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By Bridgette M. Redman
“Greater Tuna” is not a new show. It is one of those stage comedies so popular that playwrights Joe Sears, Jaston Williams and Ed Howard have produced two sequels in the more than 25 years since the original became one of the most widely produced plays in the United States.
Despite the nearly three decades since the banter of OKKK radio jockeys introduced play-goers to the third smallest town in Texas, there is a freshness and spontaneity to the Williamston Theatre production that opened Friday night. It was almost as if the script were waiting for actors Wayne David Parker and Aral Gribble to team up to play the dozens of characters inhabiting Tuna, Texas.
Led by Williamston is Artistic Director Tony Caselli, “Greater Tuna” moves at such a fast clip that one starts to suspect the tech crew of installing teleport pads and instant-change rooms during the most recent renovation. Certainly Parker and Gribble are never short of breath or even breaking a sweat despite exiting from one side of the theater and re-entering on the other moments later in a completely different costume.
Donald Robert Foxis bright and simple set added dimensionality to the backdrop and the additional function of giving actors nearby doors and a little extra room in which to pull on wigs, dresses, suit coats and hats. The absence of props also further showcased the talents of the actors and they pantomimed the use of invisible props and provided their own verbal sound effects for the noises.
While opening night is sometimes subject to mistakes in timing, Gribble and Parker were so perfectly attuned to each other that they never needed a sideways glance or reassuring cue to move in perfect harmony, whether running over a dog or providing soundtrack to each others movements.
Gribble unselfconsciously used his body for a series of fat jokes, especially while playing the juvenile delinquent Stanley and his wannabe cheerleader twin sister Charlene. He also moved easily and credibly between the brash cruelty of Stanley and the hapless Humane Society manager Petey Fisk on a lone crusade for kindness to our fellow human beings.
Parker could successfully rent himself out as a sound-effects man. He swiftly integrated effects and dialog never pausing between the two with the skill of a ventriloquist holding a conversation with unseen partners. Every character he created had a different way of speaking and talking, giving the audience a delightful panorama of town residents that were larger-than-life and teased the most out of stereotypes without sacrificing their individuality. He also delightfully played with his voice so that even the female characters sometimes dipped into a deeper range to provide comic effect.
“Greater Tuna” explores a small-town collection of small-minded people who are unabashedly bigoted and completely committed to preserving their lifestyle choices. In the hands of Caselli, Gribble and Parker, the mocking is gentle and the satire benign. There is an affection for these flawed individuals that acknowledges while their eccentricities may be individual, their deviation from an imagined norm is something everyone shares in some form.
If youive never visited Tuna, Texas, this production is a stellar way to introduce yourself. If you have, consider those previous visits a prelude to this production which is, as an English nanny performing down the road from Williamston would say, ipractically perfect in every way.
Williamston Theatre, 122 S. Putnam Rd., Williamston. Thursday-Sunday through Dec. 19; no performance on Thanksgiving. $18-$24. 517-655-7469. http://www.williamstontheatre.org