Daily Pilot

On Theater: 'Tuna' makes a comic splash

By Tom Titus

8:03 AM PST, November 5, 2013

Everything's bigger in Texas - except, perhaps, for the tiny town of Tuna, the state's third-smallest, where, as its motto states, the Lions Club is too liberal and Patsy Cline never dies.

More than three decades ago, three enterprising showmen - Jaston Williams, Ed Howard and Joe Sears - joined forces to create "Greater Tuna," a hilarious satire of small-town life in the Lone Star State. It became so popular that it spawned three sequels.

The original concept is now being presented by the Costa Mesa Playhouse, where director Kyle Myers and his two-man cast bring some 20 twangy characters to life in what may be the funniest show you'll witness this season. Thirty years hasn't dimmed the humor. If anything, the show is funnier now, given the current political landscape of Texas.

The actors, Robin L. Watkins and Karl Schott, each play 10 roles, about half of them in drag, with one of them ducking backstage to change costumes while the other entertains. Exaggeration is a virtue in this backhanded tribute to small-town life in the dusty depths of America.

Both start out as disc jockeys on radio station OKKK, establishing the down-home flavor of the show, with Watkins slipping out to assume the character of Bertha Bumiller, a frazzled housewife saddled with a no-good husband, three troublesome kids and a pack of dogs that the youngest boy brings home.

Schott shows up as all three kids - a mean-spirited youth, his soft-hearted dog-loving brother and their overweight sister, frustrated by her failure to land a spot on her school's cheerleading squad.

Watkins also appears as Bertha's sister, a fiendish old harridan given to poisoning dogs (the play's only really uncomfortable segment). He's also the radio station manager, a UFO spotter, a hard-nosed sheriff and Bertha's recalcitrant husband.

Schott delivers the show's funniest moments as Vera Carp, president of the "Smut Snatchers of the New Order," dedicated to excising offensive books from the library, such as "Roots" and "Romeo and Juliet." Vera also presents a short list of Spanish phrases, "the only ones any red-blooded American should be expected to know," and a list of "offensive words" that should be removed from the dictionary.

Another moment of high comedic wattage arrives intermittently when local animal lover Petey Fisk (Schott) pleads for someone - anyone - to adopt a dog, Yippy, whose nonstop yipping is driving him batty. Then there's the Rev. Spikes (Watkins), leaving no cliche unturned in his eloquent eulogy for a deceased judge, whose body was found dressed in a Dale Evans swimsuit (courtesy of that oldest Bumiller brat, who also caused his honor's demise).

Both Watkins and Schott deliver the play's outlandish humor with zestful relish, and their interaction with one another is splendid. The actors have captured their loopy characters with uncanny accuracy, and their overstated Texas accents are especially laughable.

If "Greater Tuna" proves to be a local hit, its sequels - "A Tuna Christmas," "Red, White and Tuna" and "Tuna Does Vegas" - may not be far behind. In the meantime, "Greater Tuna" may be thoroughly enjoyed at the Costa Mesa Playhouse.

TOM TITUS reviews local theater for the Daily Pilot.

If You Go

What: "Greater Tuna"

Where: Costa Mesa Playhouse, 661 Hamilton St., Costa Mesa

When: 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays until Nov. 24

Cost: $16 to $20

Information: (949) 650-5269 or http://www.costamesaplayhouse.com