CityRep's A Tuna Christmas takes a humorous look at Texas traits 

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If art imitates life, then Tuna, Texas, truly exists. The fictional community and its quirky citizens serve as the guiding star for a four-play series created by Jaston Williams, Joe Sears and Ed Howard.

Oklahoma City Repertory Theatre (CityRep) celebrates its 15th anniversary season with A Tuna Christmas, the second play in the saga, Dec. 1-18 in Civic Center Music Hall’s Freede Little Theater, 201 N. Walker Ave.

Oklahoma Gazette spoke with cast members Donald Jordan and Jonathan Beck Reed as well as director Steve Emerson. The trio’s rapport and respect for one another is evident, as they frequently finish each other’s sentences and build on one another’s ideas. Jordan and Reed have been friends since their time together at Oklahoma City University. The two have completed nearly 50 projects, domestic and international, together.

“Between us, we have done, together and separately, 15 different productions of the Tuna plays,” Jordan said. “I would say, next to Joe and Jason, we’re about the most Tuna guys there are.”

A Tuna Christmas features a cast of two people (with multiple dressers at the ready backstage), but many more characters. The play follows the events that take place in Tuna, Texas, as the residents prepare for the holiday season.

“The script is about a hundred pages long,” Jordan said. “So more or less, we have 50 pages each that are memorized. ... That’s three or four normal roles.”

Jordan and Reed each have 24 costume changes during the show.

“I walk off as one character at about the same pace I walk on as a different character, but between there and there, I change complete costume, put on a mustache and change gender,” Reed said. “Finding the stillness is really important.”

Jordan added, “Every moment that you’re backstage is a harried, quick change.”

Reed and Jordan both said they find inspiration for the citizens of Tuna from people and experiences in real life.

“Every one of my characters that I’m playing — I have a role model for that,” Reed said.

Again, Jordan finished the thought as he added, “All these people come to my house for Thanksgiving.”

The play’s complex structure necessarily influences its actors and their methods.

“You only have so wide a vocal range and so wide a physical range,” Jordan said. “There are a lot of subtle choices that you make.”

Despite the play’s physical and mental demands, Jordan and Reed’s familiarity with the Tuna cycle has made the process less challenging.

“When you get older, you relax into it,” Reed said.

Jordan said one of his favorite career moments came when people asked when the rest of the cast would come offstage after a Tuna performance.

“I’ve watched these two guys play these characters literally hundreds of times,” Emerson explained. “Even when they’re both onstage at once, there are still moments when I find myself expecting one of the characters to walk onstage.”

Funny truths

When it comes down to it, most people love Tuna.

Greater Tuna is currently the biggest single-show hit that we’ve ever had,” Jordan said of CityRep’s history.

CityRep last performed A Tuna Christmas in 2010.

“We do a lot of work that’s fresh. I really think we could do [Tuna plays] every year and people would come,” Jordan said. “It is laugh-out-loud funny.”

Emerson agreed: “The play has something to say to [audiences]. It says something important to them, something that they feel deeply.”

Although set in Texas, the Tuna plays resonate with people north and south of the Red River. Perhaps because of the play’s regional specificity, A Tuna Christmas reaches a demographic that other shows might not.

“If you’re in Oklahoma, you can feel a safe distance from those characters, and you can laugh with them and at them. A lot of this is character-driven; it’s like a day in the life of these people,” Reed said. “It really does have a universal appeal. People who don’t go to theater go to see Tuna. … It’s unpretentious.”

Because of the play’s focus on people, both Reed and Jordan agreed a powerful poignancy lies beneath the play’s humorous top layer.

“The truth of it is funny, and the laughs will come from that,” Jordan said.

Jordan highlighted the theater’s unique capacity for imagination and depicting human life. He said the production is a “high-wire act” that involves the cast, director and audience.

“We all share in the illusion together, and that spectacle is evergreen and eternal,” he said.

Visit cityrep.com.

Print Headline: Tuna time, In its 15th year, CityRep takes theatregoers on a laugh-filled, two-man trip to Texas.

 

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