Chuck Skinner says he and Gary Burris aren't leading men or principal actors who will get the girl at the end of the play.

They are character actors, capable of playing the whole cast of quirky men and women from a small Texas town in the comedy "Red, White and Tuna."

It's the main reason first-time director Lance Duddlesten cast them in the popular production, which opens Friday night at Albany Civic Theater.

"Red, White and Tuna" is the third play in a series of four stage comedies written by Ed Howard, Joe Sears and Jaston Williams. Each play has two male actors portray all the eccentric residents of different genders and ages in the fictional town of Tuna, Texas.

Burris and Skinner also performed in the preceding play, "A Tuna Christmas," in 2009, and will reprise many of the same roles.

"I wouldn't have wanted to do it with any other actors," Duddlesten said. "These are their roles."

The first play in the series, "Greater Tuna," was directed by Cristi E. Sears at ACT 15 years ago, Duddlesten said. Sears, Kay M. Roth and Duddlesten's wife, Meghan, are his assistant directors on this production.

A fourth and final play "Tuna Does Vegas," came out in 2010, though it hasn't yet been staged in Albany.

Burris and Skinner each play up to 10 characters in "Red, White and Tuna."

Burris, who's acted for decades in Los Angeles and Albany, said portraying so many characters in one production is the hardest thing he's ever done on stage.

"It's also the most gratifying, because you get to use the techniques as an actor to create these characters," Burris said.

This involves inventing a different voice and walk for each character.

"If you can get those two things down, and keep them separate, that's 90 percent of the battle, in my opinion," he said.

The comedy takes audiences to Tuna, the third-smallest town in Texas, for a high school reunion on the Fourth of July.

"That's where everything is happening, and it brings back all of the characters from the original shows for more crazy antics," Duddlesten said.

R.R. Snavely (Burris) returns to Tuna to get his suspenders three years after he was abducted by a UFO. Rev. Spikes (also Burris) is released from prison.

"Inita Goodwin is another character I love to play, because she is really saucy and a wannabe vixen," Burris said.

Skinner said he enjoys all of the characters and doesn't have a favorite, though Duddlesten had one in mind.

"Chuck plays Didi Snavely, this little tiny, older woman who owns Didi's Used Weaponry. He's got a great voice for her," Duddlesten said.

The play opens with two new characters, Amber Windchime (Skinner) and Star Birdfeather (Burris), who left Tuna and became hippies. They're nervously driving into town for the reunion.

The action transitions into the local radio station OKKK, where DJs Arles Struvie (Skinner) and Thurston Wheelis (Burris) tell news stories about play characters, while others come on stage to give public service announcements.

"You meet several characters this way," Duddlesten said.

Burris and Skinner are able to switch between multiple characters and costumes with help backstage. The two have dressers, people who quickly change them in and out of costumes and wigs.

"Our dressers are like gifts to us, because they keep everything straight," Burris said. "Some costume changes I walk off stage and, I walk right back on in 15 seconds as another character."

Burris, who has worked with Skinner on other plays, said they complement each other well as character actors.

"It reminds me of Tim Conway and Harvey Korman, the two stars of 'The Carol Burnett Show.' They really played off of each other well," Burris said.

Skinner added, "It's been a nice harmonious relationship, and it's been fun revisiting these characters."

They hope fans of "A Tuna Christmas" come back to see them in "Red, White and Tuna," but they say people don't need to have seen the previous "Tuna" installments to enjoy the new play.

"(Audiences) can come into the play, they will laugh a ton and might not even know there were two shows before it," Duddlesten said.


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