Actors Gary Gosney and Allan Lueck are clearly having a ball. They’re talking in the lobby of the Temple Civic Theatre minutes before rehearsal of “Greater Tuna.”
“Here’s the thing,” Gosney begins, and Lueck chimes in: “Gary and I love to create fun.” It’s a testament to the professionalism and friendship of the two that, in addition to finishing each other’s sentences, they are still enthusiastic about the same play they’ve starred in for almost 30 years.
“We sold out all of the very first run (at Temple Civic Theatre) back in 1986,” Gosney said, “added another show, so we gave performances at 2, 6, and 9 p.m. — on the same day.”
Lueck shakes his head, smiling at the memory: “We were younger then.”
“Greater Tuna” is the first of the four “Tuna” plays written by performers Jaston Williams, Joe Sears and director Ed Howard. By turns affectionate and satirical, the fictional “third smallest town in Texas” is the setting and 20 different onstage characters display their quirks, attitudes and Southern charms. Lueck and Gosney, the only cast members, portray men, women, children and animals in a tour de force of voice and body language mastery. The costume changes, some at warp speed, are choreographed down to the last velcro-ripping detail.
“Some of our changes take only 12 to 15 seconds,” said Lueck’s wife, Anne, who has a Ph.D and an analytical manner. “It’s important to have a rhythm.” She’s been changing costumes for her husband for nearly 30 years and is joined by Judy Riess in the backstage darkness. A rolling clothes rack is full with Lueck’s costumes, in perfect order, along with wigs, shoes and other accessories. The women monitor the onstage lines from a script attached to the wall when the calmness is broken as Lueck bursts through the portal, both women grasping and peeling shirt and trousers off. His skinny legs are revealed, clad in beige pantyhose, and in seconds he’s transformed into Vera Carp, vice president of Smut-Snatchers of the New Order.
Gosney’s backstage pit crew includes his M.D. wife, Pat, retired schoolteacher Sue Corman, busily repairing a costume with needle and thread, and Sue Johnson, a nurse practitioner. Pat Gosney solemnly intones the backstage dresser’s mantra: “Move fast, stay calm, have a plan.” The quickest costume change in this show? “Four lines.”
The 225-seat theater will offer “special cabaret-style seating” in addition to regular seats in the lower area of the thrust stage, with tables for two that includes drinks and snacks for an additional $10 per person.
Stage manager Lori Hunnicut confirmed that no body or other microphones will be used, a welcome return to natural acoustics in this cozy venue.
Gosney and Lueck reprised “Greater Tuna” to sold-out audiences at TCT in 2001 and 2009 and have performed the show in Cameron and Copperas Cove.
The duo also shared the stage in “The Foreigner” and “The Odd Couple” at TCT.
Both actors praised “Greater Tuna” director Michael Fox.
“If our timing’s off, or really anything needs adjusting, he’ll keep us in line,” Gosney said.
Political correctness and present-day sensibilities have no influence on this production: “We stick to the exact script,” Gosney said, “with a twist.”
Lueck adds, “We play every laugh we can find in the script.”
Gosney, a veterinarian, and Lueck, a retired insurance executive, have been good friends for 40 years and said that even though this production is promoted as their “farewell tour” to Tuna, the memory of that first, sold-out 1986 production still lingers.
“That was a great run,” Gosney said, glancing around the theater’s lobby, “and with its box office, we paid off this building.”