|May 12 - June 13, 1989, the Salt
Lake Acting Company presented GREATER
TUNA in SLC, Utah. The
play was directed by James Morrison.
GREATER TUNA isn't quite the "cutting edge" fare theatergoers usually get at Salt Lake Acting Company, but it's a big hit in regional theaters across the country and SLAC has given the comedy its own unique one-two punch: Duane Stephens and Lynn Frost portraying, between them, some 20 different characters, and guest director James Morrison supervising the duo's off-the-wall mayhem.
This is basically small-town comedy in the "Farley Family" mode. The setting is radio station OKKK, where two deejays entertain the folks around Tuna, Texas (the state's third smallest town).
Stephens has performed in two previous productions of GREATER TUNA. He notes that "before, I just looked at it as a funny show with funny lines, but this time it is truly funny."
Frost added, "It's a kind of microcosm of small-town life. It is a hilarious comedy, but if you dig deeper it's also a very revealing comedy."
Ivan M. Lincoln, Theater Editor for Deseret News "interviews" Bertha Bumiller of the Tuna (Texas) Tattler.
Ivan: Since Bertha Bumiller is one of the Greater Tuna area's domineering... er, dominant citizens, I feel it is only fair to include her insightful commentary in this review of Jaston Williams, Joe Sears and Ed Howard's comedy about one day in the lives and times of selected Tunarians.
Bertha: Well, actually, I'm a Scorpio not a Tunarian, but I am glad you asked me for my opinions. You must have heard me on a recent broadcast of "Tuna Talks" on our very own radio station, OKKK. Personally, I have never cared a great deal for this comedy. I mean, I think Williams, Sears and Howard have tried to do for the lovely little town of Tuna, Texas, about what Grace Metalius did for Peyton Place, with large helpings of HEE HAW style corn. I've heard of taking "dramatic license," but this should be revoked!
Ivan: Come, now. I thought it was really quite funny. Maybe it plays better in Branson, MO., than it would on Broadway, but it was certainly a pleasant respite from the more intensely dramatic fare we usually get at SLAC.
Bertha: Well, I'm sure that upstart reporter from Intellect magazine... you know, the one from Houston who just barged right into my home and tried to get me to say untoward things about the Tuna Censorship Committee... he probably likes that kind of stuff.
Ivan: What I really want to know is what you thought about this particular production?
Bertha: Oh, my. When our own community theater troupe...
Ivan: ...You mean the one that was going to stage MY FAIR LADY using the props and costumes from the previous year's production of SOUTH PACIFIC?
Bertha: Yes indeedy, that one. Well, when we did GREATER TUNA we had a big, big cast, none of this low-budget, two guys acting 10 roles each kind of stuff. But it was very funny. Both C. Lynn Frost and Duane Stephens are exceptionally talented chaps, although I would have preferred seeing someone more genteel and refined playing my role.
Ivan: My favorites were Frost's portrayal of Humane Society spokesman Petey Fisk and Stephens' hilarious depiction of Pearl Burras, the aging little old grandma who enjoys raising chickens... and poisoning dogs. And Frost's work as Jody, Stanley and Charlene reminded me of a soap opera.
Bertha: You mean ALL MY CHILDREN? That's what those characters are, you know, my younger son Jody and my twins Stanley and Charlene.
Ivan: I had a hard time thinking of Stanley and Charlene as twins. I mean, Stanley had "graduated" from reform school, and Charlene's a senior in high school?
Bertha: Well, they are somewhat different, but I was so proud of my little Charlene and her wonderful poem about Tuna. And it was so clever how that nice Mr. Frost was able to play all three of them.
Ivan: The show did have some definite dark edges to it, though -- Judge Buckner's death under mysterious circumstances, Charlene's depression and Stanley's surliness.
Bertha: But life in Tuna is bound to improve when my band of Smut Snatchers clean up all those dirty books in the schools!
Ivan: I hear that backstage things are even more frantic than they are out in front, what with both men switching costumes and genders about as fast as it takes Stanley to run that stop sign down at Main and Center.
Bertha: And didn't you just love the way Frost played Vera Carp when she was trying to explain how Tuna's schools are becoming more socially correct by offering bilingual language instruction?
Ivan: Both Frost and Stephens were great as Radio Station OKKK DJs Arles and Thurston, the two guys who really hold "Tuna" together. What a couple of clowns! Cris Paulsen's sound were right on target, too, especially the way the action would segue to that old cabinet-style RCA Victor radio.
Bertha: Marine Sears' scenery could have shown more of my lovely home, but it was kind of sweet how she was able to catch the essence of life in Tuna with that rustic-looking barnwood.
Ivan: Kevin Myhre's costumes -- everything from Klansman Elmer Watkins' khakis to Vera Carp's charming suits -- were also excellent, along with Gary Justesen's finely timed lighting cues.
Bertha: I just think Salt Lake Acting Company did a right fine job, mostly because of that zany duo, Lynn and Duane, and that wonderful guest director, James Morrison. Did you know that he came all the way up from Los Angeles to direct this show?
Ivan: Maybe GREATER TUNA is silly, but it's nice to just sit back and not have to think about deep-seated emotions. It was a hoot. Deseret News Archives, May 1993
This comedy was written and premiered in the late '80's. The sequel, A TUNA CHRISTMAS, was presented at the Pasadena Playhouse, Southern California, also in May 1993. Salt Lake Tribune Archives