Ryan Landy as Joan
Ryan Landy as Joan
What would you call a musical production that has buckets of "finger-f**kin' fierce" fried chicken being handed around the audience, a score that sounds like Garth Brooks by way of Weird Al, a cast somewhere between L'il Abner and Loony Tunes, and a story about a young hillbilly girl who hears voices calling her to wage war in defense of lesbians? Why, Joan of Arkansas, of course, the newest addition to the Ryan Landry/Gold Dust Orphans oeuvre of skewed pitches on gender, campy mayhem, and the redeeming power of weirdness.

The thin thread that goes by the name of a "story" in Joan begins with Granny Hatfield (wearing a pair of rubber breasts that squirt what one assumes is water...though in a Landry production, "liquid assets" can vary tremendously) committing herself to keeping Poontang Hollow a safe lesbian refuge. This bucolic Abner-scape of down-home dykes is invaded by Sister Dainty on a crusade of "homosexual reform" (pledged to bend everyone's gender to the hetero way), Colonel Sandra (the owner of the "f-f-f-" fried chicken franchise), and Prissy Lynn (CW star thrown out of Nashville for saying she didn't like Elvis, and none too sure about her own preferences).

A war, of sorts, ensues, spurred on by greed, lust (Deisel McCoy's and Happy Golightly's for the virginal Joan), and the search for the secret ingredient of Granny's moonshine (don't even ask!), with Joan eventually triumphing over the wicked "city ways" and being gloriously friolated as she saves her beloved animal friends from a forest fire (in reality, a large-screen video clip from Bambi).

But "story" is not what one goes to see when Landry and company take the stage, and in Joan the real juices flow in the singing and the vaudeville antics. The songs are very funny, ranging from a surprisingly tuneful/mournful ballad by Joan called "I Must Be In Love" ("I can't hunt, so it must be love...") to a parody of inflated Les Mis bombast ("The Confrontation") to several down-home hominy numbers like "Granny's Jugs" (both mammary and crockery), "Don't Want No Men," and "Dolly Golightly" (about a "diesel-driving dyke").

Ticia Low, as the exiled Prissy Lynn, has a kick-ass voice. But everyone gets to show their pipes, including Sister Dainty--with "The Cure," her anthem to switches in sexual preference--and Coco--with "Mi Casa," a loose-hipped Isadora Duncan-ish butterfly-dance homage to his native Cuba. The house band, the Garagedogs, pop their chops with pedal-to-the-metal energy and are a sight to behold, dressed in clothes scrounged from the bottom of some forgotten closet. (In fact, all the costumes look as if Scott Martino and James Stone have sifted every St. Vincent de Paul and vintage clothing store in a 50-mile radius.)

The set sports a Fisher Price-style plastic log cabin, a forested background with drop-down doors where the wildlife of Poontang Hollow appear singing in chorus, a graveyard with off-beat headstones ("Ms. Dolly Golightly/Mother Trucker," "Sophie: she had no choice"), and a "mansion" made up of Barbie detritus and a mechanical horse.

Yes, in Landryland Mrs. Grinchley may sour Christmas for everyone, and babies may occasionally be fed into blenders and attacked with chainsaws, but none of it ever really has an edge or meanness. That comes, in great measure, from Landry's own desire to present a good evening of portable fun and cheeky frolic: risqué but never really risky, tasteless but never really in bad taste. Landry and the Gold Dust Orphans are really just vaudevillians with a gender-bent shtick. It's all very funny--none of its hurts--and one goes away with re-oxygenated blood and feeling a little lighter in the loafers.