The Texas community known as Tuna may be sparsely populated, but what it lacks in numbers is more than made up for by the outlandish personalities who call this area home. There's Elmer Watkins, head of the local chapter of the KKK, and Helen Bedd, a waitress at the Tastee Kreme Diner.
Other residents include R.R. Snavely, the town drunk and UFOlogist, Stanley Bumiller, a young man just released from reform school, and Vera Carp, the town snob and vice president of the Smut Snatchers of the New Order.
Along with more than a dozen other characters, all of whom are equally peculiar, this eclectic group makes up the cast of “Greater Tuna,” Joe Sears' and Jaston Williams' popular comedy that has become one of the most frequently performed plays in the United States.
The Oklahoma City Repertory Theatre will bring its 2012-13 season to a close with “Greater Tuna,” the first of four comedies that spoof Southern life and attitudes in the third-smallest town in Texas.
“When we did ‘A Tuna Christmas' (in 2009), it became the most popular production in the theater's history,” said artistic director Donald Jordan. “The run was completely sold out. Audiences kept asking us when we were going to do it or another ‘Tuna' play so we thought we'd go back to where it all began.”
Although the characters who populate “Greater Tuna” number more than 20, they're all performed by two actors. Sears and Williams, who toured the four “Tuna” shows for more than two decades, scripted the shows so that the lightning-quick costume changes never stopped the action.
“That's a show in itself,” said Jonathan Beck Reed, a popular local actor who will share the stage with his longtime friend Jordan in the City Rep production. “If you're doing your job properly, it looks like nothing is happening. But backstage, it's frenetic. Everything has to be choreographed.”
While theatrical quick-change artistry often involves a simple costume change, “Greater Tuna” requires elaborate transformations that involve costuming, wigs, fashion accessories and the occasional prop.
“Because the changes are so amazingly quick, you have to trust the dressers to put the right things on you,” Jordan said. “We're often thinking about our next entrance and sometimes we're carrying on discussions. You have to make sure the story keeps being propelled forward.”
With dozens of costume changes required during the course of a production, every actor who has performed in any of the “Tuna” shows has experienced the occasional mishap: a loose wig, a shirt or blouse that didn't get fully buttoned or a mismatched costume.