Red, White and Tuna by Jaston Williams, Joe Sears and Ed Howard. Directed by Phil Rice.
Reviewed by J. Peter Bergman
Tom Frye and John Trainor as Arles and Thurston; photo provided
"A good firearm makes a point."
Part three of any trilogy sometimes leaves you wanting things you never get. The Tuna Trilogy, plays with more than forty characters played by two men who make lightening-quick costume and wig changes, and also gender shots, come as close as you can get to total satisfaction.
Set in the third smallest town in Texas at no particular point in time, these three plays have lifted many a local playgoer out of the doldrums of season change into summer. The current production at the Theater Barn in New Lebanon, New York is no exception to that simple rule.
Itís a typical fourth of July Tuna High School ten-year reunion (they only have one every ten years) and the attendees include Amber, once Bernie, and Star, once Vernie, who approach the event with trepidation. They are joined by local theater director Joe Bob Lipsey, socialite Vera Carp, the Tastee Kreme Gals Helen Bedd and Inita Goodwin, radio personalities Arles and Thurston and Didi Snavly whose used gun shop provides comic ammunition for one of the lengthiest scenes in the show. Arles and Pearl are destined to marry but argue and call off the wedding. Didiís husband R.R. Snavly, missing for 1999 days, returns unexpectedly on the eve of her divorce proceedings from some other galactic experience and Reverend Spikes emerges from jail just in time to run from the law again.
In the hands of director Phil Rice and two excessively funny actors, Tom Frye and John Trainor, there is nothing that can mar the eveningís fun. Together they have forged an unforgettable, never regrettable sojourn in the hot Texas sun where 110 in the shade is normal, but itís all right because itís dry heat and even a honeymoon can turn into a chase of the chaste.
Frye has the most plastic face imaginable and he can make his characters, handsome, ugly, bizarre, distorted, feminine, animal, drunk or sober. When he plays the overwhelming squiffy Garland in Act Two you could split your sides with laughter. His various turns as Didi are delicious and his Vera Carp is perhaps his most genuinely played minor villainess. He has charm and a professional sensibility as Arles and as Petey the animal humanist he takes on the ultimate character role. Itís great fun to watch him morph from one to another and back again. Great fun indeed.
Trainor is less plastic and more genetic in his roles. His face is less pliable, but his voices are fabulous. As sisters Pearl and Bertha he couldnít be more different and yet more the same. He shows us the remarkable relationship and only playing them both simultaneously could make his performance more wonderful. Perhaps the funniest creation on the stage in this show is Joe Bob Lipsey whose death wish turns into an extraordinary triumph at the annual picnic.
In this show more time is spent by both actors in the female roles, or so it seems. Their scenes together seem to wander into the bitchy genre more often than not and even when both men are doing their genteel ladies acts there is a bit more substance than there is in some of the men.
The actors are aided immensely by some of the funniest costumes Iíve ever seen, designed to perfection by Michelle Bohn. Breasts are an issue and in a few cases issue commands from places youíd never expect. Abe Phelps has provided a wonderfully fluid set and Allen E. Phelps lighting helps to work the necessary magic in the changes of character from moment to moment. Itís the sort of production where if someone screws up, the audience just finds it funnier than they did a moment earlier and the whole thing moves forward inexorably.
Red, White and Tuna plays through July 11 at the Theater Barn, located at 654 Route 20 in New Lebanon, New York. For information, schedules and tickets call the box office at 518-794-8989 or go on to their website at www.theaterbarn.com.