Scrooge No More

The goofy Christmas fare at LTW and Gaslight will cheer even the hardest hearts


There. I've said it. Not everyone loves this time of year, you know.

Oh, people light candles. They chop down perfectly lovely trees; they eat fudge and fruitcake and latkes and sour cream until even the seams of their banquet pants are seriously strained.

But this is all a diversion: Darkness is descending, people. No amount of fa-la-la-ing is going to change that.

Meanwhile, theaters have gotten into the holiday act, with seasonal folderol bouncing on the boards around town. Thus, I must do my duty.

First stop: Tuna, Texas.

Live Theatre Workshop's A Tuna Christmas is the second of what has become a series of Tuna plays dreamed up by Jaston Williams, Joe Sears and Ed Howard. For the uninitiated, Tuna is a tiny town in Texas. Its denizens are the epitome of the finest—or worst—characters rural Texas has to offer. And 20-plus of these folks are brought to life by two actors.

The plot is about as substantial as a snowfall in Tucson. A vandal is causing trouble for a contest regarding the best outdoor Christmas display. Family woes worsen under the seasonal pressure to be cheerful. And the town's holiday production of A Christmas Carol is threatened because somebody didn't pay the electric bill.

But the plot is incidental to the parade of characters at the heart of this modest comedy.

There's Didi Snavely, owner of Didi's Used Weapons. Then there's Bertha Bumiller, who sets her brooding daughter, Charlene, straight by proclaiming, "Baptists don't commit suicide."

Dear Petey Fisk of the Humane Society exhorts people not to give exotic animals as Christmas presents. "Although baby alligators sure are cute, when they grow up, you just know they will try to mate with your luggage."

And then there are Inita Goodwin and Helen Bedd (say the names out loud), career girls who have found their calling at the Tasty Crème.

Stephen Frankenfield and Keith Wick embody all these characters with gusto. Wick creates his from the inside out, a technique that gives these outrageous folks depth and a touching honesty. Frankenfield throws on his characters as he does his costumes. It's a lesser approach, but the two play well off each other.

Director Jodi Rankin has made some curious choices, particularly by shifting too many scenes to distinguish the different locales. Not only does all of this activity impede the play's momentum; it interferes with the fun of the characters doing their quick-change magic. And it's just not necessary. Trust your actors to let us know where they are.

Next stop: On the Road to the North Pole.

The Gaslight Theatre has been making Southern Arizonans laugh and hiss and boo for more than 30 years with its corny but cleverly crafted melodramas. On the Road to the North Pole doesn't disappoint.

Writer/director Peter Van Slyke has his current naughty/nice crew trying to save Christmas. How? By putting on a show, of course, and takin' it to the streets of places like Morocco and Rio—you know, the usual spots you associate with Christmas. And it's all going to culminate in a worldwide radio broadcast from the North Pole.

Scat Sweeney (Todd Thompson) and Fearless Frazier (Mike Yarema) join with lovely ladies Sandy (Deborah Lederer) and Dorothy (Katherine Byrnes) to smile and sparkle as members of the Christmas Follies. But slimy Max Pomade (Sean MacArthur) and his daft but loyal sidekick, Knuckles (Daved Wilkins), are out to get the guys, because they owe Pomade money.

And bad guy Wilhelm Reinholt (David Orley) is committed to bringing down the Follies because he never got the shiny train he asked for as a child. (Lord, psychology has infiltrated even melodrama.)

The fun is enormously enhanced by scenic designer Tom Benson's wonderful backdrops and special effects, like camels carrying the characters through the desert and airplanes that really fly. OK, they look like they're really flying.

Of course, none of this would be much fun at all without the nonstop enthusiasm and good-natured energy of the talented troupe of actors. And how about that hardworking band! Linda Ackermann wears out those piano keys, and bassist Blake Matthies and drummer Jimmy Carr don't miss a beat.

Yeah, yeah. It's shtick. But it's very well-done shtick. And it's a heckuva lot of entertainment bang for the buck.

If you can sit through this raucous fun without cracking a smile, you'd better check yourself into the funeral home next door to the theater.

As it turns out, I'm not eligible. I might not even qualify for humbug status anymore—because LTW's tacky Tuna and Gaslight's good-natured goofiness helped vanquish the dark, if just for a moment.

See? Theater is magic!

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