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Spend Christmas in Tuna with Sumter Little Theatre

BY IVY MOORE
Features contributor
Posted 12/10/19

The denizens of Tuna, Texas, are back at Sumter Little Theatre to give audiences an intimate look at the town’s daily life, especially during the Christmas season. Opening Thursday night, “A Tuna …

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Spend Christmas in Tuna with Sumter Little Theatre

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The denizens of Tuna, Texas, are back at Sumter Little Theatre to give audiences an intimate look at the town’s daily life, especially during the Christmas season. Opening Thursday night, “A Tuna Christmas” brings back characters we’ve met before in “Greater Tuna” and “Tuna Does Vegas.”

Actors Matthew Wilt and Kelly Melton play the 22 characters in “A Tuna Christmas,” which director Michael Duffy describes as a “fast-moving comedy (with) a deeper message. … (It’s) a mystery, a comedy, a drama, a romance.”

Arles Struvie (Melton) and Thurston Wheelis (Wilt), DJs at OKOK, the town’s radio station, keep the audience and Tuna residents apprised of the goings-on in the town, but the two actors do much more.

Noting that the play requires a very talented cast and crew, Duffy said Melton and Wilt are more than up to the challenges of the physicality of the play, as well as the quick changes in character. Melton agreed that portraying so many different roles has been “the hardest part.”

To play 11 characters, both male and female, he said, requires the actors to “change the physical, vocal, pitch patterns and rhythm” of each. “There are more than 50 costume changes. In one scene, you play a character, go to another and then come back.”

Duffy noted that each actor has two dressers. “We could use five,” Melton said.

“All the characters come from a good place,” Wilt said. “You can see yourself in them. Bertha (Bumiller, a character he plays) tries to be kind. Bertha is my favorite character. She tries to hold everything together. She’s trying to make Christmas happy. But everybody gets overwhelmed.”

Tuna’s story centers on the annual Christmas Yard Display contest, which Vera Carp, Melton’s favorite, has won for 14 years straight. “She’s the town socialite, higher class, who turns her nose down at the others, but her son is out of control.

“I play more women than men,” Melton said. He also plays Didi Snavely, who owns a gun shop and whose “husband is the missing link, according to her.” Didi’s slogan is “If we can’t kill it, it must be immortal.”

“A Tuna Christmas” is the theater’s “gift to the community,” Melton said. “It’s a helluva lot of work, and we want the show to be really good.”

Wilt added, “People should be able to laugh for two hours. The play is so good. We’ve got the material, we just want to make it work.”

“We’ve found moments where people can really identify with the characters,” Melton said, and Wilt added, “The audience should think these are real people. It’s not all slapstick.”

“There are a few surprises,” Duffy said. “It’s a very tongue-in-cheek approach to small town Southern life and all in good fun. It’s hilarious.”

Stage manager for “A Tuna Christmas” is Erik Sperber, technical director is Michael Leone, sound and light technicians are Colby Rearden and McKenzie Quinn Barnett. Sylvia Pickell is properties manager and costume designer.

Sumter Little Theatre presents “A Tuna Christmas” Thursday through Sunday and again Dec. 19 through 22. Sunday matinees begin at 3 p.m., and all other performances at 8 p.m. Tickets are $20 for adults, $15 for students, seniors and military. Call SLT at (803) 775-2150 or go by the theater, 14 Mood Ave., after 2 p.m. weekdays to make reservations and/or purchase tickets.