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THEATER REVIEW: A Tuna Christmas

A Yuletide Lampoon: Tuna Christmas served with giggles

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A Tuna Christmas
Presented by the Footlight Players
Dec. 6-8, 13-15, 8 p.m.
Dec. 16, 3 p.m.
$15-$25
The Footlight Players Theatre
20 Queen St.
(843) 722-4487
www.footlightplayers.net

A Tuna Christmas is the festive follow-up to Greater Tuna. Both star two actors playing multiple parts that lampoon small-town life in Texas. It's set in a fictionalized place where a Smut Seekers society cleans up Deuteronomy, Episcopalians are frowned upon, and carolers never ride unarmed in a one-horse open sleigh.

This serving of Tuna is bracketed by broadcasts from Radio OKKK, spreading neighborhood gossip like it's national news. The headlining story of Christmas Eve is a Yard Display competition. In the running: Vera Carp, with a real flock of sheep in her mocked-up manger; Didi Snavely, owner of Didi's Used Weapons ("if we can't kill it, it's immortal") and the waitresses at the local diner, Helen Bedd and Anita Goodwin. The outcome may be tipped by the Phantom, a prankster who messes with festive decorations.

It's a funny show where the jokes come thick, fast, and unsubtle. The Footlight Players do justice to the lively script, serving up a witty, entertaining, and thankfully unsentimental Christmas show.

This isn't the first time director Mary Cimino has tackled Tuna. It's her third go at the play, but there's no sign of ennui here — the actors obviously enjoy playing old ladies, busybodies, and lame-brains as much as Cimino enjoys directing them.

She encouraged the actors to imbue each character with different mannerisms, quirks, and tics. For example, Robin Burke plays Didi Snavely as a swaggering, cigarette-puffing loudmouth but still manages to make her endearing (if you like people who decorate their Christmas trees with gun cartridges). Dean Infinger's Bertha Bumiller has a great rubbery hangdog expression. Together they play eleven characters, so half the fun is watching them cope with costume and character changes. And they don't miss a trick.

Wardrobe mistresses Julie Ziff and June Palmer help create the host of characters with simple, distinctive clothing, and headgear. Since the population of Tuna seems to consist of stereotypical Texans, there are a lot of big hats, checked shirts, and no-frills frocks. The most amazing dress probably belongs to Bertha Bumiller, whose red outfit makes her look like a grown-up, hard-knock Little Orphan Annie.

Ed O'Donnoghue's lights are likewise straightforward, but effectively evoke the mood of the play. He gamely creates the multicolored hub of a passing UFO; only Didi's off-stage yard display seems underlit — it's supposed to be so bright it gives the competition judges retinal damage. Karl Bunch's sound manages to create the sense of a whole town full of backward ideas with a few cowbell clangs and musical cues.

Some of the cues are heard from a radio suspended from the top of the proscenium, part of a sparse yet clever set courtesy of scene designer Richard Heffner. With a couple of chairs and mere hints of doors, store counters and Christmas trimmings, Heffner gives the audience members just enough reality to stoke their imaginations. Only one incredibly creaky chair distracts from the performances, groaning more than Burke and Infinger's two old lady characters, Pearl and Dixie.

Although it's been done before, this is a refreshing shift in direction from the larger-cast, period-set productions that the company has favored recently. Burke and Infinger are lots of fun to watch, and they develop roles that are vivid and well-defined. The pace lags at times, but that's the fault of writers Jaston Williams, Joe Spears, and Ed Howard. With so many one-liners, it's not surprising that the director left it at its full length. There are a couple of moments — as when harried housewife Bertha Bumiller reflects on her husband's infidelity — where a more serious tone could have been struck, just to contrast all the comedy. But this show's perfect for a night of light Christmas giggles.

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