Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: San Diego

Tuna Does Vegas
Balboa Theatre

Joe Sears and Jaston Williams
So, what do you do when you're Joe Sears and Jaston Williams and your whole career has been based on a show that three friends produced as a party skit some 25 years ago? You've already written a trilogy based on the residents of the third smallest town in Texas (Greater Tuna, A Tuna Christmas, and Red, White, and Tuna), and you've given as many as 5,000 performances of these three plays. You're not ready to retire yet. I know, you write a fourth one and take it out on tour.

And so, they did, in 2007, and the tour of Tuna Does Vegas is just now reaching the Balboa Theatre for an eight-performance run, courtesy of Broadway San Diego. If Mr. Sears and Mr. Williams are tired of their creation, they certainly didn't show it on opening night.

Greater Tuna satirized small town life in Texas, and the characters it introduced to audiences were at once outlandish and holy fools. The two plays that completed the trilogy humanized the townspeople to some degree, playing down the satire in the process. The genius of these creations came from Mr. Sears and Mr. Williams' ability (in collaboration with director Ed Howard) to move from one character to another and keep the comic pace up throughout a two-hour evening. Outlandish costumes (by Linda Fisher) help to hold interest, but it is really the elegant timing of the performers that puts the show across.

All of these fine qualities are fortunate, because Tuna Does Vegas is something of a trifle compared to the three plays that came before it. In act one, OKKK radio host Arles Struvie (Mr. Williams) announces that Bertha Bumiller (Mr. Sears) and he plan to travel to Las Vegas to renew their wedding vows. It isn't long before virtually the entire population of Tuna has decided to travel to Las Vegas at the same time, though it takes the rest of the act to introduce those characters and explain why each one ends up going.

Act two takes place in Las Vegas itself, and some new and (truth be told) somewhat more interesting characters come on the scene, including a woman who manages the tackiest resort in town; a man who was shot by Frank Sinatra and lived to tell about it; and a pair of Elvis impersonators who compete for the same jobs. The costumes get even more elaborate (and some of them are hilarious), but it feels by this point as though the show has degenerated into a parade rather than a story.

Mr. Sears and Mr. Williams give it their all, however, and most of the time their all is pretty funny. What makes Tuna Does Vegas worthwhile is having the chance to watch these two veteran performers play off of each other so expertly, even if we don't so much care about the characters they're playing anymore.

Tuna Does Vegas, by Jaston Williams, Joe Sears, and Ed Howard. Directed by Mr. Howard, with scenery by Christopher McCollum, costumes by Linda Fisher, lighting by David Nancarrow, and sound by Ken Huncovsky. With Mr. Sears and Mr. Williams. Presented by Broadway San Diego at the Balboa Theatre, 868 Fourth Avenue, San Diego, May 5-10. Tickets are available from Ticketmaster, at (800) 745-3000, the Balboa Theatre Box Office, and the Civic Theatre Box Office, at (619) 570-1100. More information is available online at the Broadway San Diego website.

Photo: Brenda Ladd

See the current theatre season schedule for the San Diego area.

- Bill Eadie

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