Theater Review: Greater Tuna at SART

Brian Mercer and Joel P. Rogers star as an entire Texas town in Greater Tuna. Photo courtesy of SART

Making due without a permanent home at the moment, Southern Appalachian Repertory Theatre has crafted a shorter, leaner season. The new building on the campus of Mars Hill University that will house the school’s theater department, as well as provide space for future summer programming of the venerable professional theater company, is nearing completion. SART’s current base is the intimate Spainhour Recital Hall in Moore Auditorium. It is more of a blackbox theater, which is well suited for the first show of SART’s 42nd season.

The company kick things off with the comedy Greater Tuna, a theater staple since the 1980s. It has inspired numerous sequels, including Tuna Christmas and Red, White and Tuna, giving us many of the same characters in holiday settings.

The show is a tour de force for two actors, who assume the identities of the population of Tuna, Texas. It is a small town with the kind of colorful characters who would feel right at home at a Donald Trump rally. The script is filled with deep, cutting satire about the simple folks of Tuna, as filtered through the airwaves of WOKKK, where two local radio hosts share news of book and record burnings with a solemn, straight-faced, Southern religious pride that is as funny as it is scary. They weave narratives of locals — including a recently deceased judge found in a woman’s bathing suit, local Humane society stalwart Petey Fisk and his hordes of animals, the highly dysfunctional Bumiller family, and a host of others.

Joel P. Rogers and Brian Mercer handle all of those roles. They are aided by an able backstage crew that helps them quick-change from one role to another. Often the changes take place in a matter of seconds. The two come across as a bit of a Laurel and Hardy duo, comically playing off of each other and the distinct differences in their physical sizes. Rogers has a nice, easy manner and a smooth, slow-burn reaction when called for on stage. He’s also great as Pearl Burrus, the sweet little old lady who serves her homemade “bitter pills” to local dogs.

Mercer, with his slighter physical presence, is wiry and more frenetic in most of his roles. Still, he is able to smoothly transition into radio host Arliss Struvie and casually re-enter with coffee cup in hand. He also plays aforementioned animal rights lover Petey and reform school graduate Stanley Bumiller. Rogers shines as mother Bertha Bumiller and her lay-about husband, Hank.

The show, for all of its fast-paced laughs and visual gags of two men in women’s clothes, also has a lot of heart. The characters, despite their questionable acts and view points, are not wholly unredeemable. By the end of the two hours, the audience has gotten to know them and come to care for them, even if they don’t agree with them.

WHAT: Greater Tuna
WHERE: Spainhour Recital Hall, Moore Auditorium, Mars Hill University,
WHEN: Through Sunday, July 10, at 7:30 nightly and Sunday at 2 p.m. $25


Thanks for reading through to the end…

We share your inclination to get the whole story. For the past 25 years, Xpress has been committed to in-depth, balanced reporting about the greater Asheville area. We want everyone to have access to our stories. That’s a big part of why we've never charged for the paper or put up a paywall.

We’re pretty sure that you know journalism faces big challenges these days. Advertising no longer pays the whole cost. Media outlets around the country are asking their readers to chip in. Xpress needs help, too. We hope you’ll consider signing up to be a member of Xpress. For as little as $5 a month — the cost of a craft beer or kombucha — you can help keep local journalism strong. It only takes a moment.

About Jeff Messer
playwright, actor, director and producer, Jeff Messer has been most recently known as a popular radio talk show host. He has been a part of the WNC theatre scene for over 25 years, and actively works with and supports most of the theatres throughout the region. Follow me @jeffdouglasmess

Before you comment

The comments section is here to provide a platform for civil dialogue on the issues we face together as a local community. Xpress is committed to offering this platform for all voices, but when the tone of the discussion gets nasty or strays off topic, we believe many people choose not to participate. Xpress editors are determined to moderate comments to ensure a constructive interchange is maintained. All comments judged not to be in keeping with the spirit of civil discourse will be removed and repeat violators will be banned. See here for our terms of service. Thank you for being part of this effort to promote respectful discussion.

One thought on “Theater Review: Greater Tuna at SART

  1. Marc Macaulay

    Took my family to see the show this week. We had a smile on our faces the whole time. This farce is fun with great comedic timing. Thanks SART.

Leave a Reply

To leave a reply you may Login with your Mountain Xpress account, connect socially or enter your name and e-mail. Your e-mail address will not be published. All fields are required.