Review: Greater Tuna

Jonathan Beck Reed and Donald Jordan in Greater Tuna  
Photo by Mutz Photography

By Larry Laneer
March 22, 2018

Oklahoma City Repertory Theatre is providing a tremendous public service by staging Greater Tuna for all of us who lack enough goofballs, idiots, bigots, slackers, drunks, rednecks, ass scratchers, and sanctimonious pricks in our lives. Or if you have gotten this far in life and never seen this comedic two-hander, you have what may be your last chance to see the show before it rides off into a much-deserved sunset.

As with all City Rep Tuna plays (they’ve done multiple stagings of A Tuna Christmas), this production features Donald Jordan and Jonathan Beck Reed, both doing 10 characters. Jordan and Reed have already proven themselves in these quick-change shows playing male, female, and canine roles. They have not lost a step and are sharp as ever.

Now at CitySpace, the play centers around two yahoo announcers at radio station OKKK, broadcasting at 275 watts in Tuna, the third smallest town in Texas. Both Jordan and Reed play three or four main characters, but it’s refreshing to see them again in some interesting supporting roles. (It’s too bad City Rep doesn’t list the character names in the program; they can be hard to keep straight.) Jordan plays Leonard Childers, the blowhard station manager of OKKK with the call-in show “Leonard on the Line.” Reed plays Chad Hartford, a Truman Capote-like reporter from Houston who interviews a town busybody. His wordless reactions steal the scene. Jordan has the play’s best scene as Reverend Spikes, a bloviating preacher in a three-piece white suit and black string tie who gives a eulogy consisting completely of familiar clichés.

City Rep has done Greater Tuna only once before, in 2013. Steve Emerson directed that production and this one. Emerson also did the sound design. It adds something the show, which is done largely in pantomime: a squeaky screen door, panting and barking dogs, clucking chickens, slamming car doors, chirping crickets.

Danielle Trebus designed the costumes. The show has 24 costume changes for each actor, so it’s appropriate to cite the backstage dressers: David Mays, Michael J. Greene, Kris Schinske, Jon-Philip Olson, and Heidi Sue Wallace. Ben Hall’s set design looks like the 2013 production.

No one will argue that the Tuna plays are great works of art. In fact, they’re barely more than party skits. But they have something to say about their times. Jaston Williams, Joe Sears, and Ed Howard wrote Greater Tuna in 1981, and it’s a subversive play. One character gets away with a gruesome murder.

The City Rep production hasn’t changed much since 2013. What has changed is the world we live in. This first became evident when City Rep did A Tuna Christmas in 2016, about a month after the Presidential election. After Trump, Black Lives Matter, sanctuary cities, The Wall, Charlottesville, and multiple church and school shootings, the play takes place in a different context today.

For example, a character named Elmer Watkins (played by Jordan) calls for vigilante vengeance against immigrants near Tuna. He later calls global warming “fake news.” He wears a red “Make America Great Again” cap. A character that may have been buffoonish in 1981 comes off as sinister today.

DiDi Snavely (played by Reed), owner of Didi’s Used Weapons, says if you don’t have a weapon that can kill, she will fix you up with one that can. At the reviewed performance, the audience reacted—thankfully—with an uncomfortable titter.

Jordan, who is also City Rep’s artistic director, has said this will probably be the company’s last Tuna. That’s good. The plays have run their course and had several other productions here. Surely, everyone who wants to has seen them already. Now, if a playwright would like to write a new quick-change comedy, goodness knows the world is supplying plenty of material. In Greater Tuna, you’ll hear nary a mention of the National Rifle Association, Fox News, or the alt right.

Greater Tuna by Jaston Williams, Joe Sears, and Ed Howard
Oklahoma City Repertory Theatre
7:30 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays, 1:30 p.m. Sundays, through April 8
Freede Little Theatre, Civic Center Music Hall
201 N. Walker Ave.

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