Small-town Texas lovingly lampooned in original ‘Tuna’
Denton Community Theatre is back in Tuna, Texas, the third smallest town in the Lone Star State.
The company first set up camp in the famous fictitious town in 2009 with the third play in the Tuna franchise — A Tuna Christmas.
The same crew — Justin Harmon and Buster Maloney playing all the citizens of Tuna and Donna Trammell directing — reunited in 2011 for Red, White and Tuna. (Creators Jaston Williams and Joes Sears later wrote a fourth play, Tuna Does Vegas.)
Greater Tuna is the company’s 2013 installment of its “Encore” series, the annual summer show that raises money for the community theater.
Trammell said the first of the three plays is darker than the later plays, and considerably older than the other Tuna plays locals have seen.
“It’s the strongest satire,” Trammell said. “This was the first one, and in my director’s notes in the program, I talk about how this is [taking place] 30 years ago. The term ‘politically incorrect’ wasn’t part of the vernacular then.”
There might be some moments that set off a cringe or two, but for the most part, Greater Tuna is an affectionate knock on Texas stereotypes — including mangled Spanish, small-town politics and the eternal piety of powers that be.
“I think in this case, [Sears and Williams and one-time collaborator Ed Howard] probably surprised themselves with the popularity of all these characters,” Trammell said. “It doesn’t skewer small-town life, it skewers the small-town attitudes and prejudices.”
Greater Tuna is thin on plot and long on characters. We meet the movers and shakers, the eccentrics and the curmudgeons of a town where everyone knows what everyone else is doing. Two actors take on the roles of Tuna residents, from the colorful Bumiller clan to Vera Carp and broadcaster Arles Struvie.
Trammell and Maloney said the original team — down to the dressers who help transform the actors from character to character — came back on board without hesitation for Greater Tuna. The plays are strenuous — with two actors playing roughly 10 roles each — but fun.
“It's got a really nice rhythm to it,” Maloney said of the comedy that started it all. “And especially when the audience starts laughing, it adds to that rhythm. When the audience is laughing, it gives us more time for those quick changes.”
Both Maloney and Harmon change from male to female characters — from heels to wigs — in what sometimes feels like 30 seconds or less. Once the actors are topped off in big Texas hair, or cat’s-eye glasses, they can luxuriate in the memorable drawls, gestures and attitudes.
Harmon said he and Maloney have always worked to make the Tuna residents real rather than mere cartoons.
“Honestly, this has probably been one of the most rewarding theater experiences I’ve ever had, and I feel like the audiences have come to love these characters as much as we do. We’ve been doing this for four years,” he said.
Going back to the beginning has been an interesting and helpful trip for the actors.
“I think it was a help, because we know where they’re going, but it’s also interesting because this story explains a lot of things,” Harmon said. “We’ve learned why certain things happened the way they do in the later plays because this play tells you why.”
Both actors have grown fond of some of their characters.
“I think there are characters who will live on in infamy,” Harmon said. “Didi Snavely, she’s the one whose lines people want to say back to me. Didi and Vera, those are the characters I’ll miss. They’re such small parts of this show, but they end up being such huge part of the others. I do love them all. There are characters I love more than others, but I love them all.”
Should he hang up his Tuna hat for good after the comedy closes, Maloney said he’ll miss one Tuna resident.
“I’d have to say Bertha Bumiller,” he said. “Over the course of the plays, we see her spread her wings a little and become more of her own person. I’d miss her.”
LUCINDA BREEDING can be reached at 940-566-6877.
ENCORE 6: GREATER TUNA
What: Denton Community Theatre presents “Greater Tuna,” a comedy by Joe Sears, Jaston Williams and Ed Howard
When: 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday
Where: Campus Theatre, 214 W. Hickory St.
Details: Tickets cost $20 for adults, $18 for seniors 62 and older, and $10 for students with valid ID and children. For reservations, call 940-382-1915.
On the Web: www.campustheatre.com