Chicago Theatre Review

Chicago Theatre Review

Rocket Pussy Rides Again

April 15, 2016 Reviews No Comments

Trash – New American Folk Theatre

 

The Midwest premiere of prolific, gay playwright Johnny Drago’s appropriately titled play is a mixed bag. Bygone fame and dark secrets lurk in a cluttered Appalachian trailer that’s evolved far beyond what would be called a hoarder’s nightmare. Jinx Malibu, a former celebrity, of sorts, hides out there. She’s a busty butterball of a beauty, a faded D-list porn star whose films include the sexually explicit “Rocket Pussy” and “Rocket Pussy Rides Again.” This agoraphobic, booze and drug-addicted one-time film actress has become a TV spokesperson for a dubious diet pill. She’s cared for—nay serviced—by her family: a wheelchair bound, wisecracking mother, called Othermamma and her two children: innocent, unibrowed daughter, Smudge, and her dimwitted son with three testicles, nicknamed Loogie. Together they survive amid mountains of filth and clutter, reliving Jinx’s past film successes through repeated video viewings.

Into this setting wanders an amiable young man, whom this redneck clan nicknames “Mr. Hollywood.” While they’ve mistaken him for a famous film director, the good-looking youth is simply just a 21st century gossip columnist, an internet blogger hoping to snap a few selfies with this faded star for his fans. Instead, Mr. Hollywood is rendered unconscious and held captive, forced to watch Jinx’s proposal for a new Rocket Pussy film. The would-be comeback film script is enacted in minute detail by this lunatic clan, until, finally, the internet writer is eventually allowed to escape. It’s at this point that the comedy turns even darker. A hidden secret is revealed, a deplorable act is committed and the play ends on a tragic and bizarre note unlike anything that’s happened beforehand.

Drago’s play is truly high camp and outrageous. The playwright, who seems motivated by the films and works of trash1Charles Busch and John Waters, has created a story aimed at shock rather than enlightenment. In a story that’s part “Pink Flamingoes” and part “Tobacco Road,” even borrowing a few elements from “The Glass Menagerie,” “What Ever Happened to Baby Jane” and “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre,” Drago peoples his play with five repugnant, two-dimensional individuals. These characters spew idiotic and distasteful dialogue, heavily spiced with four-letter words, while performing a variety of repulsively vile and vulgar acts. This exhibitionist show obviously isn’t for every taste.

Like most John Waters’ films, the play stars a heavyset actor in full buxom drag, a la Divine. She’s portrayed with relish by actor Anthony Whitaker and, although prettier, bears a certain resemblance to Anna Nicole Smith or Honey Boo Boo’s Mama June. The rest of the cast could also have easily been modeled after Waters alums, like Mink Stole, Ricki Lake, Tab Hunter and Ken King. As Loogie, Kirk Jackson wanders around the room in just his tighty whities, his abnormal scrotum bulging and drawling like Jethro Bodine. Caitlin Jackson, as Smudge, the sheltered, unibrowed teenage daughter of Jinx and a father she’s never known, is the most empathetic character of the bunch. Carrie Campana is a bit too reserved and quiet as Othermamma, the dry, zinger slinging matriarch of the family. Sometimes she’s so overpowered by the others, however, that we forget she’s even there. Jamal Howard’s Mr. Hollywood shows promise at the beginning, but his slow, casual delivery brings down the energy of the play. Where we’d like to identify with his character and cheer for his getaway, we eventually no longer care.

Derek Van Barham, whose past directorial successes have included brilliant productions of “Miracle,” at Hell in a Handbag and “Some Men,” for Pride Films & Plays, injects this show with full-on campiness and a touch of Southern Gothic atmosphere. His cast embraces their quirky roles with relish and almost wild abandon. However, far too often, the actors allow that lackadaisical, relaxed Southern quality to affect their pacing. The performance often slows down so notably that the audience can almost predict what’s coming next. Words and names are sometimes misspoken or muffled, props get dropped and simply too much sloppiness prevails.

Designer Kate Setzer-Kamphausen seems to have had a field day costuming her cast in these outlandish, over-the-top wardrobe pieces. Jinx’s sweater, for instance, with the pink flamingoes embroidered on the front, is a subtle tribute to trash2the John Waters film, while her gold metallic jumpsuit literally strains at the seams to contain and accentuate the actress’ ample bosom. Clint Greene has created a living room/kitchenette that fills the modest and intimate Den Theatre space with kitsch, while Eric Shoemaker has more than met the challenge of stuffing the room full of garbage, discarded clothing, video tapes and other junk. Cody Ryan’s lighting, laced with color and shadows, nicely enhances the entire mood of the piece. He’s particularly clever at building suspense with his golden lit, MGM-inspired entrances for Jinx from the offstage bedroom.

This is most definitely a play for adults who enjoy the uncommon, the unorthodox and the freaky. It’s definitely not a production for everyone, especially those who easily offended or consider themselves conservative in any way. Also, Johnny Drago’s script takes a sudden, unexpected darker turn near the end that may give some theatergoers pause. And while there are many aspects of this production that are enjoyable, the often laid-back momentum and muddy clumsiness experienced opening night simply detracts from the play’s raunchy good fun.

Somewhat Recommended

Reviewed by Colin Douglas

 

Presented April 9-May 15 by the New American Folk Theatre at the Den Theatre, 1333 N. Milwaukee Ave., Chicago.

Tickets are available by going to www.newamericantheatre.org.

Additional information about this and other area productions can be found by visiting www.theatreinchicago.com.

 


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