A Tuna Christmas | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

A Tuna Christmas 

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Like the 1983 Greater Tuna and the 1998 Red, White and Tuna, this holiday show peeks in on the 24 residents of fictional Tuna, Texas--all of them played by Joe Sears and Jaston Williams. This eccentric-filled little town is suspiciously familiar, equal parts Hairspray, Northern Exposure, and True Stories. The perfunctory plot revolves around a community gripped by yard-decorating fever and stalked by a Nativity-defiling "Christmas phantom." And while the actors' repertoire of infinitesimal variations on "hick" and "drag queen" is impressive, they're traversing very well trodden ground. But over the course of the Tuna trilogy's long run--this show is 11 years old--Sears and Williams have clearly learned how to make this derivative quality work for them. Their characterizations have a ridiculous polish and ornamentation; some of their vocal stylings are so excruciatingly mannered they come off as impressions of impressions of impressions. Carefully obtuse, literal exaggerations yield a sitcom-ish, self-conscious hilarity: Tuna's used-gun dealer Didi, for example, decorates her tree with hand grenades and puts a gas mask on top. After about 20 minutes you're sucked into this landscape of overrefined stereotypes--and thereafter the actors proceed to sillier and sillier parsings of artificial accents and manners, eventually achieving a transcendent absurdity. Shubert Theatre, 22 W. Monroe, 312-902-1500. Previews Tuesday, December 5, 8 PM. $22-$49. Opens Wednesday, December 6, 7:30 PM. Through December 17: Tuesdays-Thursdays, 7:30 PM; Fridays, 8 PM; Saturdays, 2 and 8 PM; Sunday, December 10, 2 and 7 PM; Sunday, December 17, 2 PM. $22-$49.

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