Updated: Mar 20, 2019
★★★✩✩ - Satisfying
Much like “Nunsense,” Jaston Williams, Joe Sears, and Ed Howard have turned “Tuna” into an industry unto itself. The three actor-playwrights began years ago with “Greater Tuna,” but as they’ve expanded the roster of titles they haven’t forgotten that time has gone by. In “Tuna Does Vegas,” closing out Las Vegas Little Theatre’s (LVLT) mainstage season, the zany characters have all aged.
Due to scheduling conflicts, I missed opening night and initially thought the cast had fallen prey to second-night-letdown, a common malady of community theatre after the buzz of opening night. But as the action played out, I realized my disappointment wasn’t the fault of the director, actors, or production team.
I’ve often said it shouldn’t be the job of a critic of local theatre to critique a script unless it’s an original piece by a local playwright. Nor is it a critic’s place to question why a particular script has been chosen. Having been through the selection process myself, I know why: a collective group of readers loved the script, thought it would be a good fit, and resonate with patrons. I have to break the rule here. Something has happened to the tightly wrapped dialogue of the first three installments.
The playwrights have forgotten one of the golden rules of writing: Kill your darlings. They’ve allowed scenes to go on too long in this script, with overlong commentary of a few characters, that slow the pace and kill the humor. They’re done to allow time for costume changes, but heavily practiced quick-changes worked well in their past scripts.
Joel Hengstler is best as Joe Bob Lipsey, the fey community theatre director, and Inita Goodwin, who serves up tantalizing one-liners in the local diner. Alexander C. Sund delivers loads of fun with Arles Struvie, the disc jockey of radio station OKKK with a listening audience of 70, and Vera Carp whose Smutsnatchers want to ban the word finger as a verb. Sund and Hengstler shine in these roles because the writing is particularly crisp, and provides for comedic timing to which both actors prove to be adept.
Production values are high. The actors are talented, fully embodying the characters with different speech patterns, quirks, and movement, through the rapid changes. With the exception of a fake beard and mustache for Leonard Childers, Rose Scarborough has designed deliciously outrageous costumes that add to the fun.
Just the right combination of real (countertop) and mimed (faucet) set pieces and props helped keep things simple to ease scene changes. The full-box set which was used for a living room, hotel lobby, and hotel room looked out of place and got in the way. This chapter of Tuna would be better suited to a few flats to provide a place for costume changes and stationary furniture that would adapt to location.
Lack of professionalism is an issue that is often used to deride community theatres across the country; they’re accused of doing things one generally wouldn’t consider in an Equity production, or even in a semi-professional setting. I called out another local company in the past for doing this, and it’s only fair I point it out here because Ament is guilty. Bringing the crew out for a bow cheapens the experience, and paints an amateur signature onto the production. It would be as if Van Gogh had signed his masterpieces with large, bold, block letters, taking away from the beauty he created. Patrons know the show is more than the actors on the stage, and keeping stage crews from view - even after the house lights have come up at the end of the play - sustains the suspension of disbelief, maintains the magic that should be live theatre.
Kudos to this cast and entire organization for the full-page program dedication of this production to John Ivanoff, who starred in the 2011 LVLT production of Greater Tuna, graced many local stages in a plethora of roles, and passed away unexpectedly and much too soon. He would be abashed to be so honored, but proud and thankful, too.
What: Tuna Does Vegas
When: 8 p.m. Thursday - Sunday through May 22
2 p.m. Saturday, May 14
Where: Las vegas Little Theatre, 3920 Schiff drive
Grade: *** (Satisfying)
Producer: Las Vegas Little Theatre; Director: David Ament; Set Design: Ron Lindblom; Lighting Design: Ginny Adams; Sound/Projection Design: David Ament; Costume Design: Rose Scarborough; Stage Manager: Karen Gibson; Dressers: Ellen Radcliff, Mary Weaver