By STEPHANIE OTTEY
NEW CASTLE, PA.
A Christmas show in February seems like a strange thing, but if you stop over to the New Castle Playhouse for the next two weekends you’ll see why that doesn’t have to be so.
“A Tuna Christmas” is playing on the Annex Theater stage there, and while the title is festive, the play itself isn’t overtly holly-jolly. Written by Jaston Williams, Joe Sears, and Ed Howard, “A Tuna Christmas” is more filled with conservative satire than holiday cheer.
“Christmas” is a sequel to “Greater Tuna,” which played on the annex stage exactly one year ago. It brings us back to the tiny town of Tuna, Texas, where we meet some familiar characters. This time around, they are preparing for a community theater production of “A Christmas Carol,” competing for the title of best decorated home, and searching for “the phantom” that continues to destroy the light displays.
Anyone who saw New Castle’s last Tuna production will immediately recognize most of the loveable Southerners who decorate the town, like the mischievous Vera Carp and tender-hearted Petey Fisk, but will also see some new faces.
All of these character gems come alive in the hands of Alan McCreary and Jeff Hall once again. Just as before, the two make a pair that is so comfortable on stage with each other that they make the high-energy comedy look second nature. Both men stay fully committed to their roles, never breaking or losing focus.
McCreary shines with his physical comedy ability, and Hall holds it together with his straight-faced stare. Both master skirts and heels, unafraid of a little hilarious drag, and give audiences many reasons to laugh out loud.
The script alone offers some over-the-top roles to chew on, but McCreary and Hall take them to an iconic place. They’ve so fully developed the Bumiller family that it’s high time Charlene, Stanley, Jody, and Bertha had their own show.
McCreary and Hall aren’t the only reasons this show is great, however.
Jack and Sindy Hanna have struck again. Using the same beautifully painted landscape motif as they did with “Greater Tuna” the Hannas effectively set the scene. The only major difference to this set from the last is the parade of Christmas trees that turn the stage into a trashy Kraynak’s display. Set pieces have never gotten laughs like they do here.
The stage crew makes scenes change flawlessly, and the rest of the technical team is just as rehearsed.
Peggy Hanna has successfully re-staged a Tuna show without making it feel tired or over-done. Although Act 2 seems a bit long, this second go is arguably more lively and fun than the first.
No fear if you missed the first introduction to the Tuna world last year – you’ll catch on without missing a laugh.