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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, December 10, 2010 - Volume 38 Issue 50
ArtsWest visits Tuna, Texas, for spirited Christmas show
Arts & Entertainment
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ArtsWest visits Tuna, Texas, for spirited Christmas show

by Milton W. Hamlin - SGN A&E Writer

A Tuna Christmas
ArtsWest
Through
December 24


Tuna, Texas, is famous in little theater venues throughout the U.S. - and, amazingly, on Broadway in The Big Apple itself, New York City. The current A Tuna Christmas, playing at ArtsWest in West Seattle though December 24, shows why. The now famous trilogy - Tuna, Texas came first, then Red, White, & Tuna to celebrate July 4 and then A Tuna Christmas - zeroes in on the inhabitants of Tuna, one of the smallest towns in all of Texas. A total of 22 characters are brought vividly to life by just two actors, traditionally two male actors. This reviewer has loved Tuna and all of its crazy population since his very first visit. This return visit to A Tuna Christmas was just as much fun as hoped for.

First of all, full disclosure: none of the Tuna trilogy is great theater. Each play is aimed at the lowest common denominator possible - just plain folks out for a good time at their local little theater. That's how the show was created - by two actors and a director, all from Texas, all with an open love for the poor white trailer trash that populates Tuna. (This writer was born in Texas but left at age 4 and-a-half - which may account for the love of Tuna and its crazies.)

Tuna, Texas became a cult hit in Texas and then throughout the southwest. To the total surprise of its creators, the show was an immense hit in other regional theaters. Red, White, & Tuna followed. Then A Tuna Christmas. The daring duo of actors/comedians and their co-creator and director amazingly raised enough money to take the show to Broadway for a limited holiday run in 1995. To the amazement of everyone - in Texas, in New York, in regional theaters - the show was nominated for a Best Play Tony Award and Joe Sears, one of Tuna's two actors, was nominated for Best Actor. Granted, it was a slow year for new shows and many laughed at both nominations, but nominations they were. And, remember, that only nominated shows and actors could win. Neither did, but regional groups throughout the U.S. cheered the very possibilities.

ArtsWest's production, with two Seattle actors making their ArtsWest debuts, is directed by MaryBeth Dagg, making her return to ArtsWest after directing Ruthless - The Musical in 2003. She obviously loves the zanies of Tuna.

The wisp of a plot finds Tuna on the eve of Christmas. Family problems - kids in rehab, kids in revolt, husbands in the bars too much, wives with no focus - are played for comedy. The citywide Tuna yard-decorating contest is one major (therefore, minor) plot thread. Will the winning family of the past nine years win again? Will the upstarts dethrone the rulers?

The names of the characters in themselves are a starting point for fun. Jay Jenkins plays half of the characters - in and out of drag. He's Thustron Wheelis of Radio Station KKOK. A split second later, he might be Aunt Pearl Burras or Sheriff Givens or Inita Goodwin. Buddy Mahoney, who recently nailed the flamboyant Gay director Roger DeBtris in Seattle Musical Theatre's The Producers, is Arles Stuvie one minute and Didi Snavely the next. Didi is one of the show's most popular characters. She runs Didi Snavely's Used Gun and Ammunition Emporium - If we can't kill it, it's immortal is the store's slogan. SGN readers might recognize Mahoney as a regular with the Seattle Men's Chorus. Two of the strongest characters find Jenkins and Mahoney as waitresses in Tuna's version of the Double Kupp Diner. No joke is too old, no vaudeville routine too familiar not to mine for A Tuna Christmas. Even two midgets appear at the diner's drive-in window for a politically incorrect moment.

As usual, the very sight of men in drag causes much hilarity. A cock in a frock is always great fun, but as this very writer was reminded when using that phrase in a review of Taproot's jolly Charlie's Aunt recently, a jock in a frock might be more socially acceptable. Whatever - two cocks in two frocks (or two jocks in two frocks) is funny enough. Enough of being politically correct - happy holidaze and bah, humbug!

In a season of traditional theater - ACT's A Christmas Carol, Taproot's Sherlock Holmes version of same, PNB's elegant Nutcracker, Intiman's Black Nativity - it's fun to just kick back and laugh with (not at) the loonies of Tuna.

A Tuna Christmas continues until December 24 when a 5 p.m. early evening curtain time ends the run. Incidentally, that early curtain would be a wonderful way to start Christmas Eve with family or friends. Out of the show by 7, into a nearby restaurant for a wonderfully relaxed Christmas Eve dinner. Think about it. Ticket and performance information is available at (206) 938-0339 or at www.ArtsWest.org.

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