You won’t see Claudia Cowden and Jennifer Cullen on stage for “A Tuna Christmas.” You won’t even know they’re backstage.
But they will play major roles in the success of this Women in Theatre comedy.
The two will be getting costumes ready — and while that sounds easy, it’s not. Not when you have some 40 costume changes and sometimes just seconds to make those changes that might call for removing a hat, mustache, pants and shirt, and adding a scarf, glasses and shoes with yellow feathers. Or removing everything (except the underwear) and adding red gloves, green slacks, earrings and red shoes.
“I did the first ‘Tuna’ and it was a blast,” Cowden said as she and Cullen penciled out each costume change recently at WIT’s End Theatre at Kukui Grove Center. “You’re behind the scenes but it’s exciting and it’s like a dance because you have to coordinate it.”
“It has to be choreographed,” Cullen said, with Cowden adding, “If you miss a beat, then they come in late.”
“It’s a lot of pressure,” Cullen said, laughing.
Director Nell Foster and her cast of two, Bailey Hutton and Jim Warrack, are ready. Well, at least they think they will be by Thursday’s opening night.
The fast pace creates challenges, for sure, Hutton said.
“It’s good when you can meet that challenge,” he said. “I’ll let you know after opening if we’ve met it.”
Last year, WIT’s “Greater Tuna” sold out, and the sequel, written by Ed Howard, Jaston Williams and Joe Sears, is expected to as well.
“Two of Kauai’s finest actors once again bring you over 20 characters in a fast-paced comedy set in fictional Tuna, Texas,” said a press release. “Enjoy another unforgettable evening of side-splitting theatrics. Even Uncle Bob, who rarely laughs out loud, will not be able to contain himself.”
Foster said “Greater Tuna” was very well received, as it told the story of a family in a small town in East Texas as they deal with problems big and small.
She said even though it’s only October, it’s the right time for “Tuna Christmas.”
“If Walmart and Costco can have Christmas trees out now, we’re going to do the same thing,” she said, smiling.
A WIT Christmas program planned for December was canceled after WIT learned it was losing its current space of two years at Kukui Grove Center.
This will be the final show there before moving to a temporary home near Macy’s.
Meantime, all eyes and ears will be on “Tuna Christmas.”
With each actor playing about 10 characters, it’s a lot of lines to memorize, and not everything flows in a logical progression.
“It’s a collection of vignettes,” Warrack said.
Bailey said in a play where he plays one character, he can focus on motivation in character development. Not so when each character is on stage briefly.
“You’re just sort of opening a window into these peoples’ lives for a minute, and then you close it,” Hutton said.
The two men don’t play only men in “Tuna Christmas.” Each also plays female characters with different voices, accents, body language and outfits.
“I can play one damn good woman, but then you have to do four, I’m not so sure about that. You have to be very versatile,” Hutton said.
“It’s interesting how those nuances and dynamics come up,” he said.
“We have a lot of fun with the different voices and movements and mannerisms,” Warrack added.
Foster said a sense of humor is necessary in “Tuna Christmas.”
“It’s always fun to say I want this to be realistic as I’m talking to a guy that’s dressed up as a woman, but they do a great job of it,” she said. “One thing that’s really amazing about watching these two on the stage, those relationships between the two people who are on stage, no matter which two they are, are very real. You know that these people know one another. you know that they spend time together. They share the same issues in life. It’s really pretty amazing.”
Hutton said while he’s playing several female characters, there is a serious side to it.
“It needs to look very realistic or it looks poorly done,” he said. “It’s not very funny if you’re just making fun of these characters the whole time.”
“You have to show a very real side of them that these are real people, they just happen to be living this particular life, which is hysterical,” Hutton said. “But if you don’t play that nuance parody just right, it will bust.”
Almost every prop is mimed in the show. So when coffee is poured, a phone call is made, or someone is eating a cookie, it’s pantomimed.
Attention to detail matters.
“If you do it sloppy, it’s not good.” Hutton said.
When Warrack first rehearsed a scene where he’s speaking while eating, he nailed it.
“It sounds like he’s got a mouthful of cookies,” Hutton said.
Both men are ready for the speedy costume changes.
“Sometimes we have go off stage and be back on stage as somebody completely different within a few seconds,” Warrack said.
“Some within a few seconds,” Hutton said.
“Sometimes they walk off stage and everything comes off but their underwear,” Foster said.
It could be confusing deciding what comes on and what comes on, which is where Cowden and Cullen come in.
For instance, changing Stanley to Vera requires removing everything and adding a gown, robe, slippers, wig and glasses. Another change means removing everything except socks, and then adding a pink jogging suit, tennis shoes, glasses and a carry-on bag.
They’ll do this 40 times between the two actors, so they must keep track of who’s coming and who’s going and have the next costume ready.
It’s frantic, but meticulous, fun.
“We’re going to do a show about this,” Cullen said, laughing.
The play runs Thursday through Sunday, with the final show Oct. 27. Shows times are 7 p.m. each night, and 4 p.m. Sundays. General tickets are $20 or reserve a table for four for $25 a ticket at bit.ly/2pwh0o3, or phone WIT at 635-3727.
Bill Buley, editor-in-chief, can be reached at 245-0457 or email@example.com.