Every song in Single Wide sounds like it’s ready for a life beyond the stage, and that is certainly the highest compliment when discussing a musical that could have felt too niche. Set in a trailer park somewhere in the United States, the show centers on single mom Katy (the touching Emma Stratton), a car part saleswoman living with her son Sam (a wonderful Matt Miner), and her mother Amanda (a truly wonderful Stacia Fernandez) who works selling expensive pet accessories over the phone (“it’s absurd what I sell, but bills don’t pay themselves” she sings). As Katy tries to improve her life by attending online college, her mother and son dream to see her with a man who will treat her just right.
Enter handsome, brooding stranger Guy (Derek Carley) who moves to the trailer next door with nothing but a knapsack and a six-pack of beer. Fascinated by the presence of another man in the predominantly female community, little Sam approaches Guy, befriends him and begins devising a way to set him up with his mom. Despite the traditional rom-com plot evoked by the synopsis, Single Wide works because none of the characters feel exclusively like archetypes, in fact they all seem to be struggling to escape the confines of what life suggests they should be.
For Katy, life is much more than finding a man, in fact in a sweet number called “One For Me” she explains she already has found her soulmate in the shape of the little boy who with his “toothless smile” took her breath away from the very first time they met. For her best frenemy Flossie (a scene stealing Jacqueline Petroccia) life would feel better with a man around, but not being able to find one doesn’t prevent her from feeling empowered about her own sexuality, she also practices gardening and smartly has to explain to one of her dimwit beaus that the term “horticulturist” isn’t an insult.
The country-tinged music and lyrics by Jordan Kamalu often make Single Wide feel like a country show with a plot, and like the most exemplary entries in the genre, the songs succeed because they tell stories of people living on the sidelines of society, without ever looking down on them or turning them into poverty porn. The lives of the people in the show aren’t less dignified because they don’t have the means to inhabit houses without wheels, their dreams aren’t less valid because they aren’t as grandiose as those we’re used to seeing in musical theatre, in fact the story feels fresh because musicals rarely focus on people like this without the aid of a microscope or a moderator that comes from a privileged background to help guide the audience.
Best of all is the show’s unabashed admiration for womanhood, best summed up in a scene where Guy (gotta love that his name is so generic!) meets all the women in the trailer park and asks Sam if they’re sisters. For all he knows they very well could be, for Single Wide celebrates sisterhoods that go beyond blood relations and traditional notions of family.