There's nothing fishy about this tuna.
For more than 30 years, writers Jaston Williams, Joe Sears and Ed Howard have curated a series of plays about small-town life in Texas, beginning with “Greater Tuna.” With Williams and Sears portraying nearly two dozen characters who comprise the eccentric population of tiny Tuna, Texas, they put the “fun” in fundamentalist Bible Belt dogma and celebrate how even the most deranged families have a heart.
And, you can share some of their holiday spirit—spiced with affectionate and sometimes outrageous satirical humor—at Morris Museum, where “A Tuna Christmas” is being served at the Bickford Theatre through Dec. 30.
Here in New Jersey, veteran regional comic actors Jim Ligon and Michael Irvin Pollard are wearing the dresses and wigs, just as they did in the Bickford’s 2009 production of “Greater Tuna.” Both are natural comedians and skilled character actors who can slip in an out of enlarged personalities within seconds of ducking behind Scenic Designer Jim Bazewicz’s generic wood wall.
Even better, director John Pietrowski has found the heart inside this rather light story, which aims to do very little more than entertain its audience.
Starting as the radio voices of OKKK, Tuna’s 275-watt center of culture, Ligon and Pollard are off to the races, speaking together, then going solo as the other rushes off to change costumes, some of which they wear for mere seconds before changing again.
As characters appear and reappear, we get to know some of them almost too well. The plus-size Ligon spends a lot of time in the polyester pant suit of Bertha, mother of three dysfunctional kids (all played by Pollard, of course) who each have a subplot of their own. There’s young Jody, who has brought home a pregnant cat for Christmas, and daughter Charlene, a Goth-punk drama queen who is in love with the gay diva director of the community theater. Her twin brother, Stanley (Pollard, looking and sounding like a refugee from “Wayne’s World”) is working at the theater as well, completing his community service for crimes against Tuna.
Other subplots involve Didi, the used-gun store owner and her oafish, UFO-obsessed husband (who gets a grand exit); two waitresses who lose their jobs; and two old ladies who share a peculiar Christmas tradition.
The jokes are broad, from a Nativity scene with real sheep to a football coach who threatens to go into politics if he can’t pass his state licensing exam.
And, of course, there’s the local chapter of the Smut-Snatchers of the New Order, whose Baptist leanings don’t cotton to the “round young virgins” in that one carol and suspect the sexual orientation of those merry gentlemen in another.
“Christmas in Connecticut” this isn’t. But you’ve already done that. For those who want to try something new this holiday season—or merely get an early start on their Feast of the Seven Fishes—"A Tuna Christmas" is a fresh festive treat for everyone, except the little kiddies.
“A Tuna Christmas” runs through Dec. 305 at the Bickford Theatre, 6 Normandy Heights Road (Morris Museum), Morris Township. Tickets are $20 to $45. For information, call 973-971-3706 or visit www.morrismuseum.org