The Stars this Night Shone Very Bright, Deep in the Heart of Tuna

Welcome to Tuna, TX.  This little town has backwater yokels, ultra “Christians”, secessionist goofballs, and elderly women viciously vying for a class reunion crown.  Incidentally, all of these citizens are played by just two men.  This is Red, White and Tuna currently playing at the Bellevue Little Theatre.

This play is the third part of a trilogy written by Jason Williams, Joe Sears, and Ed Howard.  This particular chapter takes place during the Fourth of July.  The play is written as a series of vignettes featuring the peculiar citizenry of this town.  Some of the short stories are connected while others are standalone.  Due to this unique style of writing, some of the play’s stories are more satisfying than others.  Those that do work are pieces of utter perfection.

I admit to being more of a smiler and chuckler when I watch comedies as I can usually spot the punchline coming from a distance.  But this play had moments that caught me so off guard and had me laughing so hard that I thought I was going to pass out.  Credit for this monumentally funny night goes to Kim Clark-Kaczmarek for her excellent direction and the magnificent work of her performers, Noah Diaz and Anthony Clark-Kaczmarek.

Ms Clark-Kaczmarek’s direction is a nifty piece of work.  She led her actors to extremely well-developed characters (each play 10 distinct personas), created sharp pieces of business to mask the time needed for costume changes, and kept the play moving with a brisk, energetic pace.

Anthony Clark-Kaczmarek is at his clownish best as he sinks his teeth into the quirky characters of Tuna.  His delivery is so smooth and sure that one would think all of his dialogue is extemporaneous.  Clark-Kaczmarek also adopts a different posture and voice for each of his characters, making certain that the audience is in for a surprise each time he steps onto the stage.

Highlights of Clark-Kaczmarek’s myriad performances included the gun toting, gravelly voiced, potty mouthed, Didi Snavely, who owns the used gun store and is waiting out the day so she can finally have her missing husband declared legally dead, the nerdy, reedy-voiced, slouching, Petey Fisk, who values pests and insects above humanity, and Vera Carp, the snobbish, prudish “Christian” who spends her days banning books for words like “poke”.

Noah Diaz was quite amusing in spite of being slightly off his game.  His energy was a little low in Act I, but increased dramatically in Act II.  He also needed to be a bit louder.  Diaz found his volume at the top of Act II, but it began to wane again towards the end of the show.  I attribute a lot of this to the fact that Diaz very recently finished doing double duty as director and actor for another show in the metro area.

Like Clark-Kaczmarek, Diaz nuanced the tar out of his multiple characterizations, but needed to work on the voices for his characters as many sounded the same.  Diaz has a great gift for physical comedy best demonstrated with his histrionics as Joe Bob Lipsey, the local artiste who is upset that he can’t sing about champagne for a show since Tuna is in a dry county, his Michael Jacksonesque gyrations as R.R. Snavely as he communicates with aliens, and his inability to get through any door with his walker as Pearl Burras.

As brilliant as the performances from the actors were, Diaz and Clark-Kaczmarek do need to be certain to maintain their characters as they broke each other up on a couple of occasions.

Lindsay Pape’s costumes were just right for the show ranging from stereotypical overalls to the rather buxom clothing for a couple of Diaz’s female characters.  Tony Schik’s sound design struck all of the right notes with classic country tunes and the radio broadcasts voiced by Diaz and Clark-Kaczmarek.

If you like pure, escapist comedy then you will love Red, White and Tuna.  With the gutbusting work of Diaz and Clark-Kaczmarek, the tears will be streaming down your eyes before the night is out.

Red, White and Tuna plays at the Bellevue Little Theatre through June 5.  Performances are Fri-Sat at 7:30pm and Sundays at 2pm.  Tickets cost $18 for adults, $16 for seniors, and $10 for students with proper ID.  Reservations can be made by calling 402-291-1554 between the hours of 10am-4:30pm Mon-Sat.  The Bellevue Little Theatre is located at 203 E Mission Ave in Bellevue, NE.