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'Greater Tuna drama as good backstage as it is onstage
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SAUTEE - The dressers behind the scenes of "Greater Tuna," now onstage at Black Bear Dinner Theatre in Sautee, deserve an ovation of their own for their back stage work with Judson Wright and Seth Howard.

Not only do the two actors play 20 parts between them, they switch roles so regularly throughout the play it seems like they have cloned themselves.

Dressers Jessica Allen, Rebecca Steele and Lauren Turner work quickly backstage to keep up.

"I think the better show is backstage," managing director Chris Wright said of the quick changes.

As radio deejays in the small town of Tuna, Texas, Arles (Judson Wright) and Thurston (Howard) seem to be simple observers of the people in Tuna.

The audience forgets that they are the people in Tuna, and even play animals occasionally.

With only a radio and two tables, Judson Wright and Howard voice and pantomime their way through several "sets," not skipping a beat until the closing curtain.

No one may notice but the actors and directors, but with so many lines, it's easy to get mixed up.

"It's really fun to watch Seth come in and wrangle invisible dogs and do it out of order," Wright said.

Judson Wright and Howard, who have been seen regularly on the Black Bear stage, offer commentary on small town life in the 1970s as the two populate Tuna with outlaws, a sheriff, gossipy women and a humane society worker who just wants to save the ducks.

Regular showgoers who see "Greater Tuna" will notice a few changes at Black Bear.

The concession stand is an option on Thursday nights, in place of dinner, for a less expensive ticket. And if you do choose the dinner option, your plate might look a bit more artsy.

Executive chef Michael Cookson, who hails from The Ritz in Buckhead, is changing the way Black Bear does dinner, arranging each plate like it's an edible sculpture.
Another change may feel a bit more like a homecoming.

Artistic director David Rothel, who directed shows at Black Bear for three years before recently retiring, came back to direct "Greater Tuna." And he said he plans to continue directing at the theater.

Next up at Black Bear Dinner Theatre is a one-man show called "Cotton Patch Gospel" starring one of its original writers, Tom Key.

"It's the story of Jesus through Easter, set in modern day Gainesville," Wright said.

"Cotton Patch Gospel" will be on stage March 19-22.