Greater Tuna will delight you, whether you have ever lived in a small town or whether the closest you have ever been to one is the East Village in New York. As directed by Lucinda Merry-Browne, the play is a whirligig, a spinning top, a merry-go-round which you want to stay on forever. This hilarious evening features only two actors, the multi-talented Peter Boyer and Michael Harris, as the 20 dizzyingly eccentric denizens of Greater Tuna, a mythical town in West Texas. The town of Greater Tuna has its troubles; the town drunk, R.R. Snavely (Michael Harris) regularly spots UFOs; Stanley Bumiller (Peter Boyer), a local teenager, has turned homicidal after a stint in reform school; and Pearl Burras (Michael Harris) a spry older resident, displays a penchant for killing dogs, referred to as canicidal thumbitis.
The three authors, Jaston Williams, Joe Sears, and Ed Howard, have more on their minds than comedy. Greater Tuna, while wildly funny, can be touching, as when Petey Fisk of the Greater Tuna Humane Society (Peter Boyer) prays for all his animals to be adopted. It can be frightening, as when Elmer Watkins, head of the local KKK (Michael Harris), vows to make the town safe for “the right kind of people.” And it can be, sadly, only too relevant, as when Didi Snavely, owner of Didi’s used weapons, (Peter Boyer) extols the deadly efficiency of her guns “If we can’t kill it, it’s immortal.”
Michael Harris is particularly effective as Bertha Bumiller, a housewife at the end of her rope, with a straying husband and delinquent teenage son. Her daughter Charlene (Peter Boyer) is distraught over her failure to make cheerleader, and her younger son Jody (also Peter Boyer) is followed continuously by 8 to 10 dogs. Bertha gamely chats up a reporter from Houston with the spectacularly inane doings of the local Smut Snatchers of the New Order organization, dedicated to removing from your children’s textbooks all words which are immoral, inappropriate, or which just make you feel stupid. She is a girl in a hurry, with many responsibilities, all of them onerous, and as she unravels she becomes quite sympathetic, despite her, um, values.
Peter Boyer shines as the snobby Vera Carp, vice-president of the Smut Snatchers, in a church lady outfit and a pair of psychedelic and quite flattering heels. She snores and slides to the floor during the big speech of Reverend Spikes, as he eulogizes a local judge who has been found dead in a bikini, or was it a Dale Evans one-piece? Boyer’s performance has poignancy and depth, and he never condescends to his characters or turns them into caricatures.
Costumes by Renee Vergauwen are imaginative and perfectly suited to each character. Both actors wear, very well I might add, a number of different wigs. Special kudos goes to both stars for their extensive costume changes, carried off beautifully with no dresser at all.
The set by Joseph Powell, Sr. features signs familiar to anyone who has ever traveled in the South (Moon Pies; Smith and Wesson; and Coke); a lovely old radio; and chairs which become everything from seats in a car to the underpinnings of a coffin.
Lighting Design by Dylan Adams is employed creatively throughout, with special effects ranging from unidentified flying objects to stained glass windows. Mary Ruth Cowgill’s sound design is first-rate, with carefully chosen music by Patsy Cline, Tammy Wynette, and others.
For a fun, thought-provoking evening, you can’t go wrong with Greater Tuna. A wonderful place to visit, and no, you really wouldn’t want to live there.
Running Time: Two hours, with one 15-minute intermission.
Greater Tuna is also reviewed by Danielle Angeline.