Two actors will have to play over 20 characters in one night in Valley Center Stage’s production of “Greater Tuna” opening Thursday, Feb. 4 at the theater in North Bend.
Directed by Peter Cook and starring Rene Schuchter and Michael Murdock, “Greater Tuna” is a satirical comedy about the third smallest town in Texas. It was written as a satire of the time, 1981, but has many themes relevant to today.
“It’s a satire and it’s just fun. It’s a whole bunch of stereotypical Texans, completely politically incorrect. At the same time it’s interesting because the beauty of the characters is that they are incredibly innocent and honest,” Cook said. “It is fun and entertaining, but I don’t think you can ignore the nuance because that’s what you can identify with.”
“Greater Tuna” is well known for its cast size and character count. The play is performed by two actors playing 10 characters each with quick costume changes and constant dialogue. In addition to the two actors there are also two dressers behind the scenes helping them change costumes.
“The really complicated thing about the show is the costume changes. Everything is mimed. There are some technical issues, plus they are playing 10 different characters so you have to go through 10 different character studies,” Cook said.
“They walk out saying their last line, they say a line behind the wall as a different character and they come out as a different character.”
Schuchter was drawn to the play because of the challenge it poses to the cast and crew.
“One of things that was exciting was the challenge for an actor doing 10 different roles. To be able to pull that off with all the costume changes, it’s a madcap race,” Schuchter said. “It’s happening so quickly and our dressers are helping us figure out quickly who we are next.”
While the technical aspects are important, Cook said making sure the characters are distinct and believable is crucial. It needs to be clear to the audience that they are different characters, not just the same actors in different costumes.
While the show is a comedy, there are darker elements to the characters that make them more believable. Cook said the characters of the show have heart, the comedy is there, but there is a depth to the characters that the audience may not initially expect.
Murdock said this depth paired with the comedic elements makes each of the characters and their relationships memorable.
“I like Arles, the radio guy, the women parts I like because they’ve got the funniest lines. Even the character who is not a very likable person is fun to play. There hasn’t been a rehearsal where I haven’t laughed,” Murdock said.
Valley Center Stage will present “Greater Tuna” at 7 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 4 and have scheduled shows for every Thursday, Friday and Saturday through Feb. 18. There will also be dinner theater performances at Boxley’s on Feb. 19 and 20. Tickets are available online at valleycenterstage.org/greatertuna
Murdock plays Harold Dean Lattimer, the weatherman, while Schuchter sprays water over a fan to simulate rain.
Bertha Bumiller, Schuchter, gets into an argument with her son Stanley.