One thing about the stars of Metropolis Performing Arts Centre's "Greater Tuna," they work hard. They do. They do.
The versatile Mathias Austin and Andrew Pond play 20 characters, including a yappy canine, in this satirical slice of small-town life set in fictional Tuna, Texas, the state's third smallest burg. It's a town where the winning American heritage essay is titled "Human Rights: Why Bother?" Where a citizens' committee wants to remove from the school library Alex Haley's "Roots" because it tells only "one side of the slavery issue." And where a local Klansman vows to keep the town safe, for the right kind of people.
"Greater Tuna"★ ★ ½
Location: Metropolis Performing Arts Centre, 111 W. Campbell St., Arlington Heights, (847) 577-2121 or metropolisarts.com
Showtimes: 7:30 p.m. Thursday; 8 p.m. Friday; 7 p.m. Saturday; 3 p.m. Sunday (2 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 2); through Feb. 16
Running time: About 1 hour, 50 minutes, with intermission
Parking: Free adjacent garage and street parking
Rating: For teens and older
Populated by larger-than-life, resolutely politically incorrect characters, "Greater Tuna" stings a bit more than you'd expect. But this 1981 comedy by Jaston Williams, Ed Howard and Joe Sears (who also penned three sequels) fails to deliver truly biting satire. The problem has to do with the often clunky dialogue and several extraneous scenes that feel like filler.
Serving as de facto narrators are good ol' boys Arles (Austin) and Thurston (Pond), radio hosts at Tuna's 275-watt station, OKKK, which offers local news, farm reports and public service announcements courtesy of the eccentrics who reside in Tuna.
Among them is used weapon shop proprietor Didi Snavely (Austin), whose motto is: "If we can't kill it, it's immortal." Overwhelmed weatherman Harold Dean (Austin) forecasts a meteorological apocalypse, while wide-eyed Elmer Watkins (played by Pond with manic menace) recruits members for the local KKK chapter. Elderly Pearl (Pond) serves up "bitter pills" to local canines as her nephew Stanley (Austin) adjusts to life outside reform school. At home, Stanley's sister Charlene -- also played by Austin sporting a wig with flaxen curls that recall 1970s TV cherub Cindy Brady -- nurses her disappointment over a failed cheerleader tryout.
Metropolis' production, directed by Brian Rabinowitz, generates laughs, the biggest coming from Pond's rousing portrayal of a platitude-spouting preacher. There are several poignant moments as well, most of them courtesy of animal-loving Petey Fisk (an adorably guileless Austin), of the Greater Tuna Humane Society, whose call for compassion is like a cry in the wilderness.
There isn't much to "Tuna's" two-dimensional, stereotypical characters. Still, Austin and Pond manage to make each one distinct. Of course, an assortment of wigs and strategically placed padding helps.
Ultimately, much of the success of a two-hander like "Greater Tuna" depends upon the quick costume change. Thankfully, Austin and Pond have mastered it.
They have. They have.