By chance or by design, a theme has emerged in local theater. The Spokane Civic Theater is currently celebrating and satirizing small-town Texas with a production of The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas. And just across the river, Interplayers is doing the same with Tuna Does Vegas.
Far from being unduly limiting, the words “small-town Texas” provide a goldmine of material. That three-word phrase seems to embody all the paradoxes of human nature we see in these two productions. Both Whorehouse and Tuna deal with the self-serving hypocrisy of the flamboyantly pious, the charm and absurdity of folk wisdom, in addition to the ties that alternately bind and uplift. Both, not surprisingly, use comedy as their vehicle.
And Tuna Does Vegas is awfully funny, indeed. William C. Marlowe directs Interplayers veterans Patrick Treadway and Michael Weaver (who play 24 parts between them) in a frenetic production teeming with over-the-top characters, sight gags, inside jokes, topical humor, one-liners, histrionically mimed props and men in drag with raspy falsettos.
That comedic cocktail won’t surprise those who’ve seen Interplayers stage any of the other plays in the popular Tuna franchise. The plot of Tuna Does Vegas, however, is less knotty than its counterparts.
In this, the fourth and most recent Tuna installment, local radio DJ Arles Struvie (Treadway) is taking his wife Bertha (Weaver) to Las Vegas to renew their wedding vows. The rest of Tuna, Texas — including but not limited to righteous Vera (Treadway), geriatric Aunt Pearl (Weaver), and naive Petey Fisk (Treadway) — gets wind of the trip and wants in, much to the couple’s chagrin.
The play itself isn’t without flaws. Some of the gags hinge on well worn, albeit mostly harmless, French, Chinese and rural stereotypes and there are more than a few times when the political jokes devolve into awkward squabbles.
The play also loses steam in the brief second act and sometimes fragments into sketch comedy. How badly? Consider that it takes the Struvies an entire act to finally leave Tuna for Vegas, and yet they vanish after the intermission until the final scene.
All the same, Weaver and Treadway have an impeccable dynamic and shine in their myriad roles. Even when the play spins off in a self-referential direction and involves Tastee Kreme waitresses Inita (Weaver) and Helen (Treadway) in a cross-dressing Sin City lounge act, the actors inhabit their characters so completely that they seem like women unwittingly cast as transvestites.
It’s performances like these that make the quirkiness of “small-town Texas” side-splittingly authentic – even to those of us who live more than a thousand miles and several cultures away from the Lonestar state.
Tuna Does Vegas • Jan. 19 to Feb 4. • Wed through Sat at 7:30 pm, Sat and Sun at 2:00 pm • Interplayers Theatre • 174 S. Howard • $24, $20 seniors/military, $15 students/groups of 15 • interplayers.com • 455-7529