As holiday theatrical traditions go, “A Tuna Christmas” has become almost as ubiquitous as “A Christmas Carol.”
In fact, we’ve probably seen “A Tuna Christmas” more times in Spokane recently than the Dickens classic. As this laughter-filled Spokane Civic production proves, holiday theatergoers sometimes just want some lowbrow fun. The audience Friday roared with laughter from start to finish, and the show will no doubt draw big and happy crowds for weeks.
However, you should be aware: If “A Christmas Carol” is the theatrical equivalent of “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen,” then “A Tuna Christmas” is the equivalent of “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer.” This is a redneck comedy all the way.
Instead of London, it has Tuna, Texas, “the third-smallest town in Texas.”
Instead of Scrooge it has a mean-spirited society matron in curlers named Vera Carp.
Instead of Tiny Tim, it has little Petey Fisk, friend to all animals.
And instead of Bob Cratchit, it has the long-suffering Bertha Bumiller, who deserves a touch of kindness in her life – which she finds in the closing scene.
Oh, and one other thing. Instead of a cast of dozens, “A Tuna Christmas” has a cast of two, playing 20-plus characters. It’s a task that only the most versatile and imaginative comic actors should tackle, and Damon Curtis Mentzer and Daniel Anderson pull it off nicely.
Both have great stage presence and comic timing. As in the best productions I’ve seen, I forgot I was watching only two actors. I was watching dozens of characters, most of whom came vividly alive.
Part of the fun is marveling at the quick costume changes, the enormous wigs and, in the case of Aunt Pearl Burras, the spectacular feats of engineering in the bustline department. Aunt Pearl may be ancient, but she’s still a swinger, if you catch my drift. Credit Mentzer with some inspired physical comedy.
He also wears a red beehive hairdo with aplomb as he turns Bertha Bumiller into the sweetest and most sympathetic character in the whole show.
Anderson was especially effective as her son, Stanley Bumiller, a reform-school graduate with a mullet and pierced lip. He was sweeter to his mom than the average hoodlum.
On the other end of the sweetness spectrum, Anderson also got loads of laughs playing the toughest broad in Tuna, Didi Snavely, the proprietor of Didi’s Used Weapons. Didi’s the type of gal who hangs grenades on her Christmas tree and answers the phone with, “Didi’s Used Weapons. If we can’t kill it, it’s immortal.”
Spokane happens to have an actor, William Marlowe, who was born to play the “Tuna” characters, as he proved in several previous productions. The Civic took a risk in asking him to direct, not star in, this production. The risk paid off; Marlowe clearly was able to pass his comic talents along to these two young actors (both of whom have been his drama students at Spokane Falls Community College).
Marlowe also adds some nice directorial touches to this production, including an amped-up “Close Encounters” scene and an effective auditorium entrance for the two bouffant-wearing waitresses, Inita Goodwin and Helen Bedd.
The puns in those last two names are representative of the level of humor you’ll find throughout the script, by Jaston Williams, Joe Sears and Ed Howard.
OK, Dickens it’s not. But sometimes, you need a little Christmas slapstick.