Classic holiday productions, like Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol and Irving Berlin’s White Christmas, always show up around the theater circuit this time of year. But there are also many modern shows making their way onto the list of Christmas traditions and A Tuna Christmas, by Ed Howard, Joe Sears, and Jaston Williams, is one of those. Set in the made-up, tiny town called Tuna, Texas, A Tuna Christmas serves as a tongue-in-cheek-ish homage to small-town life. The show is a sequel to the original, Greater Tuna, which started off as a comedy sketch by Sears and Williams at a party in 1981.
Parlor Room Theater presented A Tuna Christmas over the weekend at the Callan Theatre at Catholic University. Dillon DiSalvo and Thomas DiSalvo each play eleven roles of varied age, gender, and height. With help from Ember DiSalvo’s costumes, the men brought distinct personalities to every role, using different voices and postures, unfolding the story of a Christmas Yard Display contest, a mysterious “Christmas Phantom,” a doomed production of A Christmas Carol, and many interwoven subplots.
The set (also by Ember DiSalvo) is an interior room of a house, very simple and realistic, which switches from a room at a radio station, to a kitchen, to a diner, and so forth, using only a table and chairs, a counter, and a variety of Christmas trees to differentiate the scene.
Every other prop in the show is mimed. Director Frank DiSalvo, Jr., has the performers answering phones, decorating cookies, and licking envelopes (they’re the old nasty-tasting kind too). My only critique would be that I have never seen a person pour and drink so many beverages in my life, which is a very minor thing. But overall the actors did a great job and, as someone who loses track of their glasses when they’re on her face, their ability to track the multiple items and make their actions clear without props was impressive.
Dillon and Thomas worked excellently together. They are friends, mother and son, neighbors, spouses, and every other kind of relationship you could imagine. Though the show is most definitely a comedy there are many poignant moments. Stanley Bumiller (Dillon), a troubled kid who longs to get out of Tuna, and his great-aunt Pearl (Thomas), a kind woman with a devious side that you never see coming, have a touching relationship that feels genuine amid the round and stereotyped characters. Bertha Bumiller (Thomas) is another very real character-a house-wife with a neglectful husband but a softness that is honest and warm.
But by far my favorite character was Dillon’s Didi Snavely, owner of Didi’s Used Weapons with the slogan “If we can’t kill it, it’s immortal.” His timing is perfect as Didi and her no-bullshit, brassy personality is hilarious.
Another comedic highlight is Dillon and Thomas as the Tasty-Cream waitresses Helen Bedd and Inita Goodwin respectively. Say their names slowly to yourself and that will give you a good enough idea of the silly banter they provided.
Credit must also be given to the unsung heroes of theater, dressers Rose Kearns and Morgan Wilder. I will not attempt to guess how many times the actors had to change clothes but, with two men playing every role in scenes that often had four or five characters entering and exiting, you can imagine it was two hours of constant quick changes.
Parlor Room Theatre’s production of A Tuna Christmas was a total blast with a nice blend of relatable characters and ridiculous scenarios. Dillon and Thomas do a fantastic job playing over twenty roles and tell a unique Yuletide tale full of laughter, heart, and a whole lot of shenanigans.
Running Time: Two hours, with one 10-minute intermission.
A Tuna Christmas played through December 10, 2017, at Parlor Room Theater performing at Catholic University’s Callan Theatre – 3801 Harewood Road, NE, in Washington, DC. For tickets, call (202) 340-8623, or purchase them online.