Lots of Christmas Cheer from “Tuna Christmas”

Probably never in all of Texas history or folklore has there ever been a zanier collection of characters than those just presented on the stage of the Nancy Bock Center for the Performing Arts in The Woodlands. The comfortable and spacious Bock Center is fast becoming the Mitchell Pavilion’s air-conditioned rival for fine entertainment. On this occasion, the hilarious national tour of “A Tuna Christmas” played for not one night, but for three! Better still, the event was a benefit for Class Act Productions local youth theater. Trust me when I tell you it was a fun filled evening.

It must be nearly twenty years since I first discovered the show’s stars (Joe Sears and Jaston Williams) in their original Off-Broadway production of “Greater Tuna” in New York. We had a rollicking good time then, and the boys are still keeping audiences howling with laughter now, two decades later. In what is strictly a two-man show, they provide an endless parade of riotous characters from “Tuna, the third smallest town in Texas.” The town may be small, but the laughs are big!

The simple but effective set encompasses the town radio station, the school gym, the Tasty Kreme restaurant, and a few local homes. In and out of these doors pass no fewer than twenty loony characters, many played by the gentlemen in uproarious drag.  One of my favorites was big Bertha Bumiller, dressed in an emerald green pantsuit with festive poinsettia blouse. Played by the husky Mr. Sears, Bertha’s wig alone is worth the price of admission. It would be just one of a series of silly hairdos and costumes, one more outlandish than the next. And oh, that hip swinging body language! Bertha is besieged by life’s problems (including her missing husband) as she tries bravely to make merry and decorate the frail family Christmas tree while tree lights explode whenever an extra laugh is needed. Bertha is exasperated and vows: “If Santa Claus walked through that door right now, I’d set his beard on fire.”

Mr. Williams is a hoot as Bertha’s daughter Charlene. With her odd hair band and straight blonde locks, Charlene looks ever so much like some weird over-age Mouseketeer. Williams provides other amusing characters like gun toting Didi Snavely, who warns of the holiday dangers of riding in a one horse open sleigh unarmed: “Wouldn’t you rather shoot somebody than have them run off with your new toaster?” Draped in ermine-lined peach satin like some faded Hollywood star, Williams gives us the whining and hilarious Vera Carp who does plenty of carping as she bosses her Spanish maid, Lupe. Then Sears becomes the blustery Sheriff Givens, and looks like he could have filled in for Jackie Gleason in “Smoky and the Bandit.” But Givens is not held in high local regard, and some say “…he couldn’t catch a cold in the Klondike!”

From time to time Sears and Williams fall back into their country-boy characters of Thurston Willis and Arles Struvie, the town radio broadcasters. Even the commercials are a riot. Consider the ad for Clifford’s Organs: “It’s never too late to get your hands on a good organ! And at Clifford’s, they’ll hold your organ until Christmas!”

Act II’s restaurant scenes at The Tasty Kreme escalate the fun. Waitresses, Helen Bedd (Williams) and Inita Goodwin (Sears) don’t take sass from any of the nutty customers. Whenever one character walks out, another is sure to enter. Take Joe Bob Lipsey (Sears) for example. He is a struggling movie director who has had nothing but problems “…ever since his all-white production of A Raisin in the Sun.” While the waitresses thaw frozen meat with a hair drier, a colorful on-stage UFO carries off another local screwball, R.R. Snavely (Sears). The holiday fun just goes on and on. When this show plays at a theater near you, Don’t Miss It!

(The Villager    11.20.03)

About The People's Critic

David Dow Bentley III, writes columns about the performing arts which are featured in newspapers from the East Coast to the Gulf Coast. A member of the American Theatre Critics Association (ATCA), The International Theatre Critics Association, and America's oldest theatrical club, The Lambs, he also had long service as the editor of The Lambs' Script magazine. Mr. Bentley may be contacted via e-mail at ThePeoplesCritic3@gmail.com.
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