March 9 2016 01:12 PM

‘Red White and Tuna’ riffs on small town attitudes

This is one tuna that has a sweet smell: the smell of success. Starlight Dinner Theatre’s production of “Red, White and Tuna” will keep open-minded audiences laughing from start to, well, fin-ish.

(There are plenty more fish puns where that came from, but don’t abandon ship. It’s all in good fun.)

Michael Hays and James Houska reeled in Saturday night’s small crowd with sarcastic and witty dialogue. The play takes place in the fictional town of Tuna, Texas, which is apparently populated by loony — and, at best, weird — townsfolk. The entire impolite population is portrayed precisely, professionally, and preposterously by the pair of Hays and Houska.

The actors switch between multiple roles over the course of the two-hour play. With continual — and mostly seamless — costume changes, Hays transforms into characters like Amber Windchime, a flower child who remained a ditzy hippie; Vera Carp, the town snob; and the hilarious gun dealer Didi Snavely. “If we can’t kill it, it’s immortal,” Didi proclaims. Hays also manages male roles like animal rights activist Petey Fisk and the laughable Garland Poteet, a soda dispenser with an affection for tequila.

Houska jumps into roles like the Rev. Sturgis Spikes, an evangelical fresh out of jail; Bertha Bumiller, a no-nonsense and sometimes nonsensical bride-to-be; and R.R. Snavely, an alleged UFO captive who, shall I say, was affected by his experience. Houska probably earned the most laughs as Joe Bob Lipsey, a Fifth of July parade “queen” who added a new meaning to the term.

Does that means if neither performer earns a best actor Pulsar nomination, they could angle for a best supporting actor prize? If so, the duo would get maybe 20 chances. That’s 10 opportunities (oppor-tuna-ties?) for each.

As entertaining as the events that unfolded on stage were, the scene behind the curtain folds had to be another show worth watching. Somehow, the show’s team of costume dressers — Susan Chmurynsky, Susan DeRosa, Sarah Hauck, Fran Ludington, Elizabeth Todd and Jan Ross — managed to re-dress the actors on the fly, sometimes switching outfits during pauses no longer than a brief monologue or a verse of a song. Surely their frenzied tasks would have been a treat to see.

The minimalistic set wasn’t much to look at, though it did have some nostalgic furniture and fixtures. We were forced to use our imagination to believe chairs were also car seats or a bed. Spot-on audio cues and sound effects were appreciated embellishments.

The play, written by Jaston Williams, Joe Sears, and Ed Howard, debuted in 1998. Skillful ringmaster/director Bob Robinson surely added a few updates. Some of the its original references — such as a “Free White Texas” group, the OKKK radio station, Bertha’s dislike of Jehovah Witnesses because she “can’t stand a Christian who doesn’t like war,” and Vera calling all her (illegal) Hispanic workers, “Lupe” — might not be as land as well in today’s political climate.

“Red, White and Tuna’s” intent is to make fun of the small-mindedness associated with small towns, especially in the South. The jokes are all on bigots, homophobes, religious fanatics and people who degrade women. Those who revere the state, worship guns and God equally or think we really need “Smut Snatchers” won’t find it very funny. Those who sing a different tune (or a different tune-a) will likely enjoy “Red, White and Tuna.”

“Red, White and Tuna”

Starlight Dinner Theatre 7:30 p.m. Friday, March 11 and Saturday, March 12 (dinner at 6:30 p.m.) 2 p.m. Sunday, March 13 (dessert at 1:30 p.m.) Dinner and show: $36/$33 seniors and students/$20 children Show only: $15/$14 seniors and students/$13 children Sunday matinee with dessert: $20 Sunday matinee only: $15/$14 seniors and students/$13 children Waverly Intermediate School 3131 W. Michigan Ave., Lansing (517) 599-2779,

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