Joe Sears and Jaston Williams are back with the fourth installment of what till now has been the Tuna Trilogy. Since the folks in Tuna, Texas have already seen and done just about everything they can in the third-smallest town in the Lone Star State, Tuna Does Vegas sends a dozen or so of them off to Sin City. Though the fish-out-of-water concept doesn’t play out quite as well or as hilariously as one might have wished, there are still plenty of laughs and, as always, the pleasure of watching two very talented actors embody close to a dozen characters each, all the while making almost inhumanly quick costume changes just out of our line of sight.

At lights up, reporters Thurston Wheelis and Arles Stuvie are once again announcing the latest news on OKKK radio.  Vera Carp, leader of the Smut-Snatchers Of The New Order, is still on the warpath against books and worrying about her young son’s unnatural interest in her bubble bath. (Perhaps she’d better ship him to off to military school.)  “Not-the-marrying-kind” Joe Bob Lipsey has gone on the Rush Limbaugh diet.  “You only eat what you can spell.”  Didi Snavely, owner of Didi’s Used Weapons, has yet another gun special—it’s “petite, compact, and deadly.”  Petey Fisk, of the Greater Tuna Humane Society, is campaigning against “surgical animal mutilations.” 

Meanwhile at the Tasty-Creme, waitresses Helen Bedd and Ineda Goodwin are passing the time listening to 70s music, which sets Helen to recalling all those penicillin shots she used to have. When she tells Ineda, “You’re still bipolar,” Ineda quickly replies, “That’s a lie.  I’ve never touched another woman in my life!” Joe Bob arrives and orders a b-u-r-g-e-r with p-i-c-k-l-e-s, f-r-i-e-s, and k-e-t-c-h-u-p, and is promptly refused the c-a-t-s-u-p. “Both spellings are acceptable,” he protests.  Helen proudly announces their new Italian and Mexican menu, full of items that Joe Bob won’t be able to sample, since he can’t spell them.

Yes, life appears pretty much unchanged in Tuna until Arles announces on the radio that he and wife Bertha are about to head off to Vegas to renew their wedding vows.  (It’s their first vacation together since the prison rodeo, and it’ll be nice to go somewhere where they don’t know anyone.) Before you can say “Viva Las Vegas,” Arles’s announcement has inspired a bunch of his fellow Tunans to pack their bags and tag along.

One who won’t be joining them is Bertha’s daughter Charlene, pregnant yet again with a baby in her belly, another in her arms, another on her back, and another clinging to her leg. (Great costume!)  Though her hubby is in the mood for a Vegas vacation, Charlene can’t help wondering, “Why do you want to go when I’m pregnant and can’t go along.” He tells her, “If we waited for a time when you weren’t pregnant, we’d never get out of the driveway.”

The Tunans each have their own special reasons for wanting to visit Vegas. Didi is going for a gun show.  Vera is looking for more things to ban and boycott. Joe Bob of course would love to see a few Vegas shows, and wants Helen and Ineda to join him. He won’t fly, though, “since I saw that airport movie.”  He keeps imagining a cross-eyed stewardess in the cockpit.

On the plane, Pearl is none too happy to find herself seated next to Vera, telling her nemesis, “First Class was full.  The only place left was the No Class section, next to you.” Vera shoots back, “Don’t make any sudden moves.  Any weight shift could doom us.”

Once in Vegas, Pearl gets a hankering to do some gambling. Party-pooper Didi is entirely against Pearl’s playing the slot machine—that is until Pearl wins the jackpot and Didi promptly changes her tune. Before long, guess who’s the compulsive gambler?

Act Two introduces a number of new characters. There’s Williams as turbaned Anna Conda, scheming manager of the Hula Chateaux Resort, Sears as Shot, the one-named Vegas security guard, once shot in the butt by Frank Sinatra, and Williams again as swishy stylist Maurice.  There’s also a pair of Elvis impersonators, Sears at the larger Elvis 11 and Williams as the smaller Elvis 42.

The best visual gag in Act Two has Joe Bob, invited by Anna to stage a Las Vegas revue, getting Ineda and Helen dressed up as showgirls—in costumes that must be seen to be believed. Also, Didi and Pearl’s hotel room has a mirror ball and porno channels, leading to considerable chuckles.

Sears and Williams have been at this so long that they could probably play these characters in their sleep, and longtime Tuna fans will be in Tuna heaven just to be reunited with them.  It still astounds that costume and character changes can be made so quickly, sometimes seemingly in seconds, and there are indeed moments when one forgets that there are only two actors bringing all these people to life, or that there are no biological females on the stage.  Still, for a show that’s been on the road for over a year, both actors could stand to be a bit sharper with their lines. 

A number of favorite old characters are missed, particularly in the second act, though among the new characters, Anna Conda makes a memorable impression and gets many laughs. Several Act Two scenes could stand to be trimmed, particularly the one between the dueling Elvises and the last, which features Bertha and Arles back in Tuna.  Also, Williams’ femmy Maurice (for me at least) crossed the line between an affectionate send-up and an offensive stereotype.  It would also be nice if certain plot threads set up in the first act were more satisfyingly tied up after intermission.

Co-author (with Sears and Williams) Ed Howard has directed so many Tunas that he knows these characters like the back of his hand. Christopher McCollum’s set is simple in the extreme, but cleverly designed to allow the two actors to exit here as one character and reappear there as another seemingly in the wink of an eye.  Lighting by David Nancarrow is just fine, and Ken Huncovsky’s sound design nicely incorporates tunes like “Funky Town” and “That’s The Way I Like It.”

Sharing star status with Sears and Williams is costume designer Linda Fisher, who has outdone herself here, especially when Ineda and Helen turn into Vegas showgirls unlike any you’ve ever seen before.

Ultimately, how much you loveTuna Does Vegas as opposed to simply liking it will depend on how big a fan of the series you are. Those who simply can’t get enough of Tuna are likely to be on cloud nine.

La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts, 14900 La Mirada Boulevard, La Mirada.

—Steven Stanley
April 21, 2009
                                                         Photos: Brenda Ladd

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