IT'S "TUNA" TIME IN TIMELESS RURAL TEXAS

photo by Ryan Fagan

Stephen Frankenfield (L) and Keith Wick create Tuna, Texas at Live Theatre Workshop.


Not even today's culture wars on the front lines of political correctness can slow down Live Theatre Workshop's rockingly hilarious production of “Red, White and Tuna,” celebrating the Fourth of July right there in the proudly provincial town that is every theater-goer's favorite.

According to the program notes, director Jodi Ajanovic compares her return to Tuna, Texas, onstage as very similar to her own real life experience of re-visiting the tiny rural community where she grew up.

For Tuna regulars, it is like that. We all have our own idea of this “third smallest town in Texas.” We have recognize our favorite folks, such as the clueless but caring personality of Petey and his work on behalf of helpless animals everywhere. And certainly Didi, who runs the used gun store and knows eight different kinds of martial arts.

We smile to learn Bertha Burmiller is now about to get married late in life – soon as her pending divorce is final, and get surprised by the unexpected success of her son Stanley who took some painting classes in reform school and then became a famous intuitive artist.

There are four of these Tuna comedies satirizing the resourceful lives of these endearing innocents from the Lone Star State, all written by Jaston Williams, Ed Howard and Joe Sears. Back in 2009 Adjanovic directed “A Tuna Christmas” at LTW.

Now she has returned, with Stephen Frankenfield and Keith Wick sharing 19 roles and both genders, an inventive wardrobe and a variety of accents distinguishing each of these characters. Some of it feels rushed and muddled, but we can always get the general idea.

The play opens with enlightened hippies Amber and Star driving back to Tuna for their 10-year high school reunion. In those student days they went by their birth names, Fern and Bernice.

Soon enough we hear the reassuring twang of radio announcers Arles and Thurston, the heart of station OKKK, talking about the day's upcoming festivities. Even though it is radio, they are wearing red baseball caps proclaiming “Make Tuna Great Again.”

We learn of Bertha's wedding plans. She wants to attend the famous outdoor “Passion Play” for her honeymoon. You really know Bertha takes religion seriously when she says “Nothing makes me madder than a so-called Christian who doesn't believe in war!”

This is a community, after all, where one person takes pride in his lava lamp because it's an antique, while another takes pride in how all her good furniture is protected with clear plastic covers.

And if you really want to insult some one, call them “a born-again has been.”

Red, White and Tuna” continues through July 21. For details and reservations, livetheatreworkshop.org







HEY KIDS, WHAT TIME IS IT? 
IT'S TIME FOR "GNATMAN!"
photo by gwane
Tiger Lady (Janee Page) gets surprised by Gnatman (Mike Yarema) at the Gaslight Theatre.

The Gnat is back. We're talking Gnatman, who is definitely gnot your ordinary comic book superhero.

Need more proof? Fly by the Gaslight Theatre where “Gnatman” is on the wing through Aug. 26. First conceived, written, directed and introduced by Peter Van Slyke back in the mid 1980s, “Gnatman” has become a genuine Gaslight Classic, full of far-out puns, famously low-tech special stage effects and a song list recalling that magical musical time after disco bloomed and before punk rock took over.

This story is set in the 1960s, Mammoth City's crime syndicate is reaping dastardly fruits from a wave of science research and technology that has introduced more evil gadgets than you could find in an adult video store. Chief among them is the Intrastatic Device with its insidious Paralyzing Ray.

Eager to conquer Mammoth City and then the world is the fashion challenged (and apparently color blind) green-haired Jester (Todd Thompson), so fanatical he can go out in public wearing a broad-shouldered double-breasted pink suit with black pin stripes.

Far more dapper is the Jester's wingman, that clattering, chattering Pelican ( Jacob Brown), clad in a color coordinated tan safari-ish outfit.

Fetchingly expressing her affection for big game animals is the seductively feline Tiger Lady (Janee Page), ever in purr-suit of the purr-fect crime. And, if that's not enough, she knows all the words to “Memory” (you know, the song from “Cats”).

But what about Gnatman? Taking great pride in being a relentless pest to all criminals, this ecologically active enemy of E.V.I.L. goes green with his entire wardrobe. Proud to play the masked role is Mike Yarema.

Never leaving his side is Atom the Teen Marvel (Jake Chapman), so called because he's always in motion.

Providing the romantic interest, so to speak, is the ever-ebullient Gnatgirl (Erin Thompson), equally green of costume and pure of heart. What she admires most about Gnatman is his idealism.

But for Gaslight regulars always happy to catch the buzz on every “Gnatman” production, the gnicest treat of all is the return of Joe Cooper in his crisply turned out formal black attire as Manfred the butler, still putting the dash into haberdashery.

Yes, of course they still do Manfred's specialty number “Hot Cocoa” to the melody of “Blue Velvet.” We will all be drinking deeply to that one.

Plot-wise it takes about 90 minutes including intermission for the forces of good to triumph over those fiendish machinations of the sinister crime organization E.V.I.L. (Everything Vile In Life)....then comes the famous aftershow olio.

This time the Gaslight Gang turns for inspiration to Simon Cowell and that dream-making machine You've Got Talent!

“Gnatman” plays at various times Tuesdays through Sundays to Aug. 26 in the Gaslight Theatre, 7010 E. Broadway. Tickets (plus tax) are: $21.95 adults; $19.95 military, students and seniors; $11.95 children 2-12. For details and reservations (required), 886-9428 or visit thegaslighttheatre.com