Christmas Eve has come a little early to TheatreNOW, Wilmington’s dinner theatre spot on 10th and Dock streets. They’re doing a revival of last year’s highly successful “A Trailer Park Christmas” by Rachel Klem and Jeffrey Moore.
Welcome to the Christmas Eve open house at Dale () and Lorraine (Sandy Vaughan) Dodson’s trailer, in the exciting world of Whispering Pines Trailer Park. Oldest daughter, Jolene (Emily Gomez), the world’s most enthusiastic postal worker, stumbles in after a long day of deliveries, only to hand her family an eviction notice. See, the Dodsons have been tenants at the trailer park since Grandpap died while securing the trailer to a magnolia tree during a tornado. The property deed couldn’t be found and the North family seized their land. Now the Norths are cleaning house … on Christmas Eve. So where are the Dodsons and their neighbors going to go?
Well, Dale Jr. (Chris Lewis) wants to go to Julliard for dance and choreography. He even has an audition tape for his dance in ode to his father—the world’s greatest hunter. Dale Jr.’s choreographing the roles for Hunter and Deer. All lispy and teenage angst, Lewis plays Dale Jr. with an abundance of love for his family. Yet, he just can’t identify with them—so much so they actually wind up on a version of Jerry Springer to get a paternity test to see if he really is Dale Jr.
Of course having a vaguely macho older sister with her life together (by their family’s standards), and who is clearly dad’s favorite child, with a love of hunting, doesn’t help. Gomez and Lewis need almost no provocation to start hitting each other, but upon close examination there is a connection between them: sly high fives when one or the other scores a zinger on an unliked family friend, backhanded but genuine support of each other’s dreams, and of course appreciation of a family that really loves them both. They are really great together as siblings.
Kire Stenson and Phil Antonino are credited in the program as playing “everyone else,” That is probably the best description of their supporting roles, which sport a series of wigs in various scenes: high school friends of Jolene, dance instructor, Grandpap, the Norths, neighbors, and a plumber. They clearly have a lot of fun with broad characters and manage to make each distinct and compelling.
That the family matriarch Meemaw is played by a man is probably intended to be a point of humor. But J.R. Rodriguez brings Meemaw to life as a real person; she is aging and it ain’t easy. Anyone who has spent time with someone nearing the end of life will recognize this portrayal. Meemaw’s hard of hearing, doesn’t have much in the way of a filter anymore, and her concept of how human interactions work has shrunk considerably. Rodriguez really plays that person and it moves the story forward without distracting from the purpose.
I think my favorite characters are portrayed by Vaughan and Pollock. Both veterans of one of Wilmington’s longest-running comedy troupes, Changing Channels, they have an incredible love of laughs that plays off each other beautifully. Vaughan alternately placates and screeches her way through the evening with teased hair that defies gravity and comprehension. Instead of playing a parody, Pollock’s Dale Dodson is a genuine blue-collar, hunt, fish and drink beer kind of guy. Though all the characters in the Dodson family grow during the evening, for Dale Sr., perhaps, the growth is the most pronounced. Pollock makes it a very believable journey. When he asks the first Jewish person he has ever met, “So what do you do in December besides drink beer and hunt?” it’s not rude, it is genuine confusion.
Part of the conceit of the evening is that Lorraine is having an open house, and we, the audience, are enjoying affine repast with the Dodsons. Chef Denise Gordon of TheatreNOW provides the vittles for Lorraine’s guests, and as usual, it is a true feast. When the waitress came by to try to clear the table after dessert, I almost stabbed her with my fork and had to apologize. But, seriously, chocolate cake that rich isn’t available just anywhere—and I didn’t want to waste a single bite!
Oh, and there was savory fare, too. For starters Gordon brought out a mac-and-cheese quiche. Yep, I didn’t even know that was a thing, but … wow! It combines all the good stuff and is topped with shallot jam to impress and sate all taste buds. Her classic New Orleans shrimp étouffée didn’t skimp on the shrimp, either. Lots of plump, succulent crustaceans came smothered with onions and sauce over light brown rice.
“A Trailer Park Christmas” is a funny romp through some ridiculous Southern stereotypes, but it is also a serious play that fleshes out real family challenges. Folks will definitely laugh, but they will be moved emotionally, too. And they’ll go home stuffed after enjoying a dinner that rivals anything found in high-end restaurants across the city. For a fun, delicious way to get the holiday season started early, make reservations today.