Sunday afternoon marked the last of a four-day special production of the play ATuna Christmas, brought back to the Community Theatre of Greensboro stage by board members and actors George Carson and Doug Heberle to honor the memory of the late Stephen Gee, Hall Parrish and David Bell, as well as the now defunct Broach Theatre Co.
The packed house clapped wildly as the actors, Carson and Heberle, appeared on the stage to deliver the theater protocol for the evening, which included generating a list of random words suggested by the audience that the actors would use during random moments of the play.
“Trump,” someone screamed from deep in the back of the theater.
“Something you are afraid of,” the actors screamed from the stage.
And again, someone responded, “Trump,” sending the theater into a hysterical frenzy.
A Tuna Christmas used every opportune moment to include controversial social issues in the updated version of the production.
Some of the improvising included a radio advertisement for a “White Lives Matter” fundraiser complete with prizes for the winner of the whitest costume contest. One character, firearms store owner DiDi Snavely — whose slogan is: “If we can’t kill it, it’s immortal” — fit right in with the times.
Despite the up-to-date references included in the production, the core elements of the show remained, namely the 22 larger than life characters from the fictitious town of Tuna, Texas created by actors who are no longer alive and a theater that is now defunct.
“This is not the original play written in 1989, to clear up the confusion of one of our guests,” said Carson, who works as a chemical engineer, as he laughingly pointed out the culprit in the audience.
In keeping with the reason for the reproduction, the actors asked if members from the original Broach Theatre were in the audience, but none joined the crowd on the final performance.
That didn’t prevent the show from being memorable.
Audience members could be heard offering their praises and approval of scenes such as disc jockey Arles Struvie flirting with Bertha Bumiller, the mom trying to hold her dysfunctional family together for the holidays.
And the crowd roared as Carson and Heberle ran down the aisles while waitresses Helen and Anita just discovered they had won the annual lawn contest and broken the winning streak of hoity-toity Vera Carp who used rogue sheep in her nativity display.
While the night had many twists that would make even the most hardened Scrooge crack a smile, one could not help but remember why everyone had gathered there for the evening.
At the entrance of the theater a board filled with pictures from the original shows and of Stephen Gee, Hall Parrish, David Bell and the Broach Theatre Company served as a solemn reminder of a legacy that brought years of joy to downtown Greensboro, that may have turned out remarkably differently without the presence of their genius and the work of the theater.