A Tuna Christmas

A Tuna Christmas
a kate west review
written by Jaston Williams,
Joe Sears & Ed Howard
directed by Stan Zimmerman
at Theatre Asylum
6320 Santa Monica Blvd.,
Hollywood 90038 (west of Vine)
contact (323) 960-7753 OR www.plays411.com/tunachristmas

running December 6, 2007 - January 6, 2008; tix $25-$50

Twenty-two Texans celebrate Christmas. Sounds like the punch line of a joke. But it's actually part of the well-known Greater Tuna trilogy of characters centered around Tuna, Texas, created by Jaston Williams, Joe Sears and Ed Howard. Currently playing in Hollywood, "A Tuna Christmas" is the most suitable Tuna incarnation this holiday season.

Former Groundlings company members Patrick Bristow (from "Showgirls" and "Ellen") and Mindy Sterling (from "Austin Powers") are the sole two cast members, playing all roles (check out the world renowned comedy sketch/improv troupe on www.groundlings.com). Their obvious background in character work serves them well in this multi-character show. Patrick Bristow especially has many real and poignant moments embodying what might have been routine southern characters in less capable hands. He doesn't just "do" characters, he actually becomes the person he portrays and does an amazing turn reflecting an entire history in just a few lines. And he manages to make them unique and interesting each time. He is truly a joy to watch.

The creators Jaston Williams, Joe Sears and Ed Howard have built practically a whole franchise around these quirky Texans and while the writing is good, Director Stan Zimmerman can stand to cut some scenes down, as they tend to run a bit long. The story centers around an annual yard display contest, with each townsperson vying for the perfect holiday light set up. A mysterious Christmas Phantom gums up the work, causing mischief and consternation among the populace. The show begins with two Disc Jockeys, Arles (Sterling) and Thurston (Bristow), introducing some tidbits about the town and bringing in the odd and end villager, such as Didi (Sterling) who sells used guns for a living. Sterling also showcases Petey, an earnest humanitarian, weary of taking in every Yuletide pet castoff.

Bristow's best character is Bertha, mother to three unruly children, including delinquent Stanley (Sterling). She tries to make a nice holiday for her family while keeping peace with her crazy neighbors, not an easy feat with the rich eccentric Vera (Sterling) taking pot shots at her and loveable wily Aunt Pearl (also Bristow) defying local law. Bertha is heartbreakingly and endearingly deserving of a nice man to take care of her after her lowlife husband disappoints her time and again. Bristow's swaggering Sheriff Givens is quite amusing as well, as are the slightly trashy but fun waitresses Helen and Inita (Sterling and Bristow) forced to work the holidays at the local diner.

Bristow and Sterling clearly find joy in recreating slices of Texan life and in working so intimately together. Their countless costume changes, characters and accents are impressive to watch, as are the many gender-bending forays. It's an entertaining show, but again, runs a bit long. It is definitely a different kind of holiday show though, and worth a look to see these consummate professionals at work. So come back soon y'all, ya hear?

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