Des Moines is offering a double-dip of comedy right through the double holiday. Downtown there’s a one-man show — “man,” more or less — and on the east side there’s a busy musical revue. One’s a touring show, the other entirely homegrown.
So, how do you like your yucks?
“Dixie’s Never Wear a Tube Top…” delivers its first joke in the next phrase: “While Riding a Mechanical Bull.” The title doesn’t quit there, rambling on as amiably as Dixie herself. A transgender concoction of the actor Kris Andersson, this thrice-married trailer-park queen launched her career with a “Tupperware Party.” Riotous yet poignant, Dixie’s party won lots of Des Moines fans, and her new show enjoyed a boisterous first night. After all, it’s set in a bar.
Dixie’s more of a libertine, this time, her show all about “adventures.” She holds forth in a ticky-tack roadhouse, her outfit decorated with half-clad cowboys, and relies less on improv than on a party-hearty script: “The taller the glass, the closer to Jesus.” That’s one of her cleaner jokes, actually, though Dixie’s such a motor mouth that I didn’t catch them all. She could’ve used more audience interaction, too, since the show lacks real dramatic shape. Still, “Tube Top” feels as refreshing and raucous as a night out with the besties.
“Utopia,” too, recycles a winning formula, with tuneful skits that poke fun at all things Iowan. This latest is the fourth in seven years, and about two-thirds new material, according to playwright and lyricist Robert John Ford. One of the fresh bits, in fact, might’ve been the evening’s standout.
To the tune of “Blurred Lines,” the players gave a bumptious salute to the State Supreme Court’s defense of a person’s right to get drunk in his or her own home. Mary Bricker, as the white trash woman whose arrest triggered the ruling, came across something like Dixie, actually. Better yet, Bricker showed off a flexible voice and nimble moves. Some of us, at least, didn’t know she had it in her.
The player who shot the moon, however, was Craig Peterson. His costumes and props, like everyone’s, remained minimal. Whether a beer-swilling Hawkeye fan or Steve King in a slasher flick, Peterson kept finding new faces, vocal quirks and angles at which to cock his hips. He took the most tired comic ploy, turning a vanilla-white Hy-Vee drone into a hard-core rapper, and shook it awake.
The success of that number, like every number, depended on using the entire stage, in particular the long extension at floor level. The direction and choreography, both handled by Anne Arthur Frett, kept the audience on its toes, too. Compliments are due as well to Jim Trenberth’s lighting and especially Josh Jepson’s soundwork, combining live keyboards and recorded tracks. Ultimately, though, “Utopia” is Ford’s baby. His creative ferment has resulted in a good 10 dramatic works now, and he’s got more in development. Indeed, after Christmas, one of the top choices for local theater will be Ford’s best-known piece, likewise updated for 2016: “Caucus! The Musical.” CV
John Domini is a published local author who has lived on both coasts and abroad and enjoyed theater everywhere. See www.johndomini.com.