Here’s an easy test for all ages and IQs. Fill in the blank: Red, white and ____. Nope, wrong (if you answered “blue.”)
The correct answer is “tuna,” the title of the show that opened June 24 at Cambria’s Pewter Plough Playhouse, just in time for Independence Day.
The residents of Tuna, the third smallest town in Texas, are preparing for their annual Fourth of July party. There’s no parade, other than a parade of nearly 20 characters that appear on the Plough’s stage. Considering the playhouse’s green room is about the size of a closet, this seems an amazing feat.
The truly amazing feat is that only two actors, Michael Shanley and Jeff Walters, play the roles of all the town’s citizens, male and females, of various ages.
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That Shanley and Walters are physical opposites is the only clue to who’s who, thanks to quick costume and wig changes that totally transform them. But it’s the brilliant acting necessary to switch to an entirely different character within minutes that makes this play remarkable.
Director Sandy Bosworth is true to the script by Jaston Williams, Joe Seals and Ed Howard, which features minimal set changes and a lot of pantomime.
“Red, White and Tuna” is the third in a series of four plays about the imaginary town of Tuna that began 32 years ago. The trio has been touring the country since then, Sears and Williams taking the roles, Howard directing.
As the play opens, Amber Windchime (Shanley) and Star Birdfeather (Walters) head for Tuna to attend a homecoming reunion. They are nervous about how the carnivorous, gun-toting folks of their hometown will react to the new-age, vegetarian, stoner, hippie chicks they’ve become since moving away. They are so obviously men in drag and so unattractive, that just looking at them is a crackup.
But within minutes, when other characters take the stage, suspension of disbelief takes over and you forget you are watching Shanley and Walters; you’re seeing and hearing the characters they portray.
Newscasters for town’s radio station, OKKK, Arles Struvie (Shanley) and Thurston Wheelis (Walters) talk about the exciting next three days, which will combine Fourth of July festivities with the reunion and the Reunion Queen coronation. Preparations are also underway for a big wedding on July 6, when Arles plans to tie the knot with Bertha Bumiller (Walters).
Announcements include updates on other local issues, people, businesses and organizations, and continue throughout the play — so that when those characters appear, their identities and activities are clear to the audience.
The big news of the morning is that two of the three contenders for the Reunion Queen have dropped out, basically ensuring that Vera Carp (Shanley) will be crowned. The wealthy Carp heads up the Prayer Posse, whose main mission is to censor church hymns.
Vera’s best friend is Bertha, whose grown children are both played by Shanley, the very pregnant Charlene and former juvenile delinquent Stanley, now a successful artist in Albuquerque.
One update pertains to Didi Snavely (Shanley) who owns the used weapons shop and lives there with her senile grandmother. Didi’s husband, R.R. Snavely (Walters), vanished two years ago.
Subplots include an animal rights activist, a theater director and the Free White Texas organization.
The play’s climax is during the Fourth of July picnic when all hell breaks loose, along with some other bodily functions.
Contact freelance writer Lee Sutter at firstname.lastname@example.org
“Red, White and Tuna”
Starring: Michael Shanley and Jeff Walters
When: 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 3 p.m. Sundays through July 24
Where: Pewter Plough Playhouse, 824 Main St., West Village, Cambria
Tickets: $22 general admission, $17 students with ID; 10 percent discount for groups of 10 or more paying in advance with a single payment