Written by Alina Mae Wilson
To say Greater Tuna is hilarious is, while accurate, somewhat missing the point. It is true there are tons of laughs in this play, and it’s true that every single joke lands, but Greater Tuna is much more subtle than most other good comedies. It honestly has heart. The heart itself is composed of humor, which starts out cliche enough but quickly transforms into an entire town’s worth of people imploring the universe for assistance. For an added bonus, the actors performing at Stages’s Theater in Fullerton are phenomenal.
Greater Tuna is the first part of a four play series featuring the exploits of residents in the small town of Tuna, Texas. It’s the third smallest town in the state, but the locals are brimming with pride, and boastful in all the stereotypically Southern ways you can imagine. The same two actors play all these colorful characters, and the way they transition from arrogant, to foolish, to tender and sympathetic in the exact same scene is marvelous.
When the play initially began I was unfazed. Our story begins with two stereotypically goofy, southern hicks running their local talk radio show, and I just couldn’t help but wonder, “Good lord, are we going to be stuck with these two nut-jobs the whole time?” The answer is no. There are a ton of fun and different characters running on and off stage all throughout this performance, and the fact that every one of them is clearly defined by their unique peculiarity speaks volumes about how talented Brian J. Cook and Andrew Villarreal are as actors. At no time did I have difficulty distinguishing one character from another. This can also be attributed to the costume designer Heather Enriquex, who maintained a sense of style for each specific character without requiring them to be in identical costumes one hundred percent of the time. The attitudes of the characters were visibly and audibly present with everything from posture to attire to voice.
I can understand not being overly excited by the synopsis. After all, the trope of comedic hillbillies is not exactly fresh and innovative. Society has been laughing at the small town hick for years. What is remarkable is how Greater Tuna manages to fit in every stereotypical villain, goofball, and yes, even the sensitive hero, into the span of one story and makes them sympathetic. My heart goes out to the people of Greater Tuna for their sincere desires: respect, dignity, and joy as they live together.
With such an intimate setting in Stages’ small theater, there really isn’t a bad seat in the house, and the chairs are comfortable enough that you’ll find yourself comfortably relaxed as time goes by. The costume design and lighting are both excellent. Watching the actors maneuver with the limited space they have is a real treat, especially since they utilize every inch so well. There is one scene in particular involving a door opening and closing as the pets go outside, and I’ll be darned if I didn’t actually start to see a screen door swing back and forth onstage.
The show is lighthearted enough to keep you having fun but serious enough for you to feel genuinely concerned for each person’s outcome. Go to Stages’ Theater in Fullerton for some great comedy.
June 8 – 24, 2018