“Red, White and Tuna,” A Tangy Summer Treat Served Up By The Little Theatre of Alexandria

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By Sara Dudley Brown, Theatre Editor

(From left to right) David Wright (Inita Goodwin) and Stephen McDonnell (Helen Bedd)

Photo by Matt Liptak

If you are into tangy, tasty dishes, and who isn’t, this is the show for you. If you remember when The Little Theatre of Alexandria produced “Greater Tuna” in 2009 and you loved it, run to see this production!  It’s got Thurston and Arles, the omnipresent town’s OKKK Radio Station disc jockeys, Vera Carp, the First Lady of Tuna Society, and Didi Snavely, owner of Tuna’s Used Gun Store.  You will see all of these and many more characters as portrayed by two extraordinary actors, David Wright and Stephen McDonnell.

However, if you, like me, grew up in the south, still have relatives living in the red part of Virginia and who came from farmers and a farming background, this may not be so hysterically funny. This is a tough one for me—I find it difficult to laugh at people who have less of everything than we have—education, money, ambition.  I’m just sayin’.  Having said that, though, this is a satire and most of the audience left their PC hats at home and just enjoyed the heck out of this show.  And I’ll tell you why!

David Wright (Thurston Wheelis)
Photo by Matt Liptak

If you are new to the “Tuna” oeuvre of four plays, here is how this production (the third one, written in 1998) is structured:  two actors portray a total of 20 inhabitants of Tuna, Texas, on the Fourth of July during the late 1990’s.  Although some attempt has been made to update the dialog, the play is still deeply embedded in the ‘90’s.  Each actor does ten characters, both men and women, and every single character is memorable and his or her personality will be indelibly etched in your memory.

The actors are absolutely first rate: both have impeccable timing and superbly deliver the folksy lines by the authors Ed Howard, Joe Sears and Jaston Williams.  Each actor has years of experience in the theatre and you will get that immediately.  David Wright (Actor One) was last seen at LTA in his WATCH-nominated role in “The Complete Works of William Shakespeare, Abridged.”  He has appeared in the metro area in many, many plays and is the creator/moderator of a professional improve troupe, “Last Ham Standing.”  Stephen McDonnell (Actor Two) has been doing stand-up comedy as well as other gigs in radio, audio books, films and TV in NYC for more than 16 years, as well as serving as a featured player for many seasons on “Saturday Night Live.”

Stephen McDonnell (Didi Snavely)
Photo by Matt Liptak

Michael J. Baker, Jr., the director, keeps the pace going at a fast clip and the costume changes between each scene are nothing more than astounding! The costume designers, Ceci Albert and Lisa Brownsword, are geniuses to have created so many terrific looking costumes that can be donned and shed in just seconds.  And the wigs!  The wigs are perfect and each actor has one for each character—must be at least 20 wigs designed by Howard Vincent Kurtz—and they have to go on front to back and straight—and in mere seconds!  Those quick changes for each of the scenes are worth the price of admission.  But wait, the lighting by Jeff Auerbach and Kimberly Crago, and the sound by David Hale are masterful and ingenious, too.  One of the characters, R.R., Didi Snavely’s estranged husband, has been out in space on a UFO for three years, and returns in a blaze of flashing lights and UFO sound effects (they must make some kind of noise—now you’ll know what).  Meanwhile, juvenile delinquent Virgil is setting off fireworks and screaming rockets to the dismay of everyone in town.  All the while radio station OKKK plays everyone’s favorite smooth top 40 hits from the 50’s and 60’s and the audience clapped for nearly every one!  Great stylistic choices.

I won’t go into detail about the “plot…” there is a high school reunion going on in which a reunion queen is going to be chosen and much of the action in Tuna centers on who might win, plus the excitement that ensues when Joe Bob Lipsey is chosen. As one of the characters says, “We wanted a queen, but not THAT queen!”

This show also has some crackerjack sets designed by Chris Feldman. Didi Snavely’s Used Gun Shop, for one, is chock full of interesting things, as is the OKKK Radio Station set and the reunion food booth owned by Helen Bedd and Inita Goodwin of the Hot to Trot Catering Company. There’s potato salad and 110° temperatures.  You can see where this is going…

Performance and ticket Information: Running time is two hours and 30 minutes, with one 15 minute intermission.  “Red, White and Tuna” plays through June 24, 2017 at The Little Theatre of Alexandria, 600 Wolfe Street, Alexandria, VA.  For tickets, call the box office at 703-683-0496.