Publisher: Elizabeth Hurd / Managing Director: Adrienne Proctor / Editor: Jillian Pritchard Ball

“A Tuna Christmas” Wild, Wacky and Wonderful

Elizabeth Hurd Published: December 6th, 2016

The first of the ‘Tuna’ story is found in “Greater Tuna” a brilliant comedy set in the fictional yet familiar town of Tuna, Texas. Jaston Williams, Joe Sears and Ed Howard are the three genius creators and since 1981 the Tuna plays have become a favorite for audiences all over the nation. Williams and Sears performed and Howard directed the Texas hits. Their second play, “A Tuna Christmas” has entertained audiences since 1989. And thanks to Oklahoma City Repertory Theatre (CityRep) Tuna, Texas has become a favorite place for Oklahomans to visit. “A Tuna Christmas” is here and now as CityRep is presenting the comedy to delighted audiences through December 18, 2016 at the Freede Theatre in the Civic Center Music Hall.

Two superb Oklahoma actors, Donald Jordan and Jonathan Beck Reed perform this fun future classic expertly directed by Steve Emerson. Jordan, founding artistic director of CityRep, has brought excellence to Oklahoma audiences for 15 years alongside fellow founder, Reed. Emerson has been production stage manager at CityRep for 10 years. The talents of the entire company are recognized by the unprecedented award of excellence presented December 3, from Actors’ Equity Association. David Kolen traveled from the Chicago Office, headquarters to honor CityRep. Equity excels!   This company, this director and these actors do justice to “A Tuna Christmas” but how, then, does a mere critic do equal justice to CityRep? A friend who attended the show alongside the Hurd’s is author Phyllis Kimmel Libby. Her email arrived and the answer became suddenly clear. Plagiarize or quote! Quoting seems the best choice.  “The play “A Tuna Christmas” is a marvel. In no small part because the two actors love humanity so profoundly that they could play upon their characters’ deeply personal qualities with respect. Respect for them even as the caricatures of their human frailties are biting and so accurate one feels the core of each one of them.

It is one thing to perform a singular role in a play. That is hard enough to do. But to elevate so many characters that travel in so many directions at once and across almost three hours with continuous humor is an amazing tour de force!!!! Don Jordan and Jonathan Beck Reed are joined at the hip, their timing so natural and outrageous that the recipient rises with them to predict their next move. When that move comes it is right there with them–reacting like the same kind of people they are depicting. While sitting in the audience every patron is hit in the head and heart with ‘hey, these loonies are us, each of us!’ How kind and loving these actors are in their care to delve so deeply into their personas to bring forth the unifying force that makes theatre so much more than entertainment.

Theatre is life encapsulated in another script that reminds us of our own. Theatre lightens the load of life we carry. It shelters the audience even as it exposes. And against the horror of the lessons America will endure now that a new poverty of humanity has overwhelmed its political ranks, the grid of theatre, and all art forms, become the refuge to remind us to behave at the highest level of integrity. “A Tuna Christmas” becomes that for me. Gentle and kind and outrageous and utterly human. Yes, we pick at each other but from our own places of love, frustration, and need. Yet we do not threaten, bully, use or hurt with intention if we can just get a glimmer of the real script each of us plays to heal ourselves.”

The incredible characters by Jordan and Reed are due in no small part to their dressers. These frequently unsung professionals stand in the darkness with chains of safety pins and a threaded needle at the ready should there be a wardrobe malfunction. Suddenly the actor bursts into their midst and while keeping track of shoes, eyeglasses, harmonicas, hats and wigs they take the actor apart and put him back together again. All of this with only two hands. Two steady hands. In this production the four heroic dressers are: Heidi Sue Wallace, David Mays, Jon-Philip Olson and Michael J. Greene. Also the efforts of Bridget Cannon are revealed in constructing the costumes—essential to the perfect timing with the complicated changes. All the costumes confidently handled are the result of imagination and inspiration from Andy Wallach and Casa Manana Theatre. Jana Rouse Carr handles the wigs and hair design revealing a sense of humor as well as skill.

They join the other dedicated crew members Emerson depends on for seamlessly smooth direction. Dramaturg Anna Holloway researches and prepares. Aptly assisting the director is Whitney Hendricks. Alongside the scene design contributions from Jordan (that man is everywhere) is Ben Hall, a master in creativity and also the generous assistance again from Casa Manana Theatre. Catherine Pitt rides herd on the props and Emerson is his own sound designer. The lighting design of Tristan Decker is responsible for the mood, and also supports or masks the numerous scene and costume changes.

It doesn’t get any better than this for fun and interesting theatrical excitement so, do visit www.cityrep.com or call 405-848-3761 for tickets and information. The Freede Theatre is located at the Civic Center Music Hall, 201 N. Walker in downtown Oklahoma City. “A Tuna Christmas” is showing through December 18, 2016 and the curtain goes up at 7:30. Be sure and catch this amazing gem!

The community as well as patrons at CityRep should be very proud. Over the past 15 years more than $100,000 has been raised for BroadwayCares/Equity Fights AIDS. Thanks to friends, neighbors and the especially generous patrons you are, a difference is-and can be-made. More is needed in this giving season, so please accept a chocolate kiss as you make a contribution after the show. CityRep thanks you.