Greater Tuna, the quick-change comedy in which two men portray 20 people from “the third smallest town in Texas,” might seem a surprising choice by Cincinnati Shakespeare Company (CSC). But it’s actually become a classic: Since its original staging in 1982, it’s been one of the most frequently produced plays in America. What’s more, it’s a great acting exercise for two able performers who get to play comic caricatures of men and women who are young and old, earnest and crotchety, blissful and angry.
Jeff Sanders, a CSC regular for the past four seasons, is joined by Josh Neth, who performed with the company in 2005-2006. (He’s now the artistic director of Allentown Public Theatre in Pennsylvania.) The production is staged by Sara Goff, another CSC alum (and married to Sanders). The actors are able comedians, and their quick shifts from radio announcers Arles Struvie and Thurston Wheelis to the hard-bitten Didi Snavely and soft-hearted Petey Fisk, a “puppy pusher” from the Humane Society (two of Sanders’ best roles) or dog poisoner Aunt Pearl Burras and cliché-spouting minister Reverend Spikes (portrayed by Neth) are great fun to watch. In the preview performance watched for this review, Sanders and Neth were still be focusing their characters who sometimes seemed a bit too similar, but the script and Goff’s brisk staging kept things moving.
There’s a modest plot line about a late Judge whose death links most of the characters (dark humor about the cause of death seemed more sick than amusing). But the funny banter between the radio hosts and commentaries by on-air guests, especially Petey Fisk’s pleas to adopt stray dogs and be kind to fish, will keep audiences laughing. The town ladies’ angst about dangerous works of literature is especially timely, since one of them is Romeo and Juliet (which encourages teenage sex), the show that opens CSC’s season in September.
After several summers of The Compleat Works of Wllm Shkspr (abridged), this staging of Greater Tuna, complete with a twangy County music soundtrack, is an entertaining piece of seasonal fluff from Cincinnati’s classic theater. Grade: B
GREATER TUNA, presented by Cincinnati Shakespeare Company, continues through August 12.