Shawn O'Neal (left) and Scott Adams
“A Tuna Christmas,” produced by Main Street Theatre Works and now on stage in Jackson, is one of several sequels to the perennially popular “Greater Tuna.” The original first appeared in 1981 and the sequel in 1989. Both plays were, in fact, so popular that they were performed in the White House for the first President Bush and First Lady Barbara.
The MSTW production is about as good as it can get. Both plays require two actors to play 23 roles between them. Under Julie Anchor’s fast-paced direction Scott Adams and Shawn O’Neal become an ideal cast, the mountainous O’Neal pairing with the small and slender Adams. Between them they play characters of all dimensions, sizes and sexes with unflagging élan.
Both plays were written by the same witty team: Jaston Williams, Joe Sears and Ed Howard. But now, twenty years after the plays first appeared, they seem considerably dated and the satire rarely stings. Set in the fictional Tuna, Texas, “where the Lions Club is too liberal, and Patsy Cline never dies,” the town’s radio station, OKKK, doesn’t rate a snigger. These days, when even the Taliban exploit the internet, the insular small town seems a relic of the past.
But for youngsters and city folks, what we see in the plays had plenty of bite a generation ago. The two acts of “A Tuna Christmas” cover the 24 hours before Christmas. In Act I, after the opening announcements from Station OKKK, the scene shifts to the Bumiller home, where Bertha (O’Neal), the mother, is frustrated because she can’t get the kids to help her decorate the tree and Hank, her husband, hasn’t been home in days.
She remains impatient with her three kids, Jody and the twins, Charlene and Stanley. She barks at Stanley (Adams), still on probation for a past crime, “Stanley, dammit, don’t cuss on Christmas!” But there’s plenty of piety around town, where one enterprising citizen is writing a cleaned-up “Deuteronomy.”
Meanwhile Tuna’s Little Theatre’s production of “A Christmas Carol” may be aborted if Dixie Deberry (Adams) shuts off the lights because the electric bill hasn’t been paid. The theater, incidentally, is considering an all-white production of “A Raisin in the Sun.” Other tensions involve the “Christmas Phantom.” Will he sabotage the Annual Yard Decorating Contest and thus prevent Vera Carp (Adams) from winning again for the 18th year in a row?
But not all are distressed as they await the traditional OKKK Christmas party. Didi Snavely (Adams) continues to prosper in her used weapons business. Her motto is “If we can’t kill it, it’s immortal.” Yet she’s still critical of her home town. “What,” she asks, “do you think of a place that has elk hunting season but no elk?”
There are lots of laughs, though the show tends to drag on a little too long for even the most patient in the audience. But the new winter venue, Thomi’s Banquet Room in Jackson, has much to recommend it, with an excellent buffet dinner that offers a choice of beef and chicken. Dessert is served at the table. Unlike the theater company’s former home, where you had to bring your own bottle, Thomi’s offers wine by the glass.
“A Tuna Christmas” continues through November 28 at Thomi’s Banquet Room, 627 S. State Highway 49, Jackson (a half-mile south of the intersection with Main Street). Dinner performances are Friday and Saturday. Doors open at 6:15 p.m., with dinner served at 6:30, show starting at 7:45. Sunday lunch matinees (November 15 and 22 only) open doors at 12:15 p.m., with lunch served at 12:30 p.m., show starting at 1:45 p.m.
Ticket prices are $40 for dinner, $28 for lunch. Tickets are available at http://www.mstw.org/ or by phone at (209) 304-6690. See website (above) for more information.