Expertly directed by Scott Ruble to evoke every last bit of comedy, A Tuna Christmas, written by Jason Williams, Joe Sears, and Ed Howard, features the charming and often chaotic holiday events occurring in the small town of Tuna, Texas. In the sequel to last year’s hit Greater Tuna.
A Tuna Christmas features two actors, Shawn Nakia and Steve Steele, who play over a dozen different roles as Texas citizens participating in seasonal activities, such as the fiercely competitive lawn decorations contest and a community theater production of A Christmas Carol.
Shawn Nakia is hysterically agile as a host of Tuna citizens. His portrayal as Petey Fisk, local Humane society volunteer, is reminiscent of a country boy version of Seymour from Little Shop of Horrors. Nakia displayed his vocal versatility very well as Didi Snavely, local gun store owner with a hilarious gravelly, smoker’s voice and as Vera Carp, a prissy housewife who is constantly attempting and badly mis pronouncing Spanish words while barking orders at her maid. Nakia is a hysterical ball of energy, flailing around the stage and often making the faster of the two actor’s character transitions.
Steve Steele is hilarious as the rest of the citizens in Tuna. Steele does a delightful job as Bertha Bumiller, a put-upon housewife and Pearl Snavely, the character’s elderly, cantankerous relative. However, Steele portrays the two characters who really steal the show. As RR Snavely, his facial expressions and dim witted delayed reactions to his wife, of course played by Nakia, were hysterical. And his physical mannerisms and flamboyant delivery as Joe Bob Lipsey, the community theater director of A Christmas Carol, nearly stopped the show with laughter. Listening to Steele hold a conversation with himself as two different characters, while at the same time making a quick change off stage, was truly impressive.
Both actors displayed an astounding versatility and fantastic chemistry. The two are clearly at ease springing natural comedy off of each other and the Southern accents and dialects they employed were very hilarious and easily understandable, with impressively varied character voices to differentiate the colorful 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 lighthearted fun from Nakia and Steele. In addition, the production featured exceptional one-liners, more often than not from Steele, that are both hilarious and extremely relevant to issues in today’s society.
The pace and comedic timing of the show is exceptional. There is never a dull moment and having Steele and Nakia not only mime the use of all of their props, but also provide their own sound effects for simple items such as telephone rings, doorbells and dog barks, was brilliant and especially hysterical in Act II. Though the production is a sequel, audience members do not need to have previously seen Greater Tuna to understand the plot of A Tuna Christmas or easily follow along. There are many clever references and follow up information to the events and characters in Greater Tuna though.
Costumes, designed by Barbie Gross, are delightfully tacky holiday outfits for the various characters, featuring plenty of the typical ugly Christmas sweaters, glittering party outfits and Sunday best Christmas Eve dresses. One of the greatest theatrical elements about A Tuna Christmas (besides excellent performances by two talented actors), is the amount of rapid-fire quick changes. Dressers Shannen Banzhoff and Jules Happy Rone help the actors make over twenty costumes changes throughout the show, with some occurring in under thirty seconds due to quickly layering outfits and under dressing.
Lighting, designed by Travis Fouche, is very simply done with various spotlights and features to focus attention at certain areas of the stage. The lighting did provide an enormous (and a little unexpected) comedic bit in Act II you will have to see to enjoy.
The set, designed by Jim and Sue Eckel, is also very simple in comparison to the crazy costumes and non-stop action onstage. The set features some typical Southern chain store and brand logos on a basic background with hanging banners along the side of the stage, advertising specific businesses and events referenced within the show. And of course, as it is a Christmas sequel, multiple Christmas trees and holiday lights adorn the set.
A Tuna Christmas is a charming and chaotic view of Christmas in a small town. With the dream team of Shawn Nakia and Steve Steele providing the non-stop laughs, The Washington Playhouse’s A Christmas Tuna is definitely a show you should add to your ‘do-not-miss’ holiday show list.
Running Time: Two hours and 30-minutes, with one 20-minute intermission.
A Tuna Christmas plays through December 17, 2016, at the Washington County Playhouse Dinner Theater and Children’s Theater – 44 North Potomac Street, in Hagerstown, MD. For tickets, call the box office at (301) 739-7469, or purchase them online.