Greater Tuna (Review)

Covedale’s trip to Tuna is irreverent fun

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Greater Tuna at the Covedale Center
Greater Tuna at the Covedale Center

Tuna, Texas, once a real-live speck of a town, had been written off state maps for decades. That changed in 1981 when Jaston Williams, Joe Sears and Ed Howard penned Greater Tuna, the first of four comedic plays focusing on the quirky, small-town conservatism of Tuna. 

Currently onstage at the Covedale Center, the show introduces more than 20 townspeople of varying ages and genders via two actors, Justin Smith (principally as Arles) and Matt Wilson (principally as Thurston). They are terrific, making great use of swift costume changes and improv prowess to bring to life the particular foibles of some very eccentric folk over the course of a single day in Tuna. 
 We meet the pair during their daily broadcast of all things mundane, ridiculous and outrageous on OKKK radio. Straightaway, we learn that Tuna Junior High is awarding first place to the American Heritage Essay Contest winning entry, “Human Rights, Why Bother?” This makes it not-so-surprising when we meet Elmer Watkins, Klan leader; Bertha Bumiller, book banner; Stanley Bumiller, AC/DC loving delinquent, and a host of other difficult, opinionated characters. 
Between Smith and Wilson it’s hard to say who bests the other in comedic chops. I was leaning toward Team Wilson, mainly due to his performance as Bertha interacting with the “dogs,” but then the sly Smith made one small gesture in response to having to say the word “clap,” and I laughed out loud. The men were more fun to watch when they interacted with each other. While the backstage changes must be completely exhausting, at times I wished for slightly quicker transitions. Act I of Tuna strives entirely for yuks. 
In Act II, there are some surprising moments where the eccentric turns dark. Under Bob Brunner’s direction and Smith and Wilson’s charm, it remains solid, light-hearted entertainment. Designers Brett Bowling (set) and Caren Young (costume) added much to the feel-good world of Tuna, Texas. 
Greater Tuna is a perfect fit for Cincinnati Landmark Productions’ traditional wheelhouse. In June the ambitious group opens a second home, the under-construction Warsaw Federal Incline Theatre, presenting three distinct seasons during 2015-2016, including one that promises to be more contemporary, with edgier works. I look forward to watching them broaden their audience and their offerings. 
GREATER TUNA, presented by Cincinnati Landmark Productions at the Covedale Center for the Performing Arts, , continues through Feb. 15.

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