Earlier this year, Jaston Williams and Joe Sears brought the two dozen or so Tuna,
Texas denizens they created to La Mirada, in a big theater production of
Greater Tuna, which scored both of them Ovation Best Actor nominations.

Now, just in time for the holidays, TV and film favorites Mindy Sterling and Patrick
Bristow bring those same characters, plus a few new ones, to equally dazzling life
in a 99-seat production of Williams/Sears/Ed Howards’ Tuna sequel, a Tuna

(By the way, it’s not at all necessary to have seen Greater Tuna to laugh at (and
love) the myriad characters and outrageous situations which have made the
Tuna plays so popular throughout the country.)

Here’s just a taste of what’s happening to the residents of Tuna, Texas in the
days preceding Christmas:

1) A “Christmas Phantom” is on the loose, destroying holiday yard displays, most
especially Vera Carp’s, whose Virgin Mary now sports an ERA button and whose
manger-adjacent animals now wear boxer shorts.

2) Town treasurer Dixie Dewberry plans on pulling the plug on this year’s
production of A Christmas Carol because the theater hasn’t paid their light bill.

3) The Christmas Carol production is further in jeopardy from the Smut Snatchers,
who are out to clean up Dicken’s vocabulary.

Sterling and Bristow are both consummate comic actors. She is perhaps best
known for her “Frau Farbissina” in the Austin Powers movies, and he was Ellen
DeGeneres’ gay friend Peter on her sitcom (and out professionally years before
Ellen’s Time magazine cover).  That both Sterling and Bristow are Groundling
alumni serves them well, as they each bring to vivid life 11 of Tuna’s kooky
residents. That Sterling is a female actor (StageSceneLA.com is always politically
correct) is a brilliant stroke for this production, meaning that some of the men’s
roles get to be played by a woman, in addition to the women’s roles traditionally
played by a male star duo.   That Bristow completely submerges his well-known
and loved gay-best-friend persona is deserving of special mention.

Sterling’s characters include:
•        Arlis Stuvie, the mustachioed co-anchor of local radio station OKKK’s
•        Didi Snavely, mullet-wearing owner of Didi’s Used Weapons (Weaponry
That Works). Their motto is “If we can’t kill it, it’s immortal.”  and seeing that this is
Christmas, Didi asks, “Wouldn’t you rather shoot someone than have him run off
with your new toaster?”
•        Petey Fisk, of the one-man Greater Tuna Humane Society. This Christmas,
Petey is housing an iguana, a sheep, and a coyote, gifts of holidays past that
were abandoned when their owners lost interest in them
•        Charlene Bumiller, with her platinum 80s moussed-up bangs, stage struck
community theater actress
•        Stanley Bumiller, Charlene’s delinquent brother, now performing
community service at the community theater as a way of getting off probation.
(Stanley dreams of “a bus ticket out of this black hole” to start a new life as a
•        Jody Bumiller, youngest of the three Bumiller offspring
•        Vera Carp, the bejeweled richest woman in town, a shoo-in for the Best
Christmas Yard Display title for the 15th year in a row, unless the “Christmas
Phantom” has its way.  (This year’s display features both Bing Crosby and Natalie
Wood.) Smut-hating Vera also wants to ban “Silent Night” because of its
mention of a “round young virgin.”
•        Helen Bedd, the appropriately named, big-haired, and man-crazy waitress
at the Tastee Kreme restaurant

Bristow brings to life (among others):
•        Thurston Willis, Arlis’ co-anchor, who keeps Tuna’s residents apprised of local
•        Elmer Watkins, left eyebrowless after an unfortunate flameshooter incident
•        Bertha Bumiller, the bouffant-coiffed Texas housewife extraordinaire with a
never seen drunk of a husband who’s “as useless as an ice tray in hell” and three
very problematic offspring, the aforementioned Jody, Charlene, and Stanley
•        Aunt Pearl Burras, a loveable gray-haired old lady out to kill the blue jays
that are threatening her hens because, she explains, “They’re like a lot of people,
loud and pushy.”
•        Sherrif Givens, who has borne the unfortunate nickname of “Rubber
Sheets” ever since wetting his bed at church camp
•        Joe Bob Lipsey, the pretentious (and hypoglycemic) community theater
director, who has come to town all the way from Lubbock and (as a measure of
his experience and qualifications as a director) declares with pride, “I have been
to Waco!”
•        Ineta Goodwin, Helen Bedd’s tall-haired strawberry-blonde coworker at
the Tastee Kreme, who like Helen considers herself an “aspiring career woman.”

Casting a female and a male to star in Greater Tuna was a stroke of genius, and
the fact that Sterling is half Bristow’s size only adds to the pleasure of watching
these two sterling performers crossdress.  And brilliant as the two stars may be,
they cannot help but have been aided and inspired by director Stan
Zimmerman, who keeps the proceedings moving along swiftly, despite costume
changes too numerous to count. (Kudos to backstage dresser Cameron

Scenic artist Kevin King has surrounded the stage with a three wall mural
depicting the flat arid Texas plain, so real you can almost imagine a roadrunner
running across the road. Ronda Dyrice Brooks has succeeded splendidly at the
daunting task of coming up with two dozen character-fitting costumes (Bertha
and Vera’s gowns being King’s creations).  Eusebio Aynaga’s wigs complete the
costumes to perfection. John Toom’s lighting works well at spotlighting the
various locations where the action is taking place on stage as well as the
passage of time. Steve Kahn and Benjamin Jones surround the actors with “The
Sounds of Tuna,” including squawking birds every time Aunt Pearl misses.

Ultimately, A Tuna Christmas succeeds, not just because of its crazy characters
and its outrageous situations, but also because of the humanity of
Williams/Sears/Howard’s creations. When Baptist Bertha confesses that “I always
wondered what it felt like to be a Methodist” (because that would mean she
could enjoy some spiked punch from time to time and even dance with a man),
when she wonders if her worthless husband will get off his bar stool and come
home for Christmas, when she worries that wayward son Stanley might not get
off probation if A Christmas Carol is cancelled, well, as Bill Clinton would probably
put it, “We feel her pain.”

This production of A Tuna Christmas is a winner all around.

Theatre Asylum, 6320 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles.

–Steven Stanley
December 7, 2007
Photos: Lisa Franchot

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