Comedy ‘A Tuna Christmas’ takes stage at Fletcher Theatre-in-the-Round


Dylan Olive
The Southern Editor

Salvatore Ambrosino | The Southern Newspaper Lucas Miller and Reagan Branch portray radio hosts at the beginning of the play. | Photo by Jacob Little.

The theatre department closed its second production of the year last weekend with the satire comedy “A Tuna Christmas” in Frank Lloyd Wright Theatre-in-the-Round.

Set 25 years ago in the fictional town of Tuna, Texas, the play follows the community’s annual Christmas Yard Display Contest, where a “Christmas Phantom” is vandalizing displays and instilling fear in the contestants. 

Amidst the Christmas chaos are various subplots: Stanley Bumiller hopes to get off probation, Bertha Bumiller wants a normal holiday with her family and Joe Bob Lipsey fights to keep the lights on his production of “A Christmas Carol.”

Directed by theatre professor Mary T. Albright, the script was written by Jaston Williams, Joe Sears and Ed Howard. The characters and facts of the play are fictional, but the social and environmental reality produced through the characters and their dialogue is real.

“Nobody in this story, thank God, is based upon an actual person in the real world,” Albright said. “But I can tell you this; as my journey through today’s political quagmire has progressed, I came to realize that, by comparison with the reality, this story is as tame as a holiday postcard.”

As an ensemble show, the cast includes three main featured cast members: junior Hannah Atkinson, junior Reagan Branch and sophomore Lucas Miller. Senior Roman Ricardo, sophomore Andrew Lastra, sophomore Katrina Fink and sophomore Taylor Reynolds played more small-scale roles in the show.

“We all play multiple roles in the show so it’s been difficult trying to find the character traits that make the characters different,” Branch said. “It’s also the most lines I’ve ever learned for a show, so I’ve had to do a lot of outside work to get them memorized.” 

The roles that Branch plays include Arlene Struvie, Didi Snavley and Inita Goodwin. Atkinson plays the roles of Bertha Bumiller and Helen Bedd, and Miller plays a whopping 9 roles out of the show’s 25: Thurston Wheelis, Leonard Childers, Charlene Bumiller, Jody Bumiller, Stanley Bumiller, Vera Carp, Sheriff Givens, Ike Thompson and Garland Poteet.

“They’re all fairly similar, but there are certain things that stand out that helped me create the different characters so the audience didn’t get confused, ” Miller said. “I had to come up with three very different voices, body movements and quirks, and it has definitely helped me grow as an actor.”

In the show’s four-day run, the performance included lighthearted comedy and put the audience in a state of holiday spirit. It includes comedic violence, sexual content, prop guns and political incorrectness, yet the cast was able to properly deliver the jokes and commit to their characters’ intentions without crossing boundaries. 

Second-stage shows (main stage shows are in Loca Lee Buckner Theatre) tend to be “a lot more risky” according to Branch, which is why there was a significant trigger warning section in the front of the playbill. The rehearsal process for the play was more rigorous as well: the cast blocked the entire show in three days and were doing full runs of the show by the end of week one.

“The audience helped us get the energy that we were lacking in rehearsals, and they were super responsive and laughing at things that we in the cast had almost been jaded to because we’ve been with this show for the last month or so,” Miller said.

Performed in a smaller atmosphere, the audience was more engaged as the actors utilized the majority of the space around them. The theater made it more intimate and invited the audience to laugh and participate – the audience all sang “Jingle Bells” in the middle of the show after Branch prompted the audience to sing along. 

On the technical side, sophomore Kimberly Loomis took on the role of stage manager and Ricardo served as the lighting and sound designer. Junior August Hartlieb was the scenic designer and props master; sophomores Lastra and Fink were the costume designers. 

The last show of the semester is the musical comedy “The Addams Family,” debuting in Loca Lee Buckner Theatre next weekend.