Central Alberta Theatre’s season-opener Greater Tuna is three parts Hee Haw and one part The Carol Burnett Show — the overlong sketches about Eunice and her oddball family come to mind.
Whether you like it depends on how much you enjoy humour that’s pretty corny and dated, but largely has its heart in the right place.
The production written by Joe Sears, Jaston Williams and Ed Howard that opened on Thursday night at the Memorial Centre is an important fundraiser for the cash-strapped CAT, so I’d like to be able to rave about it.
What I can say is the small crowd seemed to get regular chuckles out of this hayseed comedy — particularly from the stronger first act.
In case you’re not from the State of Texas, which has enthusiastically clasped Greater Tuna and its three sequels to its breast (the first former U.S. president Bush even ordered a command performance of the play at the White House), here’s a bit of a plot overview.
Two actors — in this case CAT veterans Albert Azzara and Curtis Closson — play a variety of eccentric citizens while enacting a day in the life of a small Texas town called Tuna. (We think it’s the early 1970s because of references to the KKK, Vietnam vets and Agent Orange.)
First up are agreeable Radio-OKKK announcers Thurston and Arlis, who announce the death of “hanging” Judge Rosco Buckner. The late judge was known for sending dozens of Tuna-area convicts to their deaths. Now he’s also being remembered for expiring in eyebrow-raising attire.
Among the other citizens of Tuna are local used gun shop owner Didi Snavely, whose commercial catch-phrase is “if my guns can’t kill it, it’s immortal.”
There’s also mild humane society operator Petey Fisk, who’s absolutely undaunted in his quest to adopt out the latest yappy Pet-of-the-Week that no one wants.
Most previous pets were adopted by “puppy addict” Jordy Bumiller, whose exasperated mother, Bertha, eventually calls Fiske to accuse him of being a “puppy pusher.”
Turns out Mrs. Bumiller has other things on her mind, with an overweight daughter ready to give up on life because she didn’t make the cheerleading squad, an older juvenile delinquent son named Stanley, and a philandering husband.
Tuna also has a Baptist minister who talks in endless cliches, a town snob trying to ban dirty words from the dictionary, and an elderly chicken farmer who accidentally poisons her husband’s prized bird dog in an effort to rid her property of “egg sucking poodles.”
You get the idea.
The best aspect of this production, directed by Judith Moody, were the performances of Azzara and Closson.
While occasionally it seemed they could go broader to play up the laughs, it’s not easy portraying 10 distinct characters each, and the two actors did a fantastic job of switching roles as quick as they could don wigs and whip off cowboy hats.
Central Alberta Theatre, which provided a solid season last year, has been a regular showcase for local talent.
After 42 years, the group hopes to survive this latest financial trouble by getting people to turn out to see Greater Tuna.
Red Deer’s cultural scene would be much the poorer for CAT’s loss, so here’s hoping that the rest of this season appeals to an even broader audience. Greater Tuna runs to Sept. 16.