Tuna hits the jackpot

Posted on 27 Mar 2008 at 2:16pm
By Arnold Wayne Jones


Pearl (Sears) wins at the slots and gets fleeced by Maurice (Williams) and the other denizens of the Hula Chateau in ‘Tuna Does Vegas.’ – BRENDA LADD

What are the odds: ‘Tuna Does Vegas’ may be the best in the series

Having seen countless productions of all three "Tuna" shows over 20 years of theatergoing, it’s hard not to feel you know all the characters inside out. But the 10-year drought since "Red, White and Tuna" (the most recent incarnation of the trilogy that also includes "A Tuna Christmas" and the first one, "Greater Tuna"), has been like enduring a decade-long cliffhanger of your favorite soap opera.

That drought ended in a flood of laughter this week, when "Tuna Does Vegas," the fourth (and seemingly final) installment in the "Tuna" series opened at Bass Hall.

Perhaps because I’ve been starved for original "Tuna" material for so long, I’ve lost all sense of proportion. "Vegas" is not just a fitting capstone to a remarkable series, but it may be as good as the original. Having the last as good as the first makes for a damned terrific "Tuna" sandwich.

You can see on the faces of Joe Sears and Jaston Williams, the writers and performers of all things "Tuna," a renewed energy and enthusiasm for the show. After all, we just have to see revivals once every while. They have to play them hundreds of times a year.

"Vegas" catches up with the residents of the third smallest town in Texas several years after we last saw them. Bertha Bumiller (Sears) and Arles Struvie (Williams) have finally married, and are planning a second honeymoon in Las Vegas where they’ll renew their vows. Everyone in town gets so excited by their plans, they decide tag along: Petey Fisk, Vera Carp, Helen Bedd (all Williams), Inita Goodwin, Pearl Burras and Joe Bob Lipsey (Sears) all make their way to the Hula Chateau near the strip.

Act 2 delivers Elvis impersonators, a gay rodeo (including a "Brokeback Mountain" joke) and the best new character, Ana Conda, a fast-talking Carol Channing soundalike out to bilk the hicks from Texas.

The dialogue is as sharp as ever, with that drawling subversive subtext that caters to liberal Texans: "Don’t just hang up on telemarketers, track them down and shoot ‘em with a sawed-off shotgun," counsels Didi Snavely, proprietor of Didi’s Used Weapons; "I love the prison rodeo but I chose Las Vegas because I wanted to go some place I didn’t know everybody," explains Bertha; "You know you’re bi-polar," Helen says to Inita, who responds in shock, "That’s a lie — I’ve never touched another woman in my life!" Instant classics all.

As always, the sparse set (mostly just a backdrop shaped like the Alamo) and outrageous costumes (especially the showgirls wardrobe) provide just enough detail to serve the comedy but not to distract from the craft of watching two pros ply their trade as well as they ever have. "Tuna Does Vegas" hits the jackpot.

Bass Performance Hall, 525 Commerce St., Fort Worth. Through March 30. Friday–Saturday at 8 p.m. Sunday at 7 p.m., weekend matinees at 2 p.m. $30–$75. 817-212-4280.


This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition March 28, 2008

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