Extra helpings of ‘Tuna’ for the holidays
Probably not many attending a holiday party expect that tuna will be served as the main entree. But a couple of area theater groups are serving tuna – “A Tuna Christmas,” that is – as their main holiday attraction.
This weekend, both Selinsgrove’s The Courtyard Theatre and Mill Hall’s Millbrook Playhouse are presenting “A Tuna Christmas,” the sequel to the quirky hit “Greater Tuna.”
The two act comedy follows two dozen of the daffy, dysfunctional residents of Tuna, Texas (the third smallest town in the Lone Star State) as they prepare for their annual Christmas rituals, including the lawn decorating contest and staging of “A Christmas Carol.”
All of the 22 speaking parts are held by two male actors, including roles as several middle-aged and elderly women.
The comical appeal of the show lies in how fast and how believably one actor, after leaving the stage, can reappear in a matter of minutes, as another character decked out in a different costume (and usually a wig).
With few sight gags, most of the humor comes from the exaggerated dialogue and behavior of the residents, who often diss each other while extolling their own virtues and life-styles.
For its annual holiday attraction, Millbrook has moved its show from the unwinterized playhouse in Mill Hall – but that may change in the near future – to the Elks Club, 216 E. Main St., Lock Haven with 7 p.m. performances tonight, Friday and Saturday.
Millbrook veteran Lawrence Lesher, who has directed and acted in several of its productions in recent years, is in the director’s chair for this version of “A Tuna Christmas.”
Lesher, who directed this summer’s quick-change franticly paced “The 39 Steps,” will be working again with Matt Harris, who was featured in last year’s holiday show “Every Christmas Story Ever Told.” The other half of the cast is Travis Mitchell, with the actors each playing 11 of Tuna’s residents.
The play is obviously silly and fuels lots of stereotypes of red-necked Texans, but the script gives “A Tuna Christmas” suprisingly poignant moments, which raises it from simply two guys in drag, straining to top one other with over-the-top portrayals. Still, it is the caustic humor amply displayed which induces lots of laughs.
The Elks Club stage is relatively small but the scenes (the OKKK Radio Studio, a used weapons shop, Tuna’s high school gym, The Tasty Creme Diner and some outdoors settings) required few set pieces.
Changing sets often means only rearranging a table and chairs or bringing in a piece of furniture while snippets of Christmas songs keep the audience entertained during the interval.
For reservations, call 570-748-8083 or visit www.millbrookplayhouse.org.
THE COURTYARD THEATER
The second production of the new Courtyard Theater, “A Tuna Christmas,” features Bob Taylor, the theater’s artistic director, and Isaac Conner, who played the Beadle in the premiere show “Sweeney Todd.” There are remaining 7 p.m. performances Friday and Saturday and a 2 p.m. matinee on Sunday at the theater located near the J.C. Penney entrance at the Susquehanna Valley Mall.
“A Christmas Tuna” opens and closes at the OKKK Radio Station where Arles (Connor) and Thurston (Taylor) broadcast the news and pass along gossip. Although there are no hand props used throughout the show, it is very distracting in the opening scene as the two disc jockeys read with no paper or script, drink coffee out of unseen cups, and talk on an invisible telephone.
But for the lack of props, there is a wealth of funny outfits, especially those on Tuna’s women, including Didi, owner of the used gun shop, and the snoopy, snobbish Vera Carp, played by Connor. As the former riveter Pearl Burras, and mother of three dysfunctional children, Taylor’s Berta Bumiller is a hoot, attired in Christmas-colored clothing.
Some of the characterizations are brief and quickly forgettable, but the main characters are not just two-dimensional jokesters but real human beings whom the audience gets to know – and laugh at – throughout the show.
Although pacing is good, the show has a long running time. While laughs are still foremost in a too long Act I, all the intersecting lives are tied together in Act II which ends on a quiet poignant note.
Courtyard’s producer Art Lieberman has wisely reduced the theater’s seating, and by rearranging the seats, ensured that there are not sight problems for the audience which were so noticeable in the opening show.
Some cast members from “Sweeney Todd” act as crew and “dressers” for the needed quick changes.
However, part of the audience’s pleasure is anticipation of visualizing what the next character to come on stage will look alike.
But this anticipation and enjoyment is diminished, especially for the patrons in the first few rows, as there is far too much light backstage, enabling unwanted views of the two open entrances as the crew carry costumes and help dress an actor.
This is not just a quibble but an important facet for a show, which can excel only if the characters, who quickly reappear on stage in a different outfit have not previously been seen.
Many jokes are biting, and the characterizations, sometimes snarky, are always funny. So for plenty of giggles and a fair amount of guffaws, Tuna, Texas is the right place to visit for pre-holiday entertainment.
For reservations, call 570-374-0060 or visit www.thecourtyardtheater.com.