REVIEW: Mill Town Players’ “A Tuna Christmas’ is Yuletide Laugh Riot

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Shane Willimon and Will Ragland star in “A Tuna Christmas.” Photo by John King

BY SANDY STAGGS
DRAMA CRITIC

They tickled the funny bones of Pelzer audiences in “Greater Tuna,” and now they’re back in the even more outlandish yuletide sequel “A Tuna Christmas.”

That’s right folks, Mill Town Players Artistic Director Will Ragland and longtime Upstate actor Shane Willimon reunite for this Southern holiday staple, the two-man show by Jaston Williams, Joe Sears, and Ed Howard, in which they transform into 22 zany characters at break-redneck speed.

Set in Tuna, the third smallest town in Texas, Ragland and Willimon recreate most of the more colorful and eccentric denizens (and a couple of new ones) in this yarn set on Christmas Eve when the Christmas Phantom wreaks havoc on Tuna’s annual Christmas yard display contest.

And this dream duo of actors is at the top of their game in this belly-aching non-stop farce, giving each character a unique look and distinct traits.

In addition to the down-home OKOK radio DJs Thurston Wheelis and Arles Struvie, “A Tuna Christmas” accentuates the popular drag characters from the franchise.

Ragland’s Vera Carp, the leader of the Smut-Snatchers of the New Order and winner of the yard decorating contest for 14 years running is back in her full-bodied piousness.

But no one can touch his gravelly-voiced Didi Snavely, the foul-mouthed gun-shop owner in a weathered frizzy wig, who was a minor figure in the first play but has an integral role in the main storyline.

And the always-brilliant Willimon, the man of a thousand expressions, gloriously reprises his quirky Bertha, mother to the not-so-upstanding Bumiller clan, as well as the flagellant, elderly Aunt Pearl, who has it in for all the blue jays in Tuna.

Also memorable in this production are Bertha’s son Stanley, who attempts to get off probation (remember his act of revenge in the first play?), a bouncy pair of waitresses at the Tasty-Crème decked in pink uniforms, and Joe Bob Lipsey, who is trying to save his production of “A Christmas Carol” at the Tuna Little Theater.

And there is a huge surprise in the second act that alludes to an event in the first production.

This return-to-Texas also re-unites the entire creative time behind the original production including director Jay Briggs, the new Director of Education for the Mill Town Players; Lighting Designer Tony Penna; scenic artist Ryan Bradburn, whose amazing set design, props, costumes, and topnotch beehives and wigs dazzle again in this production.

And to assist in the actors’ quick changes, the stars have implicit faith in a trio of trusty dressers: the returning Donna Norman, as well as John King and Robert Jordan.

And don’t worry if you missed the original “Greater Tuna,” you’ll still appreciate the small-town humor and a stunning display of the two actors in unfettered control of their craft.

Parents, take note: although most plays at the Pelzer Auditorium are G-Rated, this show does contain a few choice words and very mild adult situations, so it may not be appropriate for small children.

“A Tuna Christmas” continues through December 17, Thursdays-Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. and Sundays at 3 p.m. at Pelzer Auditorium, 214 Lebby St. in Pelzer. Call (864) 947-8000 or visit www.milltownplayers.org/.

 

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