A DUAL CRITICS REVIEW
The Atlantic Beach Experimental Theatre opened the final show of its 26th season with the hilarious comedy Red, White and Tuna. The theatre will be moving soon to 500 Atlantic Boulevard in Neptune Beach to begin its 27th season (which will open with James and the Giant Peach). And while the theatre will continue to be known as “ABET,” the official name will be changed to “All Beaches Experimental Theatre.”
A famous admonition advises “Always leave them laughing!” and The Mary E. Harvey Foundation could not have selected a better play to sponsor to delight the audience. The play is the third play in a series of four written by Ed Howard, Jaston Williams, and Jon Sears, which are set in the fictional town of Tuna, the third smallest town in Texas (where the Lion’s Club is too liberal and Patsy Cline never dies). These plays have been well-received. Greater Tuna was once staged at the White House for George W.H. Bush and his wife Barbara, while playwright Sears was nominated for the 1995 Tony Award for Best Actor after appearing in a Tuna production on Broadway.
The casting for any Tuna show is a challenge, since the cast is limited to two actors, who are quick-witted, and have tremendous energy, stage presence, and comic talent. Think Abbott & Costello, Hope & Crosby, Martin & Lewis. And in Jacksonville? Allen Morton & Blake Osner of course! The duo is back, having been positively amazing and outlandishly funny in Tuna Does Vegas which was staged at ABET in 2016. Both have impressive biographies; they’ve appeared in a variety of roles on almost all of our local stages.
These talented quick change artists portray fourteen zany characters during the two-hour show. Favorites are back, with Osner as Vera Carp, an arrogant snob who says people cannot sing songs about alcohol in a dry county, and Morton as Arles Struvie, a disc jockey at the famous OKKK Radio, who plans to marry Bertha Bumiller (Osner again). Petey Fisk brings Bertha, who has six dogs, a cat from the Humane Society; the cat thinks he’s a dog and acts like one. You get the idea, expect the unexpected, like the busy stage manager who is constantly changing scenes from one home or business setting to another, but finds time for a brief appearance with her face covered by a gas mask.
Mr. Osner and Mr. Minton also directed the play, helped with set design and construction, and designed and secured all the wild and crazy wigs and costumes!!!
The backstage dressers are crucial to the success of the production, as they must help the cast with fifty or so costume changes. They included Betsy Darnell, Elizabeth Paulson, Beccy Pearson, and Laura Young.
An unexpected treat for the opening night show was the attendance of Ed Howard, one of the Tuna playwrights, who happened to be vacationing in the area. He was observed laughing heartily throughout the production and was gregarious afterward, mingling with the actors and theatergoers.
Another treat, one repeated for many years at ABET, was the Opening Night Reception, featuring a lavish assortment of homemade food which included multiple sweets. Amazingly, the same volunteer crew has prepared and served this feast for the past TEN years! Thanks go to Audrey Dearborn, Theresa Rookey, Ken Rookey, Walter Krupinski, Bev Deneen, Carol Kalata, Susan Cathcart, and Karen Lahey. The only thing missing on this special occasion was the presence of ABET Founder Carson Merry Baillie, who wasn’t able to attend.
The production team included Allen Morton and Blake Osner (Directors), Stephanie Drog (Stage Manager), Andrew McCraney (Light & Sound Operator), Bryan Frank (Light &Sound Design), Gordon Frank (Light & Sound Tech), and Brian Johnson, Meganne Johnson, Gordon Frank, and Bryan Frank (Set Design & Construction).
If you’re ready for some small-town Southern humor unencumbered by sophistication, put on a pair of jeans and hurry on down to 716 Ocean Boulevard, Atlantic Beach, Florida until May 20. For additional information and reservations, Call 249-7177 or visit abettheatre.com.