Review: Actors shine in Manatee Players' 'Tuna'

The script is short on laughs, but the actors make the show fun

mclear@bradenton.comApril 24, 2014 

It's a highly successful comedy that's been produced continuously over the past 33 years in theaters across the country. It has spawned three sequels.

But "Greater Tuna" isn't very funny.

It's popular with theater companies largely because it's inexpensive to produce, requiring only a bare-bones set and two actors. But if those two actors are excellent, "Greater Tuna" can end up being fun for an audience, despite its lack of laughs.

The Manatee Players production, which runs through this weekend, does indeed feature two excellent actors, Daniel Greene and Alex Catalano. They're wonderful to watch, and they turn the dull script into a sharp evening of theater.

The reason the actors can elevate the script so far is that they play 10 characters each, and transform quickly from one to another. They play adults and children, male and female -- the entire population of the tiny town of Tuna, Texas.

And, of course, because all these characters live in a rural town in Texas, playwrights Jaston Williams, Joe Sears and Ed Howard have to make every single one of them dull-witted, and they make that dullness the subject of most of the play's jokes.

But it's still a lot of fun to watch Greene and Catalano, both relative newcomers to Manatee Players, establish the characters, quickly change from one to another and, in a few cases, turn the flatly drawn caricatures in the script into believable characters.

In a play such as this it's difficult to discern the line between the work of the actors and that of the director, but because Green and Catalano are so uniformly excellent it safe to assign at least some of the credit to director Steve Dawson. (He also directed the Manatee Players' excellent production of "Peter Pan" a few months back.)

There's no real plot to "Greater Tuna," just a through-line about a day in the life of this group of yokels. It plays as a series of vignettes, tied together by two radio hosts who deal out local news and gossip.

But Greene can be a laconic radio personality in one scene and moments later make you believe he's a harried housewife whose son can't stop bringing home stray pets. Catalano can play that pet-loving kid believably and then reel you in as a young adult slacker who's keeping Tuna's only secret.

People who have been attending local theater anywhere in the country regularly over the years have probably seen "Greater Tuna," maybe more than once, and probably aren't eager to see it again. But thanks to Catalano and Greene, production's likely to be a lot better than the ones they saw before.

Details: It runs through Sunday in the Bradenton Kiwinais Theatre at the Manatee Performing Arts Center, 502 Third Ave, W., Bradenton. Curtain is at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday. Tickets are $26 for adults, $15 for teachers and $13 for students. Call 941-748-5875 or go to www.manateeplayers.com.

Marty Clear, features writer/columnist, can be reached at 941-708-7919. Follow twitter.com/martinclear.

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