Jaston Williams and Joe Sears used to call them "Tunatics," and their numbers have increased.
"Tunatics" are the fine folk of Tuna, Texas, a fictitious town created by actors Williams and Sears and writer and director Ed Howard in their play "Greater Tuna." The latest incarnations are actors Roger Buchanan and Jimi Kinstle, who are doing a fan-tuna-tastic job at the Vagabond Players, under Steve Goldklang's swift direction.
With the help of seven backstage personnel, who assist them in and out of designer Mary Bova's heavily Velcro'd costumes, Buchanan and Kinstle depict 20 Tunatics during a day in the life of small-town America. (Having one of the costume changes take place on stage is a mistake, however; instead of being a tongue-in-cheek comment on the device, it destroys the fun of the illusion.)
Buchanan's best turn is as Pearl Burras, a proper Texas matron of a certain age, decked out in pearls (of course) and sensible shoes. All the Tunatics have their little quirks. Pearl's is killing dogs who prey on her chickens. She feeds the predators strychnine-laced biscuits she lovingly makes herself.
Dogs are a recurring theme in "Greater Tuna." Buchanan even gets to supply the voice of one -- a rat terrier-Chihuahua mix appropriately dubbed "Yippy." This screeching mongrel is the unadoptable ward of Kinstle's soft-hearted Petey Fisk, head of the Greater Tuna Humane Society.
Kinstle excels at physical humor, and when invisible Yippy crawls all over Petey's shirt, you can practically see the squirming canine. Similarly, when Kinstle's Harold Dean Lattimer, weatherman for local radio station OKKK, delivers the forecast directly from a storm, the actor is hilariously convincing in his efforts not to be blown away.
Wiry Kinstle plays all of the young people in the play -- Jody, Stanley and Charlene Bumiller, the children of Buchanan's upstanding but long-suffering Bertha Bumiller. Buchanan, who is more amply built, handles such dignitaries as the Reverend Spikes, a clergyman with a religious passion for cliches, and Sheriff Givens, a lawman who wouldn't recognize a crime if he were the victim.
But though we laugh at these folks, there's a gentleness to the script and to Buchanan and Kinstle's portrayals. Maybe that's why it remains pleasant to drop in on Tuna, Texas, every few years. The Vagabonds' production proves the place hasn't changed much since Williams and Sears set the loopy, lofty standard. And that's Texas-size praise.
Where: 806 S. Broadway
When: 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. Sundays; through May 4
' Call: 410-563-9135
Pub Date: 4/11/97