The title alone is fair warning. Red, White, and Tuna is irreverently reverse-patriotic.
Let’s break it down: red state (Texas), mixed with a dash of white supremacy and a tangy, Southern flavor that will not suit everyone’s tastes. Think Jeff Foxworthy in drag.
But the 1998 two-actor satirical play, the third installment in a quadrilogy by Ed Howard, Joe Sears, and Jaston Williams — with multiple split-personality roles originated on stage by Sears and Williams themselves — makes you nostalgic for political scandals of yore and provides comic relief from these politically incorrect times.
Tuna is the fictional third-smallest town in Texas — a place where not only does everybody know everybody else, everybody IS everybody else. Inhabiting these busy bodies in The Little Theatre of Alexandria’s sparkling rendition are two brave and blustery quick-change artists, David Wright (Actor One) and Stephen McDonnell (Actor Two).
Their biographies are impressive enough. McDonnell is a former stand-up comic and Saturday Night Live regular who was Jim Carrey’s stand-in for Man on the Moon, the biopic about tragic comedian Andy Kaufman. Wright is an improv master as gifted in Shakespeare as, one might imagine, Monty Python.
Together, they create 20 unforgettable characters so distinctly real that you expect them to re-enter onstage even when the stage is at its total capacity of two. Among audience favorites: McDonnell’s roadkill artist Stanley Bumiller, butch cowboy-deejay Arles Struvie and snooty Vera Carp, and pretty much everything Wright does — from his haughty mayor and owner of radio station OKKK, Leonard Childers, to a Clintonian Baptist preacher, and nervous Nellie newlywed.
(Only criticism: While the actors have the Texas drawl down pat, thanks to accent coach Paul Liberti, the choice to hardly attempt a female tone when playing cross-gender was jarring, if liberating.)
Much of the sleight of hand is to Director Mike Baker’s credit. He paces the parade so expertly that the actors seamlessly transform, starting with two female (we think!) hippies on a soul-searching road trip to attend their high school reunion over the Fourth of July holiday, to a suicidal artistic director and a society luminary vying as homecoming queens … to the actual homecoming of a UFOlogist who has spent three years being probed (but not groomed) with no love lost for his neglected, militaristic wife, a used-gun shop owner.
It’s a 3Gs ride — for guns, God, and gumption.
Sealing the magic are more unseen hands. As co-producers and set decorators, Marian Holmes and Russell Wyland have outdone themselves, whether ornamenting Bertha’s kitschy kitchen or Didi’s imposing gun shop across a multi-faceted, fastidious set by Chris Feldmann. And it took a village to make Tuna spring to life in the wardrobe and costume departments. Shout-outs to savant Costume Designers Ceci Albert and Lisa Brownsword, as well as the wardrobe team who got the bulges in all the right places, led by Jamie Blake and Margaret Snow.
Above all, the artistry of Lighting Designers Jeff Auerbach and Kimberly Crago — providing the rockets’ red glare while alternately sending us into orbit — should win awards. Paired perfectly with the prowess of Sound Designer David Hale, LTA’s production serves as a master’s class in technical shine. To boot: The audience applauded nearly every song on the OKKK hit parade.
Not quite lowbrow or highbrow comedy, Red, White & Tuna is sure to raise an eyebrow or two. However, for those with strong stomachs and thick skins, this skewering of small-town small-mindedness will make you proud to be an American living in a diversified, enlightened metropolis such as D.C. (We think!)
Running Time: Two hours and 30 minutes, with a 15-minute intermission.
Red, White, and Tuna plays through June 24, 2017, at The Little Theatre of Alexandria – 600 Wolfe Street, in Alexandria, VA. For tickets, call the box office at (703) 683-0496, or purchase them online.