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Hilarious holiday fun

CADDIE NATH
summit daily news

There’s really nothing like Christmas in a small town. Old ladies censoring words like “virgin” in the local rendition of “A Christmas Carol,” children rescuing pregnant cats, live sheep in the neighbor’s holiday yard display …

Luckily for Summit County, that traditional small-town Christmas, with all the crazy trimmings, is no further away than the Backstage Theatre, where funny men Christopher Willard and Seth Maisel bring to life a hilarious cast of characters in “A Tuna Christmas.”

The show, playing today through Dec. 30, follows lives of the wacky citizens of Tuna, Texas, during the most wonderful time of the year. The Yuletide drama unfolds in the days leading up to Christmas as the local theater’s unpaid electric bill threatens the upcoming Christmas play, residents adorn their houses in holiday splendor hoping to win the annual “OKKK” yard display competition and a mysterious Christmas phantom torments the townsfolk.



Meanwhile Bertha Bumiller tries to cope with her wayward son and husband, Aunt Pearl squares off with a big-mouthed blue jay and Helen and Inita, local waitresses, juggle a host of odd customers and an impatient employer.

Willard and Maisel both deliver uproarious performances as they split the roles of the 24 unique and eccentric residents of Tuna, Texas. With near-perfect synchronicity, they toss the show back and forth to one another, one minute sharing the stage, the next working it alone as the other goes through yet another mid-scene costume change and character transformation.



Maisel shines as the frazzled Bertha Bumiller, mother of three insane children (all played by Willard and all appearing in the same scene) who wants nothing more than a Christmas photo of her family. He holds nothing back as he calmly informs the character’s dramatic teenage daughter with a soft Southern twang that she will not commit suicide because, “Baptists don’t kill themselves.”

Willard’s best performance might be his brief but unforgettable appearance as Vera, the impossibly high-strung neighbor. But he dives into all of his roles without hesitation, adjusting his style and slow Texas drawl to suit each of his many roles.

In a show that places its comedic success almost entirely in the hands of the actors’ performance, Willard and Maisel handle the challenge of multiple roles and fast-paced scenes with finesse. They deliver unfailing on-stage chemistry and execute character transitions with so much skill it’s easy to forget there are only two of them.

Both actors are “A Tuna Christmas” veterans, having done the show at other venues in previous years.

“It’s like old home week coming back and revisiting these characters,” Willard said. “It’s wonderful for actors to come back to a piece they’ve done before because they can find different ways inside of it.”

The Backstage Theatre is auctioning special “backstage passes” that will allow winners to spend a show watching the bedlam behind the scenes.

Performances of “A Tuna Christmas” will be held weekend evenings through December with Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday evening performances the week after Christmas. The show will take a mid-December break while “A Rocky Mountain Holiday” runs at the Backstage Theatre Dec. 17-23.

“A Tuna Christmas” opens today at 7:30 p.m. with a special “Champagne Evening” to follow Saturday night featuring pre-show drinks and Texas-themed appetizers from Harvest Catering. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. with the show beginning at 7:30 p.m.


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