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Robert Pettee as Mrs. Burris, Chris Clarke as Stanley
Robert Pettee as Mrs. Burris, Chris Clarke as Stanley

Theatre Review: "Greater Tuna" at Pendragon Theatre

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Greater Tuna has opened at Pendragon Theatre in Saranac Lake and runs in repertory through September 5. Resident theatre critic Connie Meng was at a recent performance and has this review.

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Connie Meng
Theatre Critic

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GREATER TUNA is a two-man tour de force featuring twenty characters.  Written by Jason Williams, Joe Sears and Ed Howard, it's the first in a trilogy featuring the colorful inhabitants of Tuna, Texas, the third-smallest town in the state.  GREATER TUNA opened Off-Broadway in 1982 to rave reviews and its mixture of affectionate comment and dark satire has been an audience favorite ever since.

We're first introduced to Tuna's radio duo; Robert Pettee as Thurston Wheelis and Chris Clarke as Arles Struvie.  Mr. Pettee and Mr. Clarke go on to play various members of a dysfunctional family and several town bigwigs - young and old, male and female - even a very noisy dog.

Director Kent Streed also designed the production and has done a terrific job with the costumes.  I also want to commend the three dressers, Jason Amrhein, Dylan Jensen and Clare Paulson.  They do an amazingly smooth job on the lightening fast changes.

As for Mr. Streed's direction, his staging is fine, but the over-all tone of the play is off-kilter.  Good comedy is rooted in reality, but in this case we don't know if we're meant to laugh or to take it all seriously.  The way the characters are written encourages comedic exaggeration based on truth, but for the most part this production never gets past the "truth" stage.  I also wonder why Didi Snavely uses a cigarette when it's obvious that Mr. Clarke's not smoking it.

Speaking of Mr. Clarke, he seems most comfortable as Vera Carp in Act II.  He's more relaxed and his sense of comedy comes out.  On the other hand his Petey Fisk doesn't go far enough to let us giggle.  One of Mr. Clarke's strongest moments is as Stanley at the funeral.

However Mr. Pettee's a good actor with a natural sense of comedy.  His Mrs. Bumiller is believable but also funny, as is Pearl Burris and Elmer Watkins with his rant about Agent Orange.  He's terrific doing Reverend Spikes' cliché-ridden eulogy.

The actors need to let go and have more fun with the characters.  If they do, so will we.  You've probably heard the old theatre maxim, "Dying is easy - comedy is hard."  That's true, but it mustn't look either hard or joyless.

On a scale of one to five the Pendragon Theatre production of GREATER TUNA gets three and one-third pine trees.  For North Country Public Radio I'm Connie Meng.

 

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