‘Tuna Christmas’ at Playhouse Is Spirited Holiday Fun

By J.E.Ballantyne Jr.
YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – It is the Christmas season once again and there are a plethora of holiday shows from which to choose. If you are looking for a real laugh-filled evening and a show, a little off the traditional Christmas path, check out “A Tuna Christmas” at the Youngstown Playhouse.

Set in the fictional town of Tuna, Texas, this show is a laugh-a-minute roller coaster of irreverent humor. The audience is first introduced to two zany radio hosts on radio station OKKK, Arles Struvie and Thurston Wheelis, as they give their daily rundown on life in Tuna, Texas. Much of their news centers on the annual Christmas Yard Display Contest which is being disrupted by the “Christmas Phantom.”

This all-female cast of five delightful actresses portray all 15 looney characters in this hilarious send up of Southern life and attitudes. This is the second in a series of “Tuna” laughers. This particular production has been trimmed down a bit from the 2018 version but still includes the same cast from four years ago.

The aforementioned Struvie and Wheelis are played by Jeanine Rees and Molly Galano respectively. Both ladies get this riotous vehicle off to a roaring start with their backwoods southern drawls helping to accent the already great lines written by Ed Howard, Joe Sears, and Jaston Williams. They set up what is to come both situation and characterwise by painting a great picture of the wacky people we are about to meet.

Additional characters played by Rees are Farley Burkhalter and Phoebe Burkhalter. Rees is particularly effective as Farley, a dwarf, who is only visible from the nose up in a couple of quick in and out appearances at the Tasty-Creme Diner. Galano reappears as Aunt Pearl Burras. Galano’s Burras owns the stage as she consults with Didi Snavely on a method to rid her of pesky bluejays. Her subsequent scene while sniping at the birds with a slingshot and marbles is one to be remembered.

Joanna Andrei, always a ball of energy on stage, plays Snavely, the owner of a used weapons store. But as good as she is in this role she really shines in her other appearances. She plays all three Bumiller children – Jody, Charlene and Stanley. All three are very different characters and each has its own craziness to go along with them. What makes her portrayals even more intriguing are the quick changes from one character to the next. She pulls them all off with ease and her comedic timing is incredible. Her comfort in the roles is apparent as she slips in and out of each character like a magician producing a rabbit out of a hat.

Denise Sculli seems to be known for playing outlandish characters and she has plenty to work with here. Her Petey Fisk is perhaps the most fun one to watch. As Fisk, employed by The Greater Tuna Humane Society, she does great work while warning people not to buy exotic pets for Christmas. After all is said and done, she ends up with them. Her delivery and characterization of Fisk is sheer hilarity.

As Vera Carp, who has won the Yard Display Contest for 14 straight years, Sculli hits all the right marks as the leader of the Smut-Snatchers of the New Order. But if physical humor is any gauge, Sculli steals the show with her portrayal of Dixie Deberry who controls the Tuna Electric Company. Sculli’s character and exaggerated limp sends the character over the top. This scene is played with Galano’s Pearl and it is two pros in action. Certainly one of the high points of the night.

Is anyone close to normal in this play? Not really, but Candace DiLullo plays two characters that might be just a shade less nutty than everybody else. As Bertha Bumiller, mother to Jody, Charlene, and Stanley, DiLullo presents a character that has more family problems than Carter has pills. Trying to hold her crazy family together gives Bertha plenty to bemoan about. But her acting is only part of it – the hair says the rest. In her other turn as Helen Bedd, a waitress at the Tasty-Creme Diner, DiLullo has a real turn about from the Bertha character. Younger and more energized than the older Bertha, DiLullo is the personification of a bouncy, air-headed teeny bopper.

Director Pat Foltz has put together an A-1 production of this silliness. The energy and versatility of the cast is off the charts. It stands toe-to-toe with the earlier production in 2018, which had the same cast. But this time familiarity with the material, from four years ago, has injected this production with an air of ease and comfort that elevates the comedic elements even more.

Set Design by Johnny Pecano couldn’t be more simple. But it lends itself to the proceedings and helps keep the focus on the characters. Props are few with everything being mimed by actors and it works extremely well. Their discipline in maintaining mimed objects was miraculous. The attention to detail was certainly present.

If you have seen enough of the traditional Christmas shows and want something different that will keep you laughing even after you leave the theater, catch “A Tuna Christmas” at the Youngstown Playhouse.
“A Tuna Christmas” will continue Dec. 10, 16, 17 at 7:30 p.m. and Dec. 11, 18 at 2:30 p.m.

Copyright 2023 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.