A Pair of Local "Stage Giants" Deliver a Barrel of Laughs in Greater Tuna at Theatre in the Park

“Something old, something new ….” It’s kind of amazing to think that Greater Tuna has turned 40! (It premiered in Austin, TX, in the Fall of 1981, and opened Off Broadway in 1982.)

It’s equally amazing that this show (with such flawless tech) is the first to be overseen in this venue by Theatre in the Park’s new technical director Josh W. Martin. Indeed, Martin wore a few additional hats while getting this show on stage: scenic designer, lighting designer, and projection designer. Kudos on all counts!

I was especially impressed by the choice to dress the set with the town’s water tower, an oil derrick, a two-lane blacktop road leading into and out of town, and the “On Air” sign for radio station OKKK (that’s right: O-KKK!). Abigail Kucher is credited as the scenic artist; she is equally deserving of kudos.

Also: a tip-of-the-hat to costume designer Tammy Spencer (who supplied “quick-change” costumes for some twenty-odd characters).

Final tech kudo: The decorations in the lobby and the choice of pre-show music got Saturday night’s audience so thoroughly enthused that we clapped along to the top-of-the-show song “Deep in the Heart of Texas” (before the houselights even dimmed).

Enough about the tech.

Theatre in the Park‘s production of Greater Tuna stars David Henderson (left) and Ira David Wood IV

Written by Ed Howard, Joe Sears, and Jaston Williams’, Greater Tuna is a two-actor show. In Theatre in the Park’s production, Ira David Wood IV serves as director and actor; he and David Henderson each play about 10 different characters (of various ages — both male and female). These two local stage giants are nothing short of phenomenal! Each of the personalities that they create is hilarious, and their interaction with each other’s various identities appears effortless. Also impressive is their ability to “create” invisible set pieces as they mime such actions as opening cabinets and dialing a touch-tone phone. Indeed, there were points at which I was almost able to see the invisible dogs and children with whom they interact.

Side Note: Tucked in between the nearly non-stop laughter, be prepared to find a few touching moments and more than a little social commentary. These characters are greatly exaggerated stereotypes and parodies, but each of the points raised by the play is every bit as poignant as an episode of (1970s TV show) All in the Family. Where else could we find ourselves attending a meeting of “Smut Snatchers of the New Order” as they discuss strategy for purging words from dictionaries at the school? And we should feel privileged to be invited to attend the upcoming record-burning.

Greater Tuna’s action is set in-and-around the fictional town of Tuna, TX (the “third-smallest” town in the state). We first encounter Henderson and Wood as OKKK’s two DJs, Thurston Wheelis and Arles Struvie, signing on for the morning broadcast. (As we might expect in rural Texas, Henderson’s costume suggests “farmer,” and Woods’ fairly screams “cowboy.”)

When another character is needed, one of the two actors leaves the stage and returns within moments in a different costume, with different posture, with a different voice, with a slightly different accent, etc. The attention to detail led me to wonder: “How many wigs and pairs of glasses had to be juggled backstage?” And I certainly developed a healthy respect for the show’s dressers: Heather Carithers, Claire Huene, and Eloise Grable.

David Henderson (left) and Ira David Wood IV star in Theatre in the Park‘s production of Greater Tuna

The show exists in a time period that can be referred to as “the indefinite present.” We see a radio that would have been current in the 1940s, kitchen furniture from the 1950s, and a cordless touch-tone phone (even though it is invisible). We also hear a reference to watching TV on an iPad, and we see a picture of President Biden on the cover of The National Enquirer (of course!). And there is an oblique reference to “January 6th.”

The switches from scene-to-scene and character-to-character might seem random at first; but it soon becomes clear that there are a few continuing storylines, and there is an arc of character development. Both are interesting and enlightening. And then there is a memorial service for the recently deceased judge at which we are treated to a eulogy with a never-ending string of cliches. I wish I had thought to keep count!

Fans of David Henderson and Ira Wood will delight in this buffet of their talents.

Indeed, I heartily recommend this show to anyone who looking to be non-stop entertained and/or impressed for 90-or-so minutes.

TIP’s production of Greater Tuna runs through Sunday, Feb. 20th. Be sure to bring a mask. Be sure to bring proof of vaccination or negative COVID-19 test. Above all: Be sure to be ready to laugh!

Ed Howard, Joe Sears, and Jaston Williams’ GREATER TUNA (In Person at 7:30 p.m. Thursday-Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 10-13 and 18-20), directed by TIP assistant artistic director Ira David Wood IV and starring Wood and Honest Pint Theatre Company founder and co-artistic director David Henderson (Theatre in the Park in the Ira David Wood III Pullen Park Theatre in Raleigh). TRAILERS: https://www.facebook.com/theatreintheparkraleigh/videos/4583887141738332 and https://www.facebook.com/iradavidwood/videos/350432470029897. 2022 SEASON: https://www.theatreinthepark.com/whats-on/. THE PRESENTER/VENUE: https://www.theatreinthepark.com/, https://www.facebook.com/theatreintheparkraleigh, https://www.instagram.com/explore/locations/10561032/theatre-in-the-park/, https://twitter.com/TheatreInPark, and https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC6csRm6S7ViHeBuRSlV_fqg. DIRECTIONS: https://www.theatreinthepark.com/visit/how-to-find-us.html. PARKING: https://www.theatreinthepark.com/visit/parking.html. COVID REQUIREMENTS (scroll down): https://www.theatreinthepark.com/welcome.html. THE SHOW: https://greatertuna.com/, https://www.jastonwilliams.com/greater-tuna, http://www.iobdb.com/Production/1153, https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0190435/, and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Greater_Tuna. THE SCRIPT (excerpts): https://books.google.com/books. TICKETS: $28.96 ($23.60 students, seniors 60+, and active-duty military personnel), except $20.38 per person for groups of 10 or more. Click here to buy tickets. GROUP SALES (10+ tickets): Call 919-831-6058 or click here. INFORMATION: 919-831-6058 or info@theatreinthepark.com. PLEASE DONATE TO: Theatre in the Park.

NOTE:

Kurt Benrud is a graduate of Cary High School and N.C. State University, and he has taught English at both. He first became involved in local theater in 1980. He has served on the board of directors for both the Cary Players and the Cary Playwrights’ Forum. He is also a volunteer reader with Triangle Radio Reading Service. Click here to read his reviews for Triangle Review and Triangle Arts and Entertainment.

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