Lance Duddlesten held open auditions for "Tuna Does Vegas," his latest directorial effort at Albany Civic Theater, but he didn't need to bother. Only two people showed up.
Chuck Skinner and Gary Burris have played all the roles in the "Tuna" productions at ACT since "A Tuna Christmas" in 2009. To Duddleston, it looked like the mid-valley theater community just figured that by now, Skinner and Burris WERE Tuna.
And, said Duddleston, it's hard to disagree.
"These two guys — the characters are so endearing," he said, nodding at his cast, who followed "Christmas" with "Red, White and Tuna" in 2017 and stand ready to take Vegas by storm starting this weekend. "They just grow on you."
Performances of "Tuna Does Vegas" run at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 1, 2, 7, 8, 9, 14, 15 and 16, with 2:30 p.m. matinees Nov. 3 and 10. Information and tickets are available online at www.albanycivic.org.
Tuna, Texas, is a small town — the third smallest town in the state, as a matter of fact — and it's populated by all the people you'd expect to find in a small town. There's the guy who owns the gun shop, for instance, and the overly devout evangelical woman, and the over-the-top community theater director who sighs, "Never do theater in a town that's a four-letter word."
Everyone knows everything about everybody in a small town, especially when it's announced over the radio as part of a community-news broadcast. So when the inhabitants of Tuna find out that two of their own are headed to Las Vegas to renew their wedding vows, it's natural that some of them should find a way to come along.
After all, Duddlesten explained, it's a small town. "Everybody's up in everybody's bidness."
Burris and Skinner play everyone in Tuna, and in Vegas, too. It's a huge undertaking: Each man carries fully half the script and is responsible for giving all 19 characters their own distinct voices and personalities, often while undergoing costume changes that have to be accomplished in seconds.
It's hard work, but the two said it was hardest back in 2009, the first time they were cast for "A Tuna Christmas." And it was a whole new challenge to revisit the characters for "Red, White and Tuna" eight years later.
It's worth it, the two men say. Both are best known for character roles in their community theater productions and said they rarely get to experience what it's like to be the leading man — or leading woman, for that matter. And the fun of bringing to life 19 different personalities is an actor's dream.
Once he read the script back when he first did "Christmas," "I couldn't wait to audition," Burris said. "The writing is so clever, and it's really, really funny, but it's clever at the same time."
The characters feel very real to both men — not only because this is the third time they're inhabiting their lives, but because of their personalities. The character of Aunt Pearl, played by Burris, is based directly on Burris' grandmother: accent, mannerisms and all.
"If my grandma came out and read the lines, it would be the Pearl character," he said.
The various "Tuna" stories could be brought to the stage by a cast with more than two people, Skinner said, but it wouldn't be the same. "I think it would take away the magic."
That's partly what drew Duddlesten to the show. His goal, he said, is to have people leave shaking their heads, saying, "How do they do it?"
"We love our characters, and we love each other," Skinner said.
But ask them if they'd be up for revisiting the first of the scripts in the four-play Tuna saga — "Greater Tuna," performed at ACT in 2002 and directed by Christi Sears —and both men groan.
"We're tired!" Skinner protested.
"I gave you two years off," Duddlesten reminded.
Tuna is a magical place, Burris agreed. "You never know."