New cast but old charms still make 'Tuna' funny

Red, White and Tuna

2 and 8 p.m. Saturday; 2 and 7 p.m. Sunday

Casa Mañana, 3101 W. Lancaster Ave., Fort Worth

$41-$66

817-332-2272; www.casamanana.org


Posted 11:30am on Saturday, Aug. 24, 2013

If you’re sad that you'll probably never get to see the creators of the Greater Tuna characters play them again – Jaston Williams and Joe Sears officially retired about three years ago – rest assured that Fort Worth’s beloved David Coffee and Oklahoma City’s Jonathan Beck Reed are well on their way making Vera, Bertha, Didi, Arles, Joe Bob and the other Tuna citizens their own.

Coffee and Reed started nestling into the roles last year when they performed Greater Tuna at Casa Mañana, and they've become more comfortable in those heels and boots this year in the third show in the Tuna tetralogy, Red, White and Tuna, which has four more performances this weekend. (Reed has a leg up on Coffee as he has also played the Williams roles in OKC with Donald Jordan starring opposite him.)

As you can probably guess from the title, Red, White and Tuna happens on the Fourth of July in Texas’ third-smallest town, and that means shenanigans with fireworks and rank potato salad. Some secrets are also revealed, and you’d have to know the plot of Greater Tuna and A Tuna Christmas to really be in on the joke (although if you're not, it's still easy to pick up).

The major new characters in the Independence Day version are Star Birdfeather (Coffee) and Amber Windchime (Reed), two former Tuna-ites who stayed in the ‘60s, with tie-dyed outfits and constant talk of chakras and vegetarianism, and remind us why some people are so eager to break out of the small-town mindset into which they were, perhaps unfairly, born. They’re on the same wavelength with another Tuna expat, Stanley Bumiller (Reed), and an animal lover who has stuck around despite it all, Petey Fisk (Reed).

Of course, it’s those characters that make the satire of the Tuna-verse so spot-on who everyone loves the most: Smut Snatcher leader Vera Carp (Reed), gun worshipper Didi Snavely (Reed) and Reverend Sturgis Spikes (Coffee). Williams, Sears and original director Ed Howard created these characters in the 1980s as a response to the Moral Majority, and in an era with those same kinds of voices on the rise again, thanks to the Tea Party, it’s just as funny as ever.

Red, White and Tuna sometimes crosses over into too-silly territory, with the return of R.R. Snavely, and doesn’t quite have the heart of its predecessors. But Reed and Coffee keep it lively and non-stop funny, even if under Joe Sturgeon's direction it runs a bit too long.

Coffee’s grasp on the characters of Bertha Bumiller and Joe Bob Lipsey has tightened since he played them last year, and Reed adds some hilarious vocal embellishments to Vera that she didn't have on this stage last year.

Costume transitions are smooth – part of the fun of spending time in Tuna is how quickly the two actors change characters and outfits – although the get-up on Pearl’s head is an odd choice, as it exposes Coffee's bald head underneath. Pearl might have thinning hair, but this is ridiculous.

Still, both actors prove that while Williams and Sears will always be the definitive portrayers of these roles (they did them for more than three decades, after all), passing the torch is not to be feared. And if you’re dying to see Williams on stage again, he'll be at Casa in another show, Big River, in September.

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