The first entry, “Greater Tuna,” set in the Tuna, Texas, was a hilarious satire of small town folks that skewered stereotypical Southern attitudes. The play was constructed to be performed by a cast of two, and Williamston just so happened to have a pair of skilled actors up to the challenge: Aral Gribble and Wayne David Parker. They skillfully, brilliantly created distinctive personalities for multiple characters and had the ability to instantly morph from one to the next.
The joy of experiencing those transformations was diminished slightly in the second installment, “Red, White and Tuna,” which was a pretty good script, but spent more time on scatological humor.
With “Tuna Does Vegas,” however, playwrights Jaston Williams, Joe Sears and Ed Howard lost their edge. The plot meanders and the social commentary is all but gone, along with many of the best characters from the original play. Most of the first act is a labored contrivance to get a handful of Tunans to Las Vegas. Once there, they just complain and want to go home.
The writers missed great comedic opportunities by not bringing characters such as the Reverend Spikes or juvenile delinquent Stanley Burmiller. Instead, the play is populated by many second-string characters. The most effective character, and Parker’s best performance, is gay community theater director Joe Bob Lipsey, who blossoms in Vegas.
It is still a pleasure to watch Gribble and Parker flit between characters with speed and grace. They obviously have fun performing together, and their best moments come during wardrobe malfunctions. Here they get to improvise and draw the audience into the joke with a wink and a nod. Too bad the script doesn’t live up to this cast’s abilities; Gribble and Parker deserve better closure for this series.
While the cast remains the same, the sets have changed with each “Tuna” show. This final one, designed by Bartley H. Bauer, is simple but slick. Its clean, functional design is complemented by Genesis Garza’s outstanding lighting design. Garza’s crowning achievement involves dynamic mood lighting in a trashy hotel room.
Sometimes what happens in Vegas should stay in Vegas for a good reason: because it doesn’t make a good story. As with real Vegas entertainment, “Tuna Does Vegas” is slick showmanship with little depth.