A Tuna Christmas @ Rubicon Theatre Company
Reviewed 7 December, 2014 by Robert Roll
The holidays are a perfect time to step out with friends or family and indulge in the real magic of live theatre. It’s a true gift to spend some downtime with our loved ones, our community and the talented people who sacrifice some of their precious holiday time to put on a show for us.
Our choices this year are abundant and varied. For those who balk at the peppermint sweetness of a "family-friendly" show, or worry they may nod off to the dreamy strains of the symphony, the Rubicon in Ventura offers a tart alternative.
Its wildly popular holiday revue "A Rubicon Family Christmas" takes a hiatus this season as the company presents a lively rendition of A Tuna Christmas—the sassy and rather cynical second installment of the "Greater Tuna series" of two-man shows penned by Joe Sears, Ed Howard and Jaston Williams.
The Rubicon has cast a pair of terrific character actors in the show; Broadway vet and Rubicon favorite Jamie Torcellini with the Company’s certified wunderkind Brian McDonald (who also directs).
rise to the task of inhabiting a dozen different roles apiece, each with
his (or her–a lot of “hers”, actually) own personal backstory, physical
mannerisms and dialects. It’s telling that the intermission crowd was
discussing each of the play’s characters as if they were fully realized
individuals, rather than facets of two individual performances.
Brian McDonald and Jamie Torcellini in A Tuna Christmas
Set in rural Tuna, the “third smallest town in Texas”, original cast members Howard and Williams built something of a cult following over the last quarter century skewering the prairie taboos of sex, religion, politics and bedrock values of the tiny burg’s quirky residents. Texans love this stuff. The plays’re funny because they’re so true! These plays are, however, Texans making fun of Texans. Two good ol’ boys playin’ all the parts–even the women folk–dressin' up in wigs and high heels and panty hose and lipstick… Boy, Howdy!
The original production and its subsequent touring performances diverge from the Rubicon offering in one critical aspect. Howard and Williams winked to their audience, “Don’t Mess With Texas unless you're from Texas”. Skilled as they are, Messrs. McDonald and Torcellini are terrific actors playing roles. Just as it would be mean-spirited of two Texans to do a play peppered with tasteless Polish jokes, their play may ask too much of anyone other than themselves to own sufficient Austin hipster-cred necessary to mean-spiritedly ridicule those dumb-as-dirt natives of the Lone Star State.
That said, if you can embrace the Texas-for-Texans premise, A Tuna Christmas delivers a show, light on plot and long on characterization, which serves up some redneck laughs in equal measure with a few genuinely poignant moments.
Christopher Beyries’ versatile set design and Lighting Director Johnny Ryman’s effects conduct the viewer from place to place as adeptly as the cast’s deft character segues. A special nod is earned by Sound Designer Cricket Meyers for making some offstage business seem three-dimensionally real. Costumes by Michael Mullen and a dazzling array of wigs and hairpieces designed by Danielle White gave the cast just the right equipment to realize their two-man “cast of dozens”.
A Tuna Christmas by Joe Sears, Ed Howard and Jaston Williams
Rubicon Theatre Company
1006 East Main Street
Ventura, CA 93001
Wednesdays 12/10, 12/17 2 p.m. and 7 p.m
Thursdays 12/11, 12/18 8 p.m.
Fridays 12/12, 12/19 8 p.m.
Saturdays 12/13, 12/20 2 p.m. and 8 p.m.
Sundays 12/14, 12/21 2 p.m.
Tickets and Information: 805.667.2900