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Review: ‘A Tuna Christmas’ at Bowie Playhouse

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Satire can be both salve and mirror in tough times and in good. A Tuna Christmas, written by Tony-nominated Jaston Williams, Joe Sears, and Ed Howard, satirizes small-town American life, leaving few groups and attitudes untouched. Under Ken Kienas’ direction, A Tuna Christmas is a holiday treat that will break funny bones everywhere.

Ryan Ronan, Michael Abendshein, and Jeanne Louise. Photo by John Cholod.

Taking place during present-day Christmas time, in the fictional town of Tuna, Texas – “the third smallest” town in the state – the show is not merely a straightforward comedy, nor a series of skits pulled together, but a three-person ensemble (usually two) portraying 22 characters. Tuna, Texas is a place where you can hear the most Southern-fried expressions this side of the Mississippi: “older than water and twice as mean,” ”as useless as ice trays in Hell,” ”I miss her like a rash,” ”Censorship is American as apple pie,” and ”If you can hear my voice right now, you are too close!”

The show’s scenes were set up by the appearance of Arles and Thurston, co-hosts at the fictional 275 Watt radio station OKKK. The characters that followed were introduced from Arles and Thurston’s announcements about the goings on in Tuna, Texas.

Jeanne Louise and Ryan Ronan. Photo by John Cholod.

Michael Abendshein, making his first (and spectacular) Bowie Community Theatre (BCT) appearance, portrayed long-suffering, rotund, middle-aged-mom Bertha; Pearl, who had strange dreams; gay hillbilly director Joe Bob, who once produced an “all white production of A Raisin in the Sun,” Thurston, the radio guy; the Sheriff; Elmer, and Farley.

The excellent Ryan Ronan, who has won WATCH awards for Set Design and Set Painting for BCT’s Foxfire, hilariously played Arles the radio guy, RR, Jody, Charlene, Stanley, Ike, Dixie, Inita, Leonard and Phoebe.

The talent-laden Jeanne Louise, who has portrayed “lunatics and love interests, murderesses and murder victims, queens and serving girls,” over her roughly 113-play career, portrayed nosey, pink-wearing Vera, Petey, Helen, Garland, and Didi Snidley, who would sell you “weapons for the home, car and workplace.”

Jeanne Louise and Michael Abendshein. Photo by John Cholod.

Abendshein, Ronan, and Louise excelled in their scenes together. They always looked to be immensely enjoying their time on stage. Their interactions were a recipe for laughter.

The props were mostly mimed, but among the few real props was a gas mask – as a Christmas tree ornament – thanks to Joanne Bauer and Terri Trembeth. Ryan Ronan also served as Set Designer and Set Dresser, giving the spare set (black drapes, two black flats, various tables and chairs) height-challenged Christmas trees. Eric Small and Frank Pasqualino created the Sound Design. Garrett Hyde did his usual great job with Lighting Design. Micaiah Smith curated many good costumes, especially Abendshein’s gay-beret-wearing director garb, and Louise and Ronan’s waitress uniforms.

Kienas was able to keep the energy flowing and the cues connecting at a good pace. In times of tribulations and trials, A Tuna Christmas brings much needed mirth and irreverence to audiences looking for a Christmas-themed show.

Running Time: Two hours and 15 minutes, with a 15-minute intermission.

A Tuna Christmas plays through November 19, 2017 at Bowie Playhouse, 16500 White Marsh Park Drive, Bowie, MD. For tickets, buy them at the door, or purchase them online.

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