Texas roots not required
‘Red, White and Tuna’ brings small-town humor to Maui
While in college, my drama professor and theater mentor, Donna J. Sparks, instructed me that I would learn more about theater by going to one play a week than I would ever learn in a text book. She also promised her students that if we brought in a ticket stub every Monday morning to prove that we went to see a play, we would receive an A in her class.
One of the shows that she insisted I couldn’t miss “Greater Tuna” on tour with Jaston Williams and Joe Sears. Their performance in that show was one of the funniest I have ever seen.
Williams and Sears, both schooled in theater and comedy, created the “Tuna” franchise out of improvisation in the 1970s. The first play premiered in Austin — the liberal bubble of Texas — where it became a cult hit. It achieved most of its long-lasting success, however, outside of the Lone Star State.
I asked local cast member William Hubbard of the “Greater Tuna” sequel, “Red, White and Tuna,” if he had any Texas roots to draw upon.
“I have a sister in Tennessee, but Vicki’s (Victoria McGee, Hubbard’s wife and the director of “Red, White and Tuna“) sister-in-law lives in Texas. I’ve never been to a state that likes itself so much. They have waffle makers that make waffles in the shape of Texas,” said Hubbard.
“I was in a production of ‘Steel Magnolias’ a few years ago and I imitated my sister-in-law,” said McGee.
Hubbard and cast mate John Williams will play 22 different residents of the fictional Tuna, Texas, this weekend, including female characters.
“I told Bill to just be your sister,” said McGee.
Williams, who is a member of the Maui improv troupe Free Range Comedy along with McGee and Hubbard, is originally from Delaware.
“I’m from Sussex County which is right at that Mason-Dixon Line so there’s a lot of redneck culture that I can draw upon. The characters present a lot of facets of small- town life, which is not restricted to Texas; everybody’s got a little redneck in them,” said Williams.
The “Tuna” franchise is a cousin of sorts to familiar Southern fare such as Ma and Pa Kettle, “Little Abner,” “The Andy Griffith Show,” “The Beverly Hillbillies,” “Green Acres,” “Petticoat Junction” and “Hee Haw.” Hubbard and Williams play the entire population of Tuna, the third smallest town in Texas, where the Lions Club is too liberal and Patsy Cline never dies.
I asked both actors if it is a challenge to play 22 roles in 90 minutes.
“Piece of cake — can of corn,” joked Hubbard. “It’s so different than playing just one character,” he explained, “but I’m happy to have the opportunity to be doing this with John. We’re so comfortable in creating multiple characters every week on stage together because of Free Range.”
“Finding a unique choice and specific voice for each character is a challenge, but it’s a fun challenge. Having an improv background was a big help. Keeping the voices straight is the hardest part, but now that we have added costumes it has become easier,” said Williams. “We just look down at our clothes now, ‘oh yeah, I’m Bertha now.’ “
The two will have 24 costume quick changes in the show and I asked if that required backstage assistance.
“Oh yeah, we have two dressers and we’re both changing costumes at the same time multiple times,” said Williams.
“It’s a rehearsed process and just as vital as playing the characters. Kim Dobson and Justin Fernandez are our dressers and Vicki Nelson designed the costumes. They are a big, integral part of the show,” added Hubbard.
Former ProArts interim director Richard Vetterli was the catalyst of the production, which opens tomorrow night in Kihei.
“Richard said after a Free Range show that ‘we have to do ‘Red, White and Tuna’ with John and Bill,” said McGee, “and they’re both really funny.”
I asked Hubbard and Williams if they were having fun.
“We’re having a lot of fun. It’s been great coming to work here every day and I wouldn’t want to do this show with anybody else but Bill.”
“Aw,” said Hubbard, adding “And we get to put on dresses.”
Adaptations Dance Theater presents its second annual “Bring it Home” dance concert.
*Performances are at 7 p.m. June 23 and 24 at the ‘A’ali’ikuhonua Creative Arts Center on the Seabury Hall campus in Makawao. An opening night reception will be held at 5:30 p.m. Tickets to the opening night gala, which include drinks and pupu along with the performance, are $55 and attendees must be ages 21 and older. Saturday tickets are $25 for adults and $15 for age 12 and younger. To purchase tickets or for more information visit www.adaptationsdancetheater.com.