Review: Greater Tuna

Wasatch Theatre Company’s Greater Tuna is a two-man show about the citizens of the fictional tiny town of Tuna Texas. Tuna makes Utah look liberal and was a favorite of President George H.W. Bush (two command performances at the White House), which makes it even more ironic. The people in it seem at first to be caricatures of small-town, close-minded rednecks, but as the play progresses you learn that there’s more to Tuna than meets the eye.

The play is a day in the life of Tuna with all the citizens played by two actors, Charles Lynn Frost and John Rowland. It’s a day that centers around the death of the local judge and decisions of life and death by the citizens of Tuna. The play is directed by Sallie Cooper who delivers a tour-de-force with the cast and design of this show.

Charles tends to play the older characters, and gives many stand out performances, including the audience favorite Aunt Pearl Burris. But where he seemed most memorable to me (outside of Aunt Pearl) were his portrayals of Klan member Elmer Watkins and Sheriff Givens.

John tends to play the younger Tunans with stand-out performances as Petey Fisk and Stanley Bumiller, both of whom have perhaps the most revealing character moments and I think a lesser performer wouldn’t have made them memorable.

Two such memorable performances were punctuated by an incredible soundtrack designed by Matt Heider. The audience kept chuckling as an appropriate song for the preceding scene would be interrupted right at as everyone began to both recognize it and appreciate it by a OKKK newsbreak. Doesn’t that always seem to happen when you’re listening to the radio?

The set by Kit Anderton is appropriately eclectic, looking like, as one audience member said, “like a lot of my relative’s homes [in a Utah small town].” The set is multi-leveled and its design and colors give us a sense of where we are and who these people are just as much as the two actors performing on it.  Megan Crivello’s lighting design compliments the set and is both appropriately in-obtrusive, but also helps pull our focus to what’s crucial on the stage.

All great theatre should force us to ask questions about what was presented and what we believe. My questions were naturally affected by the events of the day, the attempted assassination of  Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords. How would Tuna DJs Thurston Wheelis and Arles Struvie have reported that news? Former Salt Lake City Mayor, Rocky Anderson, attended the performance and laughed with us, and I wondered as I drove home what questions he walked away with as well… I guess my overall question is, what does Tuna represent in our culture?

An exchange between Bertha Bumiller and a reporter sums up my answer to this:

Bertha: What magazine did you say you wrote for?

Reporter: Intellect.

Bertha: I don’t believe we have that in Tuna.

Greater Tuna, Presented by Wasatch Theatre Company, runs Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, January 6 – 29 at the Rose Wagner. Curtain is at 8 PM with 2PM matinees on Jan. 24 and 29. Tickets available through Art Tix (which you can reach by clicking on the poster on the right of this page).

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