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A Tuna Christmas at Arts West

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Co-written by Jaston Williams, Joe Sears, and Ed Howard; A Tuna Christmas is a comedic farce on small town southern life. Two actors play 20+ residents of Tuna, Texas’s third smallest township as Christmas day approaches. The show has gone from off-Broadway to on-Broadway to the White House, and is now making its Seattle debut at Arts West; directed by MaryBeth Dagg and starring Buddy Mahoney and Jay Jenkins.

A Tuna Christmas is a challenging show for several reasons, not the least of which is that it takes place in at least six different locations, possibly more. Barring a multimillion dollar budget, such a high number of locations is a serious obstacle. Fortunately, Set Designer Dan Schuy decided on a very minimalist set, bringing on mobile pieces like a broadcast station or kitchen table to signify the new location. The notable exceptions to this minimalist design were a pair of disappearing platforms on either side of the stage that helped add a touch of spectacle to the show.

The costumes and wigs were great as well. When so many characters are played by the same two people, the costumer shares a lot of the responsibility of keeping the various roles distinct to the audience. Without memorable attire, the characters are in danger of bleeding into each other. Costume Designer Margo Walker did a great job, not only in establishing each character, but in creating the general atmosphere small town Texas folk.*

Mr. Mahoney’s and Mr. Jenkins’ performances of the male characters were, for the most part, very enjoyable. Both men are clearly talented comedians and good casting for this show. Unfortunately, their female characters were hindered by the writing, which is…  lacking. The playwrights relied very heavily on the trope that men in dresses are automatically funny.

The story was also hindered by the lack of a real plot to tie everything together, something to be placed squarely at the author’s feet. It was difficult to maintain interest in certain scenes because they felt completely unrelated to everything else going on. Despite this, the two-man cast did a great job considering what they had to work with.

A Tuna Christmas plays at Arts West until Christmas Eve, Wednesday-Saturday at 7:30pm, with a 3:00pm matinee performance on Sundays. Tickets are available here. Future shows at Arts West include Emile, the story of the brilliant 18th century physicist Emilie du Châtelet, and Distracted, a play on the cultural obstacle of ADHD. The full 2011 season can be found here.

*Or at least what we in Seattle think of as small town Texas Folk. Having never been to a small town in Texas, my opinion can’t be completely trusted here.