By Erin Crowell
Greater Tuna, the most-produced play around the country in 1985 about the third smallest town in Texas, boasts 20 character roles portrayed by just two actors and its coming to Northern Michigan July 30-Aug. 1 at the Historic Elk Rapids Town Hall.
No, the play is not under budget.
Playing 10 roles apiece in a 90-minute span is all part of the fun for actors Joe Kilpatrick and Patrick Feak of Traverse City. With characters ranging from a dog-poisoning woman to a 10-year-old kid, the play about a town called Tuna and its colorful citizens keeps these two actorsas well as the audienceon their toes.
A TOWN CALLED TUNA
Presented by Theatre North TC, under the direction of Denni Don Hunting, the play starts out with radio hosts Arles Struvie (played by Feak) and Thurston Wheelis (played by Kilpatrick) of Radio Station OKKK, rambling out the days morning report. With just a table and two chairs as propsand some well-executed West Texas accentsthe newscast includes all the important tidbits such as the winner of the Tuna Junior High American Heritage Essay Contest the winner? Connie Carp with her essay Human Riots, Why Bother? with second place going to Jimbo Beaumont and his essay, Living with Radiation.
The most important piece of news comes in about the announcement of the death of Tunas former county judge, Rosco Buckner. From there, and throughout the play, we discover small-town rivalry, gossip, bigotry and xenophobia and, of course, some pretty oddball characters.
So, what is it like to play 10 very eccentric roles in one play?
Its an actors dream to do 10 different characters; and these are such great, typical bo-hunk characters, says Kilpatrick. If not for the dressers backstage, this play couldnt be done. Weve got less than one minute to get backstage where they literally grab us, change our costume and remind us which character were going back out there as.
Kilpatrick got into theater while attending high school in Traverse City before moving on to New York University, where he studied it at the Tish School of the Arts, Experimental Theatre Wing. He currently serves on the artistic committee at the Old Town Playhouse in Traverse City.
The most challenging part about this play is you never have any downtime, says Feak. Youre putting on another face and changing into a whole new person every time.
The two actors have previous experience performing together, which include time on Old Town and Theatre North productions.
Out of all his characters, Feak says his favorite is Didi Snavely.
Shes the washed up, knarly hair, raspy voiced, old woman who everybody just loves. Shes just a mean-old crotchety lady.
Kilpatrick also prefers one of his female roles Aunt Pearl Burras, who has a proclivity for poisoning the neighbors dogs making things out of strychnine, as he explains.
Its a blast to play these whacked-out characters, especially the women, he adds. Can you imagine a 6-foot-4-inch man playing a woman?
While two actors playing multiple roles sounds challenging, Greater Tuna has simpler elements to its production, including a minimal set.
Its mostly pantomime, says Kilpatrick. We have no paper when were reading the news. Were looking down at a table as if its the judges coffin.
The only major set pieces and props include a table, a couple chairs, a radio, meat cleaver and flask for the town drunk.
The audience has a well-enough understanding of what the (invisible) objects are, he adds.
Greater Tuna has drawn audiences from a wide range of ages and demographics.
The playwritten in 1981 by Jaston Williams, Joe Sears and Ed Howardwas born from a political cartoon, and soon gained momentum, with performances across the coasts and at the White House in 1990 and 1991.
Ive known kids in their 20s and folks in their 60s who love this play, says Kilpatrick.
Theres always something going on, adds Feak.
The success of Greater Tuna led to sequels A Tuna Christmas, Red, White and Tuna and Tuna Does Vegas.
Theatre North plans on performing A Tuna Christmas sometime this December.
For this weekends performance, audiences can expect plenty of non-stop laughs, says the two actors.
Its fun watching the audience laugh at a chracter and then seem to stop and think, like, I would have done something like that. Then they start laughing at themselves, says Kilpatrick.
Greater Tuna is presented by Theatre North TC, at the Historic Elk Rapids Town Hall, July 30 & 31; and August 1, at 8 p.m. Tickets are $10 and are available at TREATickets.com or by calling 800-836-0717.