Fourth show of Season 54 at Timber Lake Playhouse opened last night with “Greater Tuna,” a country flavor with a generous twist of uniqueness.
This play in two acts goes far beyond the perimeters of regular comedy where there are scattered titters and laughs throughout the audience depending on the day. Written by Joe Sears, Jaston Williams and Ed Howard in 1981, the action takes on a satirical image of small town life and Texas living. If the recipe of comedy has the ingredients of contrasting incongruence, this one reaches deeper than the funny bone.
Tuna is a Texas town that has the dubious distinction of being the third smallest in the state, though no one has ever quite found its location. Its populous is prideful about unwitting failures so all must thus create their own claim to mini-fame as a list of some 20 eccentric locals are played by a mere two actors throughout. So the math adds up to 20 costume and vocal switches where sometimes the main action is a blur backstage to another gender, an ugly dog, a cheerleader reject or a drunken UFOlogist, among countless others. Get ready for your sides to split!
After its enormous success that opened in Austin, Texas and led to off-Broadway and national tours, “Greater Tuna” was found to be one of the most produced comedies across the country by 1985. Thus, there might have been a temptation that because only two actors were needed, any theatre company could hastily put it together. This is far from reality, however. In general, the fewer actors to carry heavy business of script and blocking require even more professional abilities.
For that, TLP pulled out the stops and put on the cowboy boots. Returning favorites Cody Jolly and Matt Webb take on the hysteria of backstage costume changes and as well as the hysteria of onstage action. Jolly just returned from his loony Captain Hook role in TLP’s “Peter Pan” which also had some frantic costume and makeup changes to be sure his curtain call was properly mustached.
Webb is equally a favorite returning talent at TLP where he is remembered as Lenny in “Rumors” and Igor in “Young Frankenstein.” He also ordains himself as the “chubby person doing stand up and improv all over Los Angeles.” So at the drop of a hat, or the slide of a high heel, his comic feel for the absurd in “Greater Tuna” as housewife Bertha Bumiller or chicken farmer Pearl Burras who poisons dogs is thoroughly intact.
Jolly’s characters work off of Webb’s with his own set of failures as the snickering reform school graduate as Bertha’s son Stanley, complete with the pack of cigarettes rolled in his sleeve and sneering attitude to boot. He also appears as his sister Charlene, an ongoing cheerleader reject.
Guest director Stephen Schellhardt of Chicago makes his first trip to TLP bringing along his experience as a three-time Jeff Award actor and director of Summer Theatre of New Canaan in Connecticut, as well as other venues including New York and suburban Chicago. He notes how unique the extraordinary talents of the actors in this show. He remarks, in fact, that their professionalism makes the project a luxury. His superb sense of detail is remarkable as the stage body language unfolds comic presence as well as just plain surface laughs.
Guaranteed hysteria with this show that runs ten more performances July 17 through July 25 at Timber Lake Playhouse, 8215 Black Oak Road, in the boonies of Mt. Carroll. All evening performances are 7:30 p.m., (no show on Monday), three 2 p.m. matinees July 18, 19 and 22. Group rates available. Tickets go fast. Contact the box office at (815) 244-2035 or www.timberlakeplayhouse.org for more information.