RED, WHITE, AND TUNAby Jaston Williams, Joe Sears, & Ed Howard
Restaged by Chris Robinson and Ryan Roach
Production Stage Manager - Scott Kirkham
Scenic Design - Scott Kirkham
Costume Design - Lyle Huchton
Sound Design - Scott Kirkham
Lighting Design - Scott Kirkham
Charles Ryan Roach - Star Birdfeather, Thurston Wheelis, Elmer Watkins, Berthan Bumiller, Jo Bob Lipsey, Pearl Burras, RR. Snavely, Inita Goodwin, Leonard Childers, and Reverend Sturgis Spikes
Chris Robinson - Amber Windchime, Arles Struvie, Didi Snavely, Petey Fisk, Momma Byrd, Charlene Bumiller, Stanley Bumiller, Vera Carp, Helen Bedd, Garland Poteet
Reviewed Performance: 6/16/2011
Reviewed by Laura L. Watson, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
These are just a few of the Texas truths/absurdities the actors deliver with surefire confidence that make a trip to Flower Mound Performing Arts Theatre's current production of RED, WHITE, AND TUNA well worth it, even if the production is not perfect.
The much anticipated third installment in the Tuna trilogy takes the audience through another satirical ride into the hearts and minds of the polyester-clad citizens of Texas' third smallest town. Along with Tuna's perennial favorites some new Tuna denizens burst into the 4th of July Tuna High School Class Reunion. This sets the stage for a show full of fireworks and fun from the land where the Lion's Club is too liberal and Patsy Cline never dies (taken from FMPAT's website).
The one thing that continues to draw audiences to Tuna performances, both professional and community, is that ALL the characters of Tuna are played by two men. RED, WHITE, AND TUNA draws a crowd as much for the quick changes and extreme character development by the actors as for the witty writing. And the writing alone should come with a warning label- May cause you to bust a gut while laughing.
FMPAT, with only 75 seats on three sides of a fairly tiny playing space, is a small theatre. As Executive Producer Scott Kirkham said, "If you get up from your seat during a show, you're now in it." Lighting design also by Kirkham does its job to illuminate the set during the first act, and really begins to add levels of mood and time of day in the second.
Set design by Kirkham is minimalist and utilizes a simple kitchen table with chairs, wooden desk and two wooden stools which are used for everything from a bed to a car to a gun store. Central to the design is an old fashioned radio from which we hear pre-recorded broadcasts from Thurston and Arles's local radio news program. Intermission is their radio show, complete with music and station ads. So, grab a glass of wine and settle in. It's one of the more entertaining intermissions in town. These elements of design work in seamless unity to lie a backdrop for the citizens of Tuna.
One fault of the set though is that the curtain in the second act inside the catering booth is nearly see-through. The audience sees the costumes being prepped and even witnesses a few quick changes as they happen when we aren't supposed to see them. A thicker curtain and practice moving in and out of the small space without lifting the curtain will solve this problem and keep the magical illusion.
For whatever reason, this production opts not to use props but instead pantomimes everything from smoking cigarettes to breakfast. The pantomime by the actors is top rate but I personally think just a few well- chosen props would have aided in the storytelling.
Costumes by Lyle Huchton and wigs by Eddie Floresca are very reminiscent of the ones creators and originators of the Greater Tuna series, Jaston Williams and Joe Sears, wear and make for a visual feast.
Another performance of note, though unseen by the audience, is by dressers Eddie Floresca and Hunter Johnson. With some changes happening in a matter of seconds while the actor is shouting lines as multiple characters from offstage, these two gentlemen work as hard offstage as the actors do on.
Charles Ryan Roach and Chris Robinson take on the challenge of 20 characters each with their own costume, wig, walk, talk, and place in the story. This show would still be a riot if a theatre opted to hire 20 actors, male and female, to play just one role each it's that well written.
But the draw of TUNA is that we want to see those vocal shifts and quick costume changes, those slight physical variations as the actors slip from one character to the next.
Chris Robinson, who begins and ends the show as Arles completely delivers. Every character is as unique as a thumbprint and fully developed. As Didi the gun shop owner his comedic timing in between losing his voice at the snap of someone else's fingers and picking up EXACTLY in mid-sentence is spot on, leaving me in stitches. As Vera the pious and self-righteous socialite he manages to remain completely focused as he shouts at the audience through a small bullhorn "ATTENTION SINNERS, ATTENTION!" Luckily the audience does not have to fight to keep a straight face as he does. When something goes amiss, perhaps a delayed entrance or a quick change that takes too long, he continues to ad lib in character much to the amusement of the audience. It should also be noted, to his credit, that he has fabulous legs which we get to see in a variety of skirts and heels.
While Robinson delivers in every way a fan of Tuna would hope, Roach falters just slightly. Each of his characters has a different costume, wig, and physical movements but his voice never changes. The Reverend Sturgis Spikes and Pearl's voices have the same accent, the same inflection, and even the same rate of speed. Roach makes use of his body, with expert choices communicating who the character is with all their emotions and motivations through movement and facial expressions that are believable and truthful but the lack of vocal variety overall is disappointing.
A couple of scenes in Act I drag in pace but only briefly. The snarky dialogue keeps the audience engaged until the actors pick up to full speed. There are notable line and cue stumbles by both actors but those can be chalked up to forgivable opening night jitters. Both actors appear very comfortable in these roles, as if they have been playing them for months, and the ease with which they slip from one to the other makes the audience relax, sit back, and enjoy.
It's not perfect, but then again, we love the citizens of TUNA, imperfections and all. So, "Attention, sinners, attention!" Thou shalt see RED, WHITE AND TUNA and thou shalt laugh as you realize, with a sense of awe and shame, that you know these people, that you live with some of them and the rest are your neighbors.
by Jaston Williams, Joe Sears and Ed Howard
Flower Mound Performing Arts Theatre
830 Parker Square, Flower Mound, Texas 75028
Runs through June 26th
Shows are Thursday @ 7:30pm, Friday and Saturday @ 8:00pm and Sunday @ 2:30pm
Tickets can be purchased online at www.fmpat.org or by calling (972) 724- 2147.