Peggy Sue Dunigan

Greater Tuna

By - Nov 10th, 2008 02:52 pm
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By Peggy Sue Dunigan

It’s the small rural town of Tuna, Texas circa 1986– where inhabitants find that Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet demonstrates rampant disrespect for parental authority. Taking this trip to Texas, the Rep’s Stackner Cabaret opened the production Greater Tuna this weekend and presented one third of the Tuna Trilogy’s engaging satire written by Jaston Williams, Joe Sears, and Ed Howard.
Having toured the American play circuit both nationally and on Broadway for over 21 years, the Stackner’s version of Greater Tuna is directed by J.R. Sullivan and features gifted actors Lee E. Ernst and Gerard Nugent (both members of the Resident Acting Company) in over-the-top portrayals of the rural South.

The two DJs on OKKK Radio oversee events in Tuna when they actually report the news they haven’t lost. The radio station format helps narrate the action and delineates a thinly disguised plot while this two-man team portrays the over 20 eccentric personalities that drive the production.

In one charming portion of the performance, Ernst plays Petey Fisk, a lisping proponent for the Greater Tuna Humane Society, with loving affection. After a quick change, Ernst (dressed in drag) is the 18-year-old Charlene Bumiller reciting her award winning poem “My Tuna.” Nugent shines as Bertha Bumiller, the mother of three of Tuna’s most difficult teenagers (including Charlene) and wife of womanizer Hank. She shakes her booty to howls from the audience. His Reverend Spikes delivers a eulogy in a rhinestone-studded suit with appropriate showmanship, stringing together every cliché representing the best, or worst, of television preachers.

Both Ernst and Nugent hit every opening with nary a wardrobe slip throughout the numerous costume changes with kudos to technical stage support. They also manage to imbue each of these multiple characters with dead on credibility. Yet the two-hour running time (with one intermission) extends the visit to this Texan town and perhaps overstays the welcome, as the satire loses some of its bite through the last half hour.

While the play claims “the world outside Tuna is bizarre” the Stackner’s Greater Tuna may be the necessary strategy to relieve those stock market blues. This retro rural Texas offers a humorous evening of quick change on the stage spent with the incredibly comical Ernst and Nugent, and provides a perfect bizarre present for the upcoming holiday season. VS

The Rep’s Stackner Cabaret presents Greater Tuna through December 28: 414.224.9490 or www.milwaukeerep.com

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