GALVESTON, TX - "That's the thing about sequels: audiences know the characters as well as we do," observed Joe Sears, as he and his writing and performing partner Jaston Williams readied Red, White and Tuna for its world premiere in Galveston at the Grand 1894 Opera House April 7 - 19.
Following Greater Tuna in 1981 and A Christmas Tuna in 1989, Red, White and Tuna is the third installment of the satirical life and times in the fictional small town of Tuna, proudly the third smallest and most bigoted in all of Texas. In the latest chapter, as always directed by and co-written with Ed Howard, it's hardly surprising that Vera Carp and her Prayer Posse take on church hymns to make them politically correct or that Didi Snavley receives more "cosmic" communications from outer space: Tuna fans expect as much from the lovably narrow-minded kooks. But what might set Tuna fans to talking is that resigned Bertha Bumiller, of all people, remarries. And the one-time juvenile delinquent Stanley Bumiller, a neo-expressionistic taxidermist spray painter, returns home a business success. What's more, in addition to the dozen or so characters that Sears and Williams each portrays with split-second costume changes, two new eccentrics join the Tuna community: flower-power hippie gals who years earlier had gone to the big city of Lubbock to find enlightenment.
The hippie gals return to Tuna to attend their high school reunion on the Fourth of July, the theme upon which Red, White and Tuna is based. "We've always wanted to do a class reunion," Sears said. "And in Tuna, the high school is so small, the town is so small," that all the graduating classes could come back at the same time. "The emphasis," Sears continued, "is to have fun but we have a more somber approach to the messages in this play." Sears stated that Greater Tuna was, at bottom, written in reaction to the Reagan years but that A Tuna Christmas moved away from lampooning for something more sentimental. Red, White and Tuna blends the best of its predecessors, reinstating the tongue-in-cheek while adhering to human drama, on the nation's birthday no less. "There's a lot of completion in this," Sears said, a conscious attempt to tie things together.
"This is it for the Tuna," Sears declared. "But I said the same thing with the second. So I don't know." Sears, 48, and Williams, 46, work together in other plays, such as The Foreigner and The Fantasticks, while also pursuing separate interests in front of and behind the stage.
Tuna began as humbly as the personalities that it affectionately sends up: as a party skit in Austin, Texas, for friends. In 1985 Greater Tuna was the most produced play in the United States, and according to April 1998 edition of Texas Monthly last year the Tuna corporation grossed $5 million. Much of the Tuna phenomenon can be attributed to the fine line Sears and Williams walk between creating characters and caricatures. For all the general swipes, depths are probed. "I have always pictured all of our work as a political cartoon," Sears explained. "So that we can be broad and we can be realistic." The blending of acting styles, therefore, gives them an edge into the town. "We give all our characters heart, even our Klansman." Now a leader among his people, said Klansman makes it a point of hiring veterans.
Red, White and Tuna world premieres at the Grand 1894 Opera House in Galveston, April 7 - 19. For tickets, $10 - $39, call (800) 821-1894
--By Peter Szatmary