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Carp(e) diem: Don’t let ‘Tuna’ get away

Aunt Pearl Burras (Joe Sears) finds herself in Las Vegas with Maurice (Jaston Williams) in "Tuna Does Vegas." The two actors play many roles in the production.

Aunt Pearl Burras (Joe Sears) finds herself in Las Vegas with Maurice (Jaston Williams) in "Tuna Does Vegas." The two actors play many roles in the production.

The costumes upstage the actors in the new adventures of those eccentric rednecks from Tuna, Texas, the state’s third-smallest community.

Not that the actors in “Tuna Does Vegas” are bad. Far from it. But the costume designs are even more hilarious in this nationally touring production presented by Broadway in Tucson.

Jaston Williams and Joe Sears are onstage playing all the characters, just as they always have since first creating “Greater Tuna” back in 1981 with Ed Howard, who is also the director.

This triumvirate then created “A Tuna Christmas” in 1989, which went on to enjoy a successful holiday run on Broadway in 1995. That triumph was followed by “Red, White and Tuna” in 1998. While all three plays have become popular moneymakers in regional theater, Williams and Sears still like to go on tour now and then to show the rest of the country how it’s done.

On the opening night of their most current production, “Tuna Does Vegas” at the downtown Fox Theatre, Williams and Sears were up there once more giving life to Arles Struvie, Bertha Bumiller, Petey Fisk, Vera Carp, Didi Snavely and all the others.

Lifetime fans – shall we call them the Tuna Nation – will be happy to learn a few more characters have been added who are uniquely Las Vegas. Which brings us back to those fabulously vivid get-ups designed by Linda Fisher. For openers, Bertha makes her entrance wearing a lime green vest over a shocking pink blouse, with pink and green flowered slacks contrasting nicely with her helmet hair.

Aunt Pearl Burras spins the chaotic color wheel even faster when she walks out wearing a dress that looks to be designed by Omar the tent maker. Scarcely more than a muumuu, it is covered in a busy print flaunting flowers with red, yellow, green and blue petals. To this she adds a little lime green hat adorned with more plastic flowers and fruit, plus a sturdy pair of black shoes with squatty, comfortable heels.

You get the idea. But while the women dress like peacocks on a suicide mission, the loudest and most spontaneous applause broke out when the Vegas hotel elevator doors opened to reveal a gargantuan Elvis impersonator. To say that he is larger than life doesn’t even begin to be large enough.

Plotwise, the story opens early one morning at radio station OKKK where Arles and Thurston Wheelis are still doing the farm reports and playing vintage country music from the 1950s. Arles and Bertha have been married so long they want to fluff up their love life by renewing their vows with a second honeymoon in Las Vegas. After Arles innocently mentions this on the air, all the Tuna townsfolk suddenly find reasons for a Vegas visit, too.

It takes all of Act 1 before we have been reintroduced, as well, to the station owner Leonard Childers, the waitresses Inita and Helen, hapless little theater director Joe Bob Lipsey and the gun-loving Didi, who runs Tuna’s only secondhand gun store. Just before intermission, all of them are heading for their rooms in the low-rent Hula Chateaux Resort and Spa.

When they return for Act 2, the seductive side of Sin City begins to warp some of the more rigid among Tuna’s traveling townsfolk. Those less committed to maintaining their morals find opportunities for self-expression are beginning to blossom.

The humor gets a little edgy from time to time. There’s a good bit of drinking, some profanity, a doobie is smoked, raunchy winks about sex are bandied about. Not that anything is R-rated, but it still seems a bit surprising for a family show. Several politically incorrect jokes about Mexico were greeted with more gasps than laughter. Other parts of the country probably don’t feel as sensitive about border issues.

Even so, Williams and Sears got a standing ovation. Their comedy may be getting a little dated, their politics stuck in the 1980s, but on opening night, nobody cared.



What: Broadway in Tucson presents “Tuna Does Vegas” performed by Jaston Williams and Joe Sears

When: 7:30 p.m. Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday, 1 and 6:30 p.m. Sunday

Where: Fox Theatre, 17 W. Congress St.

Price: $25-$50

Info: 903-2929, www.broadwayintucson.com

Grade: B-

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