Greater Tuna, the opening show of the 2015 season at the Washington County Playhouse, now under the new ownership of Shawn and Laura Martin, does not disappoint in a fast-paced, witty spoof of overly-dramatic small town events, all fantastically portrayed by two talented actors.
Making his directorial debut at the Washington County Playhouse, Shawn R. Martin allows the humor and warmth of the small-town comedy to shine through with clear blocking. Greater Tuna, written by Jason Williams, Joe Sears and Ed Howard, features a series of daily events and vignettes revolving around the colorful characters residing in the Greater Tuna area of Texas. The small-town drama, ranging from the death of the mayor to Humane society adoptions to Baptist church meetings, is hilariously shown by the two talented performers, Shawn Nakia and Steve Steele, who play 20 out of the 24 inhabitants of the town, featuring characters of widely ranging ages and both genders.
Shawn Nakia is very charismatic as a wide variety of characters. Playing ten different residents, he displays fantastic quick transitions from character to character, at one point playing three different children in a little over three minutes. His facial expressions and mannerisms are distinct and hilarious and he nearly steals the show while interacting with the audience as Vera, the Vice President of the Smut Snatchers.
Steve Steele is equally impressive as the other ten residents of Greater Tuna. He spends over half of the show as a female character, and does a fantastic female impersonation as a genteel yet wonderfully Southern sassy old matron. His vocal qualities are also incredible. They easily scaled the full male vocal range from a gravelly, low bass as the town’s sheriff and local reverend, to a light, floating falsetto as numerous local housewives in the town.
Both actors display an astounding versatility and wonderful chemistry. The Southern accents and dialects they employed are very hilarious and easily understandable, with many varied character voices to differentiate the colorful Greater Tuna residents. Materials which some could consider semi-offensive, such as stereotypical Southern attitudes about bigotry, racism and education, are clearly made satirical and meant to be taken as light-hearted fun from Nakia and Steele. In addition, some characters in the show are recurring in various scenes, so besides the quick changes, the actors also have to repeat performances of previously established characters.
The greatest theatrical draw about Greater Tuna (besides phenomenal performances by two talented actors), is the amount of rapid-fire quick changes. With a brilliant costume design by Barbie Gross and assisted by backstage dressers Jules Rone and Amie Tweit, the two actors make over twenty costumes changes throughout the show. Oftentimes, an actor exited and had about thirty seconds to a minute to change into a completely different costume and wig, though some changes were simplified by only adding or removing outer layers, such as jackets, hats and glasses.
An interesting choice in a costume-heavy show, which provided a nice contrast, was that all of the props were imaginary. Actions were mimed while using invisible props, ranging from newspapers to syringes and even imaginary dogs, a la Our Town. Great lighting design by Jeffrey Perry Czerbinski helps make the character transitions and locations easy to differentiate.
Excellent sound design by Laura Martin and Jeffrey Perry Czerbinski includes various pre-recorded radio announcements from the fictional Greater Tuna area radio station and famous country music songs allow time in certain scenes for both actors to quick change at once, all while providing amusing transitions and advancing the plot.
The all in one set, designed by Jim and Sue Eckel, features a brightly-colored Texan skyline with blue skies, clouds and flat roads. Popping out from the skyline is a sketch of the state of Texas, featuring the state flag and numerous, old-fashioned popular Southern chain store and brand logos.
The only element to grow stale in the production is the constant repetition of certain jokes and gags. Certain funny bits grow a little thin after the third or fourth time they are utilized to the same effect.
For a fast-paced evening of small-town hilarity and Southern humor featuring talented performers, Greater Tuna at the Washington County Playhouse does not disappoint.
Running Time: 2 Hours, with one Intermission
Greater Tuna plays through February 15, 2015 at the Washington County Playhouse Dinner Theater and Children’s Theater – 44 N. Potomac St. in Hagerstown, MD. For tickets, call the box office at 301-739-7469.