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TNT takes another trip to ‘Tuna’

Trumbull New Theatre will take audiences “Deep in the Heart of Tuna” to start 2020.

The play, which opens Friday for a three-weekend run, draws from previous installments in the “Greater Tuna” series of comedies written by Ed Howard, Joe Sears and Jaston Willams and focuses on the residents of the third-smallest town in Texas.

“Greater Tuna” and its sequels have been staged by several theater companies in the Valley. Each play features about 20 characters and traditionally is staged with two men playing all of the male, female and canine roles (although Youngstown Playhouse staged “Greater Tuna” and “A Tuna Christmas” with all-female casts in 2017 and ’18).

“I just love the whole concept,” director Lisa Bennett said. “I’m a fan of satire and the way it pokes fun at a small town while pointing out its charm and its benefits.”

“Deep” has the same assortment of characters as the other plays, but it puts the focus on Arles Struvie, a disc jockey at OKKK radio, and Bertha Bumiller, who belongs to the Smut Catchers of the New Order. It pulls scenes from the past “Tuna” plays, telling the story of their relationship.

“This one puts it all in one place,” Bennett said. “You see it from when they first started flirting around a little bit to its actual conclusion. There are so many scenes, and it goes so fast from one to another. Trying to take bits from four shows and tying it together cohesively is an amazing feat. I can’t think of another trilogy where you could take a bit here and a bit there and make it cohesive.”

Thomas Burd and Alexander Lucas will play all of the characters in the TNT production.

Bennett said the demands of the show made the audition process a little different than usual, forcing her to have actors read multiple characters in the same session.

“I needed to see if you could change characters on a dime, slip from being gun-toting Petey to Arles the radio announcer,” she said. “That’s hard to do. Not many actors can.”

And while there are only two actors on stage, Bennett said the production requires three dressers to help the actors with their quick transformations and two stage hands to handle the rapid scene shifts.

“Tom Burd, particularly in act one, changes costumes nearly every time he breathes,” Bennett said. “Alex doesn’t have quite as many changes, but it’s still a lot. The dressers and the stage hands are as much a part of the show as the cast. It doesn’t happen without them. I’m giving notes at rehearsal to the dressers, which doesn’t normally happen.”

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