More cast members means a deeper, but still fun ‘Red, White and Tuna’

Photo above: David Weaver as Petey Fisk tells Pam Brown as Bertha Bumiller about Pinky the Cat who thinks he’s a dog.

“Red, White and Tuna”
A 1998 comedy written by Ed Howard, Joe Sears and Jaston Williams. This play followed “Greater Tuna” in 1981, “A Tuna Christmas” in 1989 and would be followed by “Tuna Does Vegas” in 2010.
Performances: 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, June 28-29 and 2:30 p.m. Sunday, June 30.
Where: Lubbock Community Theatre’s Boston Avenue Playhouse, 4232 Boston Ave.
Director: Jay C. Brown.
Tickets: Reserved seats $20 for the general public and $15 for seniors and students.
Information: 749-2416.

I would wager that, in some rare independent cookbook, there likely are a couple recipes for quickie entrees labeled Tuna Surprise or perhaps even Tuna Magic.

Who would have thought  the same terms could be used to describe Texas theatrical offerings?

Because as popular as the “Tuna” comedy franchise – “Greater Tuna,” “A Tuna Christmas,” “Red White and Tuna” and “Tuna Does Vegas” – may in fact be, true magic, at least in my opinion, arrives only with the risk of only two actors playing all 20 roles.

This is how the play was introduced, after being co-written by Ed Howard, Joe Sears and Jaston Williams.

The latter two, as actors Williams and Sears, divided the play’s 20 characters.

Never mind the flipped genders, or largely varied ages and personalities. Having reviewed a “Tuna” production once from a backstage vantage point, I can testify the play’s director – and especially its super-efficient  costumers, who so quickly guide each character out of overalls and into a dress and back on stage, never forgetting when high heels should replace cowboy boots – are as important as actors when it comes to conjuring memorable theatrical magic.

Which is not to say that Lubbock Community Theatre’s new summer rendition of “Red, White and Tuna” is any less exciting.

Years ago, time already had begun to stretch demands made of Sears and Williams. There was no way these two buddies, co-playwrights and co-stars, could continue to make flights and don costumes to please everyone wanting the live experience of “Tuna” comedy.

They had filmed videos to reach more fans. And a growing number of communities discovered pairs of talented risk-takers who felt ready to follow in the footsteps, pumps or track shoes of Sears and Williams.

What Lubbock Community Theatre hoped to do was open a theatrical door and stretch boundaries by not just copying the rhythm and pace of the third Tuna play – but instead, and perhaps for a first time, focus on the writing of Edwards, Sears and Williams.

LCT takes a closer look at the citizens of Tuna, Texas’ third smallest community, in this particular presentation.

Emphasis is not on the magic inherent within quick-change artists, but rather on helping familiar characters created by almost 20 different actors come across as more interesting. (Brown double-cast a couple performers, but made no quick-change demands.)

The result is seemingly more time given actors to explore characters and their relationships with one another. In the process, patrons can enjoy a surprising study of familiar characters that were introduced more quickly in past productions.

At least, for those who met these Tuna residents in passing previously.

The resulting Tuna Surprise on stage through Sunday at Lubbock Community Theater clicks in familiar, yet deeper, ways.

Frankly, by placing Tuna residents longer under the microscope, different performances may stand out. Brown’s choice of performers is stellar, especially for a local production. Some actors now are given more with which to work – and a precious few are unforgettable.

Only in Tuna do we find so many affected by potato salad left out in the sun – even as a former reform school loser finds wealth and revenge when he practices taxidermy in Albuquerque and his spray-painted roadkill becomes the rage of the artistic community in Santa Fe and beyond.

Collin Evans, cast as roadkill artist Stanley Bumiller, returns to Tuna to see his mother, Bertha (played by Pam Brown), find happiness by marrying Arles Struvie (Michael McKinin). That said, panic attacks ensue when Stanley visualizes his mom and Arles perhaps enjoying sexual relations even into their 60s. Ewwwww.

For sheer laughs, one cannot help but adore Sean Allen Jones’ performance as Didi Snaveley, owner of (and believer in) Didi’s Used Weapons. Jones ably reintroduces certain vocal deliveries previously made famous by Williams. Given a bit more time, though, Jones provides more expressive friendships – and then plays her husband’s timely return from a UFO abduction with both comic anger and sensitivity.

Director Jay Brown is intent on audiences accepting a decent heart within Stanley; in fact, Evans delivers one of this story’s best performances.

Then again, actress Pam Brown, as Bertha, is just sensational.

She has enough on her mind, for example, before a visit by Petey Fisk, from the Greater Tuna Humane Society. David Weaver, as Fisk, knows Bertha hates cats, but somehow convinces her to adopt a homeless cat “who thinks he is a dog.” And Petey can prove it.

It helps that even lovable Bertha prefers not to be bothered by Jehovah’s Witnesses as she has “no use for Christians who do not believe in war.”

Only in Tuna, Texas.

Meanwhile, high school theater director Joe Bob Lipsey, portrayed by Richard Privitt, is almost ready to end his career and perhaps his life, when informed by local Smut Snatchers that his actors cannot sing songs mentioning alcohol because Tuna is located in a dry Texas county.

“Red, White and Tuna” finds the entire population, and more, headed back to Tuna to celebrate an all-class reunion which happens every 10 years, while also coinciding with Tuna’s Independence Day celebration.

Vera Carp (Kim Ansolabehere at her deceiving and racist best) and town snob Aunt Pearl (Keren Weaver) have an interest in who will be named Reunion Queen and may be willing to steal and/or hotwire a maid’s car to reach the coronation in time.

However, not even publicity campaigns guarantee victory.

The characters, and performances, in “Red, White and Tuna” are sure to maintain interest. Past magic may not be present, but tons of surprises will keep audiences smiling.