Tuna, Texas, came to life in 1982 in “Greater Tuna,” where writer/actors Jaston Williams and Joe Sears performed 17 characters with more than 140 costume changes to lance the Moral Majority. In the sequel, “A Tuna Christmas,” biting satire has dissolved to make way for character study — a kind of southern “Prairie Home Companion.” Although the plot is minimal, and some scenes too long , Williams and Sears still enthrall with their fluid portrayals.
As in “Greater Tuna,” one is introduced to the population of Tuna through the banter of radio personalities Thurston Wheelis (Sears) and Arles Struvie (Williams) at station OKKK.
The two actors then go on to play another 10 eccentric characters each, often acerbic women. Foremost in many of their minds is a prankster, dubbed “The Phantom,” who is playing with the town’s icons of Christmas, such as putting boxer shorts on nativity scene statues. The Phantom’s identity is the question that drives the play.
No great thinking goes on in the grassy, mesa-sided valley so well displayed in Loren Sherman’s set design, but the reactions of the townspeople reveal the spikes most Americans encounter in everyday living: The way a parent and her teenager can bite at each other, for instance, or the way waitresses cope with impatient customers.
Humor abounds. Vera Capp heads up a smut-snatchers group that’s desperately trying to find fault with a community theater production of Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol.” Vera feels “censorship is as American as apple pie.”
The land is rife with put-downs. One character describes another as someone who “screams like white trash at a tent meeting.” On another person: “I’ve seen better hair on anchovies.” Not everyone will find these people endearing.
Director Ed Howard, who also co-authored the script, elicits from his cast an array of revealing details. While Howard keeps the pace moving most of the time, many scenes run too long. The 1 1/2-hour first act can use trimming.
Sears and Williams are the play. They capture the town’s diverse personalities as vividly as Anna Deavere Smith did for L.A. in her recent docu-theater show “Twilight” at the Mark Taper Forum. Unlike “Twilight,” however , there is little to ponder.
The costumes by Linda Fisher wonderfully capture the fashions of America between its shores. The many costume changes, often within seconds out of sight, add to the spectacle.