‘Greater Tuna’ makes timely gender switch

In a year when the most buzzed-about comedic performance is Melissa McCarthy’s take on White House press secretary Sean Spicer, Youngstown Playhouse’s approach to the comedy “Greater Tuna” couldn’t be more timely.

The show, which has been a community theater staple for more than 30 years, doesn’t put any casting restrictions on the theaters that do it, but it was conceived and originally staged with two men playing more than 20 characters, both male and female.

Youngstown Playhouse doubles the cast size to four and and switches the gender, having women play all of the characters.

Director Pat Foltz said that wasn’t her preconceived plan.

“I was really open to doing it any way — male, female, whatever came out of auditions,” she said.

But only one man showed up for auditions.

“I don’t know whether they assumed I was going to go with women or what, but that was fine,” Foltz said. “There were some very funny women who showed up and that’s the way we went.”

The play is set in the fictional town of Tuna, Texas, and satirizes small-town life and attitudes.

The Jaston Williams / Joe Sears / Ed Howard comedy debuted in Austin in 1981 and was staged Off-Broadway in 1982. Several area theater companies have staged the show and its sequels over the years.

“The guys wrote it in ’81 as a response to Ronald Reagan (being elected president),” Foltz said. “They wanted to do a satire on white southern evangelical folks who would vote for Ronald Reagan. That’s why they did it. They’re going back on tour with it, and when you listen to it, wow, there’s nothing about it that isn’t contemporary.”

The cast features Joanna Andrei, Candace DiLullo, Cyndi Plyler and Denise Sculli, and Foltz believes the all-female cast will make it a different experience for those who have seen it before.

“When males play the whole thing, they don’t think about playing the male characters,” the director said. “They’re basically playing themselves. Women watch men and there are a lot of funny mannerisms that are in their male characters.

“And the women characters they play are different than I’ve ever seen the women. They’re played kind of sexy and younger. It’s just very different than the (way) men have played them.”

If you go

WHAT: “Greater Tuna”

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Friday, Saturday and June 15-17 and 2:30 p.m. Sunday

WHERE: Youngstown Playhouse Moyer Room, 600 Playhouse Lane, Youngstown

HOW MUCH: $17 for adults and $14 for students and senior citizens. For tickets or more information, call 330-788-8739 or go to www.theyoungstownplayhouse.com.