‘Tuna Christmas’ actors practice what they teach

Jason Meenach as Pearl Nurras and Greg Adams as Dixie Deberry in "A Tunas Christmas." The Woodford Theatre. © Herald-Leader photos by Rich Copley.

Jason Meenach as Pearl Burras and Greg Adams as Dixie Deberry in “A Tunas Christmas.” The Woodford Theatre. © Herald-Leader photos by Rich Copley.

Jason Meenach and Greg Adams haven’t required their students to come see their door-slamming, cross-dressing turns in The Woodford Theatre’s production of A Tuna Christmas.

But any of Meenach’s and Adams’ drama students at Tates Creek High School and Paul Laurence Dunbar High School, respectively, who make the trip to Versailles will see that their acting teachers can indeed do the job.

“When your performing classes get to see you perform, it gives you a certain amount of credibility in the classroom,” Adams says. “They see, my teacher can really help me block this scene and my teacher can help me come up with this character because they’re up there doing their thing.”

Meenach, who also served a couple years as the artistic director of the Lexington Shakespeare Festival, said, “It’s a great chance to remind myself, this is what I’m asking my students to do, and the challenge of that; because if you get far from that, it’s difficult to maintain effective communication.”

And Tuna requires some chops.

In the show, the seasonal entry in the popular Tuna series by Jaston Williams, Joe Sears and Ed Howard, two actors play more than 20 roles in a story that celebrates and satirizes Southern, small-town stereotypes.

Jason Meenach as Thurston Wheelis and Greg Adams as Arles Struvie in "A Tuna Christmas."

Jason Meenach as Thurston Wheelis and Greg Adams as Arles Struvie in “A Tuna Christmas.”

The characters range from radio disc jockeys Arles Struvi and Thurston Wheelis, who keep Greater Tuna informed; used-weapon store owner Didi Snavely, whose Christmas tree is decked out in ammo; frustrated matriarch Bertha Bumiller, whose philandering husband and paroled son are ruining her Christmas plans; the town snob Vera Carp; and Sheriff Givens, who bears no resemblance whatsoever to Justified’s Raylan Givens.

The outfits range from the T-shirt and jeans of parolee Stanley Bumiller to the complex church outfits of Pearl Burras.

“This is one of the only shows I know that has a full show behind the stage,” Adams says. “When you walk off stage, you just stand there like this,” he says, holding his arms out, “and people are dressing you. You just freeze. And that doesn’t happen once. It happens 50 times in this show.”

That’s due to the combination of character changes and the energy of the show. They cannot flag or the humor will fall flat.

“There’s not really time to do anything but get ready for the next scene, because it’s such a high-energy show,” Adams says.

Meenach says, “It’s a huge challenge for an actor or anyone involved.”

Upping the ante for Adams is that he had less than a week to prepare for opening night. The actor originally cast in his part was unable to complete the show, and director Tonda Fields turned to Adams, who played the same role in Studio Players’ 2008 production of A Tuna Christmas.

Adams says he told some of his students, “You remember all those things I’ve made you memorize? Well, it’s payback time, so come on down and watch.”

After doing a run of the show, it was embedded in Adams’ noggin enough that he was able to get ready to go on without a script in hand in just a week.

It’s not like this is a slow season for either actor. As they take on Tuna, the fall semester is winding up for Fayette County public schools, complete with final papers and exams. For Meenach, it also comes at the end of a busy season in which he has directed two school shows and acted in two community productions, including Tuna.

“It’s been a little insane,” says Meeach, who describes the season as a “dramapalooza.” “People look at me and say, ‘Have you lost your mind?’ and I say, ‘If I wasn’t doing all of these things, that would make me lose my mind.’

“When my time is so compressed, that makes me raise my game a little bit, because I don’t have time to be non-productive or think about how tired I am.”

Meenach says he enjoys going out to The Woodford Theatre, directed by retired Fayette County high school drama teacher Trish Clark. She was Meenach’s former Shakespeare Festival colleague and one of Adams’ predecessors at Dunbar.

“Working with such quality people helps you forget I have this stack of essays to grade or grades to put in the computer,” Meenach says. “If you took that away, it’s like, ‘What’s the purpose?’ But having a great support system here makes all the difference.”

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