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REVIEW: ACT comedy delivers some Christmas magic

By Julie Brookbank

ACT Reviewer

I was very excited to pull on my snow boots, zip up my parka, and brave the below-zero temperatures last weekend to attend Mitchell Area Community Theatre’s seasonal production of “A Tuna Christmas.” Where else would I find such holiday joy in one tidy package, containing some of my favorite things: radio, comedy and Christmas.

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“A Tuna Christmas” is the sequel to “Greater Tuna,” the non-holiday precursor. The amazing BROOKBANK thing about the Tuna series is that the entire shows are performed by two actors, in this case, brothers Levi and Noah Arens. The two depict most of the population of Tuna, the “third-smallest town in Texas” using a series of fast costume changes, vocal inflections and supporting stagecraft. Levi superbly plays Thurston Wheelis, the OKKK radio announcer and 10 other characters, both male and female. Noah shines as Arles Struvie, Thurston’s broadcasting partner and a host of other townies, including a set of twins, Charlene and Stanley Bumiller.

The plot revolves around the secret sabotage of various lawn displays by someone known only as the Christmas Phantom. Elsewhere, the “Smut Snatchers” are trying to have “Silent Night” banned on the ground that decent people don’t sing about “round, young virgins.” And if the electric company makes good on its promise to shut off the power, the Tuna Little Theater’s production of “A Christmas Carol” will close before it opens.

The magic of this show is in the acting. There are some poignant scenes, like the one with single mother Bertha Bumiller remembering Christmases past. Then there are some laugh-out-loud moments, like Didi Snavely’s used weapons store (motto: “If we can’t kill it, it’s immortal!”) or sight gags like the vertically challenged Farley Burkhalter and his even shorter wife, Phoebe. What indeed amazed me most was that by time the performance ended, I was waiting for all the characters to come out for the curtain call. Both actors do such a fine job that you forget you are watching a cast of only two.

Director Devin Carey has performed a type of Christmas miracle with some of the special effects: the string of lights on the radio station’s Christmas tree that occasionally shorts out and sparks; the scene changes in which mechanically delivered Christmas trees appear; and what I believe is most likely ACT’s first ever on-stage alien abduction. The set consisting of a backdrop shaped like the state of Texas and some tables and chairs, serves the action well.

Except for a couple of sound cue glitches, the audio was very well done, including some wonderful selections of cowboy Christmas music. A crew of 10 is credited with backstage, lighting and sound technical work and most were on hand for Saturday night’s curtain call. Special mention to Ruth Sejnoha and crew for the outstanding wigs and costumes.

As holiday shows go, it may not be the warmest and fuzziest or the glitziest and showy-est, but it’s a first-rate night of terrific sketch comedy that will make you laugh and appreciate life in a small town at Christmastime.

The show by Area Community Theatre has performances at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday and at 2 p.m. Sunday at the Pepsi-Cola Theatre. Tickets are on sale at the theater, or more information is available at 996-9137 or