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'Red, White and Tuna' showcases the best of two rare talents

Candler Budd plays Didi Snavely, and a slew of other characters, in his new play with Matthew McGee, Red, White & Tuna.

BUD THACKER | Special to the Times

Candler Budd plays Didi Snavely, and a slew of other characters, in his new play with Matthew McGee, Red, White & Tuna.

Through the ages, comedy has had its legendary teams: Laurel and Hardy, Abbott and Costello, Martin and Lewis.

Add to that Budd and McGee, as in Candler and Matthew, two Georgia natives who have become legends around Tampa Bay and beyond for their spot-on spoofs and send-ups.

The duo has set and broken attendance records at St. Petersburg's American Stage and at the Show Palace Dinner Theatre with their two-man takes on the tiny town of Tuna, Texas, in Greater Tuna and A Tuna Christmas, and they could do it again with the third in the series, Red, White & Tuna, making its Tampa Bay debut matinees and evenings through July 18 at the Show Palace.

Budd and McGee once more create 20-plus unique characters, male and female, who show the sunny and/or sinister sides of the citizens of the third smallest town in the Lone Star State. And nobody can do it better.

At the heart are radio station OKKK announcers Thurston Wheelis (McGee) and Arles Struvie (Budd), who tell the local news while sipping imaginary cups of coffee and reading from imaginary index cards as they sit at the 1960s-style chrome dinette set turned broadcast studio.

The big news is Arles' upcoming marriage to the sexually uptight Bertha Bumiller (McGee), the contest to see who will be elected Reunion Queen for the July 4 celebration — can the town's richest citizen, Vera Carp (Budd), buy the election? — and whether the darkly menacing right-wing Elmer Watkins (McGee) can get the corner of a neighboring county declared The Independent Nation of Free White Texans.

Indeed, this third installment is much more politically charged and religiously biting than its predecessors, which concentrated more on the personalities of the various characters. But that seems in tune with the times, which have become more rancorous since the first in the series, Greater Tuna, was born in Austin in the early 1980s.

Of course, in recent years, the state of my birth has become something of a parody of itself (see congressman Joe Barton apologizing to BP executives, Gov. Rick Perry wanting to secede from the Union, and the school textbook choosers rewriting history with a suthrin' slant), but, even so, writers Jaston Williams, Joe Sears and Ed Howard have managed to skewer this sometimes zany state even more, with biting zingers coming so fast that the audience may feel as though they've been locked in the plastic bubble with the animal-loving Petey Fisk (Budd) and the 50 scorpions he's trying to protect.

Only in this case, the pain will come from laughing so hard.

Okay, not everyone will get the SMU joke, but they will appreciate Budd and McGee's masterful pokes at BP, Obama, Clinton and jerks in the audience who let their cell phones ring during the show.

And they'll adore the prissy Didi Snavely (Budd), owner of the local used ammo shop (favorite quote: "Fireworks make a pop, but firearms make a point"); saucy Tastee Kreme owners Intia Goodwin (McGee) and Helen Bedd (Budd); the self-righteous Rev. Sturgis Spikes (McGee), fresh out of prison and rarin' to go; and two new Tuna characters, the stuck-in-the-'60s aging hippies with new names, Star Birdfeather (McGee) and Amber Windchime (Budd), who are reluctantly coming home for the reunion in Valley Girl style.

Also new on the scene are the pot-bellied, flamboyantly gay little theater director Joe Bob Lipsey (McGee), returning to town to do Red, White and Fabulous, a la Corky St. Clair in my all-time favorite movie, Waiting for Guffman.

Coming back are Bertha's kids, Charlene and Stanley, both done to perfection by Budd.

It's only after Budd and McGee take their well-deserved bows at the end of the show that it sinks in they've been performing non-stop for two and a half hours, creating new characters in the blink of an eye, complete with costumes, makeup and dialogue. It's a phenomenal feat that takes extraordinary talent that only a very few actors possess.

But these two have it in abundance and then some, and Show Palace co-owners Nick and Sal Sessa were smart to persuade Budd to fly down from his New York digs (and new bride Emily) to team with his longtime buddy McGee for this show, under the guidance of the third essential element for this show's success, director Susan Haldeman, who knows what to do with these two rare talents.

Kudos also go to dressers Paula Davie and Lauren Gemelli, who were on the ready backstage to help Budd and McGee make their magical costume transformations in precious seconds, and to Scott Daniel, who created the costumes and wigs that created the characters.

Though Budd and McGee are the ones out front, none of it could be done without the rest of the sizable team.

Theater review

Red, White & Tuna

Shows: Matinees and evenings through July 18 at the Show Palace Dinner Theatre, 16128 U.S. 19, Hudson.

Cost: Dinner and show, $48; show only, $36.95, plus tax and tip; 12 and younger, $28.45 and $23.45.

More info: Call (727) 863-7949 in west Pasco; toll-free elsewhere at 1-888-655-7469.

'Red, White and Tuna' showcases the best of two rare talents 06/19/10 [Last modified: Saturday, June 19, 2010 12:41pm]
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