Theater review: 'A Tuna Christmas' from Orlando Shakespeare Theater

Arts and CultureEntertainmentMusicChristmasConcertsKu Klux KlanNatalie Wood

Visiting eccentric old friends and relations is part of the bustle of this time of year for many of us. And that's what a trip to the little town of Tuna, Texas, feels like. Two busy actors play an entire community of small-town folk — male and female, young and old — in the holiday comedy "A Tuna Christmas," the latest from Orlando Shakespeare Theater.

Tuna is the kind of rural, Southern locale where a prize-winning Nativity scene might include "Bing Crosby, the Grinch who stole Christmas and little Natalie Wood."

It's a town where the local women police the community's standards of decency in their organization Smut Snatchers of the New Order. It's a place where the God-fearing Baptists feel uncomfortable singing about virgins at Christmas. "We leave that for the Cath-o-lics," one drawls.

"A Tuna Christmas," a sequel to "Greater Tuna," is a favorite of community theaters, requiring only two actors and minimal sets and plots. (Jester Theatre Co. did a snappy production of that show in March.)

The Shakes has gussied up the show in its funny production, with a beautiful set by Bert Scott, a bunch of well-known Christmas carols interspersed among the action and wonderfully detailed costumes by Kristina Tollefson. (One nice touch: Stagestruck teenager Charlene wears a "Chorus Line" T-shirt as part of her tacky ensemble.)

But everyone seems to have gotten a little carried away with the Christmas spirit for somehow a bit of the low-tech, lowbrow humor that gives this show its comic edge has melted away.

Authors Ed Howard, Joe Sears and Jaston Williams, like many who turn to writing sequels, didn't come up with a script as pointedly funny as the original. For the show is a satire of small-town ways as much as a celebration of them. But where the local leader of the Ku Klux Klan chapter inserts a chilling moment of darkness in "Greater Tuna," here he comes off as a character who's mistakenly wandered in from a different show.

That's because the authors have focused less on wacky vignettes and more on their main storyline — an unknown vandal has been terrorizing the town's Christmas displays — before giving way to seasonal schmaltz.

Under the direction of Patrick Flick, actors Michael Kevin Baldwin and Mark Lainer look like different characters thanks to the myriad quick changes, but don't always sound like different characters.

They both find, dare I say, the sweet moments in an unexpected romance. More important, they know how to deliver the show's zingers with panache: "Charlene, Baptists don't kill themselves," Lainer's harried mom snaps at her dramatizing daughter. "If we can't kill it, it's immortal," snarls Baldwin as chain-smoking second-hand gun saleswoman Didi.

Even in a show weighed down by its trimmings, lines like those still make a tasty treat.

'A Tuna Christmas'

What: An Orlando Shakespeare Theater production of a comedy by Ed Howard, Joe Sears and Jaston Willians

Length: 2:25, with intermission

Where: Lowndes Shakespeare Center, 812 E. Rollins St., Orlando

When: 7 p.m. Wednesdays-Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays and on three Wednesdays: Dec. 7, 21 and 28; through Dec. 30

Tickets: $15-$38

Call: 407-447-1700

Online: OrlandoShakes.org

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