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8 September 2013

Small-town classic takes Miami Springs

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Two men. Twenty characters. One Texas community bursting with personality, gossip and a touch of satirical insanity. If you’re looking for a light evening full of laughs and wacky antics, there’s no greater town than Tuna. The Pelican Playhouse takes its audiences on a delightful romp through this eccentric locale in its lively production of “Greater Tuna.”

“Greater Tuna” is the first in a series of comedic plays about the fictional town, and originally debuted in 1981 in Austin, Texas. Over the past 30 years, it has become a community theater staple nationwide. The Pelican Playhouse’s production comes equipped with a backstory that is as unlikely as it is heart-warming. The featured actors, Ralph Wakefield and Christopher Chisholm, were college friends who were cast in a professional production of the same show in 1983, but were forced to decline the gig by familial obligations. Now, 30 years later, they were finally able to fulfill that deferred dream.

Yet another interesting piece of trivia: “Greater Tuna” features a veritable cavalcade of former Canes. Both Wakefield and Chisholm graduated from the U with degrees in theater, and the artistic director of the show is none other than Ken Kurtz, a former UM professor.

“Greater Tuna” is traditionally performed with two actors embodying a rotating cast of the town’s outrageous residents. Wakefield and Chisholm proved up to the formidable challenge of crafting distinct and memorable characters out of each of their varied roles. While the pacing could be a bit uneven at times, both men demonstrated considerable comedic talent. Wakefield established his immense capacity for vocal variety, from the nearly pubescent tones of Petey Fisk to his pitch-perfect feminine intonations as Vera Carp. Chisholm brought uproarious facial expressions and bold delivery to his portrayals, particularly as the canine-detesting Pearl Burns and as the hapless radio commentator Leonard Childers.

However, it was the chemistry between the two performers that gave “Greater Tuna” its lively sparkle. Wakefield and Chisholm were clearly thrilled to be on the stage together, and their energy and enthusiasm was infectious, particularly in their recurring scenes as OKKK radio DJs Arlis Struvie and Thurston Wheelis.

The technical elements of the Pelican Playhouse’s show, so often lacking in community theater productions, were impressive, especially considering the limitations of the small Rebeca Sosa Theater. The lighting design by Kurtz was sophisticated, with specials creating effects as diverse as window slats and UFOs. Sound cues were smoothly executed, both during transitions (although these occasionally dragged on too long between the show’s vignette episodes) and when they were integrated into scenes. On top of all this, “Greater Tuna’s” dressers were near Broadway quality, executing numerous split-second changes flawlessly.

The Pelican Players successfully created an onstage world where anyone looking for a break from the realities of city life could spend an amusing few hours with its production of “Greater Tuna.” As they say on OKKK radio, “If you can find a place you like better than Tuna, move!”

 

If you go:

What: Greater Tuna

When: 7:30 p.m. on Friday and Saturday, 2 p.m. on Sunday

Where: Rebeca Sosa Theater, 1401 Westward Drive, Miami Springs 33166

Tickets may be purchased for $12 online at http://www.pelicanplayhouse.org/.