Greater Tuna
Triangle Productions (Flying Rhinoceros Theatre) through August 9

Yes, I knew that Greater Tuna was a hideous title from the moment I laid eyes on the press release for it and yet, I went. Why? Because hideous titles have a way of compelling the soul by tugging at the chords of dark curiosity. It's kind of like looking down at the ground from the roof of a high building and not knowing which is scarier: the thought of falling, or the realization that you sort of want to fall, because you know that the rush of dropping to your death from such a height would be pretty damn exhilarating.

Atop that building we don't fear the forces of nature so much as we fear ourselves.

Greater Tuna makes us fear ourselves.

Tuna is a sprawling, meandering mess that moves around the small town of Tuna, Texas, showing one quirky character after another. There's a dysfunctional family, consisting of a wife-beater-wearing hick who's wrapped up in a murder plot, his semi-retarded little brother, his obese little sister, and his crazily conservative mom. There are two bumbling talk radio deejays, there's another semi-retarded kid named Petey who keeps making station announcements about saving animals, and there's a scary local KKK leader.

There are many other characters as well. Sometimes they connect to each other, and sometimes they don't, though it hardly matters because they are all infuriating regardless. If each character existed to add to the rich tapestry of a small town, Tuna might be forgivable, but none of these characters are there for that reason. They all exist to add complications to the gimmick of this play, which is that the same two guys, Darrin Murrell and Michael Teufel, play all the characters. It's supposed to be riotous to see Murrell scream at us as the KKK leader and then run off stage and come back as a crazy old lady. With every new character introduced, one can almost see the playwrights congratulating each other on yet another hilarious quick change, and yet another moment when one of the actors has to dress like a woman.

But the gimmick, like most gimmicks tend to do, gets old rather quickly, and we are left with characters that are almost insultingly unfunny. In one scene, Murrell's crazy dysfunctional mom plays with imaginary dogs during the intervals that Teufel is changing into the various other family members. Murrell makes the dogs bark, and he chases them around the house, and every minute he does it, the idea gets exponentially less funny and more painful. The imaginary dog moments are so obviously just filler--giving us something to look at while we wait for the real action to continue--that it's hard to even pay attention to them, like watching commercials.

Then again, the entire play feels like filler. A hackneyed premise that probably worked once as an acting class exercise, but that has now been stretched way beyond its limits to fill the space of a two-hour play.

And if that weren't bad enough, it's called Greater Tuna. Blech. JUSTIN SANDERS