Greater Tuna a great casserole at Ross Valley Players

(L to R) Wood Lockhart as Arles Struvie and Jame Dunn as Thurston Wheelisstar in Ross Valley Players Production of Greater Tuna. Photo by Robin Jackson

GREATER TUNA by Jaston Williams, Joe Sears and Ed Howard. Directed by Linda Dunn. Ross Valley Players (RVP Barn Theater, Marin Art & Garden Center, 30 Sir Francis Drake Blvd., Ross. 415-456-9555, ext. 1 or go to July 12 to Aug. 12, 2012.

A superb ‘TUNA’ Casserole at Ross Valley Plays

The ambitious Ross Valley Players (RVP) end their 82nd season with a hoot and holler production of Greater Tuna that has been around since 1982 and still feels fresh and has enough laughs to hold you over until their 83rd season starts in September with Lend Me a Tenor. The original play is written by and for two actors (Joe Sears and Jaston Wiliams) playing all 20 roles but RVP has elected to split the parts between seven actors. By doing so it loses the hectic pace of split second costume and character changes that kept previous audiences hysterical. However, the mostly seasoned cast is joined by two new faces to RVP creating an admirable satisfying ensemble performance.

The multi-talented Jim Dunn who after 30 years has retired as director of the Mountain Play steps into an acting role playing opposite Wood Lockhart who scored accolades for his role as Grandfather in RVP’s Night of the Iguana. The talented Tom Hudgens, Steven Price and Jeffery Taylor were recruited from last winter’s record-breaking production of To Kill a Mocking Bird and prove that dramatic actors can do comedy/farce. Rounding out the cast are Javiar Alacorn and youthful Robyn Grahn who keep up (but not quite) with the “old timers.”

Greater Tuna debuted in Austin in 1981, and had its off-Broadway premiere in 1982. It has been presented across the United States including a Command Performance for the elder President & Mrs. George Bush. It is the first in a trilogy (followed by A Tuna Christmas and Red, White and Blue Tuna) of satirical-comedies set in fictional small town of Tuna, Texas. The authors Joe Sears, Jaston Williams and Ed Howard write through personal experience having been brought up in rural Texas. They are equal opportunity skewers of bigots, narrow-minded, self-important and holier-than-thou personages. Their method involves dark humor that rarely offends.

The 20 inhabitants of Tuna are decidedly eccentric characters of all ages and gender who cavort in hilarious costumes (Michael A. Berg) on a fantastic set (Ron Krempetz) under director Linda Dunn’s brisk pacing never allowing mugging. We are kept sort of informed about the activities of the denizens of Tuna by radio station OKKK, manned by Arles Struvie (W. Lockhart) and Thurston Wheelis (J. Dunn) with the daily community listings. Not only do we hear about 'Tuna-inians' over the radio (center stage), they also make personal appearances to share their twisted hopes, dreams and prejudices.

Satire starts early when they announce that Joe Bob Lipsey artistic director of the Tuna Little Players is holding integrated (“blacks and Hispanics welcome for the chorus”) auditions for “My Fair Lady” that will be presented as a Polynesian theme since money is short and they have the costumes left over from “South Pacific.” Then there is the weatherman named Harold Lattimer (Javier Alacorn) who stands out in a field every morning to see if it is going to rain.

Next up comes the dysfunctional Bumiller family: Ma Bertha (Steven Price) and Pa Hank (Steven Price), youngsters (all the parts played by Robyn Grahn) Jody who attracts stray dogs as often as Pig Pen in the cartoon “Peanuts” collects dust, unreformed Stanley just out of reform school and his twin depressed sister Charleen who has not made the cheer leader squad and is going to stop praying to God and become an agnostic.

Bertha is the town censor trying to make Tuna “a better place for the right kind of people.” The book “Roots” should be banned because it shows only one side of the slavery issue. “Romeo and Juliet” should be similarly banned because it encourages teenagers to have sex. Her aunt Pearl Burras is addicted to “canicidal thumbitus.” Horrors of all horrors that means killing dogs! Steven Price plays both of those characters and steals the thunder from Dunn and Lockhart who also do double duty. You won’t recognize Lockhart as Didi Snavely owner of Didi's Used Weapons ("If we can't kill it, it's immortal") or Dunn as Elmer Watkins, head of the local chapter of the KKK, dedicated to making the town safe "for the right kind of people"

All the characters have their (as Shakespeare would say) ‘turn upon the stage [of life]’ and make the most of it. It is Tom Hudgens as Petey Fisk employee of the Greater Tuna Humane Society who has branched out from dog rescue to include ducks and fish in his domain who steals the heart of the audience. When he returns as Vera Carp vice president of the Smut-Snatchers of the New Order dressed in beautiful drag he is ready for his turn upon the stage at New Conservatory Theatre Center in San Francisco.

Javiar Alacorn doffs four different hats, one of which belongs to R.R. Snavely town drunk, and husband to Didi who Arles describes as a UFOlogist (an expert on Unidentified Flying Objects, especially, or is it only, when he is drunk). Robyn Grahn as unreformed Stanley Bumiller gets to tell us the secret of how the beloved judge who sent him to reform school for painting over stop signs ending up dying in a bikini (actually it was a one piece Ralph Lauren(?) suit).

Steven Price’s return to center stage as Reverend Spikes giving the eulogy for the dead judge dredges up every cliché you can remember without once flinching. . . except maybe when interrupted by the gorgeous Vera.

You get the picture? If not from this review then treat yourself to one hour and 30 minutes of non-stop fun that includes an intermission at the Barn Theatre before RVP’s 83rd season begins.

Kedar K. Adour, MD

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