Talk to the hand!

‘The Jerry Springer Show’ goes opera.

Stephanie Dickrell

One expects certain things from the Jerry Springer Show: Fights. Sex. Big hair. Bad makeup. Tight clothes. Grown men in diapers.

“Jerry Springer – The Opera”

WHEN: Through Oct. 28.
WHERE: Hennepin Stages, 824 Hennepin Ave., Minneapolis
TICKETS: $25 Monday, Thursday and Sunday; $28 Friday and Saturday (612) 673-0404, www.hennepintheatredistrict.org

Jerry has been bringing on the freaks for nearly 16 years and is one of the only talk shows to boast its ratings once beat Oprah’s.

A pop culture phenomenon such as this could hardly go unnoticed by those in the theater, especially because the conflict writes itself. However, simply a stage play would feel redundant and fake, for drama is what Jerry does best.

To truly satirize dear Jerry, he had to be paired with the highest of high culture, opera. Nothing sounds better in an aria than a string of cuss words degrading the transvestite cheater’s mother and threatening to stick that very large fist up that very small hole.

It provides it all: fights, sex, and all that jazz. But it doesn’t stop there. With it comes the epic battle of good and evil, Jesus and Satan, on the very stage where infidelities are realized and one-legged lesbian prostitutes propose to their transitioning transgendered midgets, or some clichéd “other” that the American public can’t help but watch.

The opera comes to us in two acts. In the first act, Jerry is being his usual self. He hosts his show, the theme of “Guilty Secrets,” and parades his guests in front of those who have no right to judge.

While it’s hard to get used to beer-bellied, greasy-haired, tacky-clothed, stereotypical white trash singing opera, eventually the ear adjusts. Single singers become full-on production numbers, with the Jerry Springer audience joining in. Curse words fly out of their mouths in operatic tones.

Disappointingly, there are no shouts of “JERRY, JERRY,” only a soft, catchy tune of “Jerry, Jerry,” over and over again, as the audience cheers for the part showman, part profiteer.

The second act brings us to hell, quite literally, where Satan demands that Jerry help reconcile the ills of old, back to when Satan himself tried to overthrow the one and only, high almighty. Satan wants his apology, and he plans to get it lest Jerry have barbed wire shoved where it most definitely doesn’t belong.

The show is silly, sometimes touching, most times hilarious. The singing is real, as are the emotions, no matter how exaggerated they might be.

His guests hide their pain behind their “talk to the hand,” “talk to the ass,” and inappropriate pelvic thrusts. Jerry hides behind his rationality, which certain moral codes might call into question.

An amazing amount of talent can be found in the Minneapolis area. Although sometimes too eager, the cast enjoys itself. Their passion and excitement drive the production from start to finish.

Their biographies in the program include adorable thanks to husbands and children, especially those younger children whose actress mothers quickly pointed out would never see the show.

It’s raunchy. It’s hilarious. It’s a side of the Springer show not seen anywhere else.

In a particularly chilling hospital scene, wide-eyed, smiling nurses cheer on stoic dead versions of Jerry’s guests as they declare: “We eat, excrete and watch TV.”

The show is self-critiquing and self-criticizing. The ensemble, providing background vocals and joining in on production numbers are satirizing us – those who choose to watch Jerry Springer. At the start of the show, they spew their hopes for fights and lesbians and the like.

Very quickly their eagerness for trashy conflict holds a mirror to our own behavior, and soon they (and we) seem sad, disgusting and pathetic.

Why do we like to watch this crap? What is so dang fascinating about people behaving badly and then getting on TV to talk about it? We’d like to dismiss Jerry’s guests as the scourge of humanity, but maybe it is not they, but we, who tune in day after day to watch.

Dear Jerry, in all his glory, figures this all out by the end of the show and he encourages love and humanity for everyone, as only the need for on-stage resolution could.

Riding the current of cultural critique, the show provides an insightful and hilarious look into a low-brow popular culture that we can’t help but feast our eyes upon.