Durango Lively Arts Co. stages quirky
|Wendy Ludgewait, left,
and David Belew, right, portray just two of the 22
characters they’ll morph into in their two-person
show, “A Tuna Christmas,” appearing at
the Durango Arts Center this weekend and next./Photo
by Todd Newcomer.
During the summer fires of 2002, a Durango Lively Arts
Co. production called “Greater Tuna” added
a dash of humor to an otherwise depressing time in Durango.
The play featured 22 characters from the town of Tuna,
Texas – acted by only two people. Starting Friday,
Dec. 5, those two actors, Wendy Ludgewait and David Belew,
will reunite for “A Tuna Christmas.”
“We have always loved these shows,” Ludgewait
The comedy opens as the townspeople of Tuna are preparing
for the annual Christmas Yard Display Contest, a mere
24 hours before the actual holiday. Local matriarch
Vera Carp has won the prize for the past 14 years, but
the mysterious Christmas Phantom has struck, messing with
people’s displays. He or she also unscrews every
light bulb in the town Christmas tree so that it doesn’t
illuminate, and mayhem ensues as rumors about the Phantom’s
identity fly and Christmas nears.
The Tuna plays were written by Jaston Williams and Joe
Sears, who still perform them, primarily in Texas. Because
the duo continues to make their living performing their
plays, it is a challenge to get the rights to produce
the play, and impossible in Texas, Ludgewait says. It
was out of compassion for Durango’s suffering in
the fires that the playwrights gave permission for the
first play’s production here, she adds. Permission
for its sequel involved many phone calls, but was easier
“She didn’t have to cry this time around,”
It’s clear that Ludgewait and Belew, who have been
friends and performers for 20 years, have the charisma
and chemistry to pull off 11 characters each. The result
is snappy banter, with exchanges like this one:
– “If he moves back to Lubbock, I’ll
just kill myself.”
– “Baptists do not kill themselves.”
– “I’ll start a trend.”
The pair has great comedic timing, and it doesn’t
hurt that Belew dresses in drag for several of his characters.
“We have a really nice rapport,” Belew says.
“I’m pretty confident we can walk onstage
and make it happen.”
Before Ludgewait moved to Durango in 1998, the two founded
their own theater company in El Paso, Texas, in 1996.
“It was originally Dreamworks Theater Co., but
I don’t think Steven Spielberg would’ve liked
that too much, so we changed it to ‘Piranha Productions
– Theater With a Bite,’” Ludgewait says.
“But we were Dreamworks first!”
Ludgewait is a board member for Durango Lively Arts,
but Belew lives in Chicago, where he is a project manager
for the American Bar Association. He says he doesn’t
mind spending his vacations acting in Durango.
“It’s a lot of fun to do,” Belew says.
“There’s nothing better than doing a show
you’ve always wanted to do and with someone you’ve
He says “Greater Tuna” was popular during
the fires, which was gratifying.
“We had really great crowds,” Belew says.
“I think people really needed a break – to
have some fun, enjoy themselves. I know a lot of people
really appreciate that outlet.”
For her part, Ludgewait is happy that Durango Lively
Arts is experiencing a revival after going dormant for
about seven years until regrouping in February. She says
the theater company has five board members and numerous
The company produces several shows each year, including
a children’s performance. Ludgewait says 50 kids
recently auditioned for the upcoming “Joseph and
the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” - a promising
sign for the future of theater in Durango.
Ken Hulick, a volunteer with Durango Lively Arts, says
the scope and quality of theater in Durango – thanks
to volunteer troupes like Durango Lively Arts, Durango
Act Too Players and Durango Repertoire – is “impressive.”
“I think for a small town we do really well,”
He said the proceeds from tickets will be used to rent
production space and cover other basic costs of the show.
“It’s pretty much a break-even proposition,
like most artistic endeavors in Durango,” he says
with a grin.
And seeing the antics of people in the small town of
Tuna will make us all feel slightly saner with the crush
of the holidays upon us. As Tuna resident Bertha Bumiller
bellows: “You have five seconds to get in the spirit
of Christmas before I hairlip you!”