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Pair Master 22 Roles In ‘Tuna Christmas’

“A Tuna Christmas” Saturday, Nov. 29, Interplayers Ensemble

If you attend one comedy this season, make it “A Tuna Christmas.”

This Texas hick-fest is flat-out hysterical, featuring two performers, William Marlowe and Michael Weaver, who must have been born to play these roles, all 22 of them. I have a hard time imagining how anyone could do it better, with the possible exception of the show’s creators, Joe Sears and Jaston Williams. And I’m not even sure about them.

Tuna is a tiny Texas town that is something like Lake Wobegon crossed with “King of the Hill.” All of the people are named things like Arlis and Thurston, and an exciting night out means dinner at the Tastee Creme.

In this holiday sequel, the big excitement is the annual Lawn Display Competition, which has been won by Vera Carp for 14 straight years. Will she win it again? Not if the Christmas Phantom has anything to do with it.

Part of the fun of this sequel is figuring out the identity of the mysterious Phantom. One hint: The Phantom ain’t no spring chicken.

“A Tuna Christmas” is actually better written than the overexposed original, “Greater Tuna,” if only because the characters are more fully developed. The play even turns poignant for a few minutes when we see two of Tuna’s saddest and loneliest people, Arles Stuvie and Bertha Bumiller, abandoning themselves to the Baptist version of sin: dancing together.

Yet most of the show is still devoted to outrageous redneck humor. For instance, Didi Snavely answers the phone at her business, Didi’s Used Weapons, by saying, “If we can’t kill it, it’s immortal.” Then there’s the local Smut Snatchers brigade, which believes that the “merry gentlemen” in “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” is code for homosexuals.

Writers Williams, Sears and Ed Howard have a good ear for Texas-isms, as when one character describes another as looking like “death eating a cracker.”

But the real joy of this show is watching two master comic actors at work. Both Marlowe and Weaver play 11 different characters, and my mind still can’t accept that only two people did all of this.

Several times during this show I found myself wondering if, for instance, Didi Snavely might walk into a scene with Dixie Deberry or Helen Bedd, only to realize that William Marlowe would have to clone himself to make that feat possible. This is also a tribute to graceful directing by Joan Welch and to effective costume design by, yes, William Marlowe.

Marlowe looks like the second coming of Jonathan Winters. His character Dixie Deberry is practically a dead-on imitation of Winter’s little-old-lady character, and Marlowe even supplies Winters-like mouth noises during the absolutely hilarious scene in which Dixie shoots a blue jay.

Marlowe is equally adept at most of his other characters, most notably the exuberant waitress Helen Bedd and the mousy animal-rights advocate Petey Fisk.

Weaver is easily his match in his roles, especially as the big-haired housewife Bertha Bumiller. He plays her with a marvelous empathy that gives this show a welcome bit of humanity. Weaver is also priceless as the waitress Inita Goodwin, the “flamboyant” Joe Bob Lipsey, and the tough-guy Sheriff Givens. He is especially effective as the elderly Aunt Pearl Burras, as believable an 80-year-old lady as you could want.

In fact, the best scene of the entire show features Aunt Pearl and Dixie Deberry hatching plots, killing jays and engaging in the most riotous kung fu fight you have ever seen.

These two actors earned a standing ovation from the normally restrained Interplayers audience. This is only the third standing ovation that I have seen in eight years at Interplayers.

This show is bound to be a popular hit. If you want tickets, and I highly recommend it, don’t wait too long.

, DataTimes MEMO: “A Christmas Tuna” continues through Dec. 20. Call 455-PLAY for reservations.

“A Christmas Tuna” continues through Dec. 20. Call 455-PLAY for reservations.