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On Theater: 'Tuna' makes a comic splash

November 05, 2013|By Tom Titus
  • Karl Schott and Robin L. Watkins in "Greater Tuna" at the Costa Mesa Playhouse.
Karl Schott and Robin L. Watkins in "Greater Tuna"… (Mike Brown )

Everything's bigger in Texas — except, perhaps, for the tiny town of Tuna, the state's third-smallest, where, as its motto states, the Lions Club is too liberal and Patsy Cline never dies.

More than three decades ago, three enterprising showmen — Jaston Williams, Ed Howard and Joe Sears — joined forces to create "Greater Tuna," a hilarious satire of small-town life in the Lone Star State. It became so popular that it spawned three sequels.

The original concept is now being presented by the Costa Mesa Playhouse, where director Kyle Myers and his two-man cast bring some 20 twangy characters to life in what may be the funniest show you'll witness this season. Thirty years hasn't dimmed the humor. If anything, the show is funnier now, given the current political landscape of Texas.

The actors, Robin L. Watkins and Karl Schott, each play 10 roles, about half of them in drag, with one of them ducking backstage to change costumes while the other entertains. Exaggeration is a virtue in this backhanded tribute to small-town life in the dusty depths of America.

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Both start out as disc jockeys on radio station OKKK, establishing the down-home flavor of the show, with Watkins slipping out to assume the character of Bertha Bumiller, a frazzled housewife saddled with a no-good husband, three troublesome kids and a pack of dogs that the youngest boy brings home.

Schott shows up as all three kids — a mean-spirited youth, his soft-hearted dog-loving brother and their overweight sister, frustrated by her failure to land a spot on her school's cheerleading squad.

Watkins also appears as Bertha's sister, a fiendish old harridan given to poisoning dogs (the play's only really uncomfortable segment). He's also the radio station manager, a UFO spotter, a hard-nosed sheriff and Bertha's recalcitrant husband.

Schott delivers the show's funniest moments as Vera Carp, president of the "Smut Snatchers of the New Order," dedicated to excising offensive books from the library, such as "Roots" and "Romeo and Juliet." Vera also presents a short list of Spanish phrases, "the only ones any red-blooded American should be expected to know," and a list of "offensive words" that should be removed from the dictionary.

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