This “Tuna” Bites Back

620 words By ROSINE REYNOLDS

This “Tuna” Bites Back
Tuna, Texas is a fictional small town with a small town’s closeness. However, this community is not the pies- and-picket fences of Andy’s Mayberry, Hank Hills’ Arlen, Keillor’s Lake Woebegone or anyplace in “Our Town.” Tuna is more tumbleweed and barbed wire.
This town starts its mornings with local news from radio OKKK, delivered by veteran newscasters Thurston Wheelis and Arles Struvie. Today’s headline concerns the death of an important citizen, Judge Bruckner, beloved for being the judge who ordered the most hangings. The judge was found wearing a women’s bikini bathing suit. (This story will be corrected later as to the kind of swim suit it was.)
There follows a commercial from Didi’s Used Weapons, which, even though used, are “absolutely guaranteed to kill.” A standard Texas weather report follows, predicting “rain from all directions,” a dust storm, locusts and Tropical Storm Luther.
We then get a close-up look into the Buford household, where Mrs. Buford is being interviewed about her work on the Censorship Committee. The Committee objects to “Roots” in the public schools, saying that it “only shows one side of the slavery issue.” “Romeo and Juliet” is also on their list because of its “rampant disregard for parental authority and teenaged sex.”
But all is not harmony in Tuna. Many townspeople are at odds with the local animal lover, Petey Fisk of the Humane Society. (Petey has nightmares all through hunting season.) Mrs. Pearl Burras loves animals too, as long as they’re chickens, which she defends with modern science. Mrs. Buford doesn’t love animals as much as she used to before her Jody began collecting dogs. But Jody’s sister Charleen is having a personal crisis because she didn’t make cheerleader, and now she’s a senior.
There is, of course, a church, and the Rev. Spikes arrives to deliver a one-size-fits-all eulogy for the Judge. The Deity is also called upon for various needs throughout the story.
A genuine Texan, Linda Dunn, directed “Greater Tuna” for the finale of Ross Valley Players’ 82nd season. Its spoofs are, she says, “all these things I grew up around.” And it was on a visit back to the Lone Star State to see her mom that Ms. Dunn saw a production of “Greater Tuna” with more than two in the cast.
Originally created by three men – Jaston Williams, Joe Sears and Ed Howard — the show’s twenty characters were played by just Williams and Sears, each taking on multiple roles. The show debuted in Austin in 1981 and went on to become first in a series of four. It has since developed a loyal audience, even having an online General Store with its own merchandise.
Ross Valley Players’ version uses a cast of seven, including a number of recognizable names. Jim Dunn plays newscaster Thurston Wheelis as well as Elmer Watkins. Wood Lockhart is his partner, Arles Struvie, but is also Didi Snavely, the weapons saleslady. News banter between Wheelis and Struvie are highlights of the show.
The versatile Steven Price carries five parts, only four of whom are human. Robyn Grahn plays all the Bumiller children. Tom Hudgens (another Texan) is both the beleaguered Petey Fisk and the very proper church lady, Vera Carp. Jeffrey Taylor portrays three townspeople, including the Sheriff, and Javier Alarcon plays four others.
Michael A. Berg costumes all these people right down to the slip showing and the ear-flap hats.
“Greater Tuna” will be at The Barn Theater in the Marin Art & Garden Center, Ross, through Aug. 12. Thursday performances are at 7:30; Friday and Saturday shows are at 8 p.m., and Sundays at 2 p.m. For complete information and ticket prices, see www.rossvalleyplayers.com, and for reservations, call 456-9555, ext. 1.