Febraury 25, 2003


Greater Tuna

reviewed by
Lynn Trenning
















For more about Lynn Trenning, please visit her main page.

special to ArtSavant, with support of a grant from the Puffin Foundation

During these times of impending war, political correctness, McMansions, and a middle class that can afford to drive recreational Humvees, itís good to know there is a tiny town in Texas where people say what they mean and mean what they say. Greater Tuna, which takes place in Tuna, Texas, is living proof that Americans are not of one mind, and that what plays in Texas doesnít necessarily play in Peoria. This quirky play is one of a trilogy co-created by Jaston Williams, Ed Howard and Joe Sears, full of characters inflicted with both loveable and inexorable human characteristics we all recognize, if not embody.

Greater Tuna is the first of the trilogy, which includes A Tuna Christmas, and a work in progress titled Red, White and Tuna. It recently toured in Charlotte, starring veteran Joe Sears, and newcomer Martin Burke. The setting is radio station OKKK, where Sears presents the first of his 10 characters, Thurston Wheelis, and Burke enters the scene as his co-anchor Arles Struvie.

In Tuna the winning essays of the high school contest include the titles, "Human Rights, Why Bother?" as well as "The Other Side of Bigotry." The Lions Club is considered liberal, and the people of social import reign on the Censorship of Textbooks Committee. Their suggestions for banned books include "Roots," for showing only one side of the slavery issue, "Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee," for its negative depiction of the U.S. military, and "Romeo and Juliet," for its promotion of teenage sex.

In a lot of ways, life is easier in Tuna. You donít have to separate your garbage from your recyclables; you just dump the whole lot under the bridge. When the neighborís dog barks too much, you donít have to call them on the phone to discuss it; you just poison the damn thing with strychnine.

But there is a common thread of humanity woven into each of Tunaís characters. The person the audience loves most is Searís Bertha Bumiller, mother of three children and wife to a no-good louse. She vacillates between threatening to actually do something about the pack of dogs that track her youngest son around town, to agonizing over her chunky daughterís inability to achieve her dream of making the high school cheerleading squad. Bertha is both hardheaded and vulnerable, as women who have been hurt, yet still know how to love, become. Sears makes a venerable contribution to the long and hilarious tradition of stocky men playing buxom woman. He is fabulous in this role.

Greater Tuna played in the large Belk Theatre, but it would be better enjoyed in a smaller arena. The set consists of a bucolic painting of a golden field of wheat against a cornflower blue sky on the side of a building that has the pleasing lines of a chapel. This is not an extravagant production, and is better enjoyed when you can really see the faces of the characters. And for the love of Pete, feel free to turn down the feedback. I never need that much reality.

Tuna is a study in the evolution of humanity. The basic tenets of the town are those commonly spouted fifty years ago everywhere, and privately believed today by more people than evident in public discourse. But these folks arenít afraid to own up to their belief system, because they are preaching to the choir. And while much of their ideology is laughable, how many people today yearn for a time when it was enough to take care of oneís own family, without the intellectual burden of living in an open society. In Tuna morality is cut and dried, and acceptance of what is different isnít a mandatory interpretation of the constitution. "We believe in making this world a better place for the right kind of people," a good citizen of Tuna declares. Well, you have to start someplace.

Lynn Trenning, February 25, 2003

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