"GREATER TUNA" at Lagoon Opera House. Tickets: $6 for adults and $4 for senior citizens and children. Remaining performances: Aug. 11, 19, 25 and Sept. 3.
"GREATER TUNA" at Wheeler Farm Amphitheater, 6351 S. Ninth East. General admission, $4 in advance, $5 at gate. Remaining performances: Aug. 12, 13, 15, 18-20.Suddenly two productions of the play "Greater Tuna" have invaded Utah; one has been planted near the pond at Wheeler Farm and the other sandwiched between performances of "Dames at Sea" at Lagoon.
But most Utahns have never heard of this play, which has been packing them in for nearly eight years in San Francisco. What on earth is "Greater Tuna" about?
Tuna is a fictitious small town in Texas. But the play includes its suburbs as well; so that's why it's called Greater Tuna _ like Greater Salt Lake.
It's about small-town people wallowing in small-town problems that really don't amount to a hill of beans; but they do amount to a pile of corn. The people talk corny and their humor is often corny. After a while, the audience wonders if Tuna is really in Texas _ or in Kansas.
The script is rather uneven. The first half is light and funny. The second is rather disquieting, especially with Stanley Bumiller's involvement in the sudden death of the Rev. Spikes.
But the play is really a vehicle in which the actors can display their versatility in acting. About 20 characters are shared by only two actors. And the challenges of memorizing all the lines, and changing costumes and characters umpteen times, is at times mind-boggling.
The performances of Bryon Finch and Troy Lunt at Lagoon and Erik Black and Quin Checketts at Wheeler Farm are energetic and commendable.
They don't generate the rib-splitting laughter that Leonard Arrington gets when he performs "Farley Family Reunion." But there is enough humor to tickle the funny bone. No one will sit through these performances without cracking a smile or breaking into spontaneous laughter.
Erik Black is at his best when performing the parts of Bertha Bumiller, Leonard Childers and Yippy (the dog). Quin Checketts makes an excellent Petey Fisk and Phinas Blye. Troy Lunt's interpretation of Didi Snavely is outstanding, as is his Charlene Bumiller, Phinas Blye and Vera Carp.
But top kudos must go to Bryon Finch's portrayal of Bertha _ and, more particularly, Pearl. She is the most unforgettable character of all, thanks to Finch's facial expressions, mannerisms, gestures, etc.
Although fine actors, not all of the performers are top comedians. And a mixture of both is needed for this play. Let's say it's not a Tim Conway/Don Knotts kind of performance.
In these two productions, some of the characters are underdeveloped. And there are moments of overacting and upstaging, especially by Black and Finch. But these instances are only occasional and do not seriously mar the productions.
Unfortunately, the humor often lacked audience response, mainly because there were few people in the audience. A full house would undoubtedly generate really exciting performances by the actors.
Of the two,"Greater Tuna" at Lagoon is more polished _ with better sets, props, costumes and lighting. And it is also a more family-oriented production _with most of the four-letter words eliminated from the script.
In poor taste, however, is the use of a particular LDS hymn and later, the entrance of a hooded Ku Klux Klan member.
The Wheeler Farm production has a more small-town feel. A grassy hillside replaces plush seating; real wind replaces air conditioning. In fact, the night I saw the performance, winds blew and raindrops fell; but the actors and audience adapted well, and everyone remained until the play was over.
At the end of each production, the audience expects all 20 characters to walk on stage to take a bow. This is a compliment to the talented actors who made most characters believable at the drop of a hat.
Anyone who split a gut at Arrington's "Farley Family Reunion" will enjoy "Greater Tuna." It gives people a chance to laugh at themselves _ at their idiosyncrasies, their prejudices and their preoccupation with the mundane.
But at the same time they are laughing, they realize that some of these inane, empty-headed residents of Tuna have moved to larger cities and towns. In fact, as we look around us, we see people who fit the description, both in appearance and personality. It's both amusing and scary!