Having noted that patrons of interactive theater events could be induced to eat, drink and pay to make fools of themselves in public, those clever young things at Ars Nova are now offering Gothamites the opportunity to indulge in our favorite interactive sport — shopping. Yes, “Dixie’s Tupperware Party” is a bona-fide retail party, with legit products going for honest legal tender. But aside from the fact that it takes place in a cabaret setting at a trendy West Side theater, what distinguishes this shopping experience from those held among consenting adults in private homes is that the house charges for drinks and the hostess is a drag queen.
Solo performer Kris Andersson, who wrote this outrageous sales pitch with Elizabeth Meriwether (“The Mistakes Madeleine Made”), affably maintains the comic fiction that he is, indeed, your gracious hostess Dixie Longate. Trussed up in a gingham housedress and sporting a luxuriant red wig, he bustles around Cameron Anderson’s surreal kitchen setting with the manic energy of an Eisenhower-era housewife desperate to raise enough cash to support a secret gambling habit.
As Dixie reveals the circumstances that brought her from her trailer-park home in Alabama to New York, the shopaholic capital of the nation, it turns out she’s actually trying to raise money for her young son’s leg operation. (“Yes,” she says, as a picture of the crippled lad flashes on the video screen, “my kid dies unless you buy this Tupperware crap.”)
The more we learn about Dixie, the more we like this earthy and good-natured broad, who took up her respectable profession on the advice of her parole officer. Instead of cursing the husband who left her with three kids and some destructive habits, she chirpily promotes the female-empowerment philosophy of Brownie Wise, pioneering organizer of the first Tupperware Home Parties, whose talking picture hangs on her wall, exhorting her to “Focus, Dixie! Sell that Tupperware!”
Launching into her spirited demonstration of “the fine quality Tupperware brand crap” that occupies every surface, Dixie proves herself a hard-sell saleswoman with touching faith in her products — if highly unorthodox notions of the “new, clever and creative uses” to which they may be put.
Those classic “Impressions” bowls (which come in kiwi, tangerine and mixed berry colors) can hold a really big fruit cocktail with all the juice, or work just as well for carrying a premature infant — hopefully, without making use of “the airtight, liquid-tight seal.” When an audience member steps up to the stage to accept the plastic measuring spoons she has won in one of the show’s raffles, Dixie instructs her in the proper use of her personal coke spoons. All innocence, she enthusiastically suggests that gay couples might use Item 779, the Double Colander, for mutual spanking sessions.
As with any interactive theater event, the mildly smutty fun of the show has a lot to do with what Dixie calls the “communal experience” of the party, and if you get stuck with a bunch of drunks, don’t hold me to this notice. But Andersson proves a pro at deflecting rambunctious young partygoers, and in the Q&A session, he sneakily returns to the sales pitch, staying on message to convince several aud members to fill out their order forms for Item 427 “Forget-Me-Nots,” Item 775 “Season Serve Marinade Meat Container” — and a ton of other colorful crap.
Although she sold $170,000 worth of product last year, Dixie failed to make No. 1 Tupperware salesperson — a point of great sensitivity. But she should not lose heart; in the right venues, Dixie Longate could well become a shrewd theater company’s top fund-raiser.