After over 35 years Greater Tuna is firmly rooted in the regional theater circuit. Written in 1981 by Jaston Williams, Jow Sears and Ed Howard, it deals with the small town everyman. Relying heavy on comedy, it can too often fall into the trap of parody.
Yet in the accomplished hands of Incanto Theater’s Ron Spencer and Tracy Parks the deftly crafted script bristles with pathos. Greater Tuna is a current day Everyman, that seminal play of the early Medieval Era. From the pain of Bertha Bumiller, clueless Harold Dean Lattimer, sociopathic Pearl Burras to the one character that has, perhaps, found inner peace, Jody Bumiller, Greater Tuna pulls at the heart as often as causes uncontrolled laughter.
Parody and comedy are classic devices in theater and human life to both cover and highlight inner inadequacy. The “3rd smallest town in Texas,” Greater Tuna is, of course, our town. It’s where we live; it’s inside our heads.
We belly laugh as OKKK DJs, the play’s anchors, Arles Struvie and Thurston Wheelis tell us the town foibles and at a variety of eccentric characters that float in and out of the play. Yet it’s human drama, especially the Bumiller family that causes the audience to be drawn into emotional periods of silence.
Incanto’s Tracy Parks sensitive portrayal of Bertha Bumiller creates what could be a drag parody – the hair alone – into a poem to aloneness. There are few human feelings more devastating than feeling alone when among many.
Through Ron Spencer, teenager Charlene Bumiller’s ineptitude at cheer leading and profound disappointment at her failure to make the team speaks to all that have ever bullied or been bullied.
Greater Tuna is a daunting performance for the two actors that play nearly two dozen characters – not to mention the costume changes. Ron and Tracy’s split second timing controls the rapid flow of both comedy and our emotions. One second you’re laughing and then realize what a terribly racist comment Ron’s Vera Carp just made or how chilling Tracy’s dog-phobic Pearl Burras would be to have as a neighbor. Stanley Bumiller – fresh from reform school – will survive through street smarts, but we will not be aware of that until we stop cheering. Then we’ll cringe.
The tight script flowed effortlessly during the first act as the DJs, eccentric vignettes and the drama of the Bumiller family unfolded intermeshed as a tableau. Unfortunately the authors, not the actors, wrote the first half of the second act with less cohesiveness being too dependent on eccentric vignettes. It seemed a bit disjointed but soon the Bumiller/Burras saga returned and united the action.
Dogs are an important character in Greater Tuna – all pantomimed. They’re loved, tolerated and murdered. Just like humans. They’re the innocents.
Ron Spencer created two dog-centric characters through humor and pure acting talent that many would dismiss – “eccentric” Petey Fisk and a “troubled boy” Jody Bumiller – that allowed me to leave the theater hopeful. Although a modern day slaughter of the innocents just might irreparably break Petey’s heart, it will not be before he struggles to the bitter end. Yet if Jody is allowed to nurture his innocents, his soul may survive.
Greater Tuna is everyman; it’s also a comedy. Yet as in all good theater it stirs the heart.
When you go: After a successful 2017/2018 winter run, Greater Tuna is back at the Incanto Theater every Wednesday at 8:00 pm for summer 2018. Incanto is a full service cafe and bar on the beautiful Rio Cuale in Puerto Vallarta. Dining is available either along the river or at your seat in the theater.
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