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Center Stage

Feminism meshed with sex jokes makes for best show of the season

12/11/2013

“Dixie’s Tupperware Party,” starring the comedic talents of Kris Andersson as Dixie, is brought to audiences by Des Moines Performing Arts at Temple Theater through Dec. 29.

“Dixie’s Tupperware Party,” starring the comedic talents of Kris Andersson as Dixie, is brought to audiences by Des Moines Performing Arts at Temple Theater through Dec. 29.

Ever been to an Iowa Cubs game and seen, between innings, the kids and parents throwing themselves into “YMCA”? Whole families, doing the Village People? Ever thought about that — how the song is an anthem for gay hookups? The performance costumes, back in ’78, were stereotypes of men’s sexual role-play. Yet a generation later, the jingle is considered family-friendly, suitable for a ballgame in the Heartland.

“Dixie’s Tupperware Party,” perhaps the best live theater you’ll see this month, seems to me another case of the same cultural shift. Everyone in Temple Theater was in on the gender-bending joke. The playwright is Kris Andersson, a Mister, and he plays Miss Dixie Longate, “Your Tupperware Lady,” in an upswept bouffant and a cleavage-lifting dirndl. Likewise, the audience seemed perfectly at ease with the show’s mashup of American class strata. Dixiecomes out of the Southern dregs, a single Mom who flaunts her sluttish ways, poor parenting and jail time, while hawking what she calls “plastic crap.” Yet her creator worked up the persona among the cognoscenti of lower Manhattan, and the show first found success at the 2004 New York Fringe Festival, before continuing Off-Broadway and with these cross-country tours. More paradoxical still, every now and then this trailer trash delivers a few serious words about women’s empowerment.

Serious, really? By and large, it’s all suggestive patter and playful insults. The set features, front and center, a garish Tupperware array, from dandelion-yellow to rocket-fire red, and what passes for plot is Dixie’s progress through these items. She’s a redneck clown, working through clown colors. She throws in lots of biplay with the audience. Indeed, onstage, flanking the Tupperware table, sit two sofas, each with its pair of audience members. The night I attended, Dixie cheerfully declared one pair as “lesbians” right off the bat and went on ringing changes of the joke throughout. She generated recurring laughs out of a man seated near the front, and when she brought him up to the centerpiece for a closing demonstration, the bit wrung remarkable comedy from a can opener.

Working with an unpredictable extra, of course, depends on quick-witted improvisation, and Andersson/Dixie certainly worked well off the cuff. She proved adroit at milking a sudden silence, combined with a puzzled look. Yet each piece of business — not just the product demonstrations, but the two “raffles” — included moves and lines clearly polished over time. The way Dixie used stuttering, head back and one arm pointing, always seemed about to tip the party over into madness. Also each item elicited chuckle-worthy sexual innuendo; I won’t soon forget the riff on Dickens Cider and the woman who, on winter nights, “couldn’t get to bed without some hot Dickens Cider!”

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Such filthy jibes, however, alternated with stories no less than inspiring. The “Party” teaches us about Tupperware’s Brownie Wise, who dreamed up the marketing strategy and many of the best items of the brand; back in the ’50s, Wise became the first woman CEO in the U.S. So, too, the event proves the downtrodden Dixie’s way out. Her work has liberated her from abusive men. There’s nutritious stuff, within these ingenious gay wares. CV              

John Domini is Cityview’s “Play Mate” theater critic who pens our weekly Center Stage column. He is a published local author who has lived on both coasts and abroad and enjoyed theater everywhere. See www.johndomini.com.

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