AISLE SAY San Francisco


by Jaston Williams, Joe Sears & Ed Howard
Directed by Randall King
Presented by San Jose Stage Company
The Stage
490 S. First St., San Jose, CA / (408) 283-7142

Reviewed by Judy Richter

"A Tuna Christmas," the holiday sequel to the wildly popular "Greater Tuna," proved so popular with San Jose Stage Company audiences last year that the company has revived it this year. It features the same two actors -- Kevin Blackton and Tim Hendrixson -- as well as the same director, artistic director Randall King. I didn't see last year's production, but this year's, seen at a Sunday matinee, seemed fresh and sparkling.

Much of that success can be attributed to the show's creators, Jaston Williams, Joe Sears and Ed Howard, who also wrote "Greater Tuna." Setting the action in Tuna, the third-smallest town in Texas, and using only two actors to portray 22 characters, the authors poke gentle fun at the town and its residents. Williams and Sears starred in the original versions of both shows as well as numerous revivals throughout the country. Blackton and Hendrixson carry on the tradition with aplomb.

The show opens with two down-home, slow-talking radio personalities, Thurston Wheelis (Blackton) and Arles Struvie (Hendrixson), delivering the local news, weather and gossip in the guise of news. It's Christmas Eve, and Tuna residents are looking forward to a production of the local theater company's "A Christmas Carol," provided the town treasurer doesn't pull the plug for an overdue electrical bill. They'll also learn the winner of the yard-decorating contest, but some of the entries have been vandalized by the Christmas phantom.

The action switches to the Bumiller home where Bertha Bumiller (Blackton) has her own worries: her philandering husband has disappeared again. Not only that, but her youngest child, Jody, has brought home a pregnant cat; her teenage daughter, Charlene, has fallen for the theater company's director, who's apparently gay; and Charlene's troubled twin brother, Stanley, has to be in the play to get off probation. All three Bumiller youngsters are played by Hendrixson.

Blackton's Bertha makes a show-stopping entry in a chartreuse pant suit, poinsettia-patterned blouse and bouffant hairdo. Blackton plays assorted other characters such as the clueless, UFO-seeing R.R. Snavely; Joe Bob Lipsey, the foppish theater director; and the elderly Aunt Pearl Burras, who uses a slingshot to get rid of pesky blue jays and takes kindly to Stanley, her nephew.

Hendrixson is featured as Didi Snavely, gun shop owner. He's hilarious as the chain-smoking Didi goes around singing Christmas carols, interrupting the song to take a drag, then resuming the tune and words several bars later, just as if she had never stopped. Then there's Didi's swearing at her hapless husband, R.R., starting with "God," waiting a few beats, and ending with "damn it." Sometimes there are more beats than others, adding to the humor. Hendrixson also plays Petey Fisk, mild-mannered animal lover.

The two actors open the second act as Tastee Kreme waitresses Inita Goodwin (Blackton) and Helen Bedd (Hendrixson) take seats in the audience to await the outcome of the yard-decorating contest. Their entry is two large stockings filled with muscular cowboys and the words, "All we want for Christmas."

Although the show pokes fun at small-town ways and beliefs, it's never vicious. Part of the reason is that the actors play each character as a real person with real feelings along with real eccentricities. Another big part of the fun is the quick costume changes. For example, one minute Blackton is the burly R.R. Snavely, and just a couple of minutes later he's the cane-using Aunt Pearl in a flowered dress.

King maintains a generally good pace, aided by Michael Walsh's sets and lighting, Sean A. Russell's sound and especially Eileen Barnes' costumes.

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