Let us pray to the gods of All Things Tacky that there is enough blue eye shadow and bad wiggery in this town to sustain the high camp and lowdown-and-dirtiness on display in a pair of fringe shows this week. Though separated by five miles of real estate, the productions exist in the same world of nuttiness.
Factory Theater's "White Trash Wedding and a Funeral" — the plot is summed up right there in the title — is the smuttier of the two, thanks to a spectacularly twisted gross-out gag, but it's a fine distinction, really. Hell in a Handbag's
Hilariously, both take place within tiny, insular Indiana communities where the accents are bad and the townfolk badder. (What did Indiana ever do to us? But I digress.) The casts are large and unruly. The costumes over-the-top. The stories nonsensical. The accoutrements are the show — the more outrageous the better — but what were you expecting?
"White Trash Wedding and a Funeral"
In what's little more than a hillbilly soap opera, greed and double-dealing are on the menu at the local VFW, where one is as likely to hear the admonition to "Shut yer fayce!" alongside the more heartfelt adieu: "Gotta go, sugar booger."
At least one actress sports a beehive rivaling in height the blue cartoon tower of hair worn by one Marge Simpson.
The music is pure trailer park grandiosity. And under the direction of Scott OKen, the show sticks out its tongue and raises its middle finger at every available opportunity, which is what makes Ed Jones' performance as a jilted waitress such a thing of beauty. Sporting one of the most committed plumber's cracks I've seen in my lifetime, Jones (in drag) finds real pathos in the character. It sounds crazy, I know, but it works. Just watch the way he finesses that karaoke moment when Night Ranger comes on. The cast belts out the chorus to "Sister Christian" like an anthem. Jones sings those words — "Motorin' / What's your price for flight / In finding Mr. Right?" — like a dagger through the heart.
Through June 2 at Factory Theater, 3502 N. Elston Ave.; tickets are $20 at 866-811-4111 or thefactorytheater.com
Wonderfully enough, Jones appears in "Sexy Baby" as well, albeit briefly and only via video montage, playing a pearl-clutching, idiotically racist beauty pageant judge. It's a nice (and unintentional) connection, although "Sexy Baby" is also far more dedicated to the art of cross-dressing. In the hands of David Cerda (the show's creator, who also does double duty as an aging beauty queen), drag has reached a new level of lunacy. That, and it's a pretty decent comment on the culture of these pageants, where a distinct drag-queen aesthetic — tanned, rouged and taffeta-ed up — rules the day.
With musical numbers co-written by Cerda and Scott Lamberty, the show is as vulgar as one would hope. The cast has mastered that stunned, blank-eyed expression that seems to predominate with the young girls seen on shows like TLC's "Toddlers & Tiaras" (Jeremy Myers, in
Director Derek Czaplewski is only partially successful getting that sprawling cast on and off the cramped stage without causing too many traffic jams, but who cares when you have Kate Setzer Kamphausen's gawk-worthy costumes as a distraction? The attention to detail is entertaining, as is Alex Grelle's loopy performance as a beanpole of a girl with a head injury and an unglued sense of purpose. It's one of the trashiest comedic performances of the year.
Through June 16 at Mary's Attic, 5400 W. Clark St.; tickets are $22 at 800-838-3006 or brownpapertickets.com