‘Tuna Does Vegas,’ the ‘fourth play in the Tuna Trilogy,’ goes for broke
TUNA DOES VEGAS
at Casa Manana Theatre, 3101
Lancaster Ave., Fort Worth.
Through Feb. 14. $63.
After nearly 30 years in four plays exploring the quirks of the residents of Tuna, Texas — the Lone Star State’s mythical third-smallest town — playwrights and performers Jaston Williams and Joe Sears have certainly come to know and love their characters as much as their audiences. But they live with them year-round, as well, and familiarity breeds, if not contempt, at least a desire to push their buttons.
Which is why the concept of Tuna Does Vegas, the fourth (and, apparently, final) installment in the prematurely-named "Tuna Trilogy" has the kind of wicked energy that only a couple of old pros feeling newly frisky could devise. In three plays — Greater Tuna, A Tuna Christmas and Red, White & Tuna — we’ve collectively plumbed the psyches of these gun-totin’, book-bannin’, KKK-lovin’ East Texans, enduring Bertha’s heartache, Vera’s smugness and Joe Bob’s closet.
And now, it’s time for everyone to get what’s coming to them.
The pleasure of Vegas derives partly from the free range that Sears, Williams and co-author/director Ed Howard take with mixing things up. They take us away from the sleepy burg for the first time, and they delight in showing everyone’s comeuppance. Charlene makes a brief appearance only, laden with whining children and a no-account hubbie; her brother Stanley is nowhere to be seen or mentioned (there never was a happy ending there). Arles and Bertha are now happily married, and Vera … well, let’s say the slots are about as kind to her bank statement as she has been to Lupe these many years.
If they delight in throwing monkey wrenches into the well-oiled machinery of the characters’ lives, it translates through their performances (the two men play all the parts), which are ebullient and perhaps even more biting.
The Tuna plays have always been slickly disguised anti-conservative manifestos, true Yellow Dog stalwarts who poke fun at the image of Texas’ right-leaning with brilliant satire. Indeed, one of the magical spells cast with these plays (especially in a city like Fort Worth) occurs in the lobby, watching the truck-and-rifle set laugh at the gentle mockery alongside all the gay men who appreciate the camp of seeing men in drag.
Vegas goes even further to the left than usual, with digs at Rush Limbaugh and fundamentalist Christians (about the Bible, Vera notes "there’s a cole slaw recipe in there if you know where to look for it"), some of which go over better with one segment of the audience than another.
But that’s how it should be. There’s a nostalgia that comes with seeing the Tuna boys back to their old tricks (and some new ones, like the deliciously peculiar addition of Anna Conda, who observes that in Vegas you can pay drag queens "in lip gloss if the lighting is right"). Even after all these years, the humor — delivered without irony — is as fresh as it’s ever been.
Fresh nostalgia? Only in Tuna.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition February 12, 2010.