Regional Reviews: Las Vegas
Tuna Does Vegas
Also see Mary's review of Kiss Me, Kate
By all accounts, the Tuna franchise has brought much laughter to audiences in its previous incarnations (Greater Tuna, A Tuna Christmas, and Red, White and Tuna), even though many critics have been less than thrilled. One would think, then, that Tuna Does Vegas would provide solid entertainment for Las Vegas locals, as it spoofs both small-town Texas and all the classic Las Vegas tropes.
Although the Las Vegas Little Theatre does its best to deliver a feast of fun, this particular chunk of Tuna should probably have stayed in the can. The script (by Ed Howard, Joe Sears, and Jaston Williams) does have its moments, with some smart one-liners and a few elements of high-concept humor. (For example, the local Smut Snatchers chapter, which will lose its national charter if it runs out of naughty words to ban, is debating whether to ban the word "finger" when used as a verb.)
The evening actually starts off well, with the morning show hosts of radio station OKKK delivering fast-paced commentary on all the important happenings in the greater Tuna community. Actors Joel Hengstler and Alexander C. Sundwho embody all the characters in the showare quick and funny as the two radio jocks. After that, however, the show becomes a long trawl of hit-or-miss sketches, many of which labor on well after they have mined their humor, like so many of the sketches on "Saturday Night Live."
The show sputters back to life from time to time, but there is not enough belly laughter to justify the running time. Director David Ament should have pulled the plug a bit sooner on some of these sketches, although he may have been limited by the performance license; if so, then choosing a different play would have been the wiser course.
Perhaps at one time the idea of men in dragunflattering drag at thatwas enough to amuse the masses. But it's been done. A good script and a point of view are no longer luxuriesthey are essential. (The Monty Python troupe and even the hit-or-miss "SNL" have raised the bar.) Likewise, using funny voices and accents can be fun, but that, too, is not enough, especially when it gets in the way of good diction and buries some of the precious laugh lines that are too few to begin with.
Hengstler and Sund are versatile and likeable performers, and they bring a few of their characters to endearing life. Hengstler is especially good as Bertha Bumiller, the closest thing to a protagonist in this story (and, as embodied here, a ringer for Dan Aykroyd's Julia Child), as Inita Goodwin, the lovelorn waitress, and as Shot, the head of security at the slightly seamy Hula Chateau in downtown Vegas. Sund has his best moments as Vera Carp, the local head of Smut Snatchers, and as Anna Conda, the semi-stylish hostess at the Hula Chateau. They also do a nice turn as battling Elvises (Elvi?).
A fundamental problem with the script is that the most sympathetic of the charactersprotagonist Bertha and her devoted husband Arles, who are heading to Vegas to renew their wedding vowsvirtually disappear in act two. Instead, we suffer through lengthy scenarios in which the less appealing inhabitants of Tuna tangle with the highs and lows of Las Vegas even though, frankly, we don't much care how Las Vegas treats them. At the end, we discover that Bertha and Arles didn't enjoy their trip at allindeed, they didn't even leave their hotel room. So it turns out that the only characters we are invested in had a really lousy time, and we hear about it after the fact rather than share the discomfiting experience with them. That's not funny; it's just depressing.
Tuna Does Vegas continues through May 22, 2016 (Thursday-Saturday at 8 pm, Sundays at 2 pm, and Saturday, May 14, at 2 pm) at the Las Vegas Little Theatre's Mainstage, 3920 Schiff Drive, Las Vegas, NV 89103. For tickets ($24 adults, $21 seniors and students) or further information, go to lvlt.org.
Joel Hengstler: Multiple roles
Set Design: Ron Lindblom