Monday, January 30, 2023

By John Baggett

There’s some hilarity going on at Tyler Civic Theatre this month, or should I say “Tuna” Civic Theatre?

The incredibly popular series from playwrights Jaston Williams, Joe Sears, and Ed Howard is back at the Civic Theatre with the third tale of the most dysfunctional town of Tuna, the third smallest town in Texas. Much like its predecessors, “Greater Tuna” and “A Tuna Christmas,” the play features TCT regulars Ray Dark and Roger Pharr portraying the residents of Tuna, Texas.

The story of “Red, White, & Tuna” centers around the town’s combination high school reunion and July 4th firework spectacular. Also during the same time, the judgmental Vera Carp (Dark) is running for reunion queen using a campaign that has caused the rest of the candidates to drop out. It is also the day before the wedding of Bertha Bumiler (Pharr) and OKKK disc jockey, Arles Struve (Dark). Not to mention, it is the 1,999th day of used weapons shop owner Didi Snavely’s (Dark) husband R.R. (Pharr) being missing. Once R.R. has been gone for 2,000 days she can declare him dead and enter the dating pool again.

Bertha has a lot on her plate with the wedding approaching. Her daughter, Charlene (Dark), is very pregnant with her military husband’s child. Her troubled taxidermist/road kill artist extraordinaire son, Stanley (Dark), has agreed to donate a new piece of art to the city for the upcoming celebration. Stanley is also not too thrilled with his mom marrying a new man and going on a “real honeymoon.” Nor is Bertha happy with Vera Carp’s constant war on smut after having read the book, “Lonesome Dove,” and thinks she needs to read more of the books that are being banned. Plus, Bertha received a cat that thinks it’s a dog from the slightly off Petey Fisk (Dark) of the Humane Society.

The remaining subplots also include former residents and current flower children Amber Windchime (Dark) and Star Birdfeather (Pharr) coming back into town for the reunion. Helen Bedd (Dark) and Inita Goodwin (Pharr) are catering the festivities with their famous, yet slightly tangy, potato salad.  Also in the mix is flamboyant theatre director, Joe Bob Lipsey’s (Pharr) dismay over his show being stopped by Vera. Plus, there is an unseen standoff between the members of the Nation of Free White Texas and the housewife that may be holding them hostage. I won’t give all of the stories away.

“Red, White, & Tuna” is directed by TCT veteran, Judy Griffith, last seen as the determined ex-sheriff in the comedy, “Farce of Nature.” Between her work coordinating what goes on backstage and what Dark and Pharr have to pull off, putting this show together had to be no easy task. Seriously, I have no idea how they do it, because trying to memorize the dialogue for a combined 19 characters cannot be an easy task. Not to mention, both of them have to do multiple costume changes to pull off this chunk of Tuna residents in this entry in the series. According to Griffith, there are approximately 47 residents in this crazy little small town.

Now, I will be honest that I do appreciate what was being accomplished here. I also have to say that in my months of covering the Civic Theatre beat, “Tuna” has been the story I have enjoyed the least. I’m not saying this is a bad show, far from it. In fact, Dark and Pharr had the rest of the audience nearly in stitches from start to finish. Combined with everything else they are asked to pull off, this show is very much a success. It did make me laugh at times and my hat is off to the men on stage, the director, and the backstage crew that had a hand in making this show work.

I take a lot of things into consideration when I write my reviews that go beyond my own likes and dislikes. I also judge the audience reaction. Their reaction to “Red, White, & Tuna” proves that this material has an audience, and if you loved the previous two shows, this will be right up your alley. I’m bummed I didn’t absolutely love it, but I’m so happy that the rest of the audience was nearly in tears they were laughing so hard. Maybe I need to see the first two shows, this was my first “Tuna” experience.

I do give a really strong recommendation to “Red, White, & Tuna.” Dark and Pharr are incredibly talented actors. I’ve enjoyed their work in many other shows, and they give their all in this one So, please, go see this show, and I hope that you have to see it twice because you laughed so hard that you missed half of the jokes. I absolutely think it is worth your time.

“Red, White, & Tuna” opens on Thursday June 16 and runs until July 3, 2016.

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