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Although you probably won’t read about it at all in the Raleigh, NC News & Observer or in time to see it in Durham’s Independent Weekly, Theatre in the Park’s current presentation, Greater Tuna, directed by Ira David Wood, III and starring J.K. Ferrell and Mike Raab, is a real stemwinder. TIP’s executive and artistic director whips up a scrumptious comic soufflé from this zany down-home comedy by Jaston Williams, Joe Sears, and Ed Howard; and last Friday the opening-night audience rewarded the onstage efforts of Messrs. Raab and Ferrell with an exuberant standing ovation.
With director David Wood expertly orchestrating the action on a splendid set by Stephen J. Larson, J.K. Ferrell and Mike Raab have a field day impersonating 20 highly eccentric residents of the third-smallest town in the Lone Star State; and the wacky wardrobe designed for Raab and Ferrell by Shawn Stewart-Larson only heightens the hilarity of the show.
Ferrell is a stitch as overalls-wearing local radio station OKKK disc jockey Thurston Wheelis; desperate housewife Bertha Bumiller, whose twins Stanley and Charlene fight like cats and dogs and whose youngest son Jody is a stray-dog magnet; menacing local KKK chapter head Elmer Watkins; town drunk and UFOlogist R.R. Snavely, who claims that Tuna is another Roswell, NM; and others. But J.K. Ferrell brings down the house with his pungent portrayal of Bertha Bumiller’s prickly elderly aunt, Pearl Burras, who accidentally poisons her husband’s beloved $2,000 birddog with one of the strychnine-laced “bitter pills” that she feeds to any stray dog unlucky enough to wander into her yard.
Mike Raab is hilarious as wisecracking OKKK disc jockey Arles Struvie; snooty Smut-Snatchers of the New Order vice president Vera Carp; surly reform-school graduate Stanley Bumiller; prissy Charlene Bumiller; sniveling Jody Bumiller; and others. But Raab has the TIP audience rolling in the aisles with his gritty portrait of chain-smoking, whiskey-voiced Didi’s Used Weapons owner Didi Snavely (her motto: “If we can’t kill it, it’s immortal”) and his simpering portrayal of Tuna’s resident tree-hugger and Greater Tuna Humane Society spokesman Petey Fisk.
The Southern-fried humor in Greater Tuna gives Mike Raab, who impishly impersonates Lynda Clark’s hoity-toity walk while performing some of his female roles, a wonderful opportunity to put on an acting clinic and, under the sure-handed direction of David Wood, they do just that. Ferrell, Raab, and Wood are amply aided in the process by scenic and lighting designer Steve Larson; his wife, costume designer Shawn Stewart-Larson; sound designer Will Mikes; and dressers Erin West and Shawn Rhodes, who have their hands full with the dozens of lightning-fast costume changes required as Ferrell and Raab go from character to character to character. Don’t miss Greater Tuna.
Theatre in the Park presents Greater Tuna Thursday-Friday, June 7-8, at 8 p.m.; Saturday, June 9, at 3 and 8 p.m.; and Sunday, June 10, at 3 p.m. in The Ira David Wood III Pullen Park Theatre, 107 Pullen Rd., Raleigh, North Carolina. $19 ($13 students and seniors 55+). 919/831-6058. Theatre in the Park: http://theatreinthepark.com/2006-07_productions/greater_tuna/tuna.htm] [inactive 2/08]. The Tuna Trilogy: http://greatertuna.com/ [inactive 2/08]. Greater Tuna: http://greatertuna.com/gt/greater.htm [inactive 2/08]. A Secret History of Tuna (by Robert Faires): http://www.austinchronicle.com/gyrobase/Issue/story?oid=oid%3A85513.