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Seattle by David-Edward Hughes

Meandering Merriment Makes Arts West's
A Tuna Christmas a Mixed Holiday Bag

Tuna Christmas
Buddy Mahoney and
Jay Jenkins

The trio of Tuna shows (Greater Tuna/Red, White and Tuna/A Tuna Christmas) were initially developed as showcase vehicles for actors Joe Sears and Jaston Williams (the plays' co-authors with Ed Howard) to strut their stuff. So wonderfully contrasting are the pair that having seen a few of their appearances, either live or on DVD, I can say that others attempting to tackle their tour-de-force work as much of the citizenry of tiny Tuna, Texas, have big boots and high heels to fill. And capable as actors Buddy Mahoney and Jay Jenkins are, their efforts under the spotty and slow-paced direction of MaryBeth Dagg to bring A Tuna Christmas to life at Arts West Playhouse amount to a half-full Christmas stocking.

Truth to tell, the Tuna Christmas authors didn't write exactly knee slapper jokes for the show. It's much more about characters, and to their credit, amidst the 20 some odd roles Mahoney and Jenkins take on, a few are jim dandy. Mahoney, who in general is more at ease in the en femme roles he is asked to take on than co-star Jenkins, is a cantankerous doozy as one Didi Snavely, a purveyor of used weaponry. Mahoney makes Didi the star of the evening, portraying her brusque personality to perfection, and conjuring the biggest laughs of the evening when she supplies Jenkins' Aunt Pearl Burras with a sling shot to bring down the blue-jays that are the bane of her existence. They also team well in a moment when Mahoney as town radio celebrity Arles Struvie gets Jenkins as Bertha Bumiller a bit tipsy and nearly dances her into some hanky panky.

The big problem is the two actors are not physically or vocally contrasting enough from one another to lend the optimal amount of chemistry to their two-hander scenes. Director Dagg doesn't vary the pacing enough, and also has allowed from some unwieldy and unnecessary set changes that weigh down the proceedings. The result is what might have been a lark at a brisk ninety minutes, sputters as it hits the two-hour plus intermission mark.

Mahoney and Jenkins work hard and handle their quick character and costume changes impeccably. These kitschy costumes, designed by Margo Walker, are a marvel of down-home tackiness, looking as though they are fresh out of the "Hee-Haw" costume department. Dan Schuy's scenic design is fine, excepting the fact that less would have been more, leaving our minds to conjure up more, as the convention of miming the show props does.

Your attendance at A Tuna Christmas is probably predicated on how much low-brow hayseed hilarity you are in the mood for. It's definitely an audience show, not a critics show, and it might be just your cup of spiked cider one of these pre-Christmas nights.

A Tuna Christmas runs through December 24th. Tickets may be purchased online at www.ArtsWest.org, by phone at (206) 938-0339, or in person at the ArtsWest Box Office located at 4711 California Avenue SW, Seattle.


Photo: Michael Brunk

See the list of this season's theatre offerings in the Seattle area.



- David Edward Hughes



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