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It’s ‘Tuna’ har har at the Gallery Players

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What is it about a man in a dress that will always make audiences laugh? So what happens when there are two men, both in dresses, big pearl earrings, and gams that go on for days?

You have “A Tuna Christmas,” on stage now through Dec. 21 at the Gallery Players in Park Slope.

The play is set in the small (and fictional) town of Tuna, Texas, and showcases the strong personalities of 22 residents in the days leading up to Christmas. Nothing is sacred, and there are jokes made on behalf of the Texan suthirn’ accent, small people and a determination that the Christmas carol term, “Ye merry gentlemen,” is a merely a code phrase meaning “gay.”

Justin Barnette and Brian Letchworth, the show’s only actors, run frantically between scenes and expertly jostle between costume changes without any glitches. Each man never loses sight of a character’s personality, which says something when each is playing 11 characters and every prop is pantomimed.

There’s Bertha Bumiller (Barnette), a “well-fed” and proud mother in a bright green hoop skirt with a candy cane print with a troublemaking family, and DiDi Snavely (Letchworth) of DiDi’s Used Weapons, who enthusiastically decorates her Christmas tree with deactivated grenades and handguns.

But the cherries on this delicious holiday fruitcake are Letchworth’s portrayal of town official Dixie Deberry and Barnette’s drama queen Joe Bob Lipsey.

I don’t actually know which made me laugh harder: Letchworth, a thin man-turned-lady in a Day-Glo purple one-piece Nylon tracksuit, army boots, and grandma wig, or Barnette, a large man in only black tights, pumps, a tight red tank top, and a big cape.

For one second, Letchworth looked so much the part of a granny that I lost it. And when he (she?) started lip-syncing holiday hits, tears streamed down my face.

As for Barnette, the man prancing about the stage in heels had everyone in stitches.

“Tuna” is not for opponents of comic vulgarity (“I hope Santa Claus takes a crap down your chimney”) and people who don’t appreciate subversive humor (such as that reference to the local Ku Klux Klan chapter’s annual “White Christmas” party).

The actors are best in their element when they are in their loudest, proudest and sassiest female characters. And despite the audience’s hysterics, Barnette and Letchworth never lost a cue or broke character. Whenever the inevitable inadvertent mishap did happen, both actors turned it so quickly into an element of the play that the humor raged on.

The show is slow to start, but the laughs start rollicking soon enough. At first, its 2-1/2 hour run time seems tedious, but by the end, I’m not sure what could have been cut.

As with other Gallery Players shows I’ve reviewed, “A Tuna Christmas” is well worth a visit. I left with a fantastic feeling in my stomach after I’d been laughing for two hours, and I am still chuckling at the sight of that purple tracksuit. I fear I will be giggling at that for days to come.

“A Tuna Christmas” runs Thursday–Sunday from Dec. 6–21 at the Gallery Players [199 14th St., between Fourth and Fifth Avenues in Park Slope, (212) 352-3101]. Tickets, $18. Visit www.galleryplayers.com.

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