By Charles Calabrese
The Salem Community Theatre's production of Jason Williams, Joe Sears and Ed Howard's comedy, "Greater Tuna," directed with perfect pace and precision by Mark Frost, delivers even more than the laughs and fine acting we expect from SCT's comedy productions.
"Greater Tuna" is one of the most entertaining plays you'll see this or any season. Set in Tuna, Texas, it's sort of a redneck "Our Town," but without the creepy cemetery scenes (although the death of a prominent citizen is an important plot element).
The framework of the story is a typical day of broadcasting by the local radio station, OKKK. (I know that American radio station call letters are supposed to begin with a K or a W, but this is fiction. Besides, a station with the call letters KKK never would be approved by the FCC.)
The action shifts back and forth between the station's main on-air personalities, Thurston Wheelis, portrayed by Tommy O'Donnell, and Arles Struvie, played by Terry Shears, and the other citizens of the town.
O'Donnell and Shears' hilarious embodiments of these two well-meaning but basically incompetent broadcasters would be enough to earn them a rave review, but they also become more than 20 other characters and various livestock.
The pair also de-emphasizes the potentially offensive stereotypes of white Southerners built into the script by giving multi-layered portrayals of each character, bringing out their humanity as well as their flaws.
They play males and females and adults, teens and children of various ages with equal attention to detail, making each character unique and distinct, with no shortcuts along the way.
The actors' transitions from character to character are accomplished with lightning-fast costume changes. The changes are aided and abetted by a precision team of six dressers that includes Connie Baer, Abby Cull, Mary Devine, Sharon Frost, Carrie Utt and Justin Steele.
Special mention also should be made of the beautifully simple, functional set, which features the outline of the Alamo as a constant reminder that these uniformly WASP characters inhabit a land once owned by Mexico.
The set also utilizes minimal props and furniture to suggest various locations around the Greater Tuna Area. Designers Sharon Frost, Cheryl Kekel, Gary Kekel and Craig Snay did a fine job of taking every aspect of the play into consideration.
"Greater Tuna" will be presented again this Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. Call the Salem Community Theatre for reservations at 330-332-9688.
This production gets my highest recommendation for adults and mature teens. Parents should be cautioned that some subject matter might not be suitable for younger children.
- Guest reviewer Charles Calabrese, a resident of Wintersville, Ohio, has been writing performing arts reviews for print and broadcast for more than 30 years.