'Greater Tuna' at American Stage: familiar if not particularly fresh

Bertha (played by Matthew McGee) and her son Jody (played by Candler Budd) decorate the Christmas tree in A Tuna Christmas at American Stage in St. Petersburg. McGee and Budd portray more than two dozen characters in the play.

MARTHA RIAL | Times

Bertha (played by Matthew McGee) and her son Jody (played by Candler Budd) decorate the Christmas tree in A Tuna Christmas at American Stage in St. Petersburg. McGee and Budd portray more than two dozen characters in the play.

By MARTY CLEAR

Times Correspondent

ST. PETERSBURG — During intermission at Sunday's matinee of A Tuna Christmas, a woman approached friends seated in a different section.

"Be honest,'' the woman said, apparently perplexed. "Is this funny? Because people are laughing.''

She had encapsulated the audience reaction to the current holiday show at American Stage: Some people laughed; other people wondered why.

Clearly, there's nothing in the script to elicit more than a chuckle. Here's an example of the humor: A radio announcer reads ad copy for a store that sells musical instruments. If you buy today but want to pick up your purchase closer to Christmas, he says, the store will hold your organ.

Few of the show's jokes are borderline off-color, as that one is, but they're all similarly obvious and unoriginal. (In fact, the organ joke is repeated twice, within a few seconds. The same people laughed both times.)

There are a couple of explanations for the laughter. One is that some people are familiar with the Tuna franchise, which began in 1981 with Greater Tuna and has continued through three sequels, of which A Tuna Christmas is the most popular.

The Tuna shows have two actors portraying all the residents of a tiny Texas town. The basis of almost all the jokes is "small-town folks sure are stupid.''

Maybe some people found humor in A Tuna Christmas because they knew the characters and back-stories.

More likely, though, they responded to the truly appealing performances of Matthew McGee and Candler Budd, two very funny gentlemen who obviously enjoy working together and relish the chance to camp it up in Tuna.

Their pliable and pointed performances keep their two dozen or so characters, male and female, separate and identifiable, with great help from costume designer Adrin Erra Puente, and no doubt a slew of backstage people who assist in the myriad quick changes.

They're so much fun to watch that it's hard to avoid finding A Tuna Christmas somewhat appealing. Whether you actually find it laugh-worthy, though, is apparently a matter of taste.

. IF YOU GO

A Tuna Christmas

Through Dec. 28 at American Stage, 211 Third St. S, St. Petersburg. About 140 minutes. 7:30 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday; 8 p.m. Friday; 3 and 8 p.m. Saturday; 3 p.m. Sunday. $24-$39. (727) 823-7529; americanstage.org.

'Greater Tuna' at American Stage: familiar if not particularly fresh 11/19/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, November 19, 2008 3:30am]

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