Latest 'Tuna' satire corny as ever, fun too

Donna Freedman
Photo courtesy Jamie Lang Photography

Don't go to see "Red White and Tuna" if you're looking for social commentary. The two-act, two-man show jabs relentlessly at rural Texas politics and mores but it's a comedy, not a satire. The show plays like the "Mama's Family" skits on the old "Carol Burnett Show" -- no depth to speak of, but lots of fun to watch.

The comedy is the last, or at least the latest, of a trilogy about Tuna, the third-smallest town in Texas. Its authors rely on funny names (Inita Goodwin, Helen Bedd), twangy vernacular, and a heapin' helpin' of boondock tics and small-town weirdness to convey a joint celebration: the Fourth of July and Tuna's decennial high-school reunion. (Apparently towns that small don't have enough graduates to make annual reunions worthwhile.)

It's an actor's showcase, since Jon Minton and Anthony Lounsbury play 20 different male and female roles between them -- characters as varied as hick radio announcers, a pregnant Army bride, an elderly female chicken farmer, an animal rights activist, a UFO abductee, the doyenne of what passes for Tuna's society set, and a former bad boy who now makes artwork out of spray-painted taxidermy mounts.

Normally this play is performed by older men. However, these 20-something actors do a swell job despite being much younger than most of the characters they play. Minton and Lounsbury have previously collaborated as writers, sketch comedians and director/actor scenarios, and it shows. They meshed beautifully onstage, turning in performances that were incredibly smooth but without a hint of laziness.

The half-full house on Thursday was delighted by the duo's antics, including a possibly unscripted wardrobe malfunction as Minton struggled with the hooks of a brassiere. (Insert your own punch line, any time you're ready. A couple of audience members did.)

Thankfully, cross-dressing was not the backbone of the female characterizations. The actors actually played the women, vs. sashaying around in dresses for cheap laughs. Two standout roles were the about-to-remarry widow Bertha Bumiller, whom Minton gives a vulnerable sweetness as well as occasional flashes of grit, and society matron Vera Carp, played with self-righteous indignation by Lounsbury.

The costumes were displayed on hooks at the back of the set. Hinton and Lounsbury achieve most costume changes in full view of the audience, which was sometimes frantic but also surprisingly effective. Once viewers start to recognize which wig or jacket is being pulled off a hook, it's fun to anticipate what, say, Didi Snavely is going to do next. (Usually it's something like her picking up the phone and saying, "Didi's Used Weapons -- if we can't kill it, it's immortal.")

That said, the "Tuna" script has some ugly spots. Anybody but me uncomfortable with a radio station called OKKK, or that it matter-of-factly reports the upcoming rally of the "Independent Nation of a Free White Texas"? Or that society matron Vera Carp calls all her housekeepers "Lupe" because she doesn't "have time to learn a new name every time the Border Patrol gets lucky"?

At least the authors give the haters a bit of comeuppance. Several of those INFWT militia members meet a dismal end at the hands of the woman they try to hold for ransom, and Vera's sense of entitlement results in a felony charge plus the possibility of a civil suit by her latest Lupe. Couldn't have happened to a nicer bunch.

Seattle resident Donna Freedman is a former Anchorage Daily News reporter and reviewer. She now writes a personal finance column for MSN Money and blogs at Surviving and Thriving.

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