Reviewed by Judy Richter
It was early 1984 -- after its 1982 premiere in New York -- when Bay Area audiences first met the 20-plus citizens of Greater Tuna, the third-smallest town in Texas, in the two-man show of that name. Written by its two actors, Joe Sears and Jaston Williams, along with its director, Ed Howard, "Greater Tuna" poked gentle fun at small-town attitudes and activities. Another part of the fun was that Sears and Williams played every character, making quick backstage changes that in seconds could transform them from, for example, an overall-clad man to a woman in a pantsuit.
"Greater Tuna" has been staged in the area several times with the original actors and other casts since then. In the meantime, Sears, Williams and Howard created sequels in "A Tuna Christmas" and "Red, White and Tuna," which also have been seen in the Bay Area. Now the touring version of the latest sequel, "Tuna Does Vegas," has arrived in San Francisco, again starring Sears and Williams and directed by Howard. It brings back several characters from the first three versions along with some new ones.
In true Tuna fashion, it opens with amiable announcers Thurston Wheelis (Sears) and Arles Struvie (Williams) delivering local news at radio station OKKK. It's Arles' last day before going on vacation with his wife, Bertha Bumiller (Sears), to whom he became engaged in ""Red, White and Tuna" after she was widowed. They're going to Las Vegas to renew their wedding vows and enjoy a change of scenery.
As fate would have it, several other Tuna residents decide to go to Vegas, too, and all wind up staying at the same cheesy hotel, the Hula Chateau. That's where Bertha's aunt, Pearl Burras (Sears), hits the jackpot on a slot machine, much to the envy of her snide traveling companion, Vera Carp (Williams), a leader of Tuna's Smut Snatchers. Also making their way there are Tastee Kreme waitresses Inita Goodwin (Sears) and Helen Bedd (Williams) with foppish theater director Joe Bob Lipsey (Williams). Gun shop owner Didi Snavely and animal lover Petey Fisk (both Williams) complete the Tuna contingent. In Las Vegas they encounter scheming hotel manager Anna Conda (Williams), security guard Shot (Sears) and two Elvis impersonators (Sears and Williams).
Sound designer Ken Huncovsky has chosen the right music, starting with country and western as the audience files in. Linda Fisher has come up with some terrific costumes, especially the outrageously gaudy showgirl outfits worn by the Tastee Kreme waitresses. The outfit worn by Bertha's daughter, the perennially pregnant Charlene, also is clever with one baby in a backpack, another in her arms, another clinging to her pant leg and a fourth in utero. However, the outfits seem to have slowed some of the costume changes, for there are long pauses between some scenes even though Christopher McCollum's set (lighting by David Nancarrow) remains unchanged with a table and two chairs on one side and two upholstered chairs on the other.
Much of the show seems to move slowly, and the plot leaves some story lines unresolved. For example, it seems that Anna Conda is trying to take advantage of her Tuna guests, especially the newly rich Aunt Pearl, but no one figures that out. Some of the familiar characters, especially those played by Williams, seem less well developed than usual. They don't have as many humorous idiosyncracies. And one wonders what happened to some other characters, such as Charlene Bumiller's twin brother, Stanley (last heard of as a road-kill artist in "Red, White and Tuna"), and their younger brother, Jody.
Finally, the show has its share of humorous one-liners, but it doesn't seem as witty or satiric as its predecessors. The scene with Petey Fisk and a burned peacock hitchhiking out of Vegas doesn't work, and it's not funny.
This is the first Tuna I've seen in as large a venue as the Curran. Perhaps it would work better in one of the smaller, more intimate venues where its predecessors were staged.