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Comedy's sequel challenges actors to play numerous roles

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Jody Lee, left, and Eddie Staver III pose in wigs for roles they play in “Tuna Does Vegas” at Wayside Theatre in Middletown. — Rich Cooley/Daily

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Eddie Staver III, left, plays Thurston in a scene of "Tuna Does Vegas" with Jody Lee as Arles. — Rich Cooley/Daily

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Jody Lee, left, plays Arles in a scene with Eddie Staver III as Thurston during a rehearsal of "Tuna Does Vegas" at Wayside Theatre. — Rich Cooley/Daily

By Josette Keelor -- jkeelor@nvdaily.com

This past spring, the inhabitants of Tuna, Tex., brought "Greater Tuna" to the stage at Wayside Theatre. Later this month, in "Tuna Does Vegas," the eccentric small town folk will invite Middletown to a renewal of wedding vows in Las Vegas.

Actor Eddie Staver III will reprise his roles of Bertha, Pearl and Leonard and add in some new ones, but opposite him will be Jody Lee playing eight characters he said are all new to him.

"About four or five are brand new to Wayside," said Lee.

At a recent rehearsal Staver said he's "pleased as punch" to revisit the town dreamed up by Jaston Williams, Joe Sears and Ed Howard.

"I'm pretty fond of Bertha," he said. "She feels like home to me in the show."

Only the twist here is that the Tuna townsfolk won't be in Texas for long; they're headed to Nevada to witness Arles Struvle and his wife Bertha renew their wedding vows.

If you haven't seen "Greater Tuna" yet, not to worry; there's no prerequisite for seeing "Tuna Does Vegas," the cast said.

"It's its own story," said Director Warner Crocker. "The characters have grown and changed a bit since their first chapter.

In the "Tuna" universe, which includes "Red, White and Tuna" and "A Tuna Christmas," the plays are unique in that their many characters are portrayed by only two actors in various costumes.

"Two people, four dressers, and a bunch of clothes," Crocker said.

"And a bunch of shoes," Lee added.

"Just imagine these two boys in pumps," Crocker said.

Coming off a four-week run of "Private Lives," the theater switches gears from situational comedy to rolling in the aisles funny.

"This is really there, in your face, 'hi, this is who we are, like us or not' [humor]," Crocker said. There are people who love this sort of play, he said, and others who don't.

Audience members tend to have two main comments after viewing "Greater Tuna," he said: "Oh, my gosh, I know these people" and "Oh, my gosh, these people are too crazy. They couldn't possibly be real."

But they're real all right, Crocker said; just watch daytime TV.

"It does feel like a town when these guys get going," he said.

For Lee, performing the people of Tuna will be a new experience.

"It's a wonderful challenge to attack eight very defined and iconic characters," he said. He's played more than one role in a given play, but not like this.

"It's fun to attack those kinds of roles and explore my acting capabilities," he said.

Part of the audience experience is watching how quickly the actors can change clothes back stage with four members of the crew going at warp speed to help, Crocker said.

He assured, "You're in for a lot of fun."

"Tuna Does Vegas" will run from Aug. 25 to Sept. 22 at Wayside Theatre, at 7853 Main St. in Middletown. Showings are at 6:30 p.m. on Aug. 26, 8 p.m. Thursday through Saturday and 2:30 p.m. Saturday, Sunday and Aug. 29. 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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