Monday, November 27, 2006

Greater Tuna (Beck Center)

‘GREATER TUNA’ an enjoyable escape at Beck

Tuna, Texas is the third smallest city in Texas. Well, if there was such a place as Tuna, Texas, it would be the third smallest city. Tuna is the mythical setting for the trilogy of comedic plays written by Jaston Williams, Joe Sears and Ed Howard. Their first script was ‘GREATER TUNA,’ which is now on stage at Beck Center.

The plays examine the redneck, red-state mentality of people who are members of the clan, see UFOs, sell used assault weapons, set up a “limited” Spanish language program which consists of five phrases, regularly destroy rock-and-roll records, and try and remove books from the library. The books and the reasons? ‘ROOTS’ only tells one side of the slave story; ‘ROMEO AND JULIET’ encourages teen-age sex; and ‘HUCK FINN’ tells of a relationship between a delinquent white youth and a black man.

Though it was written a quarter-century ago, most of the humor is still topical.

There are 20 characters in the script. Wow, a huge cast! Actually, not so. All twenty characters are played by 2 men! How do they do it? They change their vocalizations, toss wigs on and off, become quick change artists as the costumes change constantly. Kudos to Jinniver Sparano, the costume designer and dresser, who has recently become the queen of stripping and reclothing actors. (She recently carried out the same task for the cast of ‘M4M’ at Cleveland Public Theatre.)

Who are the characters? "Hanging Judge" Buckner was found dead of a stroke while he was wearing a Dale Evans one-piece swimsuit. R.R. Snavely, aided by a bottle of Mogen-David, saw a UFO that looked like "a giant hovering chimichanga without the guacamole." Elderly Pearl Burras loves nothing better than to slip a strychnine pill into a biscuit, wrap it in a dough ball and feed it to dogs. And the loonies are commented upon by Thurston and Arles who run the local radio station.

Nicholas Koesters (Arles)portrays an array of characters including the gun-selling Didi, the over sympathetic director of the Humane Society, both a brother and his sister, and the leader of the “Smut Snatchers.” He does all of them well.

Kevin Joseph Kelly (Thurston) is delightful as the dog Yippy, an old lady, a misguided mother and the sheriff. The eulogy he delivers as Reverend Spikes at Judge Brucker’s funeral, is hilarious. Though his characterizations are not quite as keyed as Koesters’ portrayals, Kelly is excellent.

Sparano’s costumes are perfectly tacky. A higher compliment could not be given. Richard Ingraham’s sound design enforces and bridges the various segments.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: Need an escape from holiday stress and the same-old, same-old holiday entertainment? Well, hook up the sleigh, or the trusty SUV, and get out to Beck Center in Lakewood for an hour-and-a-half of fun.