Tuesday, September 30, 2014

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Heritage Theatre Festival Opens Popular Comedy ‘Tuna Does Vegas’ at Helms Theatre

Thanks to the Heritage Theatre Festival, the wacky residents of Tuna, Texas, are back in the fourth installment of the “Greater Tuna” series, “Tuna Does Vegas,” opening on July 18 at the Helms Theatre.

 “Tuna Does Vegas” will run from July 18-20, 23-27, 30-31 and Aug. 1-3 as part of Heritage Festival, the professional summer theater at the University of Virginia. Nightly performances begin at 8 p.m., with Saturday matinees at 2 p.m. on July 20 and Aug. 3.

The “Greater Tuna” series was written by Ed Howard, Jaston Williams and Joe Sears, and includes four comedic plays set in the fictional town of Tuna, the “third-smallest” town in the state. The plays are notable in that two men play the entire cast of eccentric characters of both genders and various ages.

Evan Bridenstine and John Paul Scheidler return to their satirical roles and particular brand of theatrical mayhem, using lightning-quick changes to play more than 20 characters. As veterans of performing the “Tuna” series for Heritage, they bring to life a host of Tuna’s most unforgettable residents and introduce audiences to a collection of new ones.

In these various roles, the two performers tell the story of what happens when radio host Arles Struvie announces over the airwaves that he and his wife, Bertha, will be renewing their vows in Las Vegas – and how the whole town of Tuna decides to go along for the ride.

As a first-time director of a “Tuna” play, Matt Davies has been relying on the experts that make up his cast to make sure the story and the characters are ringing true.

“We talk about ‘Tuna-ology,’” Davies said. “They’re the Tuna-ologists, the ones who know everything Tuna. So I usually ask, ‘Tuna-ologically speaking, is this accurate?’”

Unlike the other “Tuna” plays, Davies said, there is a restless tension in “Tuna Does Vegas” that ends up adding a new dimension to the comedy of the series.

“There’s a bit more tension between the characters, and we’ve been exploring that,” Davies said. “There is a greater sense of drama to the play, which actually serves to increase the humor rather than diminish it. The main difference from the other plays in the series is that this one is not just a series of gags – even though there are certainly plenty of them.”

For many years, actors Bridenstine and Scheidler have consistently delivered those gags in the “Tuna” plays. This time around, their creativity has Davies employing a different approach to directing.

“I am less of a director than a ringmaster, keeping the big cats in the tent,” he said.

But for the fourth installment of the series, Davies said, no matter how well the Heritage audiences may think they know the “Tuna” characters, there are surprises in store even for the most avowed Tuna-ologists.

Tickets for “Tuna Does Vegas” are $35 ($30 for seniors and U.Va. faculty, staff and alumni, $15 for students) and are available at the U.Va. Arts Box Office (located in the lobby of the U.Va. Department of Drama Building), online at www.uvahtf.org or by phone at 434-924-3376.

Free parking for all Heritage Theatre Festival performances is available at the Culbreth Road Parking Garage, conveniently located alongside the theaters.

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