Katelyn Hoffman as Charlene Bumiller in The Changing Scene Theatre Northwest’s "A Tuna Christmas"
The Changing Scene Theatre Northwest is a theater on the move. That is a good thing, insofar as it means interesting and innovative shows off the beaten path. It is also a challenge, insofar as it means a theater without a permanent home, operating as a guest in borrowed digs. Changing Scene is moving toward a solution to the latter, and are embracing the former. For the first time in its history, Tacoma Musical Playhouse’s The Spire (aka the 90-year-old former Epworth LeSourd United Methodist Church) is hosting an entire season of Changing Scene Northwest shows, the first of which opened Friday night. As to interesting and innovative shows, welcome to Tuna, Texas
Ahem, Greater Tuna, that is. Not to be confused with plain old downtown Tuna.
"A Tuna Christmas" is the second of four plays about the third-smallest town in Texas. Beginning with "Greater Tuna," and concluding with "Red, White, and Tuna," and "Tuna Does Vegas," the two-person plays walk the line between homage to small town Texas and a skewering of same. Of the four, "A Tuna Christmas" is the lightest in tone. It is two hours of gags, jokes, one-liners and longer-form humor pieces.
Veteran South Sound performers Shelleigh-Mairi-Ferguson and Katelyn Hoffman play a total of 22 roles in this send-up of a small town Christmas season. They are to be admired as actresses with stage cohesion and a touch for comedy. The play is, in a word, amusing.
Those who choose to attend "A Tuna Christmas" will find a show that will tickle bones willing to be tickled. Not all of the jokes work. But, like in the case of a talented three-point shooter who keeps firing away, the ones that connect are worth the wait.
Shelleigh Mairi-Ferguson has one of the great laughs of any performer in Washington State. The word "infectious" was invented for Ferguson’s laugh and for her fans, who cannot, and will not, keep from laughing with her. For those who saw Ms. Ferguson as the Widow Corney in TMP’s "Oliver," her laugh during "A Tuna Christmas" will be a welcome reminder of that guffaw. Of the 11 roles she plays, the best were Bertha Bumiller, watchdog against literary smut, R.R. Snavely, probable UFO kidnap victim, and Inita Goodwin, Head Cook at the Tasty Kreme Diner.
Katelyn Hoffman was part of an impressive ensemble in last year’s "The Last Night of Ballyhoo" at Tacoma Little Theatre. She was critically acclaimed in that show as an actress with dramatic range and comic timing. In short, one of the best performers in the play. In "A Christmas Tuna" she gets to exercise all of that comic timing. Her best characters in this show are as embattled daughter Charlene Bumiller, the ever-smoking Didi Snavely , owner of Didi’s Used Weapons, and as Helen Bedd, a waitress in the Tasty Kreme Diner. Her best line (and the line that received the loudest, longest laugh in the whole performance) was as the gun shop owner. "If we can’t kill it, it’s immortal."
The second half of the show is the better half. It begins (not to give anything away) before the end of intermission. The best set piece in the play occurs when Ferguson and Hoffman interact as Helen and Inita in the diner.
Tuna, Texas is Mayberry with necks a little redder and the competition for best Christmas yard display a little more cutthroat. It is a fun place to visit. Tickets for "A Tuna Christmas" are available through a link on the Tacoma Musical Playhouse website. Click TMP Mainstage, and then the link to TCSTN.
The Changing Scene Theatre Northwest will be back in February with "Love: You’ve Got to Be Kidding," and in May with "The Taming of the Shrew." True lovers of community theater root for the Changing Scene Northwest, New Muses, and other emerging theater companies. They aren’t so much competition to the bigger, established houses as they are incentive for them to stay sharp and on fire for the arts. That benefits everyone.