[This piece originally appeared in John Garcia’s The Column]
Third in the notoriously loopy Tuna Trilogy (Tuna, Texas, Tuna, Christmas) written by Joe Sears, Jaston Williams and Ed Howard, Red, White and Tuna is a tongue-in-cheek satire on the politics, religion and taboos of Texas, encapsulated in the small town of Tuna. Sometimes oblique and others, over-the-top, Red, White and Tuna is (as you might expect) set on July 4th, when a picnic, wedding, and high school reunion are planned. It opens when a couple of alumni who have changed their names to Star and Amber, are dubiously returning to this Bible Belt province to attend the reunion. They are leery of the reception they will receive, since they have adopted the alternative, vegan-hippie lifestyle. Didi Snavely is prepared to walk down the aisle with Arles Struvie after her husband, R.R. disappeared long ago, possibly kidnapped by aliens. It is a reliable barometer to consider that in any Tuna comedy
improbability rarely figures into the mix, and calamity (or at least the unfortunate) is generally right around the corner.
Mishaps and tribulations abound. Tainted potato salad, eleventh hour cold feet, an upset in the election for Reunion Queen, pregnancy out of wedlock. What otherwise might be treated as the stuff of melodrama is exploited for comic purposes. Howard, Sears and Williams are never cruel, but neither do they prevaicate. Well, not exactly. Joe Bob Lipsey is elected Reunion Queen, and while obviously camp and distasteful to some, nobody’s threatening to lynch him or vandalize his house. The citizens of Tuna may not be the most enlightened, but they draw the line at thuggery. Though the town radio station is WKKK, the uglier implications of those call letters are never pursued.
For those of you who may not be acquainted with the Tuna Trilogy just like The Mystery of Irma Vep, two men play all 22 roles (though I suppose you could cast more) the way the creators, Sears and Williams premiered Tuna, Texas, back in the day. The costume changes are rapid and though they make no pretense at convincing drag, it’s actually much funnier that way. And some of Tammy Partanen’s costumes do look like actual women. Think: wigs, wigs, wigs! The minimalist set (lack wall with a few pieces of furniture) helps to keep things moving. I cannot say whether those who are not native Texans find these Lone Star stereotypes amusing, but for me, their familiarity made them better.
It’s a curious mix, this Red, White and Tuna, a somewhat affectionate, cartoony skewering of the racism, pettiness, military extremist, coldwater Baptist myopia that seems to prevail in Texas. The caricaturing actually seems to work in its favor, so it better when it’s crisp, rather than pensive. This is kind of a touchy time to be raising such issues, but perhaps that could be all to the good. That all being said, co-stars Dan Evers and Nathan Willard tackle this logistical nightmare with grace and aplomb.
It can’t be easy keeping each scene distinct and the pace bouncy. It was much easier to follow the dialogue than I’ve seen in other productions. Evers and Willard communicate the quirky pleasure of text with mastery.
Richardson Theatre Center presents Red, White and Tuna, playing July 15th-31st, 2016. 518 West Arapaho Road, Suite 113, Richardson, Texas 75080. 972-699-1130. richardsontheatrecenter.net