Sunday, December 01, 2002

A Tune Christmas (Cleveland Play House)

'A TUNA CHRISTMAS/entertains at CPH

First there was GREATER TUNA, a delightful comedy exposing theatre audiences to the residents of Texas’ third smallest town, where the Lion’s club is too liberal and Patsy Cline never dies. Now, there is A TUNA CHRISTMAS. We meet all the town’s eccentric citizens portrayed by two actors playing all 24 characters.

The residents of Greater Tuna are full of holiday spirit, but can they cope with such traumas as a disaster-prone production of "A Christmas Carol" or a yard-decorating contest that's being sabotaged by a mysterious phantom?

The script skewers gun nuts, Baptists, old church ladies, pink-dressed diner waitresses, and just about every other Southern stereotype. This is a He-Haw laced comedy. How can you sit there and not laugh at lines like, “She sounds like white trash at a tent meeting,” “It almost makes me want to go back to school and get my GED,” “Get that out of your mouth, it’s not that kind of thermometer,” and “Even Baptists out to sin once in a while, that’s what the church is for.” Watch as two little old ladies try and kill bluejays with a sling shot and marbles, as a saleslady of weapons encourages everyone to carry guns, or as a pair of midgets stand behind a dutch door ordering food with only their hair in view.

National reviewers have heralded other stagings of the show with such comments as: "I wouldn't want to spend Christmas anywhere but Tuna, Texas,"
“The multiple stories are the stuff of biting comedy -- laced with poignant moments that take one's breath away," and, "A TUNA CHRISTMAS delivers a stocking full of laughs!"

The CPH production, under the guidance of Billy Bob Hoffman, doesn’t produce the delight of the productions starring Joe Sears and Ed Howard, two of the show’s writers and performers. In the local show Dana Snyder is delightful. His characters are each full-blown. He adds emotional nuances to the various men and women he portrays. Chuck Richie, on the other hand, is tentative and doesn’t make the necessary emotional and physical shades between the people he portrays. In his interpretations, pathos and comedy aren’t always separated. In general, the pacing of the production is quite slow, but this should improve as the duo interacts with each other and reacts to the laughs of the audience.

Capsule judgement: 'A TUNA CHRISTMAS' will delight audiences. In spite of some problems, it surely did opening night.