Sometimes I love the variety of life in Charlotte, and Tuesday on Tryon Street was one of those times. Young women in summer dresses ambled south to see “Mamma Mia!” at Knight Theater. Weathered guys in cowboy hats strode north to hear Merle Haggard and the Strangers at Belk Theater. And a few hundred of us found our way to Booth Playhouse for the unclassifiable “Dixie’s Tupperware Party.”
Was it an adroit piece of theater, a one-person show with an actor so deeply inside Southern mama Dixie Longate that the drag facade never shifted an inch? A chance to purchase the colorful, versatile storage containers Earl Tupper invented in 1942? A testament to the resilience of the human spirit, with Dixie explaining how Tupperware parties helped her rebound from an abusive marriage and a stint in prison? A good-naturedly raunchy comedy? (Say the character’s full name aloud, pausing briefly after the “x.”)
All four and more. I had the feeling that many of the fans had seen Kris Andersson do this show six years ago in this same spot; some laughed even before the punchlines were all the way out. They caught all the nuances of Dixie’s auctioneer-style delivery, meant to mock the pitch artists who show up on late-night TV.
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Andersson introduced this character at the 2004 New York International Fringe Festival and worked with playwright Elizabeth Meriwether and director Alex Timbers on an off-Broadway version, which earned him a 2008 nomination from the Drama Desk Awards for outstanding solo performance. (Patrick Richwood directed this touring version.)
Yet it’s not exactly a solo. Four local women sat onstage Tuesday night, bearing the occasional mock-lashing from Dixie and performing a stunt near the end. Audience members got pulled into the act, and two won raffles for tiny gifts. She’s the hostess, but it’s our party nearly as much as hers.
Dixie praises the plastic implements that gave her purpose after her release from prison. For all her teasing about “this crap” stacked on a table behind her, she explains that Tupperware sales allowed her (perhaps we might say compelled her) to retain custody of her maddening kids: Wynona, Dwayne and Absorbine Jr. Sometimes she answers questions: An audience member asks, “Is there anything you can’t keep fresh in Tupperware?” and Dixie replies, “A baby. You leave one in there for a couple of weeks, and it’s gonna go off.”
She gives a little history about her product and Brownie Wise, who lives up to her pixie-ish name in the photo projected behind Dixie on a screen. Wise, a former sales rep for Stanley Home Products, came up with the idea of throwing sales events in houses. Tupper made her vice president of Tupperware Home Parties in 1951; three years later, she became the first woman on the cover of Business Week magazine.
When Dixie speaks about Wise as an inspiration, she becomes serious: Tupperware has made Dixie financially independent and self-confident for the first time. She urges all of us to say something unprintable to people who suppress or diminish us. Whether or not we buy anything Dixie’s selling, we go off with our self-esteem well-preserved.
‘Dixie’s Tupperware Party’
Dixie Longate, a fast-talking Tupperware Lady, has packed up her catalogs and left three kids behind to journey across America on a sales tour.
WHEN: Through July 19 at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday, 3 and 8 p.m. Saturday and 3 and 7 p.m. Sunday. No show July 4.
WHERE: Booth Playhouse, 130 N. Tryon St.
RUNNING TIME: 95 minutes without intermission.
DETAILS: 704-372-1000 or blumenthalarts.org.