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By Donald V. Calamia
The wacky denizens of the tiny, redneck town of Tuna, Texas have returned to Williamston Theatre, and their visit was exactly what I expected: a delightful romp full of laughs and very quick costume changes. Given the pedigree of "Red, White and Tuna," a sequel to 2010's popular "Greater Tuna," I expected nothing less.
Created by Jaston Williams, Joe Sears and Ed Howard and first staged in 1981, the "Tuna" plays – there are four of them – are both an "affectionate comment on small-town, Southern life and attitudes" and a satire of the same. This chapter of the Tuna story finds the town getting ready for the 4th of July Homecoming Reunion and Fireworks party – and the excitement includes a cutthroat competition to be named Reunion Queen (led by the much-reviled leader of the ultraconservative Prayer Posse), the upcoming nuptials of a local radio station disk jockey; and the never-resolved disappearance almost two decades earlier of town resident R.R. Snavely.
Since half of the fun is being introduced to the characters as they wander in and out of the plot, I won't reveal much more. The other half, though, is watching the actors bring these colorful folks to life. Why? Because all 20 or so people we meet are played by only two actors – and you can't get much better than reteaming the dynamic duo of Aral Gribble and Wayne David Parker for the roles. Both are consummate comedic actors and skilled at creating multiple personas – and those talents are once again put to the test, this time by director John Lepard. (Tony Caselli put them through their paces the first time.)
Right from the start, patrons know they're in for a treat. Dressed in Technicolor outfits, Gribble and Parker open the show as female hippies returning to their hometown for the party – and as the story progresses, padded bras come off, boxers are pulled on, and numerous accouterments come and go as the two create a plethora of memorable and fully realized characters who are young and old, male and female (and more than one with elements of both). My favorites include Gribble's Petey Fisk (a sweet and passionate Humane Society employee) and Charlene Bumiller (a very pregnant military wife), and Parker's Joe Bob Lipsey (a local community theater director) and R.R. Snavely (an oddball character, which the actor excels at).
At one point midway through the second act on opening night, though, the energy level dropped and it seemed that it became Aral and Wayne David on stage rather than their characters. But once they caught their breath, the whirlwind continued – and the result was a totally entertaining close to laugh-filled night at the theater.
Assisting Gribble and Parker with their countless and sometimes lightning-quick costume changes are Sarah Bence and Emily Young, whose backstage help is invaluable. And the costumes, courtesy of Karen Kangas-Preston, perfectly define each character. (Gribble and Parker in tutus is a must-see.)
All of the other technical aspects of the show are fine as well, including the set by Janine Woods Thoma, lights by Alex Gay and sound by Quintessa Galinat.
So in this contentious era of right vs. left and conservative vs. liberal, take a short trip to Tuna, Texas for some good ol' fashioned, good-natured satire that makes you long for kinder, gentler and smarter presidential campaigns.
SHOW DETAILS: "Red, White and Tuna" continues at Williamston Theatre, 122 S. Putnam St., Williamston, Thursday-Sunday through Aug. 19. Running time: 120 minutes. Tickets: $20-25. For information: 517-655-7469 or www.williamstontheatre.org.
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