What happens when the denizens of ‘the third smallest town in Texas’ descend on Sin City?
That’s the question collaborators Jaston Williams, Joe Sears and Ed Howard answered when they created show number four in the series that began with GREATER TUNA more than 30 years ago.
Following the phenomenally successfully original, the trio created two more shows: A TUNA CHRISTMAS and RED, WHITE AND TUNA. Each one toured extensively with the original stars, including a Broadway outing, and stops in Washington, D.C.
After a sell-out production of GREATER TUNA during their 50th season, Wayside Theatre has brought the most recent play in the series, TUNA DOES VEGAS, back to Northern Virginia for season 51.
TUNA DOES VEGAS follows the tried and true template of the previous shows. If you have seen any of the previous ‘Tunas,’ you will once again meet OKKK radio hosts Arles Struvie and Thurston Wheelis, second-hand gun shop owner Didi Snavely, the outgoing Bertha Bumiller, community activist Vera Carp, and crotchety old Aunt Pearl, among other citizens.
Following the tradition of original co-authors and costars Joe Sears and Jaston Williams, two actors play all the characters in TUNA DOES VEGAS. For Wayside’s production, Eddie Staver, III and Jody Lee are onstage for the duo-de-force.
Staver takes the Joe Sears roles: Thurston, Bertha, Aunt Pearl, Leonard Childers, Inita Goodwin, and Joe Bob Lipsey. Lee follows the Jaston Williams track and quick changes into Arles, Didi, Mama, Petey Fisk, Charlene, Vera Carp, and Helen Bedd.
Since the folks of Tuna head to Vegas – all thanks to Arles and Bertha’s plan to renew their wedding vows getting the ball rolling – they meet some new characters along the way. Streetwise Shot, exotic Anna Conda, Asian acupuncturist Wo-Hu, and a pair of Elvis impersonators all make delightful appearances during the adventure.
Staver and Lee work well together and create distinct characters. The actors have a field day with the various voices, looks and costumes. They are assisted by a backstage crew of dressers, Meredith Avery, Meg Mason, Julia J. King and Leslie Putnam. They get to take a well-deserved bow at the end of the performance, since they are vital to the well-timed changes of wigs and wardrobe.
Costumes – designed with a wink and yards of Velcro by Caleb Blackwell – add to the sense of fun inherent in any ‘Tuna’ show. Wes Calkin’s Las Vegas-inspired sets and lighting design is simple but effective.
Director Warner Crocker has worked the show to provide smooth transitions and allows for his two man cast to get to the moments of shtick, as well as more than a few moments of pathos. Actually there seemed to be fewer moments of outright hilarity than in GREATER TUNA and A TUNA CHRISTMAS, as I recall. (I have never seen the third play, RED, WHITE AND TUNA.)
Don’t get me wrong – TUNA DOES VEGAS is no soap opera. There are a handful of dramatic scenes, but the show is still funny, with sight-gags, clever costume tricks, and humor that hales from the PG-13 version of Mayberry, by way of Texas.
Photo credit: Production photos by Westervelt.
TUNA DOES VEGAS, through September 22, 2012, at Wayside Theatre. Ticket prices are $25 to $30 dollars for adults. Ticket price for children 17 years and under is $10 for any show. Discounts are available for seniors, students, and groups.
Performances: Thursday-Saturday, 8 pm; Saturday matinees, 2:30 pm. There are Sunday matinees September 2, 9 and 16, all at 2:30 pm. Box office: (540) 869-1776. Wayside Theatre is located in Middletown, Virginia on Route 11, Main Street, just north of the intersection of I-66 and I-81. For more information, visit www.waysidetheatre.org.