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Welcome to Tuna, Texas. Population: crazy.


Everything's bigger in Texas, even including the personalities in Tuna, where the claim to fame is being the third smallest town in the state.

Country holiday music fills the air and sparkling Christmas lights dangle over the audience, setting a celebratory mood in the Downstairs Cabaret Theatre, home to this production of A Tuna Christmas. The play opens at the town's radio station, OKKK, as the DJs announce the controversial finalists in the annual holiday lawn decoration contest.

All is not well in Tuna. The town is being terrorized (albeit in an Andy Griffith sort of way) by the Christmas Phantom, a villain whose dastardly deeds include unscrewing the bulbs on the town's Christmas tree directly before the lighting ceremony. Welcome to a place where rednecks abound and divorcees will strangle their own children before allowing them to grow up with a Yankee stepmother. It is Christmas Eve, and we are being given a peek into the homes and hearts of this town's comic and eccentric citizens.

The show unabashedly plays with the most offensive stereotypes about the South, and the stage is set for a complete lack of political correctness when Elmer Watkin arrives at the station to announce the "Whitest Christmas Ever" family event, sponsored by Local Klan #249. Then chain-smoking, camouflage-swathed Dede Snavely turns up to plug her store's Christmas blowout. She encourages residents to arm themselves against the vicious Phantom by stocking up on handguns and grenades at deep, deep discounts.

Petey Fisk, a dimwitted animal lover with a spitty lisp, employs the airways to discourage exotic pet ownership, informing the public that coyotes do not make good companions. These are just a few of the characters that Jay Falzone and Tony Pepperdine, the only actors in the show, dramatize during the two-hour play.

Want to see amazingly talented actors? This is the show. These men embody 20 distinct characters and give each one a life, a back-story, and a fully developed, quirky personality. Thanks to the swift hands of the actors' personal dressers, each character is blessed with his or her own personal style, too.

Although the first act runs long, the actors' enthusiasm and energy is infectious. Their performances are so demanding, you have to wonder how they're able to muster the strength to take bows. And the characters are so fanatic the audience can't help but laugh at this slapstick farce.

The second act picks up when two serious career women, Helen Bed and Inita Mann (yes, you've read those puns correctly), the head waitresses at the Tasty Crème, are introduced. Gum-popping, boy-obsessed, high-school dropouts with ratted hair and lots of "customer service experience," the ladies' deepest desires include getting stellar gifts from their many boyfriends and getting a food order for Joe Bob --- the cranky, obese, and effeminate director of the town's A Christmas Carol pageant --- ready before he suffers another bout of hypoglycemia.

The plotline is thin. The audience cares little if the Phantom is apprehended or the contest fixed, but there are some sincere and touching moments that ask the audience to consider what Christmas is about. Although the obvious and often crass humor can be wearing, these actors extend a hand to yank the audience in to this backwoods, backwards town. Think Mama's Family meets Mad TV and you will have a good idea of what your warm welcome to Tuna, Texas, will entail.

A Tuna Christmas plays at Downstairs Cabaret Theatre, 540 East Main Street, through January 2, including Saturday, December 25, at 8 p.m., and Friday, December 31, at 7 and 9:45 p.m. Tickets: $21 to $24 ($40-$50 for New Year's Eve shows). 325-4370,