Tunapost 4: hello, opening!


So I arrive at our last preview last night to discover Madi rummaging through a plastic bag full of cards and gifts. “Hey”, I say, “you’re a day early for opening night gifts!”. Chris, the sound designer, standing next to me on stage says, “Oh, didn’t you hear? They moved opening up a day.”

They moved opening up a day?

Sure enough, sitting in the front row last night were three – count ’em – three critics, note pads and pens at the ready. Two things struck me as strange about this. Firstly – the front row? In a house that only seats eighty? When you are basically on stage with the actors because of lighting spill? In my experience, critics have tended to want to blend in and not draw attention to themselves (whether it’s because of modesty or fear of stoning I will leave to others to guess). So it seemed weird to me that they essentially announced themselves that way.

Secondly, since when do critics sit together? From what I’ve seen, there’s usually a stiff, professional distance between critics. I’ve never noticed herd mentality at work amongst them. But there they were last night, elbow to elbow in the front row. It was almost comical. It was if they were saying “We’re here. We’re weird. Get used to us.”

Part of me – the grandiose part – thinks they were forming a united front in the face of my critical antagonism, in these virtual pages and elsewhere. The other part of me – the rational part – thinks they arrived late and sat in the only seats that remained. In any case, of course we had the lamest house so far, though they warmed up as we went. And we and a couple of costume and scenic malfunctions, including John and I improvising around a frightening wig pin he discovered in my Bertha wig, which i finally ripped out of the fake hair. Then I nearly obliterated the phone as Pearl, dialing with my cane. Earlier, I came on with my Pearl dress jammed into my underware, so I was flashing a sizable part of the house.

But all of this is the fun of this show. These kinds of “mis-haps” are going to happen a lot, and the warmest moments we had last night we ones in which the audience felt spontaneously included, either in a wayward wig pin, or in the second act, when Vera and The Reverend speak directly to them. The truth of the comic energy of Greater Tuna has been born out through the previews: it’s the playing of it that’s fun. The jokes, as written, vary in comic punch, and some of them are frankly dated (agent orange?). So what the audience delights in is me and John, whirling around in outrageous costumes and silly accents, with enough character precision and actor chops to lift it slightly above burlesque. And when we invite them into the fun, through ad libs or staged moments, they have obliged with gusto.

Some jokes that got reliable laughs in rehearsal are falling flat in performance. Two examples: my over-emnphasis of “ass” in the Sheriff’s line “Yeah, I’m going to charge your ASS, boy.” Gets a chuckle or two, that’s it. And R.R.’s deranged cat U.F.O. chase is a chuckler too, not a belly laugh. I think it’s because, in rehearsal, the gags were set up, and it was their invention which which amused. In performance, the audience has less information, and has to react much more immediately, and so the jokes lack the set up they had previously.

Looking forward to more fun in Tuna . . .

PS: The Inquirer critic liked it. To read her review go here.