Friday, September 19, 2008

"Greater Tuna" at Ledges Playhouse

Last Saturday, I had the treat of watching Michael Hays and Terri Jones on stage at the Ledges Playhouse Theatre. It was amid the downpour of rain we were having and I fear the weather kept people from wanting to drive out to the park and make the long walk from the parking lot to see theater in a barn. At least, there were only a dozen of us in the theater--and I'm told that was twice what they had the next day.

Thankfully, the weather is promising to be much nicer this weekend, the type of weather that encourages a visit to a park as well as a show. This is good, because Greater Tuna is worth seeing. It's an entertaining, fun show with a heavy dose of satirical wit. It is almost the mirror image of BoarsHead's Permanent Collection. It too deals with racism, but Greater Tuna is purely a comedy while Permanent Collection is a drama. Greater Tuna also has a slightly more dated feel as we hope we live in a world where what is portrayed on stage can now be seen as quaint and unacceptable. Yes, there are still people in the world who are like those who inhabit Greater Tuna, but the optimistic among us hope that they no longer exist as an entire town.

Last Saturday was the first time I'd seen any of the three Tuna shows. It's easy to see why this show is considered an actor showcase. It definitely showcased the talents of both Hays and Jones. They created characters that you managed to care about even when they were at their most reprehensible. Perhaps it was more accurate to say that you wanted to see more of the characters even though the show was a goodly length.

There were issues inherent in the script that make pacing difficult. The play is set in small-town Texas and both Jones and Hays provided strong Texas accents for each of their characters. The drawl and mannerisms build in a certain amount of slowness and then it is necessary for the characters to make major costume changes in very short amounts of time. Sometimes it seemed as though having an additional person backstage (and I have no idea whether they had no one or ten people) to help with the costume changes might have helped the pace pick up a little.

It was impressive that despite the small audience size, both actors were able to create a chemistry between each other and the audience. I didn't see Michael and Terry up there. I saw the numerous characters and the distinct relationships between each of them. They both had a strong sense of what to play to the audience and what to play to each other.

Some of the funniest scenes came when they were playing the feminine half of the Tuna population. Granted, simply having a man come on stage in a dress invites a level of guffaws, but both Hays and Jones were able to create female characters that were funny in and of themselves, not simply because they were played by deep-voiced men.

Last week, I wrote about why the play's opening was delayed by a week. The fact that Terry still has minimal vision in one eye and spent most of this summer lying face down so his eye could heal made his performance particularly impressive. He gave no indication during his performance that his vision was impaired and never missed a step or a move.

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