Entertainment

Big laughs found in Nittany Theatre at the Barn’s ‘Greater Tuna’

Nittany Theatre at the Barn’s “Greater Tuna” runs through June 10 in Boalsburg.
Nittany Theatre at the Barn’s “Greater Tuna” runs through June 10 in Boalsburg. Photo provided

For the second show of its third season, Nittany Theatre at the Barn presents “Greater Tuna,” running through June 10 in Boalsburg.

“Greater Tuna” is the first in a series of four comedic plays, each set in the fictional town of Tuna, Texas, the “third-smallest” town in the state. The series was written by Jaston Williams, Joe Sears and Ed Howard. The plays are at once an affectionate comment on small-town, Southern life and attitudes but also a withering satire of the same.

“Greater Tuna” debuted in Austin, Texas, in the fall of 1981, and had its off-Broadway premiere in 1982.

The comedy stars Nittany Theatre Producing Artistic Director Dave Saxe and his son Andrew Saxe. It’s directed by Erik Johnson.

The play is notable in that two men play the entire cast of more than 20 eccentric characters of both genders and various ages.

“The two actors play 20 characters with quick changes that are ‘faster than a jack rabbit runs from a coyote,’ ” Johnson said.

The actors get to share the lives, morals, concerns and prayers of the entire population of Tuna with the audience in an intimate setting. The action centers around callers trying to reach Tuna’s only radio station with their complaints.

“Being part of a production like this is always a happy challenge for me,” Andrew Saxe said. “Slipping on completely different characters in seconds is difficult but is incredibly fun. And being able to work with my dad in a two-person show has been a real blessing as well.”

Even though there are only two actors in the cast, the process of creating the show was a tremendous amount of fun and fulfilling work for everyone involved.

“Comedies that have quick changes, multiple characters and many different settings have to rely on precision and careful planning,” Johnson said. “The actors, stage management, tech, design and I worked very hard to make the chaos work.”

Last summer, Nittany Theatre at the Barn produced “The Complete Works of Shakespeare Abridged,” a show that is full of crazy characters, multiple costume changes and an improvised give and take with the audience. Based upon the success of the show, the Barn knew that audiences wanted another wild ride of laughs and zaniness.

“ ‘Greater Tuna’ is very much in the spirit of that,” said Johnson, who starred in “Complete Works.” “The Barn really tries to give audiences a variety of shows from which to choose to provide a great theatrical experience.”

All the characters in “Greater Tuna” are unique, and the show relies heavily on the talent and hard work of the two actors to create hilarious and specific characters.

“The magic of the theater lies in the changes from one character to the next to propel the action with a dedication to the script, while still being able to improvise — a lot,” Johnson said.

Johnson said he is amazed by the tech and design of this show, as well as being proud of the actors.

“We couldn’t have done it without their creativity and attention to detail,” he said. “With their talent, comedic timing and sense of play with improvisation, the audience will have a wonderful night in the theater.”

“The preparation for a show like this is just like the show itself — a whirlwind of fun,” Andrew Saxe said.

Tuna, Texas, could be any town in the United States. The characters can be lovable and laughable, but also at times inappropriate, offensive and wrong.

“The playwrights and the Barn do not condone their behavior or opinions, but rather shine a light on their existence and enjoy them, laugh at them and shake our heads at them — good and bad,” Johnson said. “Good comedies are often a critique of society. The citizens of Tuna, Texas, are people trying to make us understand their hopes, dreams, prayers, complaints and problems.”

“I look forward to having the audience laugh with and at these ridiculous characters,” Andrew Saxe said. “I hope they leave giggling and annoying their loved ones with Texan accents.”

IF YOU GO

  • What: Nittany Theatre at the Barn’s “Greater Tuna”
  • When: through June 10
  • Where: Nittany Theatre at the Barn, Boalsburg Estate Drive, Boalsburg
  • Info: 321-2799, nittanytheatre.org
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