Central Alberta Theatre, as most folks in the community already know, has been struggling lately to stay afloat amidst serious financial troubles.
It has clouded the opening to this year’s season launch, which, for many years, would normally have been an exciting, energizing time for the troupe – for many years, the fall has marked the beginning several dinner theatre shows plus other presentations throughout the year.
That said, they aren’t off to a particularly stellar theatrical start with Greater Tuna, which runs at the Memorial Centre through to Sept. 16.
While many people in the audience did enjoy the quirky production judging by the laughs, I couldn’t help but feel it was an unusual choice to kick-start a new season.
Directed by CAT veteran Judy Moody, the story is set back in the 1970s in the tiny town of Tuna, Texas and opens with announcers Arles Struvie and Thurston Wheeler on Radio Station OKKK with the Morning Report, complete with an on-air ad for Didi Snavely’s Used Weapons and a report of the weather delivered ‘soto voce’ by Harold Dean.
The production, penned by Joe Sears, Jaston Williams and Ed Sears, doesn’t have a very wide appeal and feels dated. But it does have a core strength – the two-person cast of Albert Azzara and Curtis Closson.
The men play the entire cast of more than 20 characters of both genders and various ages. They do an outstanding good job of it – taking on a range of personalities with skill and many moments of comic flair. Azzara in particular is fun to watch and listen to with his booming, expressive voice and steady stream of amusing antics. It’s obvious the guys are having lots of fun taking on the multitude of roles, and audiences can’t help but be impacted by that. It’s difficult to imagine a better duo to tackle the parts – a tricky, demanding challenge they both measure up to.
As to the story, the sheer number of characters and scenarios can make it feel disjointed and in some parts, a bit draggy. Audiences are taken into the community to visit a range of characters – folks like Bertha Bumiller and her teenagers and philandering husband, plus 10 make-believe dogs messing up her kitchen. She is about to be interviewed about her ‘Smut Snatchers’ committee who are going to remove certain books from the school library and certain words from the dictionary. From time to time audiences also pop back into the radio station where citizens are invited to call in to Leonard and ‘let it all out.’
Again, the stars of the show inject much life and energy into it at almost every turn, bolstering the show’s flow as much as they can.
Greater Tuna, aside from being the theatre company’s season opener, has also been described as a fundraiser as the troupe embarks into its 44th year. It would be really unfortunate to see CAT cease production after such a lengthy stint in the City – it’s a solid community of dedicated volunteers who are obviously working very hard to ensure a secure future. An afternoon fundraiser was also held this past weekend to rally financial support and momentum behind the efforts to save the organization.
Meanwhile, in spite of the uncertainty, CAT is moving forward with a full season of productions planned.
Tickets are available at the Black Knight Inn ticket office by calling 403-755-6626.