Regional Reviews: Phoenix
A Tuna Christmas
Also see Gil's review of My Fair Lady
The slight plot centers around the town's annual Christmas Yard Display Contest. Will Vera Carp, who has won the contest the past 14 years, be victorious again this year, or will the mysterious "Christmas Phantom" who likes to wreak havoc by vandalizing the displays, thwart Vera's victory? Housewife Bertha Bumiller finds herself worried through the holiday season as she tries to do her best to raise her three mostly ungrateful children while convinced her husband is having an affair. Joe Bob Lipsey is also struggling, as his local production of A Christmas Carol has actors who can't remember their lines and there is a possibility the electricity will be shut off for nonpayment, while also dealing with interference from the local "Smut Snatchers" association, which Vera leads, who've made it their mission to remove any objectionable words from the script.
Williams, Sears and Howard have created a wide range of humorous characters, many of which appear in the other Tuna plays. However, for this installment, while the various vignettes do all tell a complete story, there is less cohesiveness and some of the pieces run a bit long. Also, the ending, while warm, doesn't quite pull everything together. However, it does a good job of intertwining the characters throughout the two-hour, two-act play. There are also ongoing references to other townspeople you've met earlier in the piece or who will appear later in the play, with characters coming back and forth throughout, so it isn't just a string of monologues with characters you see one time but are never mentioned or seen again.
While this play may be a bit lacking in theme and in having an overall message, the fun of this series is seeing two men portray more than 20 characters, with many quick costume changes in between the dozens of entrances and exists. Stage Left's production features Artistic Director Cody Dull and C. D. Macaulay, both of whom do a wonderful job making each character unique as they use distinct voices, expressions and mannerisms that bring out the charm of the characters and the sweet satirical nuances in the script.
Macaulay is quite effective and especially touching as Bertha, the character who gets the most stage time. The fact that the audience cares so much for Bertha is due to Macaulay's wonderful portrayal, which lets them see the many layers of this hopeful yet troubled woman. Macaulay is also hilarious as the eccentric and flamboyant Joe Bob Lipsey. Dull is equally as good as all three of Bertha's children plus the sweet but somewhat dimwitted Petey Fisk, who loves animals of all shapes and sizes, and also the feisty Vera Carp, the fun loving Tasty Creme waitress Helen Bedd, and the brusque Didi Snavely, who owns a used weapon store.
Director Lynne Puck keeps the pace brisk, which isn't an easy task considering how many costume and wig changes there are, and ensures both Macaulay and Dull create characters that are continually realistic and different from each other. The costumes by Puck and Kandyce Hughes are a non-stop parade of over-the-top hilarity, with wigs that are as eccentric and humorous as the characters. There are also some fun holiday-themed musical pieces in between the scene changes that add to the holiday spirit and humor in the play.
While the script of A Tuna Christmas may be a bit long, it is quite successful in how quickly the dialogue describes and introduces the various characters. It's also a play that requires two talented actors who have good timing, varied accents, and good detail in their portrayals in order to quickly build characters that are lifelike and memorable. With C. D. Macaulay and Cody Dull, Stage Left's production achieves that task very well. The play, and this production, let us laugh at the peculiarities of the many characters while also presenting a sweet, yet satirical, look at life in a small, rural town.
A Tuna Christmas runs through December 19, 2021, at Stage Left Productions, 11340 West Bell Road, Suite 105, Surprise AZ. For tickets and information, please visit www.stageleftaz.com or call 623-285-6321
Director/Prop Designer: Lynne Puck