If "The Nutcracker" is too creepy (all those mice) or "A Christmas Carol" is too depressing (Tiny Tim dies at the end, you know), you might try "A Tuna Christmas," now being presented by Oklahoma City Repertory Theatre at the Civic Center's CitySpace theater. You may rest assured that "A Tuna Christmas" is neither creepy nor depressing.
"A Tuna Christmas" is the second of the "Tuna" plays by Jaston Williams, Joe Sears and Ed Howard. As is "Greater Tuna," its predecessor, "A Tuna Christmas" is set in Tuna, the third-smallest town in Texas. Ah, Tuna, Texas, where Smut Snatchers of the New Order ("Censorship is as American as apple pie") are promoting a book titled "Cleaned-Up Deuteronomy," the football boosters are known as the Drop Back and Punt Club, and a local redneck comes on radio station OKKK to announce the town's Christmas-party theme: "The Whitest Christmas Ever."
"A Tuna Christmas" is a two-hander, and Donald Jordan and Jonathan Beck Reed play more than 20 characters, and some of them are real characters, most of whom are reprised from "Greater Tuna." Radio hosts Thurston Wheelis and Arles Struvie, Didi Snavely, Aunt Pearl Burras, Vera Carp, the Bumiller family, plus a couple of waitresses named Inita Goodwin and Helen Bedd are here, among others.
Jordan is a fine actor and general man-of-the-theater, but in this production, Reed sucks the air out of the room, but not out of the show. The way Reed contorts his body, including his face, to portray different characters, it is hard to believe that he is not four or five different actors.
He plays the surly reform-school graduate, who is also a Texas Taxidermy Tech alumnus; the angst-ridden teenage girl; the gum-chewing, beehive-coiffed greasy-spoon waitress; the overbearing town busybody; the sweethearted old coot who co-hosts a program on OKKK; the youthful collector of stray animals whose sweet rendition of the Christmas story in a brief scene emphasizes the peace-on-Earth part of the legend, and others.
The "Tuna" scripts are uneven, partly because they lack strong plots. "Greater Tuna" is a glorified party skit, and "A Tuna Christmas" is only slightly more developed. Thus, the "Tuna" plays consist mainly of brief comedic scenes and character studies.
"A Tuna Christmas" has three or four subplots running through it: Will the Tuna theater production of "A Christmas Carol," directed by the worldly Joe Bob Lipsey ("I've been to Waco!"), who hasn't had so many problems with a show since his all-white production of "A Raisin in the Sun," go dark because of an unpaid light bill? Who is the prankster known as the Christmas Phantom, and where will he strike next? Will Bertha Bumiller have the nice family Christmas that she longs for?
The close quarters of CitySpace theater puts pressure on the actors to make the characters richly detailed and distinctive. The results in the City Rep production, which is directed by Michael Jones, are mixed. The theater does, however, give the audience a close-up view of Jane Childs' richly detailed costumes.