Spread the news! Those 7 Redneck Cheerleaders are back in town for even more over-the-top fun!

For all those who couldn’t get enough of their smash 2006 return engagement, the Elephant Theatre Company’s band of zanies once again provide broadminded Angelinos with the most outrageously funny show in town, directed to perfection by Amy French.

7 Redneck Cheerleaders, the brainchild of Louis Jacobs, is an absolutely hilarious (and supposedly fictional) look at L.A.’s 99-seat theater scene, as told to us by Ben (Jacobs), the author of a “World Premiere” play entitled (you guessed it!) 7 Redneck Cheerleaders.

Ben’s play centers around a family of rednecks who could easily be next door neighbors to the folks in Del Shores’ Sordid Lives.  Teenage Young (that’s his name) wants to be a cheerleader, but that will happen only over faggot-hating dad Mick’s dead body.  No matter that Young only wants to get close to a girl named Clover, the school’s cutest cheerleader. Dad won’t hear of it.  

It was always the dream of Ben’s Aunt Lottie that her nephew stage this autobiographical play. “There’s lots of messy cussin’, but that’s okay,” she told younger Ben. “And you direct it yourself!” Now that Lottie has died of complications from a breast augmentation (at age 72), Ben has vowed to make his aunt’s dying wish come true.  All he needs is a theater, and actors to embody his redneck relatives.

Fortunately for Ben, financing a production of 7 Redneck Cheerleaders is the least of his worries, as he’s made some money starring in a commercial for a male enhancement product. (He’s not allowed to tell us the name, “but it rhymes with Shmiagra.”)  A chance meeting with theater owner Brad (David Fofi, whose theater company Elephant happens to be) in the Pirate’s Booty Popcorn aisle of Trader Joe’s provides Ben with a venue, and soon the playwright/director has his cast of seven lined up and ready to rehearse.

In addition to Brad (a prime candidate for anger management classes), they are Victoria (Alexandra Hoover), the method actress to end all method actresses; Howard (Darryl Armbruster), a gay actor with a capital G; Rose (Janice Paxson Evans), a lesbian alcoholic nymphomaniac; Patrick (Jeremy Glazer), a dim bulb of a fledgeling (and hunky) young actor; Pfeiffer (Nikki McCauley), a redheaded schizophrenic sex kitten with a crush on Ben; and Nikki (Kate Huffman), a perky blonde girl next door.

Each of the seven has his or her own reason for wanting to do the show, though Brad’s is the most succinct.  “I was excited to be doing a play about cheerleaders.”

Once the rehearsals get started, the laughs come fast and furious. At an early read-through of the play, Patrick calls out “line,” only to be reminded that he has script in hand.  A character in the play within a play dyes her hair because “I must stay attractive for my stud of a husband even though he only has one nut,” then later confesses that she “got knocked up at 16 just like anyone else.” The slutty aunt in the play-within-a-play is said to have been “born with her legs wide open.” And Howard informs Brad that “the shortest difference between a gay man and a penis in his fanny is a bottle of whisky.” 

As rehearsals progress, props and furniture are brought on stage and theatrical lighting is added until at last the Elephant Theatre stage has been transformed into a tastelessly decorated redneck living room.  At the same time, we get to know the cast better—Rose drinks real alcohol instead of the fake stuff; Brad shows a pretentious side by quoting Francis Bacon, whose name he pronounces “BaCOHN,” Patrick is overjoyed to learn his character’s motivation (“He’s hating his mother!”); Rose informs us that “the theater is where I pray”; and Ben keeps finding new ways of being a klutz.

One of the biggest reasons that fans keep coming back to see 7 Redneck Cheerleaders over and over again is that every role is double, and in some cases triple cast, so that rarely are two casts exactly the same.  Since each actor makes the role his or her own, a return visit is sure to bring new surprises and delights.

Sunday’s cast featured stellar turns by Jacobs, in essence playing himself, or perhaps a nerdier version of self; Fofi, who gives new meaning to the word explosive; Hoover, who can cry real tears and then boast, “That’s why they call it acting!”; Armbruster, deliciously shocking the audience with casual remarks about rim jobs and penises; Evans, masterfully chewing the scenery as she guzzles drink after drink; Glazer, convincing as both teenaged and dumb, though in fact he is neither; McCauley, whose Pfeiffer could give Britney and Lindsay lessons in sluttiness; and Huffman, sweetly spoofing the cheerleader next door.

Elephant Stageworks’ set design, Kimberly Negrete’s lighting, and Christopher Game’s sound design effortlessly transform a bare black box into a trailer trash living room, and then back again.  Ronda Denyse Brooks’ costumes (with additional costuming by Danielle Bray and J.J. Pyle) are precisely what Ben’s actors and characters would wear.

And to top it all, there’s a fully choreographed cheerleading finale!

I loved 7 Redneck Cheerleaders so much when I saw it two years ago that I went back again for a second look (and cast) and I’m doing the same thing again this time around.  Like my fellow Angelinos who’ve make the cheerleaders a perennial hit, I just keep going back for more.

Elephant Theatre, 6322 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles. 

–Steven Stanley
August 3, 2008

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