Audiences at the Kentucky Repertory Theatre have been enjoying “Greater Tuna,” which is currently offered in Horse Cave. The onstage antics of two actors playing about 20 different characters from the third smallest town in Texas provide interesting comedy. I found it’s equally interesting backstage during a performance.

A half-hour before showtime, the stage manager announces to those backstage, “Opening the house,” and then, “going dark.” A country song about eating moon pies can be heard playing in the house as theatergoers find their seats. A half-dozen or so of the backstage crew shuffle about in the shadows, performing various duties.

Robert Brock, the theater’s artistic director and one of the “Greater Tuna” actors, makes a relaxed stroll toward the back side of the set. In a few minutes he will be portraying nine characters – 10, if you count the dog, Yippy, for which he provides offstage barking. Brock looks through a crack in the set and studies the assembling audience.

Henry Haggard, the other “Tuna” actor, ambles by, takes a deep breath and stretches. In costume as Arles Struvie, the first of his 10 characters, Haggard stands next to a posted listing of the 44 costume changes needed during the production.

Behind the curtain are enough clothes to dress an entire football team and its cheerleaders. A table holds several wigs, some with hats already attached.

The stage manager, wearing a headset to communicate with others in various locations in the theater, softly says, “Five.”

When the play actually begins, the actors’ dialogue and the audience’s laughter can be heard. Soon the stage manager alerts, “Standby,” and carry-on props and costumes are made ready for quick changes.

Much of the work of the backstage crew involves the frequent and somewhat complicated costume changes. Brock is transformed from Thurston Wheelis into Elmer Watkins in less than a minute with the help of a couple of dressers and Velcro. A few of the costume changes are actually made in single-digit seconds, giving the actor a safe moment to sip from a water bottle before darting back onstage. It seems that it does take a bit longer, though, for Brock to become Pearl Burras.

At one point, Haggard delivers a line from backstage in one character’s voice while getting dressed for an entirely different character. And at another time, he is triple-costumed so that he can quickly take off a layer between scenes to reveal another personality.

I get caught up in one moment of hilarity and have the urge to act myself. Dogs are supposedly scattered backstage, and while the actors are making costume changes with the crew scurrying around them, everyone – actors and crew – bark. Each delivers a distinctive personality in a specific bark. I wonder what would happen if I “Meow” real loud. But I suppress it, and the show goes on as scripted.

It’s quite a show – onstage and off. I salute the two actors who skillfully exit and enter into various personalities, and the crew that so adeptly supports them.


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