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Theater Review:

Factory Theater’s "WHITE TRASH WEDDING AND A FUNERAL" at Angel Island Theater

BY LUCIA MAURO

In 1995, Factory Theater opened one of the crudest shows in Chicago late-night history: Mike Beyer’s and Bill Havle’s "White Trash Wedding and a Funeral." But it would be unfair to equate this brash comedy with other gross-out fare of the time, such as Annoyance’s "Co-Ed Prison Sluts" or Torso’s "Cannibal Cheerleaders on Crack." The Factory’s obnoxious story of a trailer-trash bride’s plans to murder her future husband (the heir to a septic-tank empire) for his money boasted endearing and tragic characters with earnest, albeit misguided, convictions. It remains one of the longest-running shows in the troupe’s history.

A couple of years ago, Factory remounted "White Trash Wedding" at its original space near Loyola University, and even staged a special benefit performance before relocating to the former Footsteps space in Andersonville. Now an itinerant company, Factory has moved the show to Angel Island Theater and resurrected those lovable Pabst Blue Ribbon-swilling hicks who gather for some noxious nuptials at the American Legion hall in Iroquois County, Illinois.

The casts may have changed over time, but the uproarious jokes and artful crassness of the piece further cement "White Trash’s" status as an ingenious cult late-night classic.

Director Nick Digilio applies the same frenetic energy that made the original production so outrageous. But he also has given the show a more polished flair -- which should appeal to new audiences who will no doubt get blown away by the actors’ violent versatility. At the same time, this slightly formalized approach might make diehard fans of the original a bit nostalgic for the sharp but scrappier ’95 cast. Either way, viewers will marvel at the actors’ ability to scream at the top of their lungs and beat each other silly for a little over an hour without going hoarse or landing in the hospital.

"White Trash Wedding and a Funeral" centers on the ruthless Connie, who agrees to marry the psychotically self-indulgent Earl only to plot his murder, which will be carried out on their wedding day. Connie is in cahoots with the dim-witted Lonnie and his even dumber sidekick Drew. They plan on rigging one of Earl’s septic tanks – and, as Lonnie so brilliantly proclaims, "Not even the Tidy Bowl Man will save his ass." The play adds a whole new meaning to the term "shithead" and proceeds to spin comedic gold out of merde.

At the heart of "White Trash Wedding" is the seemingly loopy character of Aunt Shirley (who prepared her famous hog jowels for Loretta Lynn when the country singer’s bus broke down near the trailer park). She owns the septic tank company and ultimately decides who will get her money. So the plot not only thickens, it coagulates as Connie sets out to knock off Aunt Shirley, too. By the end, the stage is littered with more bodies than "Hamlet" – along with beer cans and rancid potato salad.

Even if audiences are shocked by the constant spewing of graphic vulgarities, they have to appreciate Beyer’s and Havle’s gifts for writing some of the most colorful insults. "Shut your hole, you slut" is the play’s acrid leitmotif.

But here are some of the more creative lines: Earl’s girlfriend Bernice calls Connie a "cum-guzzlin’ fuck pig"; Connie refers to her slovenly future father-in-law Walt as a "fat fuckin’ hemorroid"; and all worship the Busch brand of brew as "the beer named after the vagina." Other classics include Vietnam vet bartender George referring to Aunt Shirley’s "last will and testicle"; and the "you’re so dumb" jokes range from "you’re so dumb, you trip over the cordless phone" to "you’re so dumb, you think menstrual cycles are made by Harley-Davidson."

In addition to the pungent writing, "White Trash Wedding" features a wild array of beehive wigs, open ruffled shirts and glittery mini skirts. Connie even drapes her plastic purple purse over her grungy wedding gown.

Molly Brennan brings a catty charisma to the role of Connie. Michael Mazzara’s strutting, oblivious Earl brings down the house every time he combs his eyebrows, and Jerry Hlava makes a hilarious slacker sidekick, Clark. Todd Oldham in drag as Bernice delivers a tour de force of sweetly gushing irreverence. And Halena Kays gives Aunt Shirley a zany bounciness that’s truly adorable.

Other standouts include Wendy Tregay’s unabashedly raunchy Leanne; Peter Marcy’s bungling Walt; Mike Beyer’s hyper-neurotic Lonnie; and Jennifer Pompa’s tipsy Gladys. Only David S. Babbitt’s sluggish Drew and Ryan Oliver’s overly intense George the bartender offer uneven interpretations.

This is one knot-tying (or noose-knotting, depending on how you look at it) you won’t want to miss. So grab a six-pack and some KFC and enjoy the cantankerous cussin’. •

Factory Theater’s production of "White Trash Wedding and a Funeral" is in an open run – Fridays and Saturdays at 11 p.m. – at Angel Island Theater, 731 W. Sheridan Rd. Tickets: $10. Call 312-409-3247.

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