by Jaston Williams, Joe Sears & Ed Howard
January 22 - February 17, 2013
A hysterical, off-beat comedy set in Tuna, the “third smallest town in Texas,” where the Lions Club is too liberal and Patsy Cline never dies. Versatile performers Tom Ford and Dustin Tucker ̶ both West Texas natives ̶ team up to play over 20 of Tuna’s eccentric inhabitants, from gun-clubbers to church ladies, in a quick-changing two-man tour-de-force that celebrates and satirizes the quirks of small-town life.
Running Time: approximately 2 hours including one 15 minute intermission
By APRIL BOYLE
Take two Texan transplants, cast them as 20 off-the-wall characters living in the "third-smallest town in Texas," and what do you get? You get non-stop, Texas-size laughs.
WHAT: “Greater Tuna” by Portland Stage
WHERE: 25A Forest Ave., Portland
DATE REVIEWED: Friday; play runs through Feb. 17
TICKETS: $39-$44 ($35-$40 seniors (65+), $20 students (25 and under)
Between the sub-zero temperatures and the rampant onset of flu, we could all use a little pick-me-up. Portland Stage's rendition of "Greater Tuna" is the perfect hot toddy to cure whatever ails you.
The ever-versatile Dustin Tucker and Tom Ford tackle their roles with a satirical gusto that can only truly be achieved by a pair of actors who know the beast from which the characters come. After, all, Texas is a world of its own.
All the characters in "Greater Tuna" are based on people playwrights Jaston Williams, Joe Sears and Ed Howard met throughout Texas. Tucker and Ford clearly encountered some of the same people while growing up in the Lone Star state.
Their outrageous characters were an endless source of laughter Friday. Both actors morphed into male and female characters of a variety of ages.
Just when it seemed they couldn't get any funnier, they did.
Bigots, gun fanatics, religious zealots hell-bent on censorship, a humane hippy, a clueless sherrif and a dysfunctional family with homicidal and dogicidal tendencies were just a few of the zany characters who appeared in the madcap, quick-change comedy.
"Greater Tuna" is a no-holds-barred societal commentary that lampoons not only the Texas culture, but also narrow-minded attitudes of small-town life in general.
The storyline centers around two radio talk-show hosts, Thurston Wheelis (Ford) and Arles Struvie (Tucker), who broadcast on OKKK radio.
Laughter flowed from the audience Friday as the two announced the latest Tuna news: Due to budgetary restrictions, the town's production of "My Fair Lady" would reuse the set from "South Pacific" and now be set in Polynesia. And the student essay contest winners were titled, "Human Rights, Why Bother?" "Living with Radiation" and "The Other Side of Bigotry."
A commercial spot from Didi Snavely (Tucker), owner of Didi's Used Weapons, touted the guarantee, "If Didi's weapons can't kill it, it's immortal."
The performance was packed with witty references and double-edged one-liners that Tucker and Ford maximized with pregnant pauses and laugh-inducing facial expressions.
A priceless look from Tucker's mild-mannered reporter, Chad Hartford, as he listened to housewife Bertha Bumiller (Ford in drag) pontificating on the evils of Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn "cavorting with a Negro convict and putting on women's clothes" sent laughter rippling through the audience.
Ford had the audience gasping for breath between laughs when his Rev. Spikes, president of the Smut-snatchers of the New Order, paused mid-cliche during his all-cliche eulogy for the town's hanging judge.
Tucker and Ford's timing was right on from start to finish, and the two played off each other beautifully. The characters in "Greater Tuna" are undeniably outrageous and irreverent, but Tucker and Ford manage to make them endearing to the audience, flushing out a little depth below their cartoon exteriors.
Tucker as a young boy (Jody Bumiller) addicted to puppies, and Ford as his mother, Bertha, are just two such winning, must-see performances in this spirit-raising gander at small-town life in bigger-than-life Texas.
April Boyle is a free-lance writer from Casco. She can be contacted at:
Winter Theater Roundup: Texas to a 'T'
By Bob Keyes email@example.com
It's its own beast, Texas.
That's how the actor Tom Ford explains his place in the world. When you are from Texas, you tend to view things differently than other people. You have different values, different morals, different everything.
You go through life misunderstood by anyone who is not from Texas.
When Ford moved north from Texas, people told him, "Oh, you're from the South."
Ford took offense.
"No, I'm not," he bristled. "I'm from Texas."
His roots come to the fore in the comedy that opens the winter theater season at Portland Stage Company, "Greater Tuna." The show, which also stars fellow Texan Dustin Tucker, is one of the most-produced plays in the country. It was the first of four in a series of plays about the tiny fictional town of Tuna, Texas, created by Jaston Williams and Joe Sears.
It offers witty commentary about small-town life in Texas, while also providing withering satire about Texans and their - dare we say - small-minded attitudes.
Ford and Tucker play more than 20 characters in this show, which is fast-faced, madcap and bombastic in its irreverence. It is built around a series of vignettes connected by a local radio show on OKKK, hosted by Thurston Wheelis (Ford) and Arles Struvie (Tucker).
Through their news and weather reports and on-air interviews, Wheelis and Struvie introduce the characters of Tuna, including Bertha Bumiller, a mother of three, and the leaders of the Better Baptist Bureau, the Greater Tuna Humane Society and Ladies for a Better Tuna.
It's a minimalist show, with a simple set and only three props: A radio, a newspaper and (of course) a gun.
When they proposed it last year, Portland Stage artistic and executive director Anita Stewart paused. She adores these two actors and trusts their instincts, but "Greater Tuna" tends to play better at the community theater than the professional stage. It's a nice show, but not necessarily a substantial show, she said.
"'Greater Tuna' is one of those pieces that you equate with summer stock -- you put it up quickly and there is not much there. But the more they started talking about the characters and they started reading it, I realized there is a lot under the surface if you have actors who are able to go there."
Ford and Tucker begged for the chance. Neither has performed in the show, though both have coveted the chance.
"This play has a real heart that doesn't get revealed in many productions," Ford said. "Oftentimes, it's because the trappings of the show are very funny -- all the costume changes and the pace. But it has a sincerity to it that's often missed. I'm hoping we find that in it and bring it out."
Who better than a pair of proud Texans to find the heart of Tuna, Texas?
Ford and Tucker have known each other several years, because they've both worked at Portland Stage many times and often overlapped. Earlier this season, while Ford played Scrooge in "A Christmas Carol" on the mainstage, Tucker was down the hall in the studio theater in "The Santaland Diaries."
They've admired each other's work and become friends, although they've appeared on stage together only once, in "Bach at Leipzig" at Portland Stage a few years back.
Both are Portland Stage regulars. Among Ford's performances, he appeared in "The Mystery of Irma Vep," "Lend Me a Tenor," "The Lady in Black" and, perhaps his best performance, "I Am My Own Wife."
Tucker's local credits include "The 39 Steps" and "Fully Committed," among many others.
They share similar skill sets and sensibilities as actors, and often are mistaken for one another, though they are separated by nearly 20 years. Ford is 51. Tucker is 33.
Their paths have taken remarkably similar routes.
Tucker grew up in Amarillo and Ford grew up in Lubbock. Both left Texas at a young age for actor training at the Interlochen Center for the Arts in Michigan. Both have family in Texas, and both return home frequently to visit. Ford bases his career out of New York, and Tucker now lives in Portland.
Both were home in Texas over Christmas, and both love their home state.
They are appearing in "Greater Tuna" not to make fun of Texas, but to do justice to the material, Tucker said. Neither has ever seen real Texans do this show, and both are eager to bring Lone Star credibility to these memorable characters.
"These are real people that Jaston and Joe (the creators) knew," Tucker said. "To a lot of people, they come across as cartoons. But they're not. This show celebrates small-town Texas, but you can find these people in small towns everywhere."
That is why Stewart hired these two guys. She is not interested in cheap laughs, but wants Ford and Tucker to find the humanity in these people.
"I expect them to bring that passion," she said. "How strange it is that two guys from the middle of nowhere in Texas wind up here connected to this theater. It felt like it needed to happen."
ABOUT THE PLAYWRIGHTS
Joe Sears(pictured), Jaston Williams(pictured), and Ed Howard met in Austin, Texas, in 1980 through the formation of a theater company called Trans/Act, which quickly dissolved. Unemployed, Sears and Williams acted in a series of politically-inspired party skits that turned into Greater Tuna, with Howard helping finalize the script, direct, and produce the show. Since then, the Tuna franchise has dominated their careers: Sears and Williams have performed Greater Tuna some 4,000 times, and the three have extended the town’s legacy through A Tuna Christmas (1994), Red, White, and Tuna (1998), and Tuna Does Vegas (2008). However, the men’s careers also go beyond the fictional small town. Williams has had critically acclaimed performances in such shows as Larry Shue's The Foreigner, Eugene Ionesco's The Chairs, and Jay Presson Allen's Tru. Sears’s acting career encompasses musicals, dramas, Shakespeare, television, and film appearances.
ABOUT THE CAST
Tom Ford (Thurston Wheelis, Elmer Watkins, Bertha Bumiller, Yippy, Leonard Childers, Pearl Burras, R.R. Snavely, Rev. Spikes, Sherriff Givens, and Hank Bumiller) Portland Stage: Scrooge in A Christmas Carol, Inventor/Crow in The Snow Queen, Schott in Bach at Leipzig, Lady Enid, et al in The Mystery of Irma Vep, I Am My Own Wife, Billy in Iron Kisses, Kipps in The Woman in Black, Max in Lend Me a Tenor, Mr. Manningham in Gaslight and Yvan in Art. Broadway: Alan Ayckbourn and Andrew Lloyd Weber's By Jeeves at the Helen Hayes Theater. New London Barn Playhouse: Sheridan Whiteside in The Man Who Came to Dinner, The Man in the Chair inThe Drowsy Chaperone, Pseudolus in A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, Elwood P. Dowd in Harvey, Major General Stanley in The Pirates of Penzance, Edna Turnblad in Hairspray, Sipos in She Loves Me and Max in The Producers. Boise Contemporary Theater: Truman Capote in Tru, I Am My Own Wife. Idaho Shakespeare Festival: Argan in The Imaginary Invalid, Autolycus in The Winter's Tale, Mr. Paravicini inThe Mousetrap, the Baker in Into the Woods, Pseudolus in A Funny Thing Happened..., the King of Navarre in Love's Labour's Lost, Gremio in The Taming of the Shrew, Ford in The Merry Wives of Windsor, Touchstone in As You Like It, Casca in Julius Caesar and the title role in You're A Good Man, Charlie Brown. Great Lakes Theater Festival: The Imaginary Invalid, The Winter's Tale, The Mousetrap, Into the Woods, A Funny Thing Happened...,Love's Labour's Lost, Julius Caesar, Bob Cratchit in A Christmas Carol and Peter Quince in A Midsummer Night's Dream. Big Love and Thanks to Julia Gibson, Dustin Tucker, Shane Van Vliet, the design team and crew and Super Big Love and Thanks to Anita Stewart. tomfordactor.com
Dustin Tucker (Arles Struvie, Charlene Bumiller, Jody Bumiller, Stanley Bumiller, Vera Carp, Petey Fisk, Didi Snavely, Chad Hartford, Phinias Blye, and Harold Dean Lattimer) a native of Amarillo, Texas, Dustin is honored to be sharing the stage with fellow Texan and dear friend, Tom Ford. Portland Stage: Fully Committed, The Santaland Diaries, The 39 Steps, Steindorff in Bach at Leipzig, Peer Gynt, Fred in A Christmas Carol and the world premiere of James Glossman's Trouble is my Business. Broadway: The Rainmaker with Woody Harrelson and Jayne Atkinson (Roundabout Theater Company). Off-Broadway: Adam Rapp's NY premiere of Stone Cold Dead Serious, SoHo Rep, Culture Project and Primary Stage. Regional theater: Festival Stage of Winston-Salem: Peachy in The Last Night of Ballyhoo. Sierra Repertory Theatre: Robert in Boeing-Boeing, Runnicles in No Sex Please, We're British and Actor 1 in Around the World in 80 Days. Williamstown Theater Festival: The Rainmaker, ‘Tis Pity She's a Whore, Parker. Interlochen Shakespeare Festival: Petruchio in Taming of the Shrew. 9 seasons with the Theater at Monmouth: Tom in Glass Menagerie, Hotspur in Henry IV: Part 1, Valere in La Bête, Lady Enid, et al in The Mystery of Irma Vep. Dustin is an Affiliate Artist with Portland Stage Company and a proud member of Actors' Equity. Much love and gratitude to Anita, Shane, Julia and of course, Tom. Dedicated with love to my parents. www.dustintucker.com
ABOUT THE PRODUCTION TEAM
Julia Gibson (Director) This marks Julia's first visit to Maine! She directed Our Town this past summer at the New London Barn Playhouse in New London, New Hampshire starring Gordon Clapp and served as Associate Director to Michael Greif of the Signature Theatre's revival of Angels in America in NYC last season. Other New York directing credits include: The U.S. premiere of Judith Thompson's Habitat (The Epic Theatre), Shaving the Pickle (Origin Theatre Company), Blue Window (Barrow Group and 28th Street Theatre); the world premiere productions of Bliss (Rattlestick), If Wishes Were Horses (RightDownBroadway Productions), and The Hairy Baby (Studio Tisch). During her time with NYU Director's Lab Julia directed The Collection and The Crackwalker. She has directed productions with NYU Graduate Acting Program, The Juilliard School, Stella Adler Conservatory, The Actors Center Conservatory, Chautauqua Theatre Company, A.C.T. Conservatory in San Francisco, Stony Brook University and SMU in Dallas. Julia is also an actress having performed on Broadway and major theatres in NYC and throughout the country, including the Roundabout, the Public, the Delacorte in Central Park, the Arden, the Goodman, A.C.T. in San Francisco, and The Long Wharf. Favorite roles include Veta Louise in Harvey opposite Tom Ford, Bev/Kathy in Clybourne Park, Harper in Angels in America, Birdie in The Little Foxes, Helena in All's Well That Ends Well, Sonya in Uncle Vanya, and Nina in The Seagull. She received her MFA from NYU and teaches acting at Stony Brook University. Julia also works as a voice artist having narrated over 100 audio books.
Adam Koch (Set Designer) happily returns to Portland Stage having last designed Master Harold and the Boys in 2010. Recent production designs include Dreamgirls at Signature Theater directed by Matthew Gardinder, Bye Bye Birdie, Sweet Charity and Call Me Madam (starring Beth Leavel) for Lyric Theatre of Oklahoma. Favorite productions include Million Dollar Quartet, now running at Chicago's Apollo Theater directed by Eric Schaeffer and the Off-Broadway musical Rooms : A Rock Romance directed by Scott Schwartz. Additional work includes Kiss of the Spiderwoman (Helen Hayes nomination for Best Scenic Design); See What I Wanna See and [Title of Show] at Signature Theatre (DC); Five Course Love, Sweeney Todd and A Christmas Carol, directed by Mark Cuddy for Geva Theatre Center (Rochester); My Fair Lady and Guys and Dolls (Engeman Theater); The Little Prince, The 39 Steps and A Tuna Christmas (Human Race Theatre Co.) Off-Broadway children's theater includes We the People (Theaterworks USA), Pinkalicious, The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee (Professional Performing Arts School) and Freckleface Strawberry. Adam is a Dayton, Ohio native, a graduate of Carnegie Mellon University, and a member of United Scenic Artists 829. adamkoch.carbonmade.com
Amy Clark (Costume Designer) Chaplin (Broadway, The Barrymore) Lord Of The Flies (Barrington Stage Co.) The North Pool (Barrington Stage Co.) The 39 Steps (Hudson Valley Shakes.), God of Carnage (Hudson Stage Co.) The Understudy (Hartford Theatreworks), Showboat (Goodspeed Opera), Comedy of Errors (Hudson Valley Shakes.), Monster At the Door (The Alley Theatre), Superior Donuts (The Pittsburgh Public Theatre), Apple Cove (The Women's Project), Dramatis Personae (Cherry Lane), Dreams of the Washer (Cherry Lane Co.), Animals Out of Paper (Second Stage), All this Intimacy (Second Stage) Amy is a member of United Scenic Artists local 829 and has an MFA from NYU Tisch School for the Arts. Awarded the 2012 Theatre Hall Of Fame Emerging Artists Fellowship.
Bryon Winn (Lighting Designer) is delighted to be returning to Portland Stage for his 15th season. He has designed over 30 productions for Portland Stage. His design work has also been seen at Florida Studio Theater, Trinity Rep, Theatre de la Jeune Lune, Axis Theatre, Intersection for the Arts, Miranda Theatre Company, Utah Musical Theatre, Middlebury College, Cornell College, Riverside Theatre and Iowa Summer Rep. Bryon serves as the Director of Theatre at the University of Iowa and is a member of United Scenic Artist 829.
Gregg Carville (Sound Designer) is a free-lance lighting and sound designer who has worked in the Portland area for a while. A native of Maine, he previously worked for Portland Stage in both administrative and production roles. Gregg is currently the technical director for Merrill Auditorium and other City of Portland venues. He received a MFA in Lighting Design from NYU-Tisch School of the Arts in 2002. He continues to free-lance as a designer as well as consults on various theatrical projects.
Shane VanVliet (Stage Manager) is thrilled to be in her fifth season at Portland Stage. Some of her other credits include stage managing with; The Berkshire Theater Group, The Theater at Monmouth, national and international tours with Jean Ann Ryan Productions, Norwegian Cruise Lines, Two Beans Productions, Theaterworks and The Radio City Rockettes. She has worked on numerous productions in New York with Phoenix Theatre Ensemble, Turtleshell Productions, T. Shcreiber Studios and The New York Fringe Festival as well as The Washington D.C. Fringe Festival and in her spare time, she Production Manages at The Altman Building, in New York City.