If the old adage that laughter is the best medicine holds true, there will be a lot of healthy theatergoers in the community this season. “A Tuna Christmas” at the Pewter Plough Playhouse is a laugh-out-loud hoot.
Jonathan Shadrach and Jeff Walters, two very funny fellows, play 22 citizens of Tuna, Texas, “the third smallest town in Texas.” It’s the day before Christmas, and we meet an array of over-the-top characters in various precarious situations as they anticipate the big day.
The show is paced so that the actors segue quickly from character to character in spite of some elaborate costume changes.
Jill Turnbow directs, and she is eminently qualified, known for her comedy talents as an actor and a director, and also being a Texan herself.
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The fun begins as Arles Struvie and Thurston Wheelis, on radio station OKKK describe what’s going on in Tuna. The lawn display contest is about to be judged. Vera Carp, the local snob whose display features live sheep, has won it for 15 years.
A production of “A Christmas Carol by Charlie Dickens” is about to open, but is threatened by Dixie Deberry, controller of the electric company, because the troupe hasn’t paid the light bill. Radio guest Didi Snavely, proprietor of Didi’s Used Weapons (motto: “If we can’t kill it it’s immortal”) warns of the dangers of riding unarmed in an open one-horse sleigh, and Petey Fisk from the humane society asks folks not to give people live animals because they always come back to him.
The big news is that the Christmas Phantom is up to mischief again and the search is on for the culprit.
The scene shifts to the home of Bertha Bumiller as she tries to decorate her Christmas tree without the cooperation of her son, soon to be off probation, and her daughter, who is in the Christmas play and has a crush on Joe Bob, the director, whom her mother tries to explain “is not the marrying kind.”
Bertha is a member of the Obscene Committee of the Smut Snatchers of the New Order, which is investigating the term “round young virgins” in “Silent Night.”
There’s much more, all fast paced, and the dialogue keeps the laughs coming. The costumes and wigs also produce laughs. Lani Zaragoza designed and built the clever costumes.
Shadrach is a kick as he assumes various female roles, changing personality and body language in minutes. He’s especially hilarious as Didi, chain smoking invisible cigarettes while singing carols. Walters goes from mom Bertha to Aunt Pearl in funny dresses and wigs, and is good as Sheriff Givens (nicknamed Rubber Sheets because he wet the bed in camp as a kid) and R.R. Snavely, a UFO chaser, among others. The actors are terrific and obviously having a lot of fun. Although it’s all satirical, there is a certain sense of affection for the characters.
And there is a bit of plot as we find out who wins the decorations contest, whether the lights go out at the theater, if R.R. finds a UFO, if Bertha’s philandering husband shows up, and who the Phantom is.
The action all takes place against a large multi-leveled mural of vast plains, painted by Art Van Rhyn.
“A Tuna Christmas” was written by Jaston Williams, Joe Sears and Ed Howard, who wrote three other Tuna plays. This one makes me want to see the others.
The audience in the full house at the Pewter Plough on opening night gave the actors an enthusiastic standing ovation, and everyone was likely smiling — or laughing — all the way home.