Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Greater Tuna

If you want to see a show with great production values, I would advise against seeing Greater Tuna at Stagecoach Theatre. The set is nothing but a cheap table, cheap chairs and a cheap cloth-wrapped double-wide podium with felt call letters to indicate radio station OKKK, all backed by some of the most eye-assaulting, obnoxiously painted walls you will ever see. As for costumes ... while the costume changes obviously had to be rushed -- it's a two-man show with 20 characters -- I have seen good drag. This is not good drag. In fact, one look at Rob Tromp in his costume for Charlene Bumiller could put you off crop tops forever.

But if you're looking for a good laugh, it's hard to do better.

I've seen Greater Tuna before, but some things never get old:

The Rev. Spikes' (Ben Hammill) eulogy, which uses every cliche in the book, with a few commercial slogans thrown in for good measure.
Bertha Bumiller (Hammill) ostensibly reading a National Enquirer while voicing Yippy the dog from behind its salacious pages.
Vera Carp (Tromp) explaining to members of the Smut Snatchers that they can't censor the word "snatch" in the Tuna high school library along with "clap," "deflower," "knocker" and "nuts" because the group can't afford to change its letterhead.

I was impressed by the delineation in characters, a crucial factor since each actor had ten characters to portray.

Tromp in particular excelled at creating wildly different voices and mannerisms for each of his characters, particularly the socially inept perennial mayoral candidate Phinneas Blye, the awkward, hapless humane society volunteer Petey Fisk, and the innocent, eager Jody Bumiller with his eight to ten dogs in tow. However, he was occasionally too shrill to be heard as Charlene.

Hammill spent a lot of time as his two female characters, harried mother and community volunteer Bertha Bumiller and spunky yet crotchety old Pearl Burras (who probably didn't need that cane), and does a wonderful job with them. I also liked his portrayal of shifty, good-old-boy Klan member Elmer Watkins -- God knows why, but I did.

A few gags went on a little long -- for instance, radio personality Thurston Wheelis (Hammill) probably didn't need to ogle Charlene quite so blatantly or so constantly -- but for the most part, the jokes are fresh and funny and, frankly, quite relevant. Are the bits about the Smut Snatchers censoring dictionaries, Romeo and Juliet (for portraying teenage sex and disrespect for parental authority) and Roots (for portraying only one side of slavery) so far off, when the Meridian Public Library is purging unrated DVDs and the Nampa Public Library has pulled The Joy of Sex and The Joy of Gay Sex from its shelves? And with the Bush administration advocating waterboarding and stress positions and fighting to keep from granting habeas corpus to detainees -- not to mention Idaho Congressman Bill Sali making idiotic comments about Muslims and Hindus -- are winning essay titles like, "Human Rights -- Why Bother?" and "The Other Side of Bigotry" that far from the mark?

Greater Tuna is a very funny look into small-town red-state life. For those of us in small towns in red states, sometimes it's good to get to laugh.

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