The set, complete with two trailers, a Christmas tree and the gaudiest Christmas decor you can imagine, was constructed by Zingo, Jeff Faust and Jim Roberts.
Mendonca stands out in his role as Rufus. While Mendonca is exuberant during all-cast musical numbers, he shines most in his solo performance. Rufus’s adoration of Christmas is infectious, and when he begins to doubt himself and his love for the holiday, his melancholy is palpable and heartbreaking. Mendonca gives an all-star performance with the ballad “Black & Blue on Christmas Eve,” clad in his mall Santa costume, holding a half empty gin bottle. He engages with the audience in the front row, getting on his knees in front of them as he sings the final note.
Other notable performances include Jean as Darlene and Humphreys as Linoleum (named after the floor on which she was born). Jean, a talented singer, steals the show every time the cast breaks out in song. Her physical comedy engages the audience with multiple slow-motion electrocution sequences so well-executed they left audience members in tears of laughter. Humphreys’ one liners were a crowd favorite, with laughs filling the cozy space.
This production of The Great American Trailer Park Christmas Musical doesn’t take itself too seriously. It’s the cast that makes this musical excellent, each actor bringing energy, talent and complexities to the character they portray. The chemistry between cast members makes the relationships feel believable, and the impeccably designed set only adds to the magic.
The residents of Armadillo Acres bring a much-needed joy to the stress of this holiday season, but in the end, it’s the unexpected emotional moments that make this a complete and satisfying theater experience.
The Great American Trailer Park Christmas Musical continues through Dec. 17 at Actors Cabaret of Eugene, 996 Willamette Street. Tickets and more info at ActorsCabaret.org.