Interested in getting off campus for a unique theatre experience? Be sure to check out “Greater Tuna,” playing now until Sept. 29 at Conklin’s Barn II Dinner Theatre.
“Greater Tuna” is a satirical piece, telling the story of a day in the life of the residents of Tuna, the fictional “third smallest town in Texas.”
The show was originally performed in Austin, Texas in 1981 and eventually made its Broadway debut in 1982.
A special aspect of Tuna is the fact that it has twenty characters who are all played by two actors. The script states that the actors can be male or female, but two male actors typically perform the show. In this specific Bloomington production, these two men are Dan Challacombe and Patrick Gaik.
I was able to speak with Patrick — who is also the theatre’s marketing director — in order to get a better understanding of this production.
“It is a satirical piece so you do run into folks with antiquated ideas, but it is done tongue firmly in cheek.”
The gender-bending aspect of “Tuna” is certainly something that may spark the interest of students who regularly attend theatrical productions on the Illinois State campus. In the recent past, Caryl Churchill’s “Cloud 9” and Sarah Ruhl’s “Passion Play” have been staged in Westhoff Theatre and The Center for the Performing Arts, respectively.
In both productions, prominent male characters were played by women, and vice versa. It is interesting, then, to know that a theatre so nearby has been working with similar subject matter.
The gender-bending aspects in “Tuna” are put in place in order to comment on the fact that many people in a small town know one another and are very often involved in one another’s business.
Two men playing everybody in town suggests in a humorous way that people are living in close quarters, have a similar, set way of living, and understand a great deal about the people around them.
“The fun of the show is watching the two men scramble to switch back and forth between twenty different characters,” Gaik stated.
I also asked Gaik how it is that “Greater Tuna” was picked up for the season.
“The play is actually done quite a bit, but not as much up here”, the actor said. “I actually saw the play for the first time fourteen years ago in Texas with the original writers in the roles. I got to meet them and talk to them. I decided it was a play I had to be in, and it is one I have been hounding the artistic director to choose for years. This year was finally the right time to do it.”
Conklin’s Barn II Dinner Theatre is an important spot to take advantage of around the Bloomington-Normal area.
They offer something very unique, which is an old-fashioned sketch comedy show, a rarity in our often over-stimulating culture. The show is performed after members of the audience enjoy a prime rib buffet. It is comedy in the same vein as “The Carol Burnett Show,” according to Gaik, and something that you do not see very often anymore.
“Greater Tuna,” after its success on Broadway, inspired three spin-off plays, “A Tuna Christmas,” “Red, White and Tuna” and “Tuna Does Vegas.” I asked Patrick why it is that they chose to put on “Greater Tuna” as opposed to the other three plays.
“Well, ‘Greater Tuna’ is the first one,” he said, “and you’ve always got to start from the beginning.”