Pageant Play: Kindergarten Tarts

A Texas-sized sitcom.

Driving from Austin to Los Angeles? Halfway there, you're still in Texas—that's how much ground the Lone Star State covers. It's a state of mind, too, though its larger-than-lifeness is only the starting point for Pageant Play, Theater Schmeater's two-hour sitcom for the stage. You'd call it farce if it weren't about Texans. Written by Matthew Wilkas and Mark Setlock, the 2008 show deals with assorted and familiar tropes of Texiana: little girls outfitted as kindergarten tarts, cat-fighting stage moms, redneck menfolk who routinely knock their women around, and closeted gay men making a living as pageant consultants.The play opens as Bob and Bobby (Daniel Reaume and Brandon Felker) entice parents to enroll their little darlings in a prep school for the pageant queens of tomorrow. "Who here has an ugly child?" chirps Bobby, assuring moms and dads alike that enough charm, pancake, and Fosse can bring each family the crown they so richly deserve.But soon the beginner's luck of newcomer Marge (Sara Coates), mother of Puddle, arouses the wrath of Pinky (Amanda Lee Williams). This mama cougar is accustomed to taking first place with her daughter Chevrolet (a French word, she explains, "meaning goat-like, or like a goat"). Seeking to sabotage the competition, Pinky enlists Bob and Bobby to take Puddle and muddy her up a bit. But fear not for the child actresses—there are none. In a flash of genius, the girls are represented by empty prom dresses.Pageant Play provides a steady stream of chuckles, but after the first few blackouts, set changes, and ready-made applause lines, its episodic construction makes you feel as if you're in a studio audience watching Charlie Sheen and Jon Cryer tape Two and a Half Men.Director Kerry Christianson makes the most of her source material, first by casting a solid ensemble, then by highlighting what precious little nuance there is in the script. (Turns out that Pinky has a reason to be obsessed with pushing her little Chevy across the finish line, and that Marge is hardly the perfect parent she first appears to be.) Williams and Coates make for dynamic foils as the grappling mamas; and it's they, rather than the pageant experts (roles the playwrights wrote for themselves), who provide the rhythm and the focus in this production.Ultimately, Pageant Play is nothing you haven't seen done before and better in Little Miss Sunshine; Happy, Texas; or HBO's The Positively True Adventures of the Alleged Texas Cheerleader-Murdering Mom (with Holly Hunter, all the way back in 1993). But it'll paste a grin on your face, and Texas is big enough for both originals and imitators.

 
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