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Review: Costume changes bring 'Tuna' to life

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Eddie Staver III, left, portrays Pearl Burras in a scene of “Tuna Does Vegas” at Wayside Theatre, with Jody Lee as Anna Conda. — Courtesy Wayside Theatre


By Josette Keelor -- jkeelor@nvdaily.com

The eccentric characters from Wayside Theatre's spring play "Greater Tuna" return to the stage in Middletown this month in "Tuna Does Vegas."

Thanks to the play's quick-witted writing, the characters would be hilarious no matter the players, but with Eddie Staver III and Jody Lee dividing all 19 roles, the result is a laugh riot.

Written by Jaston Williams, Joe Sears and Ed Howard, and directed by Warner Crocker, the play offers audiences a rousing good time with the folks from small town Tuna, Tex.

Lee's Arles Struvie and Staver's Thurston Wheelis welcome theater-goers into their quiet, yet always animated, rural town through the airwaves of radio station OKKK. And, much like any other small town in America, Tuna treats its own day-to-day news as earth-shattering.

The news that Arles and his wife Bertha -- Staver in drag -- plan to renew their wedding vows in Vegas is met with excitement by others in Tuna. Not only do their friends, family, and even enemies, want in on the gossip, they also want in on the vacation, and before Arles and Bertha can say "viva Las Vegas," half the town has booked flights to the gambling capital of the world and taken rooms in the very same hotel where the love doves plan to stay.

"Tuna Does Vegas" is the fourth play featuring the fictitious town -- the third smallest in the nation -- but audiences who haven't seen the first three can easily follow the storyline. After Arles and Thurston give an overview in the first scene of a few characters to come, the rest of Act I unfolds in a parade of unlikely characters resulting from quick costume changes backstage.

Lee and Staver pass themselves off as someone new every few minutes.

If you didn't know the two of them were hidden beneath the mustaches, wigs, glasses, dresses, jumpsuits or women's bathing suits, it would be all too easy to believe that Wayside was hiding a cast of uncredited people backstage.

In truth, four other people are hiding backstage: wardrobe captain Meg Mason, assistant stage manager Leslie Putnam and dressers Meredith Avery and Julia J. King, who make the quick character changes possible.

A good actor can disappear into a role, leaving no trace of his or her real self once the theater lights dim and the curtain rises; in the case of Lee and Staver, once the wigs come on, the actors very nearly cease to exist.

Among Lee's characters, self-righteous town snob Vera Carp and used weapons dealer Didi Snavely are as different from each other as they are from his slow talking, kind-hearted animal lover Petey Fisk, or from Staver's disproportionately-sized, elderly Pearl Burras.

In looks alone, they all would seem to be unique people, but in this case looks are not everything.

That most of the characters have Texas accents is expected. Strangely, though, all of Staver's characters, from earnest news co-anchor Thurston to booty-shaking Village People-loving waitress Inita Goodwin, at times sound enough like impersonations of George W. Bush to be distracting.

Lee, however, formerly an Arlington, Tex., resident, succeeds in giving a distinctive voice to each of his characters.

Not everyone who sees the play will recognize anyone they know and love in the characters of Tuna. Still the roles and situations are believable, with help from the crew.

Music director, Steve Przybylski, enlivens scene changes with appropriate, even comedic accompaniment; lighting designer and scenic director, Wes Calkin, makes magic happen in total darkness between scenes; and costume designer, Caleb Blackwell, allows willing suspension of disbelief to unfold before the very eyes of fun-loving audience members.

"Tuna Does Vegas" will continue at Wayside Theatre, at 7853 Main St. in Middletown, Friday and run through Sept. 22. Showings are at 8 p.m. Thursday through Saturday and 2:30 p.m. Saturday, Sunday. Tickets range from $25 to $30 for adults and $23 to $30 for students and seniors. Matinees are $20 to $22. Children under the age of 18 pay $10. For more information, call 869-1776 or visit www.waysidetheatre.org.






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