'Red, White and Tuna' at OCT

The eccentric lot of citizens that makes up small town Tuna, Texas, returns to Ashland's Oregon Cabaret Theatre in "Red, White and Tuna," the sequel to "Greater Tuna" and "A Tuna Christmas" by Texan playwrights and comedians Jaston Williams, Joe Sears and Ed Howard.

It's time for the annual Tuna High School Fourth of July Reunion, and Amber Windchime and Star Rivertree, two new characters in the "Tuna" trilogy, return home to discover things are much the same — yet different.

Performances are set for Friday, Feb. 12, through March 28, with low-priced previews Wednesday and Thursday, Feb. 10 and 11. Curtain is at 8 p.m. Thursdays through Mondays and 1 p.m. for brunch matinees on Sundays.

There are about two dozen wacky characters in the play — men, women, children and animals — played by just two actors, Christopher Bange and Alexandra Blouin, a couple in real life.

"They never get a break. They are always on stage," says director Lenny Niemark. "The production is full of fast-paced costume changes. The actors leave the stage, switch costumes, voices and postures, and pop back 10 seconds later as a different character in a different scene.

"The challenge is to keep up with the pace without losing track of who the characters are," Niemark says. "We have to stay mindful of which one is on next."

To put a gender-bending spin on OCT's production of "Red, White and Tuna," Neimark cast a male actor and a female actor in the play, so that a female would be playing men and a male would be playing women — just to add to the fun.

Traditionally, the characters in "Tuna" shows are played my two male actors. "Greater Tuna" featured comedians Sears and Williams, and the show played to packed houses across the country before running for more than a year off-Broadway at Circle in the Square Theatre. The successful run in New York City led to an HBO special in 1984.

Bange is no stranger to playing opposite gender roles, or to quick-change comedy. He appeared as Lady Enid, Nicodemus Underwood, Alcazar and Pev Amri in OCT's 2009 production of "The Mystery of Irma Vep." Blouin is making her OCT debut. Both actors are trained in clowning and physical theater, as well as acting.

This spoof on rural America features characters Vera Carp and her smut-snatchers, who ban books and rewrite church hymns; Stanley Bumiller, who is finally out of reform school and is a star on the Santa Fe art scene; and Petey Fisk, with his solution to saving hapless animals in Tuna.

There's Inita Goodwin and Helen Bedd, who are operating the food booth at the reunion fair ... but what's in the potato salad? There's also Bertha Bumiller and Arles Struvie ... will they get a second chance at romance? And who will be crowned homecoming queen?

"The characters are supported by a rich, funny and timely script," Niemark says. "It really is a satire and parody of life in small towns of America. The characters are universal. There are versions of them in our own backyard."

Neimark worked as assistant director of "The Music Man" last year at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. He will return to OSF for its 2010 season as a creative consultant for "The Merchant of Venice."

Set design for "Red, White and Tuna" is by Michael Halderman, costume design by Kerri Lea Robbins, lighting design by Bridget Carlson and Ben Brown and sound design is by Tom Freeman.

Tickets cost $19 for previews, $21 for Sunday night shows, $27 for Sunday brunch matinees, $27 or $29 for Thursday and Monday night shows and $31 or $33 for Friday and Saturday night shows.

Half of all the ticket proceeds for the preview performances on Feb. 10 and 11 will be donated to the Red Cross for the Haiti Relief Fund. Dinner and Sunday brunch are available with advance reservations. Appetizers, desserts, wine, beer and beverages are available without reservations. Ticket prices do not include food or beverages.

For tickets, visit www.oregoncabaret.com, call 541-488-4902 or stop by the box office.

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