Chris Dougherty (left) and Joe Mallon are starring in “Greater Tuna,” which is playing at Act II in Ambler until this Sunday, Sept. 29.

by Rita Charleston

There’s no place like home, especially if home is the fictional town of Tuna, Texas, where the Lions Club is too liberal and Patsy Cline never dies. In a show called “Greater Tuna,” now playing at Ambler’s Act II Playhouse, all the action takes place in one hilarious day, beginning with some morning musings on Radio Station OKKK, and then on to visit the men, women, children and even some of the animals of the town. Two actors, Chris Dougherty and Joe Mallon, play 20 characters, creating a wonderful and wacky world where it’s OK to laugh at the people we love.

The show was written by Joe Sears, Jaston Williams and Ed Howard. Directed by Act II’s Artistic Director Tony Braithwaite, the show has been extended to Sept. 29.

Dougherty, one of the two versatile actors playing all the parts in the show, is originally from Northeast Philadelphia. He attended St. Joseph’s Prep High School and La Salle University, where he majored in Communications.

“I started doing theater in my junior and senior years in high school and really caught the bug. That’s when I decided I wanted to go to Los Angeles to begin a career,” Dougherty said, “but my parents wanted me to graduate from college first and have some sort of backup plan. So I agreed.”

But soon after graduating, Dougherty grabbed a few friends and drove across the country to L.A. to begin his career. His first theater job was in “And Then There Were None,” which he had performed while at La Salle.

“But after receiving five dollars a performance, I quickly realized that was not going to work,” he said.

Switching his career goals, the young actor began steadily building a successful career doing commercials and guest-starring on TV comedy shows, soon landing a recurring role on “Scrubs.”

And over the years there have been more roles on more shows, but this is the first time he’s been back to this area to do a play. In fact, he said, it’s the first time in 15 years he’s been doing any kind of live theater.

“And that’s all thanks to Tony,” Dougherty explained. “I first met Joe in high school where Tony directed us in several plays. And Tony thought it might be fun to bring us both together again to do ‘Greater Tuna.’ And guess what? He was absolutely right.”

Since this is the first time Dougherty is playing in front of a hometown audience and the first time in many years doing live theater, he admits that many nerves began to take over.

“Being in front of a live audience was my first love, but it’s been so long since I’ve done anything like this. Also, this is only a two-person play, and I knew what a beast of a show it would be. It’s a real challenge and very complex. But it ended up being such a rewarding thing to do, both as an actor and being with friends again.

“Joe has been a constantly working theater actor in the D.C. area. And Tony, as everyone knows, has been working nonstop in theater. So if anyone could make it comfortable for me to work in the theater again after all these years, it’s been these two men. So all in all, it’s been a great experience.”

Today, said the 37-year-old actor, one of the best parts of doing this play, aside from working with two good friends, is “getting to flex my muscles again, the same muscles that made me fall in love with acting in the first place. And just so everyone knows, if a role ever opened up in a musical, I would kill to be in ‘Sweeney Todd.’ I’m a huge musical theater nerd.”

Act II is located at 56 E. Butler Ave. For tickets, call 215-654-0200.