Monday, December 12, 2016

A Tuna Christmas

A Southern fried Christmas tale
Published in the Weekly Volcano, Dec. 8, 2016
Helen Bedd (Katelyn Hoffman) and Joe Bob Lipsey (Shelleigh-Mairi Ferguson), photo courtesy The Changing Scene Theatre Northwest
The Changing Scene Theatre Northwest has migrated from the Kitsap Peninsula to Tacoma to present two popular Tacoma actors in the Southern fried Christmas fare A Tuna Christmas.
What a romp! And what a change from the usual holiday stage shows. A Tuna Christmas is a satire with heart. It skewers small towns and small minds, but in a kind and gentle way.
It’s Christmas Eve in the fictional town of Tuna, Texas and radio station OKKK’s disc jockeys Arles Struvie (Katelyn Hoffman) and Thurston Wheelis (Shelleigh-Mairi Ferguson) are updating their listeners on the annual holiday lighting contest, which has been won by Vera Carp (Hoffman) 14 years in a row. Meanwhile, there are threats of vandalism to the yard displays by the “Christmas Phantom,” and local theater director Joe Bob Lipsey (Ferguson) is having a hard time wrangling the cast and crew of A Christmas Carol. A drama queen of the first order, Joe Bob complains, "I haven't had this many problems since the all-white production of Raisin in the Sun.” He also brags that he’s “bigger than Tuna,” and to prove it he declares that he’s even been to Waco.
Other humorously stereotypical small-town Texans who make appearances are Didi Snavely (Hoffman), the chain-smoking proprietor of the local gun shop; Helen Bedd (also Hoffman), whose name is an obvious pun and who works for the Tastee Cream with Inita Goodwin (Ferguson), and Didi’s mate, R.R. Snavely (Ferguson). R.R. gleefully stepping over the line Didi tells him not to cross is one of the funniest bits in a play full of funny bits, and you can’t help but laugh when Helen shouts, “Inita, I need a . . .”
Traditionally two male actors share all 22 roles, but in this production women play all the parts, which is a delightful change. The last time I saw this play the many characters were played by Scott Campbell and the late Marcus Walker, who were truly outstanding and hilarious. The big difference with having woman play the roles is that with men much of the humor comes from the outlandish drag performances; whereas with women it is the characters themselves and not the drag that is funny, although their costumes and wigs are definitely too good not to laugh at. Hoffman and Ferguson are amazing in how completely they inhabit so many different characters.
There is a plot of sorts, but it is not so much a story as it is a series of loosely connected skits such as might have been seen on the old “Carol Burnett Show” or the original “Saturday Night Live.”
The series of “Tuna” plays written and performed by Jaston Williams and Joe Sears were created in 1980 and a set loosely in that time period, which means it is slightly dated and somewhat lacking in political correctness, and doesn’t come across quite as wild as it originally must have because audiences have become more accustomed to this kind of humor.
For all the satire and digs at small-town Southern culture, A Tuna Christmas is sweet, and there is at least something to admire in each of the citizens of Tuna, Texas.

A Tuna Christmas, 7:30 p.m. Friday-Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday, through Dec. 17, The Spire, 710 S. Anderson Street, Tacoma, $18 advance, $20 at the door, 253.565.6867.

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