By APRIL BOYLE
Take two Texan transplants, cast them as 20 off-the-wall characters living in the "third-smallest town in Texas," and what do you get? You get non-stop, Texas-size laughs.
Between the sub-zero temperatures and the rampant onset of flu, we could all use a little pick-me-up. Portland Stage's rendition of "Greater Tuna" is the perfect hot toddy to cure whatever ails you.
The ever-versatile Dustin Tucker and Tom Ford tackle their roles with a satirical gusto that can only truly be achieved by a pair of actors who know the beast from which the characters come. After, all, Texas is a world of its own.
All the characters in "Greater Tuna" are based on people playwrights Jaston Williams, Joe Sears and Ed Howard met throughout Texas. Tucker and Ford clearly encountered some of the same people while growing up in the Lone Star state.
Their outrageous characters were an endless source of laughter Friday. Both actors morphed into male and female characters of a variety of ages.
Just when it seemed they couldn't get any funnier, they did.
Bigots, gun fanatics, religious zealots hell-bent on censorship, a humane hippy, a clueless sherrif and a dysfunctional family with homicidal and dogicidal tendencies were just a few of the zany characters who appeared in the madcap, quick-change comedy.
"Greater Tuna" is a no-holds-barred societal commentary that lampoons not only the Texas culture, but also narrow-minded attitudes of small-town life in general.
The storyline centers around two radio talk-show hosts, Thurston Wheelis (Ford) and Arles Struvie (Tucker), who broadcast on OKKK radio.
Laughter flowed from the audience Friday as the two announced the latest Tuna news: Due to budgetary restrictions, the town's production of "My Fair Lady" would reuse the set from "South Pacific" and now be set in Polynesia. And the student essay contest winners were titled, "Human Rights, Why Bother?" "Living with Radiation" and "The Other Side of Bigotry."
A commercial spot from Didi Snavely (Tucker), owner of Didi's Used Weapons, touted the guarantee, "If Didi's weapons can't kill it, it's immortal."
The performance was packed with witty references and double-edged one-liners that Tucker and Ford maximized with pregnant pauses and laugh-inducing facial expressions.
A priceless look from Tucker's mild-mannered reporter, Chad Hartford, as he listened to housewife Bertha Bumiller (Ford in drag) pontificating on the evils of Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn "cavorting with a Negro convict and putting on women's clothes" sent laughter rippling through the audience.
Ford had the audience gasping for breath between laughs when his Rev. Spikes, president of the Smut-snatchers of the New Order, paused mid-cliche during his all-cliche eulogy for the town's hanging judge.
Tucker and Ford's timing was right on from start to finish, and the two played off each other beautifully. The characters in "Greater Tuna" are undeniably outrageous and irreverent, but Tucker and Ford manage to make them endearing to the audience, flushing out a little depth below their cartoon exteriors.
Tucker as a young boy (Jody Bumiller) addicted to puppies, and Ford as his mother, Bertha, are just two such winning, must-see performances in this spirit-raising gander at small-town life in bigger-than-life Texas.
April Boyle is a free-lance writer from Casco. She can be contacted at: