One way to put a big play on a small stage and stay on budget is by having two actors play all the parts. In Silverthorne Theater Company’s current offering, that’s not a cost-cutting shortcut, it’s the key concept. Greater Tuna, playing this weekend and next, introduces 20 stranger-than-life denizens of Tuna, the third-smallest town in Texas, all played with bigger-than-life vigor by Julian Findlay and John Reese.
This day-in-the-life of Lake Wobegon’s southwestern cousin is viewed from the broadcast booth of local radio station OKKK (yes, the last three letters spell what you think they do) by down-home DJs Arles Struvie (Reese) and Thurston Wheelis (Findlay). After catching us up on the news of the day (including the winner of the Junior High American Heritage Essay Contest, on the topic “Human Rights, Why Bother?”) the pair morph into the entire population of Tuna − or at least nine citizens apiece − from the white-trash Bumiller family to snooty Vera Carp, vice-president of the Smut-Snatchers society, and Sheriff Givens, who dolefully attributes the tiny town’s high crime rate not to Didi’s Used Weapons (motto: “If we can’t kill it, it’s immortal”) but to “the same people getting arrested over and over and over again.”
Texas, as a liberal touchstone for laughter and loathing, has lately been displaced by Mar-a-Lago, but it retains its reputation for outsize swagger and small-minded provincialism. Written in the early 1980s by Joe Sears, Jaston Williams and Ed Howard, Tuna is part parochial mockery (gentle enough to have been performed in the White House for the first Bush), part keen satire (pointed enough to have been produced as an HBO special by All in the Family’s Norman Lear) and so perennially popular that it has spawned three spinoffs.
The play is “anything but politically correct,” as the producers acknowledge, and in his program note director Steve Henderson wonders if, in this “particularly polemic time,” it’s useful to stage a shameless lampoon of people who are, well, not us. But, he concludes, “working with two wonderful actors, we started finding real people underneath the silliness, beyond the ideology. We started to see a way to love these characters, [though] maybe not all of them.”
Seen through that lens, he says, “it seems maybe, just maybe, we have a vehicle here that can bring us some laughter and show us love where we so far we have only been able to see conflict.”
Oct. 5-7, 12-14 at 7:30 pm & Oct. 14 at 2 pm, Hawks & Reed Performing Arts Center, 289 Main Street, Greenfield. Info and tickets at www.silverthornetheater.org or call 413-768-7514. This week only: Three tickets for the price of two.
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