Texas ‘Tuna’

Oklahoma City Repertory Theatre ends its season with the countrified comedy Greater Tuna. CityRep had success with runs of A Tuna Christmas for a few seasons some years ago, and Greater Tuna is the original play in the franchise.

In case you hadn’t heard, Greater Tuna concerns the citizens — oddballs and yahoos all — of Tuna, which has the nondistinction of being the third-smallest town in Texas. The play is essentially a glorified party skit with practically no plot, and director Steve Emerson has given it a no-frills staging with laughs coming regularly enough to keep the audience engaged.

The play razzes such easy targets as religious bigots and sanctimonious do-gooders, so in that vein, let’s assume Emerson gets down on his knees every night and thanks the good Lord that he has Jonathan Beck Reed as half the cast in this two-hander. Reed and Donald Jordan play some 20 characters — male, female and canine.

Reed played this same role — or, rather, roles — in Lyric Theatre’s sumptuously elaborate production of Tuna in 2008. He has an extraordinary ability to convincingly play a wide (to say the least) variety of characters, ranging from dreamy-eyed, teenage rhymester Charlene Bumiller to an old coot with his trousers hiked up to his chest to a reform-school alumnus in a Zig-Zag T-shirt, Stanley Bumiller, who’s Charlene’s brother.

Reed also plays their younger brother, whose obsession with dogs means he either will grow up to be a superb dog trainer or the next Petey Fisk, another Reed character so concerned about saving ducks and other creatures from disastrous fates that he hawks a brochure titled “Trapping Ducks Without Trauma.”

And then you have Vera Carp, a gadabout church lady who makes an art form of saying the wrong thing. What she can do with “nuts” and “snatch” is something to behold.

And that’s about half the characters Reed plays. One wonders how he would do in an adaptation of Jaston Williams, Joe Sears and Ed Howard’s play as a one-man show. Jordan just manages to stay out of the way.

Emerson does a fine job with the sound design. The creaking screen doors are much appreciated.

Tuna must be in West Texas, because the horizon on the painted set is interrupted by only a few telephone poles, a pumpjack and a windmill. Jordan, Ben Hall and Theresa Furphy designed the functional scenery; two tables, four chairs and an antique console radio are all the props necessary.

Jordan, CityRep’s artistic director, said Greater Tuna is one of the most-requested plays by audience members.

Well then, you have to say City Rep is giving the people what they want.

Larry Laneer

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