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Review: 'Tuna Does Vegas' at La Mirada Theatre

April 23, 2009 | 12:25 pm

Tuna Does Vegas With a bang, a twang and a bugle bead, the third-smallest town in Texas descends on Sin City in "Tuna Does Vegas." Neither berg may ever recover, not to mention the audience. Joe Sears, Jaston Williams and Ed Howard's fourth and final foray into Lone Star State eccentricity enjoys a sidesplitting Southern California premiere at La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts.

It's been a decade since "Red, White and Tuna" joined "Greater Tuna" and "A Tuna Christmas" in a trilogy of lovingly ruthless hole-in-the-wall portraits. The wait was worth it -- "Vegas" ends the cycle in winning, hilariously warped manner.

We start, as ever, at radio station OKKK, where Thurston Wheelis and Arles Struvie report on area happenings. The Smut Snatchers of the New Order have run out of burnable books and excisable words.  Musical theater maven Joe Bob Lipsey hunger strikes via the Rush Limbaugh Diet. Humane Society activist Petey Fisk nasally decries the declawing of cats.

Business as usual, until Arles notes that he and wife Bertha Bumiller will renew their vows on Valentine's Day in Las Vegas. This news spreads quicker than acid reflux at the Tasty Kreme, as the citizenry horns in. Act 1 closes with most of Tuna reconnoitering at the Hula Chateaux. Aficionados who think they know what Act 2 holds have another think coming.

Co-author Howard again directs with an effortless touch and just enough craft to suspend disbelief and lower defenses. His colleagues Sears and Williams remain national treasures, switching personas to create an entire crossbred community with virtuoso ease. Favorites will vary, though the antipathy between Sears' superstitious Aunt Pearl and Williams' sanctimonious Vera Carp continues priceless. Tasty Kreme stalwarts Inita Goodwin and Helen Bedd figure in most rewardingly, ditto gun-toting, chain-smoking Didi Snavely. New entities such as turban-wearing hotelier Anna Conda, played by Williams with equal parts Carol Channing and flugelhorn, or Sears' incongruous casino thug Shot, uphold the riotous standard.

Set designer Christopher McCollum's unfussy centerpiece serves as everything from the Struvie/Bumiller living room to the Chateaux elevator. David Nancarrow's lighting and Ken Huncovsky's sound merge simplicity with surprise. Invaluable costume designer Linda Fisher nails each character detail, whether Bertha's penchant for pink-and-chartreuse polyester or Vera's for cat glasses and white shoes. Indeed, the wardrobe sight gags -- ever-pregnant Charlene, Inita and Helen's showgirl get-ups, a double helping of Elvis -- are easily worth admission

For all its episodic, satiric structure, Sears, Williams and Howard's script has point and heart, with some wonderful full-circle ironies. A bathing suit proved critical to "Greater Tuna," and swimwear deliciously closes out the saga. What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas; what happens when Tuna hits the slots may lodge delightfully in your head for a lifetime.

--David C. Nichols

"Tuna Does Vegas,"La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts, 14900 La Mirada Blvd., La Mirada. 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays through Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturdays, 2 and 7 p.m. Sundays.  Ends May 3. $40 to $48. (562) 944-9801 or (714) 994-6310. Running time: 2 hours, 5 minutes.

Caption: Joe Sears, left, and Jaston Williams in "Tuna Does Vegas." Credit: Brenda Ladd