Sam Bass Community Theatre’s current production of A Tuna Christmas, directed by Robyn Conner, is funny, entertaining, and well-done. For those familiar with the series of plays by Jaston Williams, Joe Sears, and Ed Howard, you know that they take place in a fictional small town in Texas named Tuna, where everyone knows everyone and there are few secrets. I might say that life is simpler, but that would be hard to swallow because when you know everyone’s business, life seems to get messier and more complicated.
The play opens in the studio of radio station OKKK, and local broadcasters are providing the latest information on pork belly prices and community events, such as the local Klan meeting. Thus begins the parade of characters, and I do mean characters, who live and work in this small Texas town. There is Petey Fisk, the local dogcatcher who is so soft-hearted that he collects the strays and keeps them while he tries to find a home for each. He currently has seven who accompany him wherever he goes. Then, there is Didi Snavely, the owner of the local gun store who decorates her Christmas tree with among other things, grenades and ammunition. Didi and Vera Carp were my two least favorite characters. For me, both were so harsh and so loud and so full of ill-humor that I failed to find something that would indicate a touch of humanity or some redeeming quality.
Two other characters who captured my attention were Bertha Bumiller and Inita Goodwin, one of the waitresses at the local cafe. The actor brought a level of humanity and realness to each that I had not seen in other productions including the ones starring Jaston Williams and Joe Sears. At times I was so caught up in the scene that I forgot I was watching an over the top comedy.
The actors perform their seemingly split-second transformations and leave one wondering how the actor gets out of one costume and wig to appear almost magically within seconds as a different character.
The more than 20 characters that rotate in and out of the story with incredible timing represent all levels of Tuna society. and I found myself wondering if a small army of dressers were backstage pulling clothes off and slapping wigs on the actors with split second timing that no Texas woman would ever tolerate. How the actors made those costume and scene changes while maintaining focus and character are testimonials to the fine actors playing all these roles: R. Michael Clinkscales and Jacob Vigil.
As for the story, Christmas is coming and the local radio station is reminding residents of the upcoming festivities, including the annual yard decoration contest. As the story unfolds, we see the social divide between the have’s and the have not’s and meet the various small-town characters, ranging from the soft-hearted to the bigoted. These are folks who are fun to laugh at and to laugh with. Yes, there are touching moments when you see the more vulnerable residents find their way to a better life. Kudos to Robyn Conner, director of this lively, spirited, look at life in a small Texas town, for her skill in orchestrating it all.
If you’ve never lived in a small Texas town, you’ll enjoy the visit. If you have, you’ll feel like you’re back home, and while it’s nice to visit, you don’t want to stay too long.
Sam Bass Community Theatre is located in Round Rock, Texas.