‘A Tuna Christmas’ kicks off Players winter season

  • Tom Frey Courtesy photo

  • Kraig Swartz Courtesy photo

  • Tom Frey and Kraig Swartz star in ‘A Tuna Christmas’ opening at the Peterborough Players Thursday, Dec. 5. Courtesy Photo

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Published: 11/27/2019 9:25:13 PM

Taking on 11 characters each, Peterborough Players Tom Frey and Kraig Swartz will be bringing the two-man show “A Tuna Christmas” to the Players’ stage next week for a two week run.

“It’s a marathon, the breakneck pace and all the characters,” Swartz said during a rehearsal break at the Players on Saturday. “It’s fun. It’s a big lift. Each one of these characters has a different personality and different voice and they’re varying ages and genders. So I play an 8-year-old boy and a 90-year-old lady and everything in-between.”

Players’ artistic director Gus Kaikkonen is directing Frey (“2 Pianos, 4 Hands”) and Swartz (“Fully Committed”) in the holiday comedy written by Jaston Williams, Joe Sears and Ed Howard.

“A Tuna Christmas” is one of four plays about the people of the small fictitious town of Tuna, Texas.

“The framing device is this radio station OKKK Radio, and as Thurston and Arles, the two DJ’s, read the report of things going on, as we approach Christmas the characters start to expand. You start meeting people from town, first the advertisers and sponsors and eventually you just end up at Bertha’s house and meet her children,” Swartz said.

The heart of the play is Bertha Bumiller, played by Frey, and her family, Frey said. “I play Bertha Bumiller and we kind of see the show through her.”

“The poor women’s got a lot of challenges,” Swartz said. “All she wants is for this to be a beautiful, warm family Christmas and chaos reigns supreme for Bertha. And all she wants is for everybody to gather around for a picture and decorate the tree – and things are not going to turn out the way she wants them to be.”

Swartz, who was in a production of “A Tuna Christmas” opposite Kaikkonen in 1998, said the “real show” takes place back stage with the multiple quick changes, which he described as a “frenzy” because they need to take place in ten seconds or less.

“Unlike other plays we have done where there are multiple characters, these are complete costumes and wig changes,” Kaikkonen said.

“The poor dressers,” Swartz said. “That’s going to be really amazing, cause it’s micro-fast. Mega-fast? Increda-fast? Wicked costume changes. You literally go off as one person and two lines later you are on as somebody else… The onstage work is the fun easy part, the real work is going on off stage.”

Frey, who has never done the play before, said he’s been told, “It’s like getting mugged every night.”

“And if your lucky they’ll say, ‘You’re Bertha! go!’” Swartz responded.

The play paints the portrait of this town, “which is comic and dysfunctional,” Swartz said, but with authentic characters. “Even though they are broad and common and extreme, they are absolutely real people. It’s well observed stuff.”

“You see all levels of society in Tuna,” Kaikkonen said. “All levels are represented. There is the wealthy woman, the middle class family and the girls who work at the Tastee Kreme, you really get to know the whole town.”

And there are several subplots in “A Tuna Christmas” and a “bit of a mystery,” Kaikkonen said.

“They are in the midst of this heated greater Tuna Area Christmas Tree Yard Display Competition. Which Vera Carp and her husband have won every year for the past 15 years and they look to be on course to win it again this year,” Swartz said, but not so fast. “There’s the recurrence the of the infamous Christmas Phantom, who has been wreaking havoc and playing pranks on the Greater Tuna Area for years and part of the play is, ‘Who is the Christmas Phantom and where will he strike next?’”

The hilarious and moving comedy is a family friendly show, Swartz said. “It’s just a crowd pleasing show.”

“You get involved with these characters. You can’t help it,” Kaikkonen said.

“A Tuna Christmas” is the Players’ 2019/20 Winter Season opener, and runs Thursday, Dec. 5 through Sunday, Dec. 15.

PLAYERS GIVES

Last week the Players announced its new Players Gives program that will be rolling out for a night at each of its Winter Season shows. The first Players Give night is planned for Friday, Dec. 6, at the 7:30 p.m. performance of “A Tuna Christmas.”

“The program aims to expand the reach of Players’ productions by providing reduced-cost tickets to select groups, while lending a helping hand to meaningful organizations who do a lot of good in the community. The Players look forward to being able to lower barriers to opportunity, show gratitude, and give back to some wonderful organizations, groups, and institutions,” the Players said in a press release last week. “Members of the Armed Forces, Police, Firefighters, EMTs, Nurses and Health Aides, Teachers, and Artists are invited to see the performance with a guest for whatever they feel they can pay. The Players simply ask that you bring ID such as membership cards, websites, business cards, or anything that establishes belonging to these groups. Pay-What-You-Can tickets may be purchased ahead of time over the phone with our box office, or in-person on the evening of the performance.”

Additionally, in celebration of “A Tuna Christmas”, on Saturday, Dec. 7, for both the 2 p.m. matinee and the 7:30 p.m. show, as well as the Sunday, Dec. 8, 2 p.m. show, the Players plan to collect cans of tuna in the lobby on behalf of End 68 Hours of Hunger-ConVal and the Peterborough Food Pantry.

In exchange for every can of tuna, the giver will be entered to win two tickets to the 2020 Summer Season at the Peterborough Players. One winner is to be chosen per show during those three performances.

THE BOX OFFICE

Regular priced tickets to “A Tuna Christmas” are $43 and are on sale now. Subscriptions and barn door flex passes are available as well as gift certificates.

For more information or tickets go to www.peterboroughplayers.org or call the box office at (603) 924-7585.


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