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Zemfira Stage A Tuna Christmas

By • Dec 13th, 2009 • Category: Reviews
A Tuna Christmas by Joe Sears, Jaston Williams & Ed Howard
Zemfira Stage
The Lyceum, Alexandria, VA
Through December 19th
$15/$10 Seniors/Students; $5 Children
2:10 with one intermission
Reviewed December 11th, 2009

The celebrated Tuna theatrical brand has three assets: 1. Affectionately and wittily drawn small town types, complete with quirky eccentricities. 2. Gentle satire of small town foibles. 3. Droll dialogue.

The Tuna canon consists of four works — Greater Tuna, Red, White and Tuna, Tuna Does Las Vegas and A Christmas Tuna. They are the work of Texas actors/writers Jaston Williams and Joe Sears, with an assist from director Ed Howard. Since 1981, with the premiere of Greater Tuna in Austin, Tuna tales have been tickling audiences all over the country.

Alexandria’s Zemfira Stage is currently staging the Christmas edition.

Zemfira director Zina Bleck grabs onto the show’s satirical element. The affectionately drawn vignettes and the droll dialogue, however, are slighted.

Actresses Katherine Bisulca and Erin Gallalee play some two dozen characters, ranging from goofy young men to batty old women. Yes, this light farce demands heavy work. Bisulca and Gallalee’s portrayals demonstrate the difficulties without freeing up the airy humor. Their characterizations are so one-dimensional — gun nut, Humane Society geek, callous plutocrat, etc. etc. — that what might be nuanced satire comes across as mere ridicule.

As for the droll dialogue, Bisulca and Gallalee do a peculiar take on the central Texas drawl. Their pronunciation is generic rural southern. But a drawl it is not. The deliveries are so hurried that much of Sears and Williams’ verbal ingenuity and wit is muffled and lost.

Blackouts between the dozens of brief scenes are protracted. Momentum suffers. The snappy pace essential to comedy never develops. Now and then a brisk phrase will come through clearly: Someone looks like “death chewing a cracker.” An iguana is described as a “four-legged handbag.”

Welcome nuggets such as these, however, don’t save this Tuna Christmas from crude acting, hurried diction and pokey pacing.

Photo Gallery

Katherine Bisulca Erin Gallalee
Katherine Bisulca
Erin Gallalee

Photos by Zina Bleck for Zemfira Stage

Cast

  • Arles Stuvie, Didi Snavely, Petey Fisk, Jody Bumiller, Charlene Bumiller, Stanley Bumiller, Vera Carp, Dixie Deberry, Helen Bedd, Farley Burkhalter: Katherine Bisulca
  • Thurston Wheellis, Elmer Wtakins, Mertha Bumiller, R.R. Snavely, Aunt Pearl Burras, Sheriff Givens, Ike Thompson, Inita Goodwin, Leonard Childers, Phoebe Burkhalter, Joe Bob Lipose: Erin Gallalee

Crew

  • Producer/Director: Zina T. Bleck
  • Sound Design: Becky Farris
  • Lighting Design: Zina Bleck
  • Set Design: Katherina Bisulca, Erin Gallalee
  • Technical Staff: Becky Farris, John G. McCracken, Lynn Taylor
  • Publicity: Harry Kantrovich

Disclaimer: Zemfira Stage provided two complimentary media tickets to ShowBizRadio for this review.

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lives in Arlington with his wife, daughter, son-in-law and two grandchildren. Before retiring last year at age 70, he was theater critic at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer for 27 years. Prior to that, he reviewed plays for the Philadelphia Bulletin, the Texas Observer and the Swarthmore College Phoenix. Non-reviewing journalistic jobs include writing for the Houston Chronicle, the San Juan (Puerto Rico) Star and El Mundo de San Juan. Think about it: most of the papers he worked for no longer exist. Maybe this internet gig has better longevity prospects.

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