Pacer Harp and Bryan J. Wlas are serving up the laughs at Dickson's Gaslight Dinner Theatre via Red, White & Tuna, the third installment in the four-part "trilogy" (get it-four-part trilogy? Trilogies are actually three parts, so this is funny, y'all!) about Tuna, Texas, the third-smallest town in that reddest of red states (Jimmy Carter in the appropriately red, white and blue Bicentennial year of 1976 was the last Democratic presidential candidate to carry the state). But somehow, no matter how red Texas has become, those wild and wacky Tuna folk still are able to open their hearts wide and embrace a whole bunch of people who believe in a whole bunch of different things.
In that way, Tuna-the fictitious town created by Joe Sears, Jaston Williams and Ed Howard for Greater Tuna, A Tuna Christmas and Tuna Does Vegas, in addition to Red, White & Tuna-holds out hope for political outsiders just as certainly as it does for Tuna High alums Star Birdfeather and Amber Windchime, two granola-crunching, patchouli-smelling, dirty-footed, latter-day flower children, making their way back home for a big high school reunion. The reunion coincides with the Fourth of July, with the temps in Tuna hovering near the 110 mark, and what with the heat and the fireworks, you can just tell there's gonna be a hot time in the old town tonight.
As with the other Tuna comedies, two actors (in this case, the aforementioned Messrs. Harp and Wlas) portray all 20 characters in the show, showing off their range and versatility while creating some hard-to-believe comic situations that somehow, despite their preposterousness, ring with the truth of a down-home good time. That's part of the beauty of the Tuna shows: No matter how outlandish the plot or the premise, there remains something completely and utterly believable about what transpires onstage.
It helps, of course, for the two actors involved in the onstage hijinks to be capable, confident performers-you cannot approach any of the Tuna plays half-heartedly-and Harp and Wlas certainly deliver the goods. The two men give their all, without fear of looking stupid, in order to bring the denizens of the town to life with at least a shred of dignity left. The characters who populate Tuna seem genuine, their hearts brimming over with affection for one another, not unlike every small town that dots the map of the Southern United States.
Of the three Tunas I've seen (I've yet to see Tuna Does Vegas), Red, White & Tuna is probably the weakest vehicle, the high school reunion plot isn't just as successful as the original show or its holiday-themed follow-up. Maybe it's because Romy and Michelle's High School Reunion did it better or maybe it's all just part of a Communist plot to steal your funny, but even the best efforts of Bertha Bumiller, Vera Carp or Pearl Burrus have started to seem redundant.
Still, both Harp and Wlas do their best, injecting the proceedings with energy and comic mayhem. Harp's deadpan sense of humor works well for many of his characters in the show, yet he displays an adroit and sometimes unexpected turn of phrase (his Joe Bob Lipsey, Bertha Bumiller and Pearl Burrus come readily to mind) that will send audience members into gales of laughter. Wlas, who has had fewer opportunities to tackle the roles of Tuna's finest citizens (Harp carries them around in his backpocket, like an unused condom in Stanley Bumiller's wallet, thanks to several earlier stints in Tuna), sometimes comes across as tentative, but he succeeds, especially as animal-loving Petey Fisk and the town's grand dame Vera Carp. Together, however, it's easy to see that the two accomplished actors are having a damn good time onstage.
Directed by Amy Scott, whose practiced eye ensures that Harp and Wlas are where they are supposed to be onstage and who helps each actor create different characterizations for his ten parts, keeps the action moving at a good clip. At the performance reviewed, however, the show's pacing seemed hampered, particularly during Act Two.
While Harp and Wlas deserve the lion's share of the applause from the audience (who, make no mistake about it, were completely taken by the performances of the two men), the trio of dressers-Rachel Gallup, Zane Jordan and Michelle Valenti-who help them make their quick changes deserve kudos for keeping the show fairly popping along its way.