by Chris Haberman
Spend a laugh-filled evening at the Ice House Theatre in Visalia enjoying the Visalia Community Players’ current production of the uproarious comedy, Greater Tuna, which runs for through this weekend.
Greater Tuna is the hilarious comedy about Texas’ third smallest town, where the Lion’s Club is too liberal and the Klan is alive and well. The zany and varied citizens of Greater Tuna are portrayed by only two performers, making this satire on life in rural America even more delightful as they depict all of the inhabitants of Tuna – men, women, children and animals. The play weaves the lives of these diverse characters into a unified story of love, hate, prejudice, patriotism, animal rights, aliens, censorship, and crimes – petty and felonious. Along with shining wit and humor, I was also surprised to find moments of darkness and pathos.
The Visalia Players production stars J.J. Pestano and Mike Hamilton. Between them, they play 21 characters – including local radio hosts, the town’s pastor, a number of housewives, the Sheriff, a hooligan, school kids, the town drunk, a used weapons dealer, and many more.
Part of the fun of the show is how different the two actors are. J.J. Pestano is young and diminutive in stature and the middle-aged Mike Hamilton towers over him. Great credit goes to the show’s director, Jack Patino, who selected this odd couple to play these roles.
Part of the genius of Patino’s production is his use of minimal sets and props, which further highlights the performances of the actors and their costumes. The actors change characters and costumes quickly, effectively, and often throughout the two-act show. It is incredible how they keep all the accents and voices coupled with the correct role.
As talented as these actors are, they can’t pull off their non-stop costume changes without the assistance of a crew of five costume wranglers, working non-stop behind the scenes to transform them again and again. Whether they are changing from cowboy to schoolgirl or Klansman to stay-at-home mom, the wranglers pull off the costume changes without a hitch. The wranglers all take well-deserved bows along with the actors at the conclusion of each performance.
Few shows have sustained the longevity and popularity that Greater Tuna has enjoyed over the years. The show began as a simple party skit based on a political cartoon in the early 1980’s in Austin, Texas. Talented creators Joe Sears, Jaston Williams, and Ed Howard were the imaginative authors that transformed the skit into a critically acclaimed theater production which has entertained audiences across the country ever since. By 1985, Greater Tuna was the most produced play in the United States with schools, colleges, community and professional theatres, all anxious to add the hit comedy to their repertoire. The popularity of Greater Tuna has even extended to the most distinguished home in the country, with Command Performances at the White House upon the invitation of President George H. W. and Mrs. Bush in 1990 and again in 1991.
J.J. Pestano is currently a student at the College of Sequoias, where he has performed in many of their musical productions. As demonstrated in this play, he is wildly talented and has amazing depth for one so young. He will be attending the American Musical and Dramatics Academy in Hollywood, where he will be studying for a BFA in Musical Theater. You can see him now and say, I remember him when…
Mike Hamilton is a veteran actor and a graduate of the Fresno State theater program. You may be familiar with Mike’s work, as he has performed in 45 plays in the past 10 years, and he has performed on TV and in movies, as well. Mike brings this vast experience to bear in the 10 roles he plays in Greater Tuna.
So load up the family and head south to Visalia for an evening of raucous fun at Texas’ third smallest town.
7:30 pm: 9/24, 25
2:00 pm: 9/26
Ice House Theatre, 410 E. Race Avenue (at Santa Fe Street), Visalia
Tickets: $12 adults, $6 students
Group Rates available