By PAM HARBAUGH
Melbourne Civic Theatre harvests plenty of laughs from “A Tuna Christmas,” but it also delivers the sweet small gift in its loving touch. While sentimentality is something that sophistication seems to eschew, right now with the political “season” interfering with the ho-ho-ho spirit, a tender touch baked into the humor is just what we need.
Written by Jaston Williams, Joe Sears and Ed Howard, this 1989 face-paced comedy has been the darling of community theaters throughout the country. The conceit is that two men portray 22 characters inhabiting the quirky town of Tuna, Texas on Christmas Eve. It begins in the radio station OKKK where personalities Thurston Wheelis and Arles Struvie tell us the farm report, the weather report and the latest on the Christmas decoration bandito laying waste residents’ festive lawn ornamentation.
Other characters include: Bertha Bumiller, a corn-fed woman who can’t get her dysfunctional family into the Christmas spirit; Vera Carp, vice president of the Smut Snatchers of the New Order and who occupies the highest rung of the social ladder; Inita Goodwin and Helen Bedd (say those names out loud, please), waitresses at a local Tastee Kreme; and gun toting Didi Snavely, whose used gun emporium has the motto “If we can’t kill it, it’s immortal.”The talent bringing all these and more to energetic, hysterical and frequently poignant life are Steven Costner, who finds the lonely souls of Bertha and UFO fan R.R. Snavely — and Michael Thompson, who becomes silly putty, molding his entire being, face, voice and all, into a contortion of 11 different roles and who will win your heart in the final scene as Arles Struvie.
Big kudos to backstage dressers Becky Behl-Hill and David Hill who have the quick changes down to a science. (Watch a behind the scenes video by clicking here.) Alan Selby’s scenic and lighting design takes us to multiple locations with clever use of revolving doors. Janine Black employs strong character touches in her costume design which allows quick identification of each role. Wendy Reader’s sound design ties it all into a perfect bow.
Director Peg Girard corrals all the talent into a swiftly paced, exhilarating laugh riot and one that gives you hope in humanity. It is not to be missed, especially if you’re feeling a little Grinch pinch right now. Many of the shows are already sold out, so do not delay.
SIDE O’ GRITS: “A TUNA CHRISTMAS” runs through Dec. 24 at Melbourne Civic Theatre, 817 E. Strawbridge Ave., Melbourne. It performs 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and Dec. 22; and 2 p.m. Sundays and Christmas Eve. Tickets are $30, handling fees may apply. Call 321-723-6935, visit MyMCT.org or click onto their ad.