By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
The SMU student production, directed by Michael Connolly, uses graduate and undergraduate actors. R. Brian Normoyle is a pleasure to watch as the major who adamantly opposes the convict drama. Schuyler Scott Mastain provides welcome comic relief as the hammiest actor in the play-within-the-play.
The cast crackles with youthful fire and intensity, but overall the acting comes up short. Bogged down with badly executed dialects, some of the convicts can't be understood. And maybe it's because it's SMU, but these prisoners, described as "vice-ridden vermin," look more like catalog models. The women wear form-fitting dresses with nary a sweat stain, and their lustrous hair and straight white teeth gleam under the lights. Sailors, supposedly living far from bathtubs and barbers, sport perfect skin and shiny hair. Their uniforms are as crisp and starched as choir robes. Everybody looks Zestfully clean.
"People who don't pay attention should not go to the theater," says a character in Our Country's Good. Well, some of us pay close attention to distracting details. (And paying attention to full disclosure, I teach part time at SMU, but not in the theater department.)
Written with director Ed Howard, Greater Tuna remains timeless in the way it perfectly captures the deliberate cadences of rural life. Like characters in Christopher Guest's film Waiting for Guffman, the citizens of Tuna live in blissful ignorance. A winning topic in the Tuna essay contest is "Human Rights: Why Bother?" The local chapter of Smut Snatchers of the New Order wants the word "poot" out of the school dictionaries. Censorship is their inalienable right. In Tuna, the Patriot Act would be as sacred as the Ten Commandments.
But at the core of Tuna there lies a murder. A wayward teenage boy (just one of Williams' finely honed personae) carefully plots revenge on the man who sent him to reform school. When mean old Judge Buckner turns up dead wearing a one-piece fringed Dale Evans cowgirl swimsuit, it's no accident. You might say it's a delicious Tuna surprise.